My Sincerest Condolences   (2017Oct23)

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Monday, October 23, 2017                                               2:13 PM

Condolences   (2017Oct23)

I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the United States of America. Losing so many of your treasured offspring, all at once, must cause unimaginable heartbreak.

Your Separation of Church and State—your eldest—the engine of your supremacy–finally succumbing to the vermin gnawing at her roots.

Your Democracy—between being sold out and being taken for granted—has unbarred the door to ignorance and division, becoming a front for autocracy.

Your Republican Party has devolved into a virtual cesspit—quite openly and publicly–and the fact that they still beat the Democrats proves that the Voters (though less than half of them have earned the right to describe themselves so—except as, perhaps, ‘abstentions’) have forgotten that ‘We the People’ implies some minimal amount of involvement.

Your Freedom of the Press has been imprisoned by media conglomerates—seeking only our attention, not our health—and the news has become a siren song, distracting us from the deadly rocks before us—to focus on an old man’s Twitter-feed.

And that same dirty old man has obliterated your most august Office of the Presidency—coating it with the slime of incompetence, disrespect, oafishness, and treason. His treason is multi-pronged—he attacks the Constitution because it won’t let him be a dictator—he attacks our ideals because he is a misogynist, racist, classist prig—he attacks our education because he doesn’t value knowledge as much as money—and he attacks our self-respect by telling blatant lies, right to our faces, daring us to do anything about it.

O America! You’ve heard bullshit before—it shouldn’t surprise you that the pig who claimed it wasn’t great, by saying he would make it great ‘again’, has leached out every drop of greatness garnered in your two-hundred-plus years of glory. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

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POEM:  Ode to Navigation   (2017Aug26)

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Saturday, August 26, 2017                                                7:58 PM

Ode to Navigation

 

Gusts of emotions push me askew and awry

No star or sun do guide me across the sky

The yaw and roll of time and heart

The mystery of end and start

Awash on a quantized sea, afoam with tessellations

Sighting a castled isle, athwart with crennelations

Spraying up flumes of probability

Dashing upon the rocks of mortality

Knowing that my past had got the best of me

Leaving the rest of me

Sailing into the dusk of danger and death

Parsing the delta twixt fact and faith

Pressing the limits of love unboundeth

Hiking the summit of truth and grace.

Birthday Video   (2017July30)

Sunday, July 30, 2017                                              3:17 PM

Birthday Video   (2017July30)

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The summer rushes on—July reaches an end and the lonely, hot month of August is all that stands between us and the coming of another tilt of the global axis, anti-sunward. My daughter’s daughter, my granddaughter Seneca, had her first birthday—and, of course, her first birthday party (with balloons and cake and presents). Ah, youth—just to look at her makes me feel younger. I, for one, can’t wait for this August to end—because the three of them will be visiting afterwards—and that’s worth another winter.

Claire is painting and printing and charcoaling and pen-and-inking and oil pastel monoprinting and doing pencil portraiture and life studies and plein-air landscapes—it’s been summer art camp for the Bear this year. She’s fantastic and I’m hoping she’ll let me make a video out of a retrospective of her sketches sometime—but not everyone is comfortable splashing themselves all over the internet like I do, so we’ll have to see about that plan….

Spencer has been doing yardwork and home repair—on the one hand, I’m jealous because that used to be my favorite part of being a homeowner—but on the other hand, it’s great to have a real strong man around to do the stuff that needs to get done. I don’t know what the problem is with ‘failure to launch’—we couldn’t get along without Spencer’s help—I’m grateful that he hasn’t felt the need to move far away.

For now I’m having a great old time using baby videos to add a spoonful of sugar to my piano-playing videos. I figure it doesn’t really matter about the playing—how many people can ‘go to the videotape’ to review the first year of their lives? It’s not like it isn’t a happy story. And I’m not quite done yet. I’m listening to Borodin’s 2nd Symphony—it’s nice and long, and good music, which makes it perfect for working at the keyboard.

I’m working on the new batch of videos—this time ‘round, I’ve recorded a bunch of songs from my Dover Music Publications’ “The Ancient Music of Ireland – Arranged for Piano by Edward Bunting”. I include “Molly My Treasure”, “Plangsty Hugh O’Donnell”, “The Jolly Ploughman”, “Slieve Gallen”, and “Give Me Your Hand” (also known as “Tabhair Dom Do Lámh”, the track title used on the Chieftains’ “Chieftains 5” album). I can’t tell you how delighted I was to realize I was playing one of their favorite songs of mine. I practiced and practiced, but I could never approach the speed and vivacity of their recording.

The improvs—well, what can I say. They’re there—that I have the strength to sit on the bench at all is a minor victory, so there you go. It seems that the more tired my playing gets, the more adorable the baby becomes—so, she’s pulling most of the weight on these videos—thank you, Seneca!

Well—back to work—I can’t post this thing without the videos.

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In Response   (2017Jul29)

Friday, July 28, 2017                                                8:06 PM

In Response   (2017Jul29)

A friend told me I play piano better now than I did eight years ago—which is gratifying (even if talking ‘two levels of bad’, it’s good to be on the right side of it). It’s funny—I’m in worse shape, but I’ve become better adapted to it.

I lost some core muscles in the ’04 transplant op. Even five years later, in 2009, I was still struggling to do a single sit-up—and failing. Now, I’m better adjusted—I can do sit-ups now—but it’s dangerous to ask so much work from so few muscles, so if I overdo, I get spasms. I remember an early gym class, sixth grade, or junior high, maybe—where I did more sit-ups than anyone else. Time sure flies.

What is a laser, you ask? The term “laser” originated as an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. Invented in 1960, a laser sends a beam of light in a straight line (this is called coherent light)—unlike, say, lightbulbs, which send out light in all directions. This creates a very precise and powerful cutting tool, often replacing the scalpel in modern surgery. But lasers can be used for many other things besides burning—laser-calibrated ‘tape-measures’ allow contractors to measure a space’s dimensions without walking the length of the space—the list of uses is endless.

So—bacteria—lousy segue, I know—but today I’m thinking about bacteria—so, I did a quick Google-image search:

how_humans_use_bacteria_oversize20161121-1545-cvfkgm

As you can see from the chart, bacteria are useful because they operate on a molecular level—they can be tricked into modifying gene-sequences or fermenting India Pale Ale (IPA). Here are just three of the other fascinating things I found that deal with modern advances in bacteria-based technology:

 

Researchers generate clean energy using bacteria-powered solar panel

(Photosynthetic extracellular electron transfer processes using cyanobacteria—miniscule output compared to traditional solar panels, but still a step towards bio-solar energy cells.)

https://phys.org/news/2016-04-energy-bacteria-powered-solar-panel.html

 

Liquid-crystal and bacterial living materials self-organize and move in their own way

(Clothes that will breathe—for both of you.)

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170511165351.htm

 

From Antarctica: It’s Alive!

(Planet as Petri Dish.)

https://ultraphyte.com/2015/02/07/from-antarctica-its-alive/

 

So, my friend (and anyone else interested)–there’s a brief reply to your kind email. I hope I’ve answered your questions. Write again soon.

 

 

Pleased To Present   (2017Jul16)

Sunday, July 16, 2017                                              10:42 PM

Pleased To Present   (2017Jul16)

I am pleased to present to you my latest videos, featuring my adorable granddaughter (and my piano-playing). She has just started to walk, her first birthday is next week, and they’ll all be coming to see us in a couple of months—hooray!

 

XperDunn plays Piano
July 15th, 2017

Improv – Sonatina

Improv – Toesies

Improv – Grasshopper

Improv – Refractions (w/Cover: “Nobody’s Sweetheart”)

Improv – Sunlight

 

ttfn!

 

New Thoughts (2017Jul13)

Friday, July 14, 2017                                                2:10 AM

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New Thoughts (2017Jul13)

“no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  —The U. S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 9

Technically, the excerpt above would not apply to the Trump campaign, since he was not in office until the inauguration. But it seems likely that, if the founding authors felt this strongly about an elected official’s behavior in office (with respect to foreign influence) they may have simply assumed that no one flouting these important ethics, during the campaign, would have a prayer of being elected—by the people, or the Electoral College (whose sole purpose was to act as a stopgap against charlatans of such sort).

That Trump—and his administration—continue to dismiss the perfidy of attempting collusion with a foreign power to influence a national election—claiming that ‘most people would have taken that meeting’ goes beyond political inexperience, into amorality. This, in the face of precedent— in September of 2000, close adviser to Vice President Al Gore, Rep. Tom Downey of Long Island, N.Y., received an anonymous package of purported info on the Bush Campaign, and turned it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That only a single precedent exists is no doubt due to the hare-brained nature of such over-the-top aggression—few presidential candidates, never mind an entire coterie of such a culture, so single-mindedly pursue the destruction of their opponent, without bothering to offer anything positive about their own character. That Trump and his goons miss that they miss that—is deeply troubling. I heard someone say the other day that Trump’s administration couldn’t be more generically ‘bad-guy’ if they had been written into a superhero comic-book as the villains.

If, as with the rest of us, any old guy could walk into court and file a criminal complaint against Trump, most judges would probably find probable cause for a grand jury—his son’s emails are more than enough to get the ball rolling. But that is not the case—we have to wait until the Republicans in Congress have decided that Trump has gotten too hot even for their ice-cold, cynical hands. Meanwhile, they can point to ‘congressional hearings on the matter’—but somehow it has neither the urgency of HRC’s Benghazi hearings nor the presumption of guilt we saw at HRC’s ‘server’ hearings. Why is that, we wonder?

But anyway, I wanted to say something about healthcare that everyone seems to have forgotten—we didn’t use to have any. We used to have insurance companies that could do whatever they wanted—in the name of free enterprise—and business was great—for them. For the millions of people who only dreamed of taking their kids to a doctor—or spending another few years with their sick grandparent—or trying to raise a disabled child on a low-middle income—it wasn’t working so good—it wasn’t working at all.

You may remember those days—it was only eight years ago they changed it—and forever, before that, there had been no responsibility taken by our government to care for every citizen’s health. We saw people being admitted to emergency rooms and we told ourselves that anyone, in an emergency, could be treated by a doctor. We didn’t think of all the ways that health issues can impact people and families and businesses, aside from being allowed in the ER when you’re almost dead.

We saw other countries switch to socialized healthcare—and heard the domestic industry pooh-pooh those other countries’ fairness as not being as dynamic as our competitive business-model. Plus, it would wipe out the present health-insurance industry—and—lots of Americans just hate the idea of giving free stuff to poor people. They hate it as much as I hate the idea of making poor peoples’ lives more difficult than they are already.

Michael Moore made a wonderful movie once—I forget which one—where he showed a ‘Canadian slum’, which was a lovely-looking, crime-free neighborhood—with free childcare for working mothers and, of course, free healthcare. See, now, I could live right next door to people like that and not feel bad about having more money than them—because they wouldn’t be suffering from their lack, they would simply have less money. Plus, if I went broke, and became poor, my life would change very little—as a sick old man, my entertainment expenses are minimal.

Anyway, the point is—the Democrats had to scratch and claw their way to passage of Obamacare—because it was a game-changer. Now that Americans have had affordable health care for some years, Republicans will look like total dicks if they just repeal it—not a single voter will be without a relative that suffers from a repeal—and even Machiavellian gerrymandering can’t undo that.

Now they struggle to pass a ‘repeal and replace’ bill—but they can’t do it. They can’t repeal it outright. And they can’t replace it with something that is effectively a repeal-in-other-words—the CBO has called them on that dodge three times in a row already.

They can’t work together with Democrats to make real improvements on Obamacare—because they don’t have the political stones to sink their careers for the sake of the citizenry—like Obama did when he signed it. There are real problems with Obamacare—and it hurts the country to leave them unaddressed—but the Republicans persist in trying to put this egg back in its shell, when they should be cooking.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017                                           5:35 PM

I think it is important to recognize that there is always more to things than the simple explanation. Now that the Trump/Russia Collusion scandal has expanded to include election-tampering in general, we will inevitably reach a point where the insidious disinformation-campaign by the Russians, working with the Alt-Right or not, will be compared to mass media.

In my rants I have frequently ranted the same thing. But the mass media disinformation problem is more like the healthcare problem than the Trump/Russia debacle—because, as with the medical profession, the aim is a pure one: doctors try to help, and do no harm—and media is meant to inform and entertain.

In both cases, the transition to profit-based paradigms has created massive amounts of business: Medicine spawned Big Pharma, the Health Insurance industry, Corporate research, surgical and care devices from stents to remote-control surgical bots. Media has spawned the Networks, Cable, E-books, Computer Graphics, Streaming services, Online researching and metadata massage, movie franchising, social media—and, of course, cable news.

In both cases, profit has proven to be a dehumanizing influence in industries that are based, nominally, on humane goals. Our country’s medical care is the best in the world—for about ten percent of citizens, perhaps less. For the other 90%, care is more expensive and less professional than in socialized-medical-care countries—so when someone tells you that socialized medicine will be a big step backward, they are referring only to the fabulously wealthy.

Likewise, introducing the profit motive into a free press makes a lot of money and endless access to data for that ten percent or less—and distorts the so-called ‘news’. This could be fought against if it weren’t for the further distortion of people’s perceptions wrought by our click-bait culture. By narrowing our focus down to one issue, one headline at a time, cable news does two harms: first, the blindered presentation of individual issues makes them seem even more unsolvable and more numerous than they really are, and by removing the context, they prevent us from seeing the whole, where many of the answers we look for may be found.

marinerg

Wednesday, July 05, 2017                                                1:51 PM

It’s sad the way I’ve lost interest in people. Whenever I talk to people now, I find myself waiting for them to get bored and go away—while I hypocritically try to sound interesting so they won’t think I’m boring. I’m not really as selfish as that sounds—I’ve lost interest in myself, too, in a way—that is, I don’t push myself or dream of big goals anymore. I’ve soured, is probably the most concise expression.

For most of my life I was on a manic search for the new—I thought I was in love with learning, but it’s nothing so noble—I just feel stifled when things become overly familiar—I ‘need’ to find something new, all the time. Do you have books you keep telling yourself you’ll read? I don’t—I’ve read them all already. Do you keep telling yourself you’ll try this or that, someday? I don’t—I have already done everything I know of (and, yes, lots of things are fun the first time). But none of that stuff is fun anymore—it’s old.

Then, so am I.

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Trump and Putin need to stop misusing their elected offices to market their brands. Corruption has gone beyond ubiquitous, to in-your-face. Around the globe, we see it—starting with our own GOP, and a president who neither fully divests nor refuses emoluments–who puts his family members on staff as if running a mom and pop store instead of the USA.

But corruption is even more malignant in Mexico, and in both Central and South America. Corruption is more sophisticated in Europe and the UK—as one might expect. But we see the worst of it in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, and Russia. Russia is the supreme example—their ‘democracy’ was hijacked by the head mob-boss in post-Soviet Russia—and he has been getting reelected for 17 years. And this thug still has veto-power on the UN Security Council. Same as the other two thugs—Trump and Xi Peng.

But I’m not pointing fingers—my point is the opposite—that corruption is an ingredient of society—the only variables are: how deeply ingrained, how inhumane its profit-motive, and whether the ‘townspeople’ can stand up to bad government without being gunned down. It’s certainly more nuanced than that, but you get my concept, I hope.

Health Care Legislation was a very different thing before the Affordable Care Act (what there was of it). The ACA (or ‘Obamacare’, as I like to call it, for short) was the first law to require the health insurance industry to provide coverage that was less profitable, but fairer. Coverage that protected sick people, Obamacare virtually stated, could not be purely for profit—it had to have standards of an ethical nature, since Health Care was a business of life and death.

The health insurance industry felt obliged to resist lowered profits and increased regulation—they thought in terms of profit and loss. Like most industries, insurers can see no middle ground between maximum profit and a threat to their rights to do business. They can talk that way—corporations have many of the rights of a person—but they aren’t ‘person’ enough to have to face their own family after saying some of the cold-blooded, hypocritical press-releases they do—neither must a corporation tell individuals, to their faces, what they intend to do to them—or take away from them—or cheat them out of.

The law may say that a corporation is a person in the eyes of the court—but, outside the court, I think we can all agree that a corporation is the shittiest person anyone has ever met—not that anyone can meet those flat-faced, lobby-laminated excuses for human flesh. If a corporation sues someone, it’s never about the corporation’s integrity, as a person—it always because someone threatened their profits, their cash-flow, their public image. I could loiter around and spit on a corporation all day long—it’s not a person—it won’t even get its feelings hurt.

I’m stumped about what gives these actuarial fictions any Constitutional rights—it’s as if there’s a carney-ride gateway for piles of money, with a sign that says, “You must be this high to have all the rights of a person—without any of the consequences.”  Someone will have to explain it all to me someday. Then explain why such a stupid idea endures, like it was the friggin Emancipation Amendment or something.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017                                             2:25 PM

When will we face our embarrassment that we let Russian disinformation and hacking—and the media hoopla—trick us into letting crooks into the Administration? Trump’s gang have shown themselves without honor, without competence, without honesty, and without any regard for the Constitution—and, in spite of that, the Republicans scruple to impeach him (perhaps because he’s only slightly more cynically unethical than they are). But someday we’re going to have to face it—we’ve been had.

And the Russians go right ahead with their global program of disruption of democracy, attacking unity wherever they find it—especially in the United States. We take for granted that word in our country’s name—but it has been our shield and buckler, without us even really appreciating the power of unity. Our government had the wits to appreciate the strength of unity when FDR said, ‘let there be labor unions’. Business owners fought against it, but not having any moral ground to stand on, they were overruled.

Inclusion is just our modern way of saying ‘Unity’, when unity has become an old-fashioned expression. But old things are best—and there’s nothing like unity—teamwork, looking out for the guy next to you, etc.

And the media go right ahead, making a circus of the most serious aspect of our lives—money, taxes, legislation, infrastructure, consumer protection, et. al.—they talk about it in throbbing tones, dramatizing and stirring the pot of what is really a bunch of vote counting and legalese. I’m not saying journalists shouldn’t cover the news—but stop making it into some Shakespearian comic tragedy full of personalities and gossip. Stop making money broadcasting our political fate as if it were a football game, goddammit.

They usually reply that they’re just giving the public what they want—but that’s bullshit—if that were true, they could just broadcast porn and ESPN, and skip the news altogether—but if they’re going to do it, they should do it as a public service, not as a competitor in the ratings wars. They way they’re doing it now, it’s more like they’re cheerleaders for the devil—at their most thrilled when our country is on the brink of disaster. Cronkite did not announce Kennedy’s assassination breathlessly, like some Shopping Channel shill—he did it with tears in his eyes. Why? Because he was a human being—with a slight taint of decency.

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Friday, July 07, 2017                                                6:10 PM

I lost my memory and I can’t remember where I left it. I lost a liver and received a stranger’s to replace it. I’ve lost my health and all I have is writing to distract me. I lost my cigarettes when they diagnosed my emphysema—and I lost what little self-respect remained when I found I didn’t have the will to quit smoking, while slowly dying of emphysema. How stupid is that?

Very stupid—but I’m allowed to be. I used to be semi-intelligent—I know what intelligence means—and I no longer have it. If HepC made my brain stupid and I have to live with that, then I’m not going to blame myself for being stupid. I’m not really blaming myself for anything—that’s the beauty of learning to stop blaming other people—you get to stop blaming yourself, because the same excuses apply, no matter whose fault something is.

What excuses do I allow other people, in trying to stop blaming them? Well, there’s the thing about everybody being a product of how they were raised—genetics makes us all unique, but a common upbringing tells in most people. I use this one for parents and teachers—I tell myself that they were raised in an earlier, rougher period of time—by parents that were raised in an earlier, rougher period of time, etc., etc. If kids didn’t swear to raise their kids better than they were raised, we would all still be living in caveman times.

Conversely, a variant of this excuse, for contemporaries, is: I tell myself they were raised by weird, strict parents with weird, narrow-minded ideas. Basically parents are an excuse and a reason to be excused—as a parent myself, this comforts me. This rule is not reflexive however—good outcomes do not imply good parenting—goodness, in fact, often occurs in spite of bad parenting—and some terrible people have very nice parents (or, at least, one of them is, sometimes).

But it doesn’t really matter what excuses we use—the goal is to stop blaming other people. This is our goal, not because these people we blame deserve forgiveness, not because time has passed—not even because it allows us to take the moral high ground—none of these really require forgiveness. We want to stop blaming other people because it simplifies and improves our own head-space.

I am not, however, a forgive-and-forget person. If someone lies to me, I won’t rely on their word any longer. If someone takes from me, I won’t do business with them ever again. I don’t do these things because I hold a grudge—I do them because it would be crazy to ignore someone’s character. I don’t forget information, even if it is negative information. I stop blaming because it is a useless activity, but I don’t forget. Memory is a useful survival skill.

But I am no machine—I’m sure I contradict all these words half the time—when I write, I sometimes talk about me as I wish I was, not as I really am. Some of my thoughts make perfect sense in the moment, and then sound like idiocy deluxe a moment later. Life is a shifting target.

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Emphysema (2017May08)

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Monday, May 08, 2017                                            12:32 PM

Emphysema III   (2017May08)

Improv – Deuce

 

Improv – Trey

 

Improv – Quatro

 

Improv – Embracing the New

 

Improv – Having Fun

 

Improv – Persistence

Forgive the cliché, but it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. At long last, everyone who wanted me to quit smoking (including myself) is getting their wish—on the other hand, I’m quitting smoking—or, at least, I’m striving to do so—and there is some discomfort involved.

I started with patches and single-digits of cigarettes per day, then I stopped patches and went back up to double-digits for a day—but now I’ve been back in single-digits, and without any nicotine patches, for a couple of days. Learning to use my Advair corticosteroid inhaler twice-a-day has added a wrinkle—lately I’ve been waking up with huge pupils and no irises. It goes away after an hour or so—but apparently I’m tripping in my sleep.

I don’t know if that’s nicotine withdrawal or cortisone side-effects, which I could say about my mood-swings, tremors, and more-frequent spasms as well—and, in a way, not being sure helps with avoiding the cigarettes—I thrive on chaos, and at the moment, it’s non-stop.

Reaching zero total cigarettes is not the challenge for me (well, not the biggest one). Once I full-stop on the cigarettes, I will experience a healthy, calm stillness—I won’t be reaching for things, I won’t be drugged (except for caffeine), my mind will be relatively clear and my ears won’t be ringing.

That will be torture—that yawning void will be begging me to put the cigarettes back into the mix—you know, for fun—and nothing will distract me from that nagging voice—that’s going to be the real challenge. Stillness bugs me—clarity seems like a waste, a self-imposed chore.

That behavior used to have a function—my old mind was always threatening to over-rev itself, always in danger of over-heating—it needed an extra-viscous lubricant to reduce the friction. Nowadays, I’ve merely become used to that approach—my mind has little risk of overexerting itself nowadays, but it still enjoys a bit of viscosity to the thought-process—it’s what I’ve become comfortable with.

But, good-bye, comfort! It’s cigarette-quitting time. And please—don’t mention it. Talking about cigarettes is the worst thing I can do—and I certainly don’t need anyone else bringing it up.

The doctor switched me to a new anti-depressant—it’s hard to say, with all the rest of the chemicals, but I’m pretty sure it’s an improvement. And I’ve stopped taking vitamins every day—I’ve switched to a multi-vitamin every other day, and a B-complex every four days. Apparently that’s more than enough—every day is overkill, or so I’m told—and it makes less work for my stomach.

I could go on, but you get the picture—I’m going squirrelly, trying to become healthy—and I’m so unstable that the whole thing could crash and burn any minute—my kingdom for some will-power!

Tuesday, May 02, 2017                                            11:13 AM

Emphysema II   (2017May02)

Back to the doctor’s office we go—to get the skinny on my breathing and how to use an inhaler. Apparently, I have 75% use of the lungs of a 91-year-old.

Thursday, May 04, 2017                                          2:45 PM

Advair is the brand name for my new cortico-steroid inhaler—it’s a pain in the ass to use and very weird. Sometimes, being sick makes you a helpless, involuntary drug-tester for future users of new drugs.

Inhaling steroid dust is nothing, though, compared to trying to quit smoking. I’ve been messing around with a mixture of nicotine patches and will-power—it’s heavy sledding. I wasn’t sure I had it in me. However, Bear has obtained Chantix for me—it’s a quit-smoking drug with side-affects like you wouldn’t believe. I think I might have just enough will-power to quit smoking, if it means I don’t have to take that shit—I don’t want to give up tobacco for my health and, in the process, go mad or bleed internally or whatever Chantix might do to me.

I’m sure not-smoking is a wonderful thing—but it will never be anywhere near as nice as smoking. How come every time I have to do something for my health, it means making life less enjoyable? The biggest problem with quitting is that I spend all day not-doing-something—which is weird and unenjoyable—and I’d much rather be so involved in doing something that I didn’t think about what I was missing. I need a hobby, I guess.

Thursday, April 27, 2017                                        12:22 PM

Emphysema   (2017Apr27)

Emphysema is fun—a true smoker’s disease, unlike lung cancer or heart disease, which any old Tom, Dick, or Harry can fall prey to, emphysema is virtually unheard of except in the case of long-term smokers. The little bubbles at the end of the bronchioles, the alveoli, become enflamed—or even necrotic—thus disabling their function (to be the exchange-point for oxygen). The lungs can pump away like a bellows—but the oxygen being breathed in does not make it into the bloodstream.

Without that fuel, the body works much harder—shortness of breath, fatigue, and weight loss are common symptoms of emphysema. Most people notice shortness-of-breath right away, but those who lead a sedentary lifestyle may not notice this—or connect it to something other than lack of exercise. Idiots like that may wait until their lungs actually hurt before they get a chest x-ray.

I got a chest x-ray yesterday. Fun’s over. I now have to quit smoking. I already had to quit drinking—this is the last straw. I’ve run out of vices. How does one live a life without vices?

But never mind that. How do I quit smoking? I’m four hours into this brave new world and I’m clenching my jaw and feeling dizzy—that’s with a nic-patch, mind you—so it’s all in my head. We fear change—and this is a perfect example of why.

Since I was eighteen—so that’s about forty-three years, about 16,000 days, at two packs a day—that’s over 600,000 cigarettes, give or take. Honestly, I may have spent more time smoking a cigarette than I’ve spent on anything else. Also, I kind of liked smoking—as an activity—it was relaxing and enjoyable.

But now I have to confront tobacco as an addiction—I’m not ignoring nagging doomsayers anymore, I’m ignoring my own health by any future smoking. As with my old liver problems, the lungs don’t self-repair—emphysema is forever—and while nothing can reverse the damage, each cigarette can worsen it. Good times—as usual. Well, Claire is happy, at least, at last—without ever truly nagging me about cigarettes, she has hoped I’d quit for a long time.

Eternal Argument   (2017Apr19)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017                                              1:51 PM

A good person, we are told, avoids fighting unless it’s absolutely necessary—but the one who throws the first punch has the best chance of winning a fight. A good person, we are told, cares about others—but then again, one is supposed to look out for number one. Honesty is the best policy—but a little white lie can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

If these sound familiar, it may be because they are often the crux of a drama: to fight or not to fight, to give or to take, to be honest or not. So, one might assume that ethics adds drama to life—ethics tell us to find a way around our animal impulses—and that’s where the drama comes in. But, if we are successful, we feel that we’ve risen above our animal nature—ethics is our way of proving to ourselves that we are above dogs.

No offense to dogs—some of them are far nicer than people—but if you try to reason with a dog, you won’t get far. Then again, trying to reason with some people is no different. They use the pretense of reason to rationalize the behavior of an animal. Even math can be warped into the service of bullshit—4 out of 5 dentists agree.

Some claim that ethics are pretentious luxuries, a thin veneer that falls away at the first sign of deprivation or hunger. But the same could be said of friendship—and while that may be true of many friendships, or ethics, it is not true of all of them. Some people are kamikazes about their friendships, or their ethics—are these people mad? Or are the rest of us missing out on some key factor?

I think it depends on how much you value yourself—if you consider yourself a part of something, you’re less likely to see yourself as irreplaceable—you’re more likely to see sacrifice, on your part, as benefitting the whole. If you think of yourself as a ‘lone-wolf’ individual, you’re more likely to see your own survival as the bottom line.

So, it seems our choices are: 1. suicidally sacrificial or 2. selfishly self-centered—at this point, we realize that everything has two sides and there is no simple, rote answer to any question. A-little-of-each presents itself as the obvious answer—but is it really that simple? Sorry—no, nothing is simple—then again, it can be, if you shut your mind to the endless variety of existence. This accounts for the effectiveness of some douchebag giving out with a derisive ‘whatever’ as a rebuttal to common sense. Apparently, ‘I don’t give a shit’ is an acceptable substitute for ‘I know what I’m doing’.

I don’t respect people that walk away from a losing argument—to me, losing an argument is the most educational experience there is—to find out that there is a better answer, a better way of seeing things. What could be of greater value? When I argue, it’s not to win the fight, it’s to communicate a different point of view—and if I lose the argument, I’m obligated to recognize that the other person had a better grasp of the issue than I did—and that I’ve learned something.

Even if someone hears me out and insists on disagreeing with me, because of their ‘faith’ or some such non-rational bullshit—even that I can respect more than someone who enters into an argument just to be belligerent—and walks away with a ‘whatever’ when they can’t bully me with their rhetoric. That’s just being a jerk, in my book.

The glut of such jerks online is similar to the increased hate and xenophobia that we see today—and it has the same source. Trump is a bully-arguer, and a racist fear-monger—and he won the election (or, at least, the Electoral College)—so, other bully-arguers, and racist fear-mongers, feel emboldened, having such a prominent role-model. And in the end, the bad example of our head of state may do more lasting damage than his bad governance. Bad laws can be rescinded, but encouraging people to hate is a poor lesson that can have a life-long impact on our society.

That is my strongest reason for wanting Trump impeached—conduct unbecoming an American. A leader should be an example—and his incompetent, unethical leadership isn’t nearly as damaging as his bad example. Trump isn’t just a bad president—he’s a bad person. #Sad!

Improv – Late in the Day

 

Thursday, April 20, 2017                                        3:29 PM

The Job of Jazz   (2017Apr19)

The R&B brass section, the vocal back-up trio, the echo effect—and then the electric guitar comes in. It’s got smooth power—and makes you feel like you’re madly in love. But the drums seal the deal—you fall into another world—a world that was hiding behind the silence. At that point, anything the front man sings will sound like sexy poetry—he could be reading from a phone book. And that’s the artifice in art—to the audience it is transporting—to the creator it is hard work, made to seem effortless.

Poetry is much the same—Eliot called it ‘a mug’s game’. Writing in general is a matter of pacing and rhythm—even the graphic arts have a sweep to them that is the visual equivalent of rhythm and pacing—composition and contrast, highlights and empty space.

The paradox is pure—self-expression is not for the creative worker—it is for everyone else. It is an expression—which presumes a listener, a viewer, a reader. Yes, it is your unique and personal self-expression—but it is still an expression—a message sent—and why send a message if not to connect to a recipient?

That is the nakedness of it—to be honestly self-expressive is to reveal who we are—and who we are is the sum of our lifetimes. Thus honest self-expression becomes one’s life story—who we are and how we live. Its revelatory nature is the thing that frightens many people away—and they are all quite sensible people. Apparently, strong feelings and conflict drive some people to creative self-expression—contented people can enjoy art (I’m in that group) but they aren’t as driven as those who live and breathe their art as an almost exclusive preoccupation.

Some people insist on being the audience. They’ll call out to a celebrity actor by their TV character’s name—ignoring both reality and the hard work of the actor in an unconscious effort to merge entertainment with reality. To the actor, I imagine, that’s a double-edged compliment—the high regard of the delusional—but with their numbers so high, ratings are guaranteed—in some way, he or she is making their living by feeding that delusion.

And am I any saner, just because I know to turn off my willing suspension of disbelief as the credits roll? We all crave seeing our lives as something other than the reality—we love to connect to feelings we share, to experience vicariously and empathize with the challenges and exertions of heroes and heroines. Reading a good book isn’t much different from living in another time and place as another person. Coming to the end of a great movie is like waking from an incredible dream. Sex, drugs, and liquor have their place—but there is no escapism like the arts.

Hadyn – Sonata in C (Excerpt)

Friday, April 21, 2017                                              12:42 AM

These new videos I’ve posted today include one that is a sight-reading of the 2nd and 3rd movements from a Haydn Sonata in C (I forget the number). First of all, I misspelled Haydn’s name in the video, which is always embarrassing, yet I always do it. Secondly, I don’t keep any kind of rhythm and everyone knows that you have to keep a steady rhythm. Try to think of it as conversational sight-reading. Talented musicians sometimes take exception to my posts—they are the antithesis of good technique—and I get tired, sometimes, of explaining that I can’t play the piano as well as I would wish—but I like to do it, and I like to share it with people who aren’t so picky. I had a run-in just the other day and I wrote it up, but then I decided not to share it with you. Now, however, as a preemptive disclaimer to my poorly-played Haydn, I share it herewith:

 

Friday, April 14, 2017                                              6:28 PM

YouTube Scuffle   (2017Apr14)

“Every Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter (2013Jun06)

https://youtu.be/4BMa7HEE1Uo

This is a video I posted four years ago. Three years go by—nobody watches, nobody cares—then, a year ago:

plica06 (1 year ago) This is so bad. You could have at least practised a bit before uploading.

xperdunn (1 year ago)  plica06: What a perfect opportunity for you to show us all how it’s done with your own video performance. Or are you all talk and no go?

US GameRat (4 months ago) xperdunn: good thing you know how to handel this and im not being sarcastic at all, im being serious. dont worry about what he or she said, because even if you did or didnt practice that is one beautiful song and you deserve the love because i know what music is. i know why this was so good and it still is, so thank you for making this video become true because without this video i woulndt have any other help, and this is the only video i found because i have the same music, and i found it online and so youre basically helping me learn this song. but this video was better that what i thought than what i would find. you impressed me thank you! i dont care if this plica06 guy calls me some random 13 year-old-piano-player-wanna be, i dont give a shit. i love music, and no one can make me stop. i really have an extreme, basically addiction, or really really deep love over music. but yea. thanl you. at least you made this come true than someone judjing you by who you are because i know truly youre an amazing person. really. and im talking to xperdunn 🙂

xperdunn  (4 months ago) US GameRat: thanks for the support, guy! We music-lovers must fight the forces of musical snobbery, encouraging everyone to enjoy music, no matter the trolls. Be well.

US GameRat (4 months ago)  xperdunn yeah! thank you 🙂

pianoplaylist (2 hours ago) plica06 was extremely lacking in tact.  I disagree though that he or she is a mere troll or a just a musical snob.  You, sir, should fight the forces of mediocrity and make a version that is worthy of your years of investment of time and worthy of the genius work of art that this song is.  It’s a free country and you can upload whatever half-baked, sight reading practice session you desire, but you obviously have the talent and the knowledge to refine your rendition and make it more pleasing to the ear.  That would be more encouraging to the learners.  Sorry for being harsh.  I wish you the best in all things.

xperdunn:

So, you can see that plica06 is critical of my poor piano playing—and because I post my videos to encourage other non-talented music-lovers to go ahead and share what they love, I don’t take crap from nobody—that’s part of it, showing people that a troll is nothing but a guy wasting his time at the keyboard.

But pianoplaylist is critical because he thinks I can do better. That’s the trouble with the internet—everyone has an agenda and nobody knows the whole story. I can barely hold a cup of coffee in my left hand—intentional tremors are just one of the symptoms of nerve damage—poor short-term memory is another. My decades-long struggle with HepC and liver cancer and a liver transplant—and all the permanent damage that was done to my body and my mind—make my poor attempts something of a triumph, even though they suck by the usual standards.

And that is the reason I post my videos—anyone else out there who has been told that they weren’t meant to play music—ignore the critics. Anyone out there that is embarrassed to post their music—post it anyway—be brave. If you have even a pinch of ability, you will soon be much better than I am, or will ever be. As long as you love music—play it—share it—don’t stop to listen to anyone else—they should be playing their own music, not stopping your bliss.

I was extremely gratified that my sight-reading was able to help US GameRat to learn to play this beautiful tune by Cole Porter, an American legend. If he is the only person that takes heart from my posts, so be it—good enough. But who knows, maybe there are more young beginners out there….

Improv – First Star

Factuality    (2017Apr18)

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017                                          12:52 PM

There are seven billion people on the planet—and that’s a large number of people. If every one of them used the same amount of resources and energy as the average American, the Earth would ignite like a matchhead, leaving a gray, smoking waste where once we had green, lush bounty. I don’t say this to bedevil my countrymen—I’m just stating a fact.

Neither do I believe we are guilty as people for living as we do. The evil logic of Capitalism creates the over-abundance of pollution and waste, as much as our lifestyles do. In many cases, as in the use of a personal, gas-powered vehicle, the choice of whether to use one is made a matter of ‘can one afford to?’ rather than ‘should one use a car, at all?’ And it isn’t the citizenry that decides how much public transportation is available—it is wealthy capitalists who determine what industries are most profitable—and the health and safety of people does not enter into that formula.

On the one hand we have politics and government, which we all debate with enthusiasm. On the other hand we have the obvious—that each of us wants to live his or her own life without restraint. Simply put, we don’t want the government interfering in our lives—just in everyone else’s.

Government governs best which governs least—except for my next-door neighbor, who needs a lot of governing, right? But government can’t manage the welfare of the citizenry without some control over the citizenry. We try to make that okay by providing the citizens with control of their government, through democracy, but in the end that government must impose rules upon us, whether those rules were democratically arrived at or not.

So, ideally, we want rules that will constrain everyone’s behavior, but which we ourselves find little or no burden. For many people, the criminalization of pot carries no onus, because they don’t smoke pot. For those who do, the criminality of it is an outrage. For those earning minimum wage, income taxes are no great burden—a little bit less than too little is no big deal. For those who must pay millions, taxes seem truly hurtful.

Politics, as we have lately seen, is a far cry from government. Politics used to be an arena for those who felt they knew, better than the main run of folks, how to govern—but politics has devolved into a kind of industry, where motives (if there are any, beyond money or power) are no longer ideals. There are exceptional politicians, still—but their tiny numbers make them less than the main thrust of political discourse—and they are often ridiculed by the ‘stuffed-shirts brigade’ for trying to do something unusual—as if the ‘usual’ had some sanctity to it.

Plus, politicians have surrendered themselves to the moneyed interests as the natural course of things—where, in the past, their reluctance to bow to pressure was their only difference from the businesspeople they now submit to, as if business had the rights instead of people. If they must be so craven, they should just scrap the whole wasteful circus and let the businesspeople run things for themselves. That’s not a bad idea—let business deal with the problems of humanity for a while and maybe they’ll realize that neglecting people is, in the long run, as bad for business as it is for the people.

But let’s be real—people are so stupid they’d burn this country to the ground, if only they can keep making a fast buck. The few sensible people among the crowd talk too softly to be heard over the shouting of the self-important. We haven’t lived like the other animals for a long, long time—yet we still think and act like them. We have the ability to coordinate the entire human race into one, united family—but that is the last thing anyone in power wants to do. They tell us to focus on the ‘economy’, meaning the shell-game that they are currently winning, rather than any bigger picture that involves a higher form of civilization.

I see us all too clearly—and I’ll tell you true: if we destroy ourselves, it will be no great loss. If we can’t do any better than we are right now, the entire Earth and everything that lives on it (or what’s left of it) will be better off without humanity’s thoughtless abuse. And why are we all working so hard—seven billion sweating and striving so that seven hundred or so can enjoy the fabulous wealth and power that humanity is capable of?

All you hard workers out there—start taking long lunches—let the assholes figure out where the toner is for once. And stop watching the news until they rediscover journalism—or at least until they start ignoring Trump. Trump may be president, but still, we are all stupider every time he speaks. And that is only slightly less true for every Republican politician and spokesperson. Let’s face it—they are not another side of things—they are the wrong side of things—else why would they have to hack the system with Wikileaks and Citizen’s United, etc.? They do not express a different side of the truth—they seek to obscure the truth—and that’s not acceptable. Not to me. Only to a media that thrives on confusion and sensation and distraction.

I don’t want to bring down clownish assholes like Trump and the rest of the GOP—I want to incite a rising up of the people who’ve given too much and gotten too little in return. I want people to stand up on their hindlegs and start barking back at these slimy crooks—bring enough light into our society that the flimsy facades of these bastards become as transparent as onion skin. Then we won’t have to topple Trump and his ilk—they’ll crawl back into the holes they came from, their putrid skin burnt by the sunlight of reason, justice, and tolerance.

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Monday, April 17, 2017                                          3:20 PM

Jerks Of a Feather   (2017Apr17)

Like calls to like—Trump is more interested in Kim Jong Un than in anyone in our country. That’s because both leaders are far more concerned with their egos than with the welfare of their citizens. Un inherited poor citizens and Trump grabbed up the rich citizens—and even the world’s largest ocean won’t keep them from standing toe-to-toe, puffing out their chests though the rest of the world holds its breath against the possibility of nuclear winter.

Trump’s got it easier—all he has to distract us from is his treasonous campaign, his ignorance, his incompetence, his taxes, and his nepotism. Un has to actually distract his people from their starvation in a country with no electricity or telephones—a much heavier lift. But give Trump his full four years and who knows? The two countries may end up looking much the same.

Retail stores are hurting from the rise of Amazon, etc., and the cheapness and convenience of the Post Office, UPS, and FedEx. The USPS may not be carrying any first-class letters anymore, with the internet and email rendering them obsolete, but the package biz is booming—our local postal worker complains about the packages that clog up his office when we don’t pick up our mail every day. And with their price-point (and certain grandfathered-in legal restrictions) the post office maintains a strong advantage over third-party delivery services, like UPS.

The fact that many entry-level jobs at retail stores are disappearing, as site-specific shopping disappears, would be no great loss, as careers—but many of those jobs were taken by young people—who were already hard-pressed to find employment, or work experience of any kind. Technology always subtracts jobs from the economy—tech-positive types will assure us that they create new jobs while they destroy the old ones, but let’s take this retail business as a case study.

Floorwalkers and clerks were once needed for every shop in the mall—will there be an equal demand for UPS and FedEx drivers? And will that experience prepare young employees for future jobs as well as working in a retail store? I don’t think so. I think it’s time Silicon Valley started designing apps that use people instead of code—create jobs, not programs. Otherwise we’re headed for a fully-automated society with zero employment.

That would be doable, in a somewhat socialist society—but in pure capitalism, unemployment means poverty, period. So we can either start progressing backwards—or embrace socialism. Yes, it’s ironic that capitalism created the situation, our present race towards human joblessness—and for profit, no less. But that doesn’t change the facts: that a capitalist society requires consumers, and consumers can’t pay without jobs. It’s also ironic that business owners are even more vulnerable than workers, in that any business, nowadays, can disappear overnight—and losing a business is a much greater fall than merely losing a job.

vaticanmusic01

Sunday, April 16, 2017                                            3:00 PM

Happy Easter   (2017Apr16)

Pick your preference—the solemnity of a holy day, or an Easter egg hunt and a fight over the Cadbury egg. I prefer combining the two and watching Turner Classics’ day-long re-airing of the Hollywood treatments of the Christ—kinda like Eddy Haskell reading the New Testament to June Cleaver.

As a boy, in Catholic Church every Sunday, I would look at the bas-reliefs on the walls of the church—the Stations of the Cross were depicted in small, white-marble tableaux and spaced along the walls on both sides. I was fascinated by the way everyone had a different way of sticking their tongue out to receive the sacrament—it was cognitive dissonance to walk up to the priest and stick out your tongue, but you had to do it.

I never liked Easter egg hunts—they were competitive, but you weren’t supposed to be greedy—very strange, conflicting messages. You were supposed to find as many as you could, but you shouldn’t find them all, because then the littler kids would be left out. Stupid game. We did it for our kids, but we put their eggs on opposite sides of the yard so they each had a search area and could take their time.

I don’t like Easter—it’s like Christmas without the fun and presents. And way too many hard-boiled eggs were involved—which meant deviled eggs, egg salad sandwiches and just plain hard-boiled eggs, with salt, for a snack—for days afterward—yuck. And I hate mint jelly, which only appeared at Easter dinner.

I think Americans like Jesus because he dissociated faith from the state, just like our founders dissociated the state from the monarchy. And it’s a grand story—death and resurrection, freedom from the pains of this world—I’d buy it—who wouldn’t. But faith is like quitting smoking—it sounds a lot better than it is—especially when you’re down in the dumps.

So happy Easter, everyone—and enjoy the movies.

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Piano Tuner   (2017Apr12)

20170413XD-SenOnTheScramble_01Wednesday, April 12, 2017                                              3:17 PM

Chris Farrell has tuned the piano and spring has officially arrived—the sour flatness of a far-too-long winter is broken into shards of light by the bright eagerness of our perfectly-attuned piano. If you don’t see much of Chris lately, it’s because the Danbury WestConn needs him to tune all their pianos, all hundred-something of them, all year ‘round. Also, he’s working up a new website and writing the occasional song for the UN—yeah, that UN. His daughter is also busy—involved in two recent films “The Fits” and “Salero” (I forget if she directed, produced or both) and you can see them on Netflix if you’re looking for the good stuff.

It’s easy to stay humble when my piano tuner plays my piano far better than I ever could—come to think of it, that was also true of old Steve Anderson, who used to tune our old keyboards—I’m just not very good. But I sure sound better on a tuned piano—they practically play themselves.

Improv – Rainy Spring

 

Well, the world is a troublesome place—and it seems we add to its power and convenience at our peril—in this present time, with anonymized global comms, shoddy fissile-material security, jet bombers, and alt-news websites recruiting for terror, bad actors have never had it so good.

Every great thing our technology can do is diluted, polluted by the entrenched interests, especially in fuel-energy. Every great thing our Internet can do is smeared by the insecurity of hacking and phishing—the more we welcome it into our lives, the greater the risks. Every great thing our country meant to do for the world has been consumed by our military-industry complex abroad and the NRA at home. The eternal health crisis of modern drug use has been opaqued and diverted by our blind insistence on ‘criminalizing’ drugs—meanwhile Big Pharma bankrupts families (and promotes drug abuse) selling ‘legal’ drugs by prescription.

 

 

Improv – Thoughtful

None of the misbehavior is new—but the means, the opportunities, and the exploding variety of white-collar crimes, child armies, and gang activities all combines to demonstrate the kind of explosive change the good guys could be enjoying, if we weren’t being snookered into complacency by vested interests and politicians who see their very existence threatened by the possibilities of digital voting and online government transparency—these things will happen over the cold, dead bodies of the establishment’s entitled. And all the while politicians’ll puff up their chests and orate about democracy—and afterwards, a lobbyist will hand them a check for their reelection campaign.

The English had their mad King George—but unlike us, with Trump, they didn’t suffer the shame of having elected him. Trump is the triumph of ignorance and the death of representative government. And the Republicans who use his populist carnival-barking to advance their partisanship are truly “dogs who have caught a car”—up until now, we had the sense to expect them not to govern—but we foolishly made them our governing body, and they don’t know how—they’d lost for so long, they forgot that ‘winning’ wasn’t the actual job.

Thursday, April 13, 2017                                        2:04 PM

Dumber than Dirt   (2017Apr13)

Trust in Trump—to perfectly simulate what a child would do, as president. He just dropped ‘the biggest non-nuke bomb in our arsenal’ on a suspected ISIS site in Afghanistan. Remember Afghanistan? That’s the country we armed in the eighties, so that they could repel the Soviet invaders—and when they did, we lost their phone-number—leaving the Afghanis with a ruin for a country and no post-war aid or support—like we have traditionally given, even to our enemies.

Twenty years later, in 2003, as we prepared to invade, we even joked that we couldn’t bomb Afghanistan ‘back to the stone age’ because they were already there—and there was truth to that. Fifteen years further along, Trump figures that one big bomb oughta do it—what do you think?

I think he’s dumber than the dirt he kicked up. The arms-makers must be drooling at this guy—it cost millions to send that single flight of Tomahawks to Syria—and I bet it wasn’t cheap to drop the world’s biggest bomb, either. At least he saved us the expense of getting congressional approval.

Poor Afghanistan—we love to fight there, but god forbid we help them keep their peace. That’s the trouble with all these trouble-spots—when the firing stops, everyone turns their backs. Why don’t we try fighting to help some of these people—is that too far beneath us? But then, Americans aren’t big on fixing stuff, even in their own country—I think we’re missing an opportunity here—infrastructure is universal—if we started fixing our own, we could globalize—there are plenty of places in the world that need rebuilding. Of course, they’d have to stop shooting first—and so would we.

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Bear’s Birthday   (2017Apr10)

IMG_3120

Monday, April 10, 2017                                          9:53 AM

It’s my lovely Bear’s birthday today—may she live forever! O, how the celebration will ring out across the universe. O, how joyous are the people of Earth to have the mighty Bear in all her glory, marking another year with all of us.

The Bear celebrates her day with special yoga sessions and perhaps a jar of lingonberry preserves. We don’t know—the mysterious Bear moves about the community with speed and stealth—she is not presently here.

Improv – Jones Beach

 

Bear’s home! And it’s time for bagels with lox and cream cheese—yay! I got Bear a selection of Swedish jams and soda-bread for her birthday—from Hemslojd, you know. I think she liked the printed tin more than the food. Well, enough of that—Bear doesn’t like to be talked about online.

Improv – Pop Patchouli

 

Monday, April 10, 2017                                          7:34 PM

Pete came by today—we got just one improv out of it—I haven’t been playing well lately. It’s very frustrating. But Pete is great and we had fun, so one improv is all we get. Considering how much trouble the piano has been giving me lately, I’m grateful for the one.

 

Improv – Five Dollars

 

Improv – Appalachian Trail

 

Cover: “Girls On the Beach” & Improv (Coda)

 

Improv – Breezy Meadow

 

Improv – Water Sprite

 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017                                          6:59 PM

I’m almost done with new videos—including Pete and I from yesterday. I watched “Hidden Figures” today—what a great movie—I’m going to get the book—movies about history always leave out a lot from the book. It’s one of the few times you can still enjoy reading it after watching the movie—because it still has surprises in it.

 

Improv – Crocuses

 

Latest Offerings   (2017Mar25)

Saturday, March 25, 2017                                        2:26 PM

Cover: “Can’t Smile Without You”

This weekend started with a bang—but it sucks that we have to get our jollies from seeing our criminal president and his cynical Congress get their asses kicked. If only we could acquire the knack of electing statespersons instead of lickspittles. Well, there’s supposedly a surge of young women getting into politics as both activists and candidates, so maybe our choices will improve in future—let’s hope so. Not that men can’t produce the occasional Al Franken or Tim Kaine, but such men are rare as hen’s teeth on the beltway, or in state legislatures. Women can hardly hurt things.

Improv – Spring Dance

 

But enough about worldly matters. Oh, one last thing—the ‘Spring Dance’ video I posted today includes pictures of the grandbaby at her first Women’s March in San Jose—such a cute little protestor! There are also shots of the princess (and family) at her first California vineyard wine-tasting and a St. Paddy’s celebration. Even more exciting are the videos of her first attempts at crawling—that kid’ll be mobile any day now—poor parents.

Cover: “Who Needs to Dream”

 

These videos have taken me two weeks to get posted—I’m slowing down some, lately. But even without the cheat-factor of using cute baby pictures in the video, I think the music is okay—as always, it’s the best I can manage. I yam wot I yam, as Popeye would say.

Improv – Retro-Chrome

 

I’ve recorded the Barry Manilow covers before, but I enjoy them so I did them over again. Barry is the king of schmaltz—and I’m a big fan, even if my playing (and singing) doesn’t show it.

Improv – Hymnal

 

I guess I’ll have to get busy at the piano—these six new videos represent only a part of the pile of pix and video that’s been coming from Jessy lately—and I can’t show you all the baby cuteness until I have music to go with it. Still, I think what I’ve posted today should keep up anyone’s cuteness quota for awhile.

Improv – Haunted House Blues

 

Okay, I’m done—please enjoy these latest offerings.

 

ttfn.

Knowledge is Three-Dimensional   (2017Mar13)

rodinevilspirits

Monday, March 13, 2017                                        11:16 AM

Cheese und crackers, can I write a suicidally depressing blog-post. But never fear, dear reader, I wouldn’t ask you to read that last one—not everything I write deserves posting. Let me try again—let’s see if I can be a little less direct, a little less my quintessential self.

Weather? Well, it’s cold as a witch’s tit, and weather is the death of conversation, so no joy there. Politics? Please, don’t get me started—neither one of us will enjoy that. The day of the week? Do you really want another smug joke about the Monday blues, the Monday blahs, the…oh, forget it.

I put myself back on anti-depressants yesterday—but I messed up and just took a full dose—you’re supposed to ramp up slowly, but you know how my memory doesn’t work. I spent the whole night in the crapper and my tummy still hurts. But, rocky start notwithstanding, I’m now safely back inside the drug bubble—protected from the flashes of rage and frustration, the obsessive behavior, the sleepless nights.

It’s always struck me as funny that the one thing anti-depressants can’t cure is depression. I’ve never stopped being depressed on these things, have you? No, anti-depressants modify your chemical response to depression—they don’t change the thoughts in your head—just the way that your body reacts to them.

Young people don’t usually make much of the connection between their feelings and the effects of those feelings on the body—or the effect of the body’s health on their feelings. Maybe that’s because the hormonal turbulences of young people easily overshadow that resonance—maybe that’s why I’m just starting to notice it, now that my hormones have gone ‘deep background’. For all we know, young people feel the oncoming rainstorm in their joints, too—but their hormones are shouting so loudly they can’t hear it.

I’m reading a story that posits the existence of ancient civilizations with technologies we’ve never learned. I thought about it. When the discovery was made, about electro-magnetic inductance and about EM radiation having a spectrum, from microwaves to radio waves to visible light to infra-red heat, et al., we shouted ‘Eureka!’ and decided that we had plumbed the mysteries of electricity. But what if there’s more to it—what if we ran with EM radiation, and in doing so ignored another basic principle of electricity that goes unknown and unnoticed today?

It’s a valid question: how much of our science is the development of physical concepts we discovered, or figured out, and excited us enough to overlook some other basic concept? What if our standard idea of EM radiation, as perpendicular waves of electricity and magnetism, is actually missing another pair that fit in diagonally—say, unicorn power and ESP, or something? After all, dark matter and dark energy are references to things that we can’t see or sense, thing we can only deduce through corollaries—is it any less likely that there are a few phenomena in physics that we can see, but have not yet deduced the meaning of?

If you’d asked me about this question a few years ago, I’d have been dismissive—but my opinion of human intelligence has taken a nose-dive of late and now, if there’s a question of ‘can we be that blind?’, I’m leaning always towards ‘yes’.

And, really, could electricity be more mysterious? Even after we figured out the basics—the Edison stuff—we still had waiting to be discovered: resistors (materials which change in a current), super-conductors (materials which transfer current without any loss of strength due to resistance), and solar panels (materials which convert sunlight into current). Think about it—Edison invented the electric lightbulb prior to our discovery that light itself was electricity (well, electromagnetic radiation at a certain frequency, if you insist on being technical).

Some discoveries, in short, are brand new ideas no one ever conceived of or guessed at—but some discoveries are of a deeper understanding of the already known. Galileo built the first telescope—but Newton was the first to figure out the optics of it—to explain why a telescope works. In reaching that deeper understanding, Newton was also inspired to invent the reflecting telescope—a smaller but more efficient use of magnification optics than the straight spyglass type.

In summary, there is always more to learn, to discover—but there’s always more to learn about what we already know, as well. Knowledge is three-dimensional.

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Pete— and Political Depression   (2017Mar07)

20170306XD-BabySoxTuesday, March 07, 2017                                        7:38 PM

It was fun playing with Pete yesterday, as always—we did Sixties covers and an improv at the end—shorter than usual, but I’ve been somewhat fatigued lately—this post also has two solo videos I’ve been trying to upload for a few days.

I enjoyed the annual arrival of March 4th on Saturday (You know… ‘What’s the only day of the year that’s like a military command?’) The worse a joke is, the better I like it. It was also brother Russell’s birthday the previous day, March 3rd—had he lived, he would have been 59 last Friday.

Lots of politics in the news—but I’ve decided it’s all a big conspiracy—the politicians, the media, the wealthy, the corporations—they do their little school play and we all applaud, like they’re responsible grown-ups instead of empty suits with staring fish-eyes. As Al Pacino once said, “I’d like to take a blowtorch to this place.” Now that they have us arguing amongst ourselves over what’s true, we’re doomed—they’re even dropping any pretense of ethics, they have us so locked up—it’s pitiful.

So I’m taking the night off from playing their bull-pucky games. I tell you what really gets me—the pretension to respectability, so transparent, so far removed from actual respectability. All we expect of them is that they can speak intelligently about the job they’re supposed to be doing—and they can’t even get that much together.

But pose? Man, can these monkeys pose. I suppose, given the majority of them having no ethics, it’s just as well they don’t know much. But enough about politicians—competent people are hard put to throw themselves in with mongrels and such saintly folk are thus eternally doomed to labor in the minority—like Warren, Franken, and Sanders. My blogging, about what that gang of thugs in Washington is doing, is even less effective.

Well, there goes my plan to write something cheery. Dammit.

What can I say? I’m not a chipper guy. And I really am feeling tired lately—it’s not helping. I think I have political depression—they’ve changed our democracy into a reality show/game show/talk show—and I get depressed remembering the good old days—when people still had working heads and democracy was a serious responsibility. Remember? It was just four years ago.

Anyway, thanks as always to Pete, for being such a good sport about playing music with me—and for being such a good friend.

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Stuck in the Snow   (2017Feb27)

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Monday, February 27, 2017                                             11:29 AM

I’m tired of discussing it. I’ve been in meetings with people I respected, people who knew what they were talking about—and still, at some point you reach a time when you just get tired. How much more tiring it is to have an argument (I won’t dignify them as ‘discussions’) with someone who is speaking from an emotional, partisan obstinacy.

They trot out their syllogisms, their zingers, their disdain for other points-of-view, their outrage, hurt pride, and puffed chests—the tools of those for whom reason holds no fascination—just a lurking fear that calm, sensible thought will prove them wrong, and a blindness to their emotional attachment to maintaining the wrong, if that’s the case.

It reminds me of a story. I was hitchhiking on I-684 in a snowstorm, coming back north from a visit to a friend in White Plains. Four guys in a real boat of a seventies car picked me up. Their friendliness was greater than their care for their automobile, for the windshield-wipers weren’t working and the driver was trying to reach out his window and wipe the snow from the windshield as he drove.

Traffic moves right along on 684—we must have been doing sixty when the driver’s attention to the windshield caused him to stop paying attention to the road and he went onto the shoulder. The shoulder had deeper snow, and so pulled the car further off the road—the steering wheel, at this point in the snowstorm, had become more a suggestion than an instruction.

Soon we were basically sleigh-riding the car through a field full of saplings by the side of the highway—shearing their tops off as the car’s inertia plowed us unerringly towards some older trees—trees with trunks that would put a quick stop to even the largest vehicle. The car, luckily, slowed to a stop just a few feet in front of one such tree. We all breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn’t met the tree, and piled out to try to push the car back from the tree and towards the road again.

The car wouldn’t budge. We pushed and pushed and nothing happened. I got down on the ground and looked under the car. I could see that we had sheared off a healthy sapling’s trunk and the base of the young tree was not only jammed up into the carriage, but bent towards the larger tree we had just avoided smashing into. Five men with slippery shoes in the snow would have had a tough time moving the car had it been free to roll. But this was five men trying to push a car hard enough to uproot a small tree—while pushing a car.

I tried to explain the physics to my kind travelers—but I couldn’t express myself clearly enough to make them understand that we would have to literally lift the car off the ground to extract it from the spot it was in—I couldn’t even get them to look under the car, as I had. They wanted me to continue helping them try to push the car.

At the time, I felt more stuck by my inability to get through to my new friends than by the car being physically, inextricably stuck where it was. I’m not an alpha-male—I’m not the assertive sort—when I say things, I don’t shout or insist—I just say them. It never fails to surprise me that no one ever listens—it’s not like I’m wrong all the time—and you’d think people would notice that, right? But, no—no one ever says, “Hey, we better listen to Chris—he’s usually right.” I only got noticed when I made a mistake. In that way, I’ve always identified with Hillary Clinton—the smartest person in whatever room she’s in, but the last person anyone wants to hear from—and just let her make one little slip….

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Of course this was all long ago, back when I had a pretty sharp mind—I’m wrong all the time these days—I live in a fog. Yet, I still see some things that seem obvious, even in my fog, that I simply can’t believe others don’t see clearly. I still get exhausted trying to argue with people who don’t think about what they’re saying, just saying whatever seems like a ‘good argument’ or a clever rebuttal—and fuck the big picture.

And I’ve found that most people are not at all stupid—even the Trump supporters are not as stupid as one would expect a Trump-supporter would have to be to support Trump. They don’t lack intelligence. They lack respect. They don’t respect reason—because they’re afraid of it—maybe having a hard time in school taught them that logic is not their friend—I don’t know. They don’t respect themselves—and that pushes them to reject any show of respect for people that know what they’re talking about—or even for the subject under discussion. Most Trump-support boils down to self-loathing, turned outwards towards the rest of the world. They’re basically saying, “I’m gonna make an ass of myself—and you can’t stop me, because I voted for the king of the ignoramuses—and idiocy is in charge now.

The Russians support Trump. Bannon is a confessed anarchist who wants to destroy the government. Conway got so used to lying she tried to give it a name: ‘alternative facts’. At least ten of Trump’s hires since inauguration have been expelled due to unfitness. And Trump has claimed that a free press is the enemy of the people—if I was crook and a liar, I’d say the same thing. The Republicans—jeez, these scumbags—whenever one of them opens their mouths, I want to shoot’em for treason. How do these trolls get elected—are their constituents in a coma? What? I just don’t get it—and boy, am I tired of pushing this car.

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Hurry Spring   (2017Feb21)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017                                             4:06 PM

Well, today settles it—I get maudlin towards the end of Winter. I start writing poems, I start playing piano in a minor key, I write bitter diatribes with far more than my usual cynicism. My taste in music gets a little weepy, a little dirge-y—I read more than watch TV. It’s a whole ‘Spring-better-show-up-soon’ depression-fest.

Also, I tend to write a lot more personal stuff—half of what I write this time of year is either too personal or too depressing to post—and I go on and on about stuff that I’m pretty sure isn’t driving the throngs to my blog—but that’s February for me. I’m fading fast—and I need some sunshine.

Well, things have settled down a bit—I’m used to either rooting for a Democrat administration, or I’m worrying about the one, really-big mistake that a GOP administration is currently making—I’m not used to purely dysfunctional—that’s a new one on me—and, I suspect, on all of you as well. But normalization is inevitable—short of storming Penn Ave, we’re stuck with the Clown until 2020—and the more avidly we stare, waiting for an impeachable offense, the less likely one is—‘a watched pot…’ and all that.

I’m still getting used to an America that is not actively trying to exceed itself—I’ll miss that forever, or until it returns, whichever comes first. Never before has a candidate won an election with a message of despair. “Make America great again”—I’d like to punch that fucker right in the mouth—the only thing that isn’t great about America is your benighted ass, you fucker, and the cowering, feebleminded jerks who voted for your sick agenda.

But let’s not get ourselves all worked up, every damn day, over the same old tragedy. What’s done is done. The odds on Trump sitting his whole term are long—one definite drawback to not knowing what you’re doing: you don’t know the rules. And while Trump may rubber-stamp some of the GOP’s worst legislation, they will find it hard to actually work with him—everyone does.

Fortunately for the Republicans, their platform was already custom-tailored for wealthy bastards with no public conscience—but they will inevitably try to mollify their base with something—and that’s where they and Trump will part ways. Trump’s penchant for blaming the establishment will ring rather hollow in 2020, after four years of being the establishment, so it’s hard to see him pull this off a second time—unless he actually does something.

But like most of his kind, Trump’s greatest ally would be military strife—even Bush-43 looked more dignified with Americans dying all over the place. Thus, it isn’t that I don’t want Trump to do anything—it’s that I’m afraid his ‘anything’ has some dark options waiting. Improving education, creating jobs, fixing our infrastructure—these would all be laudable accomplishments—if Trump can improve anything on such fronts, I’ll be glad to reevaluate—but I’m not going to hold my breath.

As much as I look forward to the coming of Spring, it will be all the more bitter for being a time of rebirth in an new age of tyranny—for 2017, T. S. Eliot will have got it right: “April is the cruelest month….

Today’s poem and videos all contain cannibalized artwork from my one and only book of illustrated poetry, “Bearly Bliss”. It may seem ironic that my hand-tremors make me unable to draw, yet I still try to play the piano with the same hands—this is because I’m used to sucking at the piano, whereas I was once pretty good with a pen.

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Journal Entry   (2017Feb19)

Sunday, February 19, 2017                                               3:28 PM

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I’ve spent the day creating new piano videos for my YouTube channel. These are something a little new—I’ve taken my ‘masterpieces of art’ graphics collection and interleaved them with baby pictures of Sen—so you see one old master, then Sen, then another old master, and so on. The baby watches the videos at naptime, some days, so this will give her something to look at besides herself—and all the paintings are colorful with vivid images (which was why I collected them in the first place).

One of the videos is fairly long—that’s partly because it includes a ‘cover’ of the old Carpenters tune, “Yesterday Once More”, which I play rather freely, for a wonder—and the following improv is about twelve minutes—so, a rare recording in several ways. The other one is shorter, just an improv, and only remarkable in that I chose to name it ‘Toothpick Charlie’, for no reason on earth—it’s a funny name, is all. But I’m satisfied with both performances, making it a good day’s work.

My mom’s not well—the doctors are trying to figure her out but so far the best they can do is a morphine drip. I wish I could travel—I’d take up residence in the bed next to hers—I could use a good morphine drip—and those damn doctors could get around to me once they’ve figured out my mom. Meanwhile, we’re all pretty concerned.

Been doing a lot of reading lately—nothing to write a review about, but passable fare. It’s like that old bumper-sticker about ‘a bad day of fishing vs. a good day of work’—a bad book is still better than your average TV show.

Nothing much else to go on about.

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Chopin   (2017Feb11)

Saturday, February 11, 2017                                             9:48 PM

Fryderyk Chopin was tutored in piano by Wojciech Żywny from age six until age eleven. From age 13 to age 16, Chopin (a child prodigy) studied at the Warsaw Lyceum, then composition under Józef Elsner. Chopin lived in Warsaw until the age of 20, in 1830, when he and several friends decamped to Paris—just prior to the November Uprising that same year. This marked the start of a doomed Polish struggle against Russian rule which Chopin is noted as supporting from afar throughout his brief adult life.

Chopin was such a consummate pianist that some of his compositions, when they do not cross into virtuoso territory (which was often the case) are technically accessible even to someone like me—though reading-through and playing the correct notes (mostly) is still a far cry from a true, capital-P performance of a Chopin work. His delicate lyricism and serendipitous, near-improvisational freedom of expression are found nowhere else in written music—and merely playing the notes as written is just a beginning towards reaching the full effect.

But I try—there is something about playing a piece oneself, on the piano—it is the reason that I play, albeit poorly, and with no hope of ever mastering the instrument. When we listen to music, we hear only the sound it makes. But in reading the music, as written by the long-dead genius (or any other) and in pressing the keys with my own hands, I feel an understanding and a connection to Chopin that is easily equal to relationships I’ve had with living people—I get not only the end result, the sound—but also the roots, the human source of whatever musical invention I happen to be playing. It is a wonderful kind of rush that transformed the way I listen to music, as much as it included me in the making of music.

Thus, when I play Chopin, I can stop dead in the middle of the piece—odds are I had to, but even still, I speak to Chopin—I say, ‘clever, that bit—and very beautiful.’ And Chopin replies, ‘I thought you’d like that.’ It’s amazingly like a vicarious composition of my own—as if I was creating it instead of playing it off the sheet music—as if I were Chopin. Despite the fact that my end results are hardly praiseworthy, in the playing of the music myself, I can hear it as Chopin first imagined it—in some ways, sounding more beautiful than the most polished artist’s performance of the same piece.

I was a weird kid. I enjoyed classical music in grade school—I had a lot of LPs, and many more that I borrowed from the Katonah Village Library. I sometimes fought with my siblings about playing classical music on the big stereo in the living room (rather than their rock n’ roll—not that I didn’t enjoy some of that, too) but most often, I would stack’em up on my record player, turn out the lights and lie on the floor to listen in the dark. My dad hated that—he’d burst in and turn on the lights and say, ‘What the hell are you doing in here in the dark?’ or whatever.

But my point is this—I’ve always loved classical music. But it wasn’t until I was fifteen (way too old) before I took piano lessons. There’s something about hitting the keys and making the notes play—feeling the music as an activity, as a part of you, instead of listening to music—it gave me a heightened appreciation of music that I don’t believe is possible without some experience, with some instrument, or with the voice. Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings, for instance, went from relaxing to fascinating—without changing a note—it was like a veil was lifted for me. Music is a wonderful thing to hear—but it isn’t until you make your own that you get the full picture, as it were.

And I’d say that’s why I improvise at the piano every day, too. I can’t make great music, but I can make music—and there’s something very empowering about playing music that no one else has written down, music that I make up as I go along. Survivalists prepare for a life after civilization—I suppose I’m preparing for a life after I-tunes?

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Trump Is God   (2017Feb11)

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Saturday, February 11, 2017                                             10:02 AM

Supporters of Trump show similarities to evangelicals—blind faith, blindness to the truth, and an eagerness to pick a fight with non-believers. And I think we can put some of the blame for our political chaos on our collective blind spot—religion. Do you have a religion? I do not. Many Americans have a religion which they are deeply invested in—and many Americans have absolutely no belief in the supernatural—horror-, or Christian- based.

America believes in religious freedom and the separation of church and state—which is good in that it protects Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. The trouble resides in its protection of orthodox and extreme religious sects—anything short of public terrorist acts is permissible—including science-denial, misogyny, and racial discrimination—all features of certain, otherwise ‘legitimate’ religions.

Just as freedom of speech is sometimes misused—as when a neo-nazi’s public speaking goes unmolested—so, too, is freedom of religion misused to perpetuate ideas like those of Julius Evola (a hero of Steve Bannon’s) who was a little too radical for Mussolini, but is enjoying a resurgence due to Trump’s administration.

America made a great leap forward when it founded itself on the idea that religion was too iffy to form a basis for our laws or our government—where, hitherto, no government was without its state religion—a partner of the secular power structure, enforcing a deeper obedience than can be achieved by mere physical intimidation. Nonetheless, in separating the church from state, we only solved half the problem.

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Atheism’s numbers are growing—now that we have ‘magic’ in flight, in medicine, in digital electronics, etc., we have less interest in the non-responsive magic of angels and deities. Open study of archeology and variant scriptures such as the Dead Sea Scrolls have given us a clearer picture of the human side of religion—offering proof that, even if the original supernatural encounters had happened, the leaders of subsequent sects modified the original faiths to meet the exigencies of change and power.

Over the centuries, changes in society and culture caused changes in religion—and modern findings of this destroy the monolithic, unchanging image that religion likes to project. If God were real, neither he (nor she) nor his rules would ever change—which makes today’s religions either false, or sacrilegious, i.e. false unto themselves.

We also have a much smaller world now—the different religions across the globe are used to being insulated from each other. But now, especially in America, one can have a neighborhood containing members of every religion on earth—and while religious freedom protects each of those faiths, it can’t protect people from noticing that these other faithful are blindly true to something entirely unconnected to that which they are blindly true to. It may seem a small thing—but the old joke is true: everyone is an atheist about all religions except their own. It is only a small step from recognizing that everyone around you believes in hogwash, to recognizing that you are in the same boat.

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Aside from the competing magic of science and technology, and the pitfalls of ‘comparison shopping’ for religion, perhaps the most insidious threat to organized faith is our recognition of the hollowness of authority. Where we once looked to religious leaders and political leaders and respected journalists as authority figures, we rarely get through a month without one of these archetypes being indicted, exposed, or debunked. Today’s surge in atheism is just a symptom of a larger tendency to distrust those in power.

To me, the whole thing is an issue of being wishy-washy or not—you either accept the magical thinking of your faith or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways. If the afterlife exists, if souls exist, if God exists—then a lot of what we are doing is wrong—and we shouldn’t be doing it. I respect the Amish for their refusal to indulge in tech. I respect the Christian Scientists for their refusal to use modern medicine. If you’re going to believe in magic, don’t be half-assed about it. These religions with one foot out the door seem hypocritical to me.

But they are in the majority—and their dilution into something modern people won’t laugh at is a far greater retreat from faith than all the furor over abortion or evolution. Their own embarrassment is a far greater enemy of their faith than any argument we atheists can provide.

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I remember when, as a boy, the Catholic Church demoted all the saints that were too close to fairy tales—my own name-saint, Christopher, and other popular saints like St. Valentine, St. Patrick, and St. Nicklaus—were considered too apocryphal to be included in the Church’s saint’s-day calendar. They were not entirely disowned or erased, but their high visibility became an embarrassment to modern Catholics, and they were no longer to be part of our serious rites of worship. That may be where the seeds of my atheism were sown—don’t name me after the guy who supposedly carried the infant Christ across a torrential river (the Christ-bearer) and then turn around and tell me the guy might just be a fanciful legend after all. That’s no way to cement my faith.

Times change—and religions change with them. The fact that times change slowly—and that each generation is presented with a religion as if it were a static foundation—has kept this simple truth from becoming an obvious fact—until now, when change is swift and communication swifter. Religion has become pitifully threadbare in modern times—the idea that a man can have a special connection to the eternal is hard to maintain when that man gets busted for pedophilia, or when that man decides that suicide-bombers are his favorite converts.

We are stuck now between a rock and a hard place—the Muslim extremists would be perfect poster-boys for atheism, if we weren’t so dead-set on pretending that there is a significant difference between one Judeo-Christian-Muslim faith and another. People even go so far as to argue that Christianity has never indulged in murder or terrorism—a patent falsehood that only reveals a deep ignorance of history—and not very ancient history, either.

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To me, the most ugly, yet hilarious, paradox is that we, as a nation, are not ready to contemplate a presidential candidate who is an avowed atheist—yet we are completely unable to take a presidential candidate’s faith seriously. While ‘God will provide’ might make sense at home, it is beyond the pale when speaking of public policy. Reagan, Bush, et. al. were always at their most laughable when they reached back for their fundamentalist rationales to explain their decisions. And that’s overlooking the more basic paradox of one faith’s extremist becoming the leader of a multi-faith nation—or designating one faith as more quintessentially American than all the others.

Then there’s the darker issue—that, for many Americans, money is their God, and hypocritical playing on religious heartstrings is fair play, as long as there’s a profit to be made. Religion has been used as a prop for the powerful since the dawn of civilization—Karl Marx was very clear that he felt religion was used to keep the masses subject to state-determined morality. America is famous for having severed the direct link between power and faith—but such things have the ability to morph into other paradigms. We have recently seen many Americans embrace the return of faith as a political power-base—an ignorance that saddens any educated student of American history.

Religion fills a need. Even I, knowing that faith is an imaginary construct, still feel the lack of its warmth and security. My atheism has not made me feel happy or safe—I have simply had to accept that religion is false, and live with that. I even avoid promoting atheism, since I wouldn’t wish it on a happy believer. But when religion gets on its high horse, as if it were real, I am the first to rise in opposition. This defensive posture is a weak one—and the rise of atheism has spurred a sudden strength in the religious—but religion itself has weakened in its obsolescence.

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So now we have a new president who got himself elected mostly through demonizing violent extremists of a certain religion—and pretending to support the more popular Christian one. No one is blaming religion itself for any of these problems—most Americans react to Muslim extremism by redoubling their faith in Christianity—even though their differences are minor details. The insistence on blaming Muslims for terrorism is a backhanded way of avoiding religion as the true culprit. Extreme religion of any kind always puts faith above reality, worship above humanity—and there isn’t a one of them that hasn’t descended, in the end, into bloody violence.

So why this blind faith in Trump—why do facts simply bounce off the Trump supporters? My theory is that religion has become too embarrassing, but people still need something to believe in—and Trump fills the bill. Like a god, he offers easy answers, no explanations, and an unbounded self-regard. Further, he sees no obligation to jive with observable reality. If you are an evangelist, or have evangelist leanings, in a world that is slowly waking up from the dream of heaven and hell, Trump is a perfect substitute. Plus, he allows you to attack someone else’s religion without even having to stand up and declare yourself a member of your own.

The Dust We Stand On   (2017Feb04)

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Saturday, February 04, 2017                                             5:31 PM

So, I was reading about my hero, Joseph Henry, who grew up in Albany, New York at the turn of the nineteenth century. That got me interested in the history of New York State. Today I started reading one such history and it described the Native Americans of the area prior to First Contact with the West—the Iroquois and the Oneidas, Mohawks and what-all—what was the Five Nations and would become Six. It described their early agriculture—the Three Sisters, which were beans, corn, and squash—the beans climbed the cornstalks like a trellis and the squash leaves kept the moisture in the ground, plus their root systems descended to three different levels, so the three crops weren’t competing for nutrients.

The East Coast Native Americans were different from the Plains Tribes and others further West and South—and certainly different from the Natives closer to the Arctic Circle, up North. They lived harsh lives, from our perspective—but looked at differently, they lived in the ultimate health spa—living and dying exactly as nature had evolved them to live. They hadn’t even gotten around to metallurgy before the Europeans came along.

Yet there was a civilization—with a spiritual framework, a wide-spread confederation of oversight (one couldn’t call it governance—since their lifestyles precluded the need for taxes or prisons) and, more to the point, a society just as complex—and more humane—than any we have created or seen since.

It is melancholy to imagine what the Americans would have done with their land, left to themselves. A land without livestock, mining or metalwork—an incentive to live less bellicose lives. Who knows how that would have panned out, given some space? But now we’ll never know—and given the reality, we are fortunate that any record of their cultures survives (not that all of them have).

So, I’m going to slog through this pre-invasion history—and then try not to think about it, as I move forward to the more modern history of colonization and ultimate statehood. What else can be done—rewind the past? There’s no helping the fact that the birth of the United States was the death of something else, something that had a right to exist, something beautiful—but no one can undo the past.

The genocide, like Henry’s discovery of Electromagnetic Inductance, is both a foundation of the present—and entirely irrelevant to the present. It is now nothing more than dust—but it is the dust we stand on. A fascination with history can turn sour if we don’t keep our heads above water—there’s a limit to empathy and we are only human.

The early chapters of my history also describe the geography—the many lakes and rivers—particularly the Hudson River and the Great Lakes—and what a convenient harbor New York had at the mouth of the Hudson. It is strange to think that waterways, today, tend to be obstacles to transport rather than a means. The vast majority of international shipping still travels the oceans—but today’s technology makes inland travel almost entirely a dry-footed affair.

The Native Americans hadn’t much technology above the bow and arrow—but they had invented canoes (and moccasins—a technology the Europeans first ridiculed—then instantly adopted). And water was kind of handy to have around in those days, even if you didn’t travel. They had a great trail that went from Manhattan all the way up to Canada—today we call it Rt. 22, mostly—and 90% of New Yorkers still live along that trail. But when they weren’t walking, they were using the profusion of rivers and lakes that New York offered.

I read somewhere that New York State has the greatest diversity of trees of any state. I read somewhere else that an early European colonist once described flights of migrating birds so vast that they would darken the sky from horizon to horizon. Can you imagine what it was like back then? Virgin forests, pre Iron-Age culture—golly.

 

I feel a little jinxed, peering into the details of the improbable history of the Empire State—the stuff of legend, half of it, and the rest merely incredible—here at a juncture in time when the whole thing may be balanced on a knife edge—and only because the entire world as I’ve known it seems bound and determined to hurl itself into the abyss as quickly as possible. From what I can tell so far, what we call New York was a great land before anyone ‘discovered’ it—it became a colony and a state that was an empire unto itself, regardless of the federal government—and the tip of it became a city so busy with power and life that it, too, became an entity unto itself, outside of its state.

New York State is one of those things so large and diverse that we are taken unawares by the sudden realization of its existence—this massive determiner of so many destinies—so much a part of our lives that we hardly realize it’s there. And it is even easier to overlook, given that each of its nooks and crannies—particularly within the five boroughs—is a province unto itself.

New Englanders are known to be flinty, anti-social types—but they are a step down from Manhattanites, who are actively antagonistic towards their neighbors. Yet New York City remains such a gravitational force on the globe that we can excuse the inhabitants their need to be actively repellent—they need to make sure you really want to be there—it’s crowded enough already. And the pressure at the center of human civilization is not for the faint of heart.

It makes me superstitious—as a computer guy, I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning about things that disappear—old hardware, old software, old businesses that have faded away—all my precious knowledge becomes so much sewage clogging up my brain—and it’s not as if that stuff was easy to learn, dammit. And now, as I study American history—and my home state, no less—I feel a cold draft on the back of my neck—it could be melting ice caps, it could be Trump’s inability to resist the big red button—I can’t help worrying that I’m learning about something else that may disappear someday soon.

Baby Talk   (2017Feb01)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017                                       7:23 PM

Well, latest talk from out West says the baby has just begun crawling, and she’s eating solid food (though why they call it ‘solid’ when it’s fruit from a blender is beyond me)—I feel like she’s going to grow up and I’m going to miss the whole thing. No fair!

But they are all well and happy, so that’s okay. And things are good here, too. The music-video inbox is slowly draining back down to ‘manageable’—and the improvs are as good as can be hoped for, given the performer. Bear found a beautiful print the other day—an Edward Steichen Flatiron Building poster with a statue of a man in a top hat—very pretty, with lots of blues in it.

We don’t obsess over the news, so once we’ve been bowled over slightly by the morning’s madness in the New York Times, we pretty much let it go for the rest of the day. Bear does the Sudoku and I do the Crossword—I check the TV listings to confirm there’s nothing good on TV again tonight, and we’re done. Then we have the rest of the day to ourselves.

 

I had the greatest lunch today—roast sausages, and a mac and cheese that (I don’t know how Bear does it) tasted like eating Fondue, but without all the fuss and equipment—sometimes Bear’s culinary magic blows my mind. I’m not too crazy about my recent reads—decent books, I suppose, but nothing I want to crow about—something of a let-down from the books I was reading last week (see reviews above).

Has anyone else noticed? When I drink Irish Breakfast Tea for awhile, Earl Grey tastes like the fanciest tea ever, but after drinking Earl Grey for awhile, Irish Breakfast Tea tastes exciting again. Weird, huh? And after both of them, a little Darjeeling, or even some plain Lipton, suddenly has more taste than I remembered. Same with coffee—even a great Mocha—after awhile, I enjoy switching to African or Arabic.

Well, you can tell I’m just blabbing away—had to have some kind of text to go with today’s videos—hope you enjoy them.

 

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More Bitchin And Moanin   (2017Jan31)

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017                                                10:18 PM

Okay. It’s Tuesday. All’s well here at home. Nothing to worry about. Remain calm. That’s what’s important here. Getting all worked up about what might happen or what tomorrow may bring—that’s all wasted effort—energy wasted that you may need, should tomorrow’s fears come to pass.

I can’t bring myself to watch the news anymore—a combination of not wanting to hear what’s really happening—and not believing half of what I see on TV, anyhow. And I can’t enjoy most movies anymore—I’m overexposed to cinema from a lifetime of movie fandom—and now, the new stuff is so facile, so puerile that I can’t sit still for it. So I’m left with books (not without its problems and limits), piano (ditto), and the computer.

And what of the computer? Here I am, typing away again. Talking to nobody—how is this different from having voices in my head—from being crazy? Well, it keeps me indoors, anyhow, instead of running through the streets screaming and pulling my hair out.

And who am I to complain anyway? My life is a bed of roses—if you leave out the crazy and the stress—and the world is full of people who would literally kill to take my place, here in a cozy, peaceful enclave of Upper Westchester, with all the trimmings—good food, dry and warm, soft bed, cable TV and WyFy—what’s to complain about? I live like a king—and I’m not even one of what you might call the wealthy. Still, to 90% of the people walking this earth, my life is cloud nine and only a crazy person would bitch about it, sick or otherwise.

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Still, I think I deserve a few points for being sick. I used to be Mr. Happy Funtime—look at my face now. That’s the face of a sixty-year-old who’s had to fight to stay alive, to stay mentally there and physically upright, every minute of every damn day—and while it may look easier than holding down a full-time job, it isn’t. I’ve tried both—I’d gladly go back to 50-hour weeks as a systems manager if I could have my health and my intellect back—but that’s a dream.

What used to be that life, my life, ended decades ago. I’ve spent the time since about 1988 trying to survive cancer, chemicals, memory loss, and depression—all while having chronic fatigue and atrophied muscles—some muscles, in my abs, were even cut during the liver transplant—they just hang off my bones, unemployed but with nowhere else to go.

Thus, in spite of all the assholes who like to pretend that disability is a free ride for lazy people, the truth is that disability is a shit-show—those smug bastards wouldn’t last a single day of it, without crying for their mommas. ‘I work for a living’, they say—and you can just hear the smug. Big fucking deal—I’ve done work—it’s easy-peasy, compared to what I’ve been through—what a lot of disabled people have been through.

Imagine how bad off you have to be for the government to decide ‘Yeah, let’s just pay that guy money so he can stay alive.’ If you walked into Social Security with a splinter in your finger, they’d laugh in your face—and if you lost the whole hand, they’d still find you work. Me they just stamped ‘paid’—imagine the shape I’m in.

Not that I’m complaining. The rule is: if you go through a meat grinder and come out the other side still breathing, you’re supposed to be grateful that you’re still alive. So I’m grateful—get off my back. You go ahead and flit around—with your steady hands and clear memory and sharp eyesight and strong muscles and your sense of balance and your whole life to do with whatever you please—I’ll be sitting here, being grateful.

Don’t mind my bitter resentment if your mind is too lazy to crack a book, when my reading has gone from ten hours a day to three, tops, on a good day. Excuse my sharp criticism if my barely-held consciousness still has enough light in it to identify your confused, mealy-mouthed excuses for political acumen as the trash they are worthy of being called. And don’t be surprised when someone who spends his every waking moment experiencing the fragility of life finds your childish, locker-room jock bravado (masquerading as political ideology) so far beneath adult consideration that I lose my patience and call you an asshole. That’s just the way it is, bub.

No, there is no teacher at the head of the room—we are no longer schoolchildren. But when you’re wrong, you’re still wrong—and you know it—deep down in the bottom of that empty head, you know damn well that hate and fear and selfishness are negative forces that corrupt and destroy—and even the people on top, for now, will eventually suffer from poor judgement and bad leadership. And if you think you can just screw up the world and die, leaving others to suffer, think again. None of us gets out alive—but none of us escapes our fate, either. Karma’s a stone cold bitch.

Even you, Trump—when you stroke out, trying to do a job you aren’t fit for, think of all the criticism you’ll never be able to tweet back at—it’ll all just hang out there, unanswered by you or anyone else. And your tremendous ego, under the distraction of President Pence’s ascension, will dry up and blow away, never to bother anyone ever again. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

To Fight For The Simple Truth (2017Jan31)

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Sunday, January 29, 2017                                        3:11 PM

If people of a different gender, race, religion, or birthplace engender feelings of superiority and of fear—you should own that as your personal weakness, rather than try to legitimize it as public policy. It’s okay, you know—people don’t control their feelings, their feelings control them. Finding kindred spirits who collude in your rationalizations only encourages you to hug them more closely. The fear and ego remain clearly visible to the rest of us—hard as you may work to blind yourself to such ignorance.

Don’t work towards making your weakness into a part of our public discourse—work instead towards understanding yourself and these illogical feelings. And just because your daddy or your priest tells you something’s so, that’s just ignorance become a legacy of tradition—that doesn’t alter its incorrectness.

Stop looking around for enemies to blame—the torture inside you is your own. No one is going to find your happiness and make a gift of it to you—you have to find your own—and the answer is inside your head, not out there. Gripping tightly onto every external excuse, you strengthen your hate, increasing the distance between yourself and any hope of happiness.

The smile on a poor kid’s face isn’t due to he or she having all the things they want—it is there simply for lack of the bitterness and venom that experience is waiting to lay upon them. If we can gain experience without accepting the temptation of blame, we can retain some of that happiness, even into old age. People are not the groups they belong to—it’s pretty simple.

Human nature causes conflict. Individuals often conflict with each other. Trouble has many origins—categorizing people for the purpose of blaming groups only helps to camouflage the true causes of conflict. So when we seek to blame a group for a problem, we not only trumpet our weakness to the world—we actually strengthen the causes of our unhappiness, by masking them with ignorance.

The people who gain power and grow fat off of the status quo watch with glee, as all their neglect, posturing, and corruption get a pass—overlooked by the rest of us, as we foolishly fight amongst ourselves.

Sunday, January 29, 2017                                        5:43 PM

FB Comment:

Surely the humor of your argument doesn’t entirely escape you? We men eschew murder in theory, but will fight for our ‘rights’ or our ‘honor’, thousands opposing thousands, upon battlefields bathed in blood—it is justified. But a woman, about to lose her hopes, dreams, and plans for her future, due to an unplanned, unwanted insemination—oh no, there’s no justification for women to remove those potent cells before they become viable. Her fight for freedom is ‘murder’, simply because those cells have the potential to become a person. But all men’s actual murders—the heaps of corpses produced by war and whatever other nonsense we get up to—each dead body a waste of his mother’s nine months of travail, not even counting her raising to adulthood every one of the corpses—that’s all necessary, honorable, explainable. Men are justified—but not women. Funny, right? Try to be reasonable. I fear the theocracy you appear to dream of would be a little too ‘good’—for men.

Sunday, January 29, 2017                                        7:49 PM

What am I doing? I’m not teaching. Teaching requires a willing student—these people assume they know as much as I do, which may be true in a general sense, but not necessarily true of a specific subject. But that’s a fine point that goes by the boards—and with thinking that sloppy (and that’s the average, give or take) it’s no wonder that these back-and-forths on Facebook are such an exercise in futility.

The key is that word ‘social’, in ‘social media’. People type things onto social media in the same way that they converse—mostly for the pleasure of hearing their own voice. I, as a writer (of sorts) mistake all this typing for writing. I may be thinking very hard about what I’m writing, but nobody else is—they’re socializing, they’re having fun, they’re spending time.

No wonder they think nothing of saying the most horrifically ignorant things, but burst a blood vessel when I allow myself to be, shall we say, brusque. ‘You’re so rude! I don’t allow name-calling on my posts.’ You can be as big a monster as Trump, as long as you remember to be courteous at all times. But calling stupid by its proper name is beyond the pale.

I don’t think I have the patience for this. I got onto the Internet because people had begun to give me a pain in the neck, and interacting with other nerds as disembodied entities was fun. But now, everyone’s on the Internet, with pictures and videos and ‘brief biographies’—I might as well be hanging out in a bar, as far as the social thing goes. It’s worse, really, because in a bar you can walk away from the assholes. I’m one of the few people still doing this at a computer terminal—most people are doing this stuff by phone—so we don’t even have that in common any more.

You can see where the biased-feed problem comes in—I’d be glad to only interact with the people I like—but by creating a way for that to happen, Facebook has also created a dark space, where the ignorant and hateful can find each other, unify, and congratulate each other on how well they all agree. And that peer-reinforcement makes any kind of idiocy into a mighty cause.

FB Comment:

My resolve to confront Trump-supporters whenever and wherever has prompted many of them to decide they can’t stand the heat, and have blocked me. I know this because I see a lot of my friend’s threads, where they are debating someone who isn’t ‘there’. Apparently, these cowards only want to argue with friends who won’t be brutally honest about their ignorance. Well, if they support BLOTUS, I shouldn’t be surprised if they prefer their ‘truths’ censored and managed.

FB Comment:

I love these memes falsely claiming that Obama or Clinton did something equally criminal to Trump’s recent fuckups—the funniest part is, they seem to think that these false equivalences settle the debate. I guess they never heard of that ‘two wrongs’ thing….

Tuesday, January 31, 2017                                                3:38 PM

This whole social media thing is like a National Park that’s been overrun with so many tourists, discarding so much of their trash to the point where the beauty is hidden behind a lot of human garbage. The Religious Right started all this crap with their ‘teach the controversy’ BS—the PR version of covering your ears and shouting “La-la-la-la-la-la….” They, of all people, should know what happens when you start to deal with the devil. And if cutting yourself loose from science and reason is not making a deal with the devil, I don’t know what else could be.

Large numbers of people earnestly latching on to friendly-seeming misinformation being spread by a small group of hypocritical thugs—it’s not really PR anymore—it’s a lot more like Psy-Ops—as the Russians have apparently noticed, and jumped on board with.

Americans are used to fighting for liberty, freedom, and human rights—who knew we’d ever have to fight for the simple truth? And introducing such toxic mind-fucks into the seemingly harmless playground of social media—evil genius! Those of us who’ve spent a lifetime taking honesty for granted had better get our acts together.

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Digging Out   (2017Jan29)

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Sunday, January 29, 2017                                        1:00 AM

Spencer gave me a music book for Xmas—piano arrangements of works by Joe Hisaishi, a famous composer of anime films by Studio Ghibli and video game music, he’s also issued some albums. I’m loving getting to know this stuff—the melodies are fantastic, but bear with me—it’s not every day I get new sight-reading material and it’s still unfamiliar ground. I plan to post covers of every piece in the book, eventually.

I’m still digging myself out from under the profusion of photos received and recordings made during the holidays and the rest of this month. Today’s posted videos include one from a month ago, and three from a week ago—but they also include over one hundred photos that I’ve just gotten to processing. So, nothing in today’s posts is recent except the effort.

 

You’ll excuse some of the holiday photos—there’s still mostly nothing but baby pictures, so you can live with a few ornaments. That baby gets cuter every time I look. I barely listen to myself play the piano on these videos anymore—I just gaze at my adorable granddaughter and remember her recent visit.

 

It’s been a long week—but I used the time to get my backlog cleared, so it wasn’t a total loss. I needed to have a lousy day or two, just to convince myself that photo-shopping picture after picture was a pleasant enough way to pass the time, compared to the rest of what was going on around me—so, there’s no cloud but has a silver lining, once more.

I long to return to a time when I play for the camera, process the video or videos, and post them to YouTube—all in the same day. This playing catch-up is for the birds—and I’ve got a crick in my neck from repetitive keystrokes during the hours of photo-shopping. I’ve gotten to where I prefer receiving videos of the baby, rather than a slew of photographs—much less processing involved for five minutes’ worth of background graphics.

Enough shop-talk. Sometimes, I swear, I type just to hear myself think. This blog is supposed to at least try to be interesting.

XperDunn Returns   (2017Jan18)

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017                                          6:18:47 PM

I’m finally coming back down to Earth—this last holiday was the nicest time anyone has ever had—I got to meet our new granddaughter and visit with her and her Mom and Dad—a nice long visit, but not long enough by half. And, in the confusion, I have neglected to post any YouTube videos for the longest dry-patch my channel has ever gone through.

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It isn’t that I haven’t been playing the piano. In fact, some of my best performances ever went unrecorded—played, for once, for the people in the room instead of to the camera.

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The baby enjoyed my piano-playing in three different ways—she was charmed when I sang a song to her, she went to sleep faster when I softly improvised, and she loved to sit on my lap at the keyboard and play the piano with me. Had I been in my right mind there would be a bunch of video documenting all this—but I have nothing to show, since the camera was never on my mind—never turned on—it’s a shame, but nothing new—all my best work inevitably happens when the camera is not on.

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I miss the baby. She’s the sweetest thing that ever drew breath. And a baby is a fitness regimen—not even having a baby, but just hanging out with a baby—involves all kinds of rolling about and lifting and holding—it’s a lot of work for someone who lies in bed all day. If they didn’t need caring for, babies would make great fitness-coaches for the infirm.

Anyway, it’s back to normal, here at the Dunn’s. Part of this extended hiatus was due to the hundreds of photos and the handfuls of baby videos I’ve been processing, in preparation for including them in the piano YouTube videos. Today, I’ve finally posted four new videos—part of the harvest from my ongoing processing of the visit’s photographic record. And, as a special bonus, I’ve included a cover of Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me”, which Bear and I sang to the baby.

 

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Maturity   (2017Jan11)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017                                          7:38 PM

oldpic-047There’s a coziness to youth—a sense that nothing can invade your home, that you’re safe under your covers. In a warm, snug home, during a blizzard, an adult may be concerned that a window will blow in, that a tree will topple onto the roof, or that the electricity will fail. Young people don’t just leave those details to the adults—they aren’t even aware of such things. They simply enjoy the show going on outside the window, enhancing the warmth and comfort of a lamplit room.

I can remember several places that seemed snug and cozy, long ago—looking at the same places today, I might just see all the work that needs to be done, or how threadbare the upholstery is—I’ve been conditioned to want to buy things to improve my home, to look for repairs that need to be made. To be fair, I acquired this partly through hard experience—learning that some home features require maintenance; that an ounce of prevention prevents a butt-load of expense; and that simple basics, like heat, electricity, or running water, can really impact quality-of-life.

The older you get, the richer you have to be to continue the pleasures of youth—the walk through the woods, the swimming, the road trips—we do these things on the cheap, as teens and such. But grown-ups can’t just traipse through whatever property they wander across, they can’t just jump into any body of water, they can’t just up and wander off for a few days. Some can—those who own their own woods, their own pools and ponds, those who have no employer to answer to—their childhood need never end.

People assume there’s a disillusionment process that inevitably happens to people as they mature. Much is made of the fact that we ‘learn life’s hard lessons’. It is framed as if we come to this knowledge through maturity and experience. But I think we’re overlooking a key component of that.

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It isn’t entirely that we suddenly see these changes—grown-ups aren’t given the license that young people are allowed—many of the changes are forced on us. I distinctly remember the first time someone hassled me for walking across their property—until that day, property lines hadn’t really existed for me. I spent a lifetime (well, a childhood) walking wherever I needed to go—nobody bothered me. But when a full-grown man walks through your yard, you tend to freak out—and that day I suddenly realized that my ‘youth’ card had expired.

Similar experiences dot the landscape on the road to maturity—walking onto school grounds and being swarmed by security, insisting I check in at the office; realizing, one day, that everyone in the bar thinks I’m a creepy old guy—adulthood is full of these little surprises, none of them pleasant.

So it’s not only that we begin to see the ugliness of the world on entering maturity—it’s partly that the world begins to see ugliness in us—the lack of innocence that comes with the loss of youth. We hear ‘Act your age’ plenty, as children—but it takes on a whole other level of seriousness when, say, the cops inform you that you’ll be tried as an adult. Some of our maturity comes from our experiential learning and growth—but some of it is just forced on us.

Still, I can remember that youthful coziness. I once visited Maine—a road-trip with three other people, in a big old, sky-blue Chevy Impala (that spun out on the interstate during a snowstorm—we were all fine—it spun a full 360, still on the road—we just drove on, severely shaken by it, but otherwise fine).

We stayed with a friend whose rooms were part of an old Victorian place—Joni Mitchell on the turntable, snow outside the window, everybody dreaming of romance and adventure in this New England idyll—with a fire in the fireplace. Drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. It was a timeless moment that has stayed with me—but nothing in later life would ever be, could ever be, as carefree and freshly-discovered as that jaunt to Maine.

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Mid-Holidays   (2016Dec28)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016                                               12:38 AM

Okay, I’m getting back on track—we still must wait for Big Sen to come, after New Year’s, before the whole family can be together—and then he will be here only one short week before all three of them fly back home again. I don’t know if I can take it. Having Lil Sen here is like having sunshine being piped into every room of the house. It’ll go hard with me—returning to making-do with mere photo and video feeds, thousands of miles away.

I got a new camcorder for Christmas—yay! It has all the latest low-light tech—and I think even the audio mike is better. You can judge for yourself—I’ve just finished making my first videos with the new equipment. I’m not rocking all that hard at the old eighty-eight—but then again that’s not appropriate when playing for a five-month-old.

Grandchildren are a little like crystal meth—they make you think you are stronger and steadier than you actually are—and when you walk away, you wonder why you feel like you just got hit by a truck. Who needs a gym membership with a baby around? I’ve been rolling around on the floor like I’m training for the Olympic gymnastics team lately—it’s ridiculous. But I like it.

In fact, there’s nothing I don’t like about this kid—but I suppose that’s pretty obvious.

 

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Lunch and Shopping   (2016Dec23)

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Friday, December 23, 2016                                               1:34 PM

The ladies will be having brunch at PJ’s today—although it may be just lunch—we’ve gotten a late start on the day and everything’s sideways, in the best possible way.

Friday, December 23, 2016                                               4:45 PM

Make it lunch, definitely lunch—they’ve just gone an hour or so ago—and Spence has been through with a vacuum to get all the pine needles. We got a nine-footer this year—and it looks grand, just like the old days—way too big for the room—perfect.

Marie was by for a visit last night—and just before, Great-Nana was by for a look at her latest tree-branch. Sen gets along with everybody—she’s a real charmer. We’re all having the happiest of Christmases—except for the new dad—who is stuck at work until after Christmas—it doesn’t seem fair.

But I guess there’s no getting around the reality of being a restauranteur during the holidays—just like performers, this is their rush season. There should be a second Christmas, an unofficial one—about Jan 3rd or so, for all the people that have to work to make the rest of us happy during the holidays.

I remember enjoying going Christmas shopping on the Friday before Christmas—I used to be skinny and quick and I loved to slip through a crowd of people—crowds can be very intimate. But it’s only fun when you’re young enough to think that everyone else’s head is also dancing with sugar plums—I imagined a Christmassy glow coming off all the busy, noisy people, though I imagine some of them were quite grumpy, without me noticing at the time.

And now the girls are back from lunch and shopping! Hooray!

Travel Broadens The Mind   (2016Dec16)

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Friday, December 16, 2016                                               12:35 PM

I’ve often thought of traveling—they say it’s very enlightening, very broadening. But then I think of Paris, where being rude to tourists is a proud tradition, and remember that there are many places where Americans are, at best, tolerated. Tourists are people who have the leisure, and the wealth, to walk away from their own daily lives and go gawk at strangers in far-away places—it is easy to see how that would create resentment among the strangers, who have not enough of either to do the same. Unless we can all be tourists, occasionally, then resentment of tourists will last as long as resentment of the wealthy in general.

To be a tourist is, to a degree, a matter of saying to a community, “I am strange to this place—I may not even speak your language—but I have enough surplus wealth to come here and wander around.” You might as well have a sign around your neck inviting people to squeeze every last coin from your pocket before you leave. If that’s ‘travel’, then I could just as easily walk through a nearby center of poverty—in a Capitalist world, you don’t have to cover a lot of ground to become a stranger. Sharp differences in average-incomes lay cheek-by-jowl, geographically—and those differences make a greater foreign-ness than any change in mere life-style, though it be halfway around the globe.

For many countries and communities, tourism is a life-line, a way for them to stay head-above-water in a world that is out-producing them in other ways. But it strikes me as a false equivalence, a wrong path—in the same way that letting out rooms in your house is an easier income-increase than finding a better job, but it leads to other problems, other expenses, and makes you less likely to go out and find that better job. And, in the meantime, the chances of failing to resent the interloper who provides the new revenue, nice as they might be, are vanishingly small.

Yes, I am a homebody, as you may well have guessed by now. But I admit to the pull of adventure—all healthy young people should seek all the adventure they can find, while they’re still healthy enough and young enough to endure the hardships of having an adventure. That is especially so, since the young learn from experience, and the more varied experience you have, the faster you learn.

But tourism absent of great wealth is relatively new—born of the fifties, when hard-working Americans could take two weeks off—and were paid enough to take their families on a trip. At first it was road trips, camping trips: ‘See the USA in your Chevrolet..’, Rt. 66, Rt. 1 on the coast, and the Grand Canyon. But subsequent generations began to extend that to European excursions and before anyone knew what was happening world tourism had become an industry.

Now, however, the number of Americans who enjoy the security and income that vacationing requires has begun to narrow down to a small sliver of the population. Tourism is returning back to a preserve of the wealthy. Mobility in general is down—where large numbers of working families once re-located from state to state, looking for that fresh spring of economic growth that always included employment, we now have labor surpluses everywhere—and most new businesses needing less labor than they historically would.

In fact, the greatest instance of relocation-for-work was the recent ‘oil’ boom in Oklahoma—but that was mostly fracking. And now that Oklahoma is experiencing major quakes due to fracking, that business is losing employment as fast as it once gained it. America is no longer in motion—we no longer have a reserve of human kinetic energy. And that may help account for the sharp division of our politics and even the calcification of differing perceptions of reality we see in our recent current affairs—we understand each other less, because we mix less with each other than we used to. Perhaps there is an element of enlightenment to travel.

Or perhaps America could only remain a cauldron of growth while its people remained less settled-down than the rest of the world.

Windy Winter Morn   (2016Dec15)

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Thursday, December 15, 2016                                         10:45 AM

This is one of those bitterly cold and gusty mornings that make one appreciate the genius of a house. A really strong wind can make me worry for the integrity of the walls—nature, when sufficiently excited, can make anything man-made seem as flimsy as cardboard. But while the walls continue to stand, a house is a wonder—to stand, safe and warm, and look out upon a world of windy winter, as if watching a movie, is a treat. Before the ubiquity of glass windows and insulation, furnaces and fridges—what an uncomfortable world it must have been.

In cold weather I often remember a snapshot of my teens—I was hitchhiking home from Boston in Winter. There was snow on the ground, there was fresh snow falling, the sun was setting, and I was standing in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anyone I knew. I was hitchhiking on an on-ramp which no one was taking—basically standing in a snowstorm, underdressed to where even my teenage metabolism was losing the fight with entropy.

It was the first time I became fully aware of the importance of all the stuff in our lives—when a man stands in solitude, with empty hands, before Mother Nature—she licks her lips. I could catch a ride, or—I could freeze to death, covered by falling snow and unnoticed until spring. There was no diner nearby to duck into; I had no friends within walking distance to go visit and use their phone; I had no money and I had no plan. I learned that there are places that are easy to get to, but hard to leave.

I assume someone picked me up, since I am typing this today—but the memory of that experience doesn’t contain the happy, last-minute ending. My memory is of being eternally trapped in an empty winter landscape with no hope of survival. It was an iconic moment for me. One cannot fully appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature—until she casually tries to kill you.

The Fool card in the Tarot depicts a young man, much as I was then, walking along with his eyes on the stars and one foot over a precipice. The folly of youth, the lack of foresight, is so much a part of humanity that it finds representation in the Tarot—and no one knows how old the Tarot really is. If I were re-designing a modern version of the deck, I’d illustrate the Fool card with a drawing of a kid hitchhiking in a snowstorm.

But the moment was also a lesson. I plan my trips carefully now (not that I take any, really, not anymore). I keep extra stuff in my car (well, I don’t have my own car anymore). At sixty, I’ve learned to be very careful when leaving the house—but I also rarely leave the house—not by choice, that’s just the way things go—but still, it’s ironic. Kinda.

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Christmas Caroling   (2016Dec13)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016                                           11:43 AM

Every year I post YouTube videos of myself playing Christmas Carols on the piano, occasionally singing along. I don’t do it because I play them so well—I just do it to celebrate the season. Also, singing Christmas Carols is one of my earliest childhood memories of a happy activity—sing-alongs, to me, are one of the greatest pleasures in life and, when it’s carols being sung, it just doesn’t get any better.

Caroling is one of the few times I can feel that great feeling from my youth—that God is in his heaven and all’s well with the world. The average carol only lasts a few minutes, but for that short span, I can almost believe—it’s very cozy. Usually, I don’t allow myself the indulgence—day-to-day life is only made more difficult by subscribing to wishful thinking—but Christmas only comes once a year, so what the hell. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

This year I somehow decided to get very serious about the caroling videos—recording the songbooks from first song to last, so that I don’t have to wonder which ones I’ve done or which ones I’ve left out. I sometimes get serious about my YouTube videos—like with this one trio of Brahms Intermezzi I recorded last year, or the various Bach suites and partitas for keyboard. But my amateur-level piano technique doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny, so the projects usually fall apart before I’m finished recording the whole mess.

I’m getting more tenacious in my old age though, I guess—I’m closing in on the full Big Book of Christmas Songs—with today’s posting of twenty more carols, I’ve reached the ‘S’s—so, alphabetically, I’m almost to the finish line. And I am eager to finish this largest and most traditional of my Christmas Carol songbooks, because then I move on to the more popular-song Christmas music songbooks—and they’re a lot more fun/familiar and easier to play. Also, for all subsequent books, I plan to skip any carol already included from a previous book’s videos.

Time, as always, is chivvying me on—less than two weeks until Christmas, and these videos seem to take more time and effort with every post. I always over-do the Carol-playing—so, as the holidays go on, I get more troubled by back-strain, hand-tremors, and weakening eyesight (some music publishers are criminal in their demands on sight-readers—such tiny print). I reach a point where I’m actually conserving my strength for the live Christmas caroling—when a roomful of people are expecting me to accompany actual singing.

In the final result, by New Year’s Eve, I am more than happy to put the carol books away for another year—a full-month’s immersion in any genre is usually enough for me. But I wouldn’t give up my Christmas carols for all the tea in China.

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Sweet Decorations   (2016Dec12)

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Monday, December 12, 2016                                           11:48 AM

I like a Christmas tree—who doesn’t love a Christmas tree? For many holiday homes, the tree and the colored lights outside the house comprise the totality of decoration for the season. Since we all lead busy lives, it would be petty to expect anything more from the average home. And one could easily make the case that having a felled tree in the living room for a month should be enough seasonal spirit for anybody. And climbing a ladder around the outside of the house to string the lights, especially if snow has arrived, is no small chore either.

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But some folks don’t stop there—seasonal tchotchkes, embroidered hangings and runners, sleigh-bells on the door to announce visitors, tiny china crèches—or Santa-sleighs with the full eight caribou—one’s house can be liberally sprinkled with panoply of Xmas-alia. My favorite—and you don’t see them all that often nowadays—is the sprig of mistletoe hanging from an arch. Nothing combines fun, romance, and extreme awkwardness like hanging mistletoe.

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I blame their rarity on the lack of outlets for the product—when you buy a tree, you can usually get wreaths, sprigs of holly, boughs of pine for the mantle, etc.—but very few spots carry mistletoe. There are no mistletoe farms to match the many fir farms that supply the holiday’s chiefest need—perhaps their rarity limits mistletoe to the upper-incomes’ homes—I don’t know. But IMHO it speaks poorly of the American spirit that a ‘kissing’ decoration has become a fading tradition.

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All of this is from my grown-up perspective—the only decoration that impressed me, as a boy, were candy-dishes. The most popular decoration, for grandmas and such, are the fine-china bowls of assorted hard candies in primary colors—very festive, very gay—and while, if polled, kids could unanimously tell you that is their least favorite candy, even children are delighted by the colorful sight—and there is candy in that bowl, and any candy is better than no candy.

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But a real grandma—those magical grandmas that know how to make kids’ eye dance—will augment the pretty candy with good candy: sour balls, taffy, jelly beans—and holy of holies, chocolate. Of course, the furniture will take a hit—not to mention some parents’ best outfits—and the sugar-rush will only enhance the present-anticipation hysteria—but a party’s a party, right?

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As a child I judged holiday home decorations by the amount and variety of the candy bowls—the rest was just background noise to my sugar-seeking senses. Our health-conscious society frowns upon candy, as a general rule—but it is a mistake to overlook the love affair between children and candy, especially on festive occasions. Kids will sing along with the carols, they’ll eat the big holiday feast at the big table, they’ll be excited about Santa coming—but it’s not really a party without the treasure-hoard of childhood—candy.

Now, money is the candy of the grown-up world—and just as children love to eat candy, grown-ups love to spend money. This is a dangerous time of year for me—mid-December. I’ve already done my basic Christmas shopping, but these few days before Christmas I’m always tempted to get a little something extra, something special. If I’m not careful, I’ll hope onto Amazon.com and drop a few hundred bucks—for stuff that, likely as not, won’t be delivered until after New Year’s.

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Impulse purchases are problematic for many people—but my memory problems make me even more vulnerable—I can’t tell you how many books I own two copies of. And if some little gift strikes me as perfect for a certain friend or relation, it’s like as not that I think so—because I gave them the same thing last year. Then I get in that quandary of trying to re-apportion gifts to people they weren’t meant for—‘the thought that counts’, my foot!

How I mourn the days when kids’ favorite gift was the one from Uncle Chris—I used to really get into Christmas and, since I never really grew-up, I had a good eye for children’s gifts. But years of incapacity have made my participation in the festivities a faded memory—and that’s just as well, since I still can’t do Christmas the way I used to. If I mess up on presents now, everyone is very understanding—but boy how I wish they didn’t have to be.

A Major Influence   (2016Dec09)

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Friday, December 09, 2016                                               2:51 PM

Just because George Winston is the greatest single influence on my piano efforts, there’s no reason to blame him for what I post. I’ve listened incessantly to his recordings—but that is true of at least a hundred other artists—still, I don’t know the man. I don’t know what he’s doing—I’ve always just tried to sound ‘as good’ as he does—knowing full well that a great deal of the appeal to his recordings is the ground-breaking sound-engineering, capturing the lushness of a great concert piano, played by a master.

But I believe we approach these piano-things from opposite ends—he is a talented musician who practically founded the New Age movement, by bringing a geometric, yet non-baroque, technique to lyricism. I was drawn to his music because of my mathematical bent, and tried to lever my lacking abilities through the use of similar stylings—a far more superficial pecking at the borders of musicality. My goal remains to somehow sound ‘as good’ as George Winston, someday.

I don’t expect to achieve it—George Winston is the goods—and he’s as comfortable with classical as with folk, blues, or rock-n-roll—and has his own unique style, into the bargain. But why should I set small goals for myself?

 

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Pete has Left the Building   (2016Dec07)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016                           3:00 PM

Pete has Left the Building. Ladies and gentlemen, the legendary, the incomparable—Pete Cianflone!! The Buds-Up Symphony Hall-Space welcomes you to return to us soon and—have a safe drive home now.

What a day—Pete came by (as you may have surmised) and brought with him an old drawing of mine—Joanna Binkley wanting to return it for safekeeping—for which I thank her. It’s great to see an artifact from the steady-hand-and-sharp-eye days of yore. I was pretty good, while it lasted.

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And I had something to show Pete—Bea Kruchkow forwarded an archival copy of Newsweek—from 1989—a ‘look back’ at 1969 (then, a ‘whole’ twenty years ago). Time sure is funny. Funny—ha-ha, not funny like fire.

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So anyway, after girding our hairy-purple loins, we set forth to do battle upon the field of sound. First we did a selection of Spirituals that are traditionally connected with Christmastime—and for good measure, threw in two popular songs of Xmas as well.

We did two rounds, or maybe three, of improvisation—I can’t remember. One of them is very loosely based on the Swanky Modes tune, “Any Ordinary Man” (from “Tapeheads” (1988)). Movie-credits soundtracks often have something catchy about them that makes me go straight from the end of the movie to the piano, to try and find the melody of what I just heard. That was the case, yesterday, with Tapeheads—but I soon realized, after finding the notes, that this was one of those energetic songs that I’d have a hard time keeping up with. But Pete had never heard the song—and I’m not exactly a natural-born blues-player—so it’s a toss-up whether you want to call it a bad cover, or just a different piece of music.

Pete and I were happy with all of it, so that’s all that matters. Poor Bear has had an uncomfortable head-cold for three days now—why is it impossible for the holidays to pass without colds? Spence has been renovating the attic room and the cellar, preparing for our royal visitation later this month—all must be just so, ya know. It’s quite something to have an infant come into a house that hasn’t seen one in years—I’ve started noticing dust where I was hitherto dust-blind.

It’s a sign of just how busy life can be—the Buds-Up ensemble has nothing to show for last November. We try to gather once a month, but even that tiny schedule can be impossible to keep to, in this hurrying, rattling time-stream. Still, I’m pleased enough that we had such a good time, today—I think it makes up for the gap—and I hope people enjoy these as much as we enjoyed playing them.

It’s been a busy day—rarely on any December 7th do I fail to stop and think about the ‘day of infamy’. A Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor last week—the first-ever Japanese State Visit to the site—and this is the 75th anniversary of the start of the War. There are many Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV today—I guess I’ll go watch some of my favorites.

My Dad was a war-movie fan—we used to watch John Wayne movies on TV in the living room—my Dad was a Marine in Korea. Watching war movies is the closest I’ve ever been to actual murder among men—I don’t mind, I tell you. I respect the hell out of veterans like my Dad—but I don’t feel bad about living an un-blooded life. I suspect I would have made a lousy soldier anyway.

December 7th is special though—there’s something awesome about an entire globe in conflict—it may have been evil and stupid and lots of other things—but it was ‘awesome’, in the literal sense of the word, without the implication of admiration young people give the word today. It fills one with awe.

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Personal   (2016Nov29)

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Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            6:47 PM

Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?

It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.

I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.

That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….

Monday, November 28, 2016                                           5:45 PM

I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.

That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.

I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….

I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.

I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016                                           3:28 PM

Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.

But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.

 

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Journal Entries   (2016Nov23)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           5:58 PM

I watch TCM today—they showed “Act One” (1963) based on Moss Hart’s autobiography, specifically the part when Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman first meet and collaborate on a play called “Once In A Lifetime”. “Once In A Lifetime” was Hart’s actual first play (well, second, technically—he flopped in Chicago with “The Hold-Up Man”, but the movie leaves that out)—and was made into its own eponymous movie in 1932. I found that out from IMDb, which also cleared up a great mystery: Even as a little kid watching TV game-shows, I was always at a loss as to why Kitty Carlyle was considered a great celebrity. Well now I know—she was Moss Hart’s wife—celebrity.

Then I went with KT to grab some Chinese at Imperial Wok—he had the chicken and broccoli—I had the Taiwanese rice noodles—you can always count on Imperial Wok. It was great to see KT—it’s been nigh on twenty years since last we met. He takes guff from the locals for being a rich guy, so I guess he’s doing pretty well—I certainly don’t get hassled that way, but I doubt I would mind. His daughter graduates in a week or so and already has a job lined up—things are going great.

Then Dee called. I’d seen on Facebook earlier that Malcolm’s multiple surgeries had been successful—only to find, yesterday, that all three of them got sick—Dee a sinus infection, Bossy bronchitis, and Malcolm developed a post-op infection. But they are all feeling a little better—it sounded like Dee had to get off the phone because she had children crawling all over her—I don’t know—it was weird.

So now I’m looking at Sen videos, emailed from Jessy. I’m almost too tired—it’s been a long day. I have a new shirt—very fancy and comfortable—it has green stripes and I think it’s made of a silk blend—it’s shiny. More later.

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[10 minutes later:] Oh, those are sweet videos!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           8:16 PM

Very tired now—I played some more piano, and now I’m back at the videos. I had something—but it’s gone now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016                                           9:31 PM

Ugh!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                    12:03 PM

That’s better—it’s funny how people (or at least I) get run down at the end of a day, like drained batteries, and then wake up feeling fresh the next morning. I didn’t notice as much—when I was younger. Sleep then was more like a switch turned on and off. But now I notice the steady decline in energy and focus as the day wears on—and the fatigue at the end of the day is so much greater now. But, as balance, I’m very appreciative of the freshness and acuity of the morning hours.

I’ve created two new videos using Jessy’s new videos of Seneca—for the first one, “Water Babies”, I lowered the volume of the piano-playing, so you can hear the baby. For the second video, “On ‘Xmas Comes Anew’”, I muted the volume of the baby-video, so you can hear the piano. “Water Babies” is older—I recorded it a few days ago and waited for baby pix—that’s why the dates are different.

Claire signed us up for Spotify—it’s nice to have every classical music recording I can think of, available for my listening pleasure, while I work away here. It has popular music, too—I just don’t listen to that stuff while I’m working. A lot of my work is my own music videos, though. It’s always been difficult for me to go from my own paltry music to the professionals and back again—I suffer from the comparison—but less now than I used to, so that’s something.

 

Big Numbers   (2016Nov15)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016                                           3:24 PM

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It’s a large-number day! Jessica forwarded 50 new pictures of the family, mostly of princess-baby-granddaughter—and I am working as fast as I can to process them into a new video slide-show with piano music—my hands are stiff and numb from sitting here in the front room typing all day on this rainy, chilly November Tuesday.

Claire received her case of professional pastels—a big wooden chest containing three wooden removable drawers, each with rows of different-colored pastels. I assume it is meant for the studio—schlepping this thing around would give someone a hernia. I used to dream of getting such a set, back in my artsy days—but such panoply of choices would paralyze me—that’s probably why I mostly stayed with ink and paper. Claire will put them to good use, I’m sure—she’s not afraid of color. She’s even dipped a toe into oil-painting recently.

I was not left out—I received several pieces of pottery from Nancy Holmes-Doyle in the post today. One of them—a heartbreakingly gorgeous pinch-pot bowl—was shattered in transit. Just another reason to feel bad about missing the ceramics party, from which I could have carried them home unharmed—and gotten to visit with the Holmes-Doyles. It’s been too long—but every day it gets harder for me to get around. Still, we have two beautiful new mugs, two beautiful new candle-houses, a decorative platter, and a little spoon-rest in the shape of a hand—incredible stuff. I’ll try to photograph them all for this post—you really oughta see them.

 

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016                                              9:52 AM

Can We Be Rude To God?   (2016Nov16)

Believing in God is not a neutral act—it is an offense against reason and a surrender of sanity. I don’t say that to be cruel—it is simply a fact. It’s even part of the rules—ask your preacher—if there were any practical proof of God, then there wouldn’t be any faith—or any need for faith. God says, “Believe in Me.”—He doesn’t say, “Look over here.

Recent ‘Questions’ posted on The Humanist website seem to be subtly asking, ‘How do Humanists make allowances for our group psychosis?’ In a way, they seem to be asking how far we’re willing to go with this Rational Thinking business—and whether or not we non-believers reach a point where we are willing to be rude about the differences.

And that is a valid question in a country founded on religious freedom. After all, it was our religious freedom that allowed us to eschew religion without being burned at the stake—it stands to reason that Christians would wonder if we’ve been given too much freedom—if perhaps it is they, or at least their faith, that will be victimized.

It is a thorny question. Obviously, I am an American, and Americans believe in freedom of religion—but freedom of religion doesn’t address an important issue: How much respect is shown for another’s beliefs? People who believe in something that no one else respects usually get put into mental institutions—it is only natural for believers to be concerned with the amount of respect they are given.

Yet how much respect can a non-believer have for the fanciful tales and notions of theists? Shorn of their ‘given’ legitimacy, the arcana of the major faiths become ludicrous—heaven, hell, angels, an old bearded guy in the sky, transubstantiation—these fantasies are no more acceptable than Greek or Norse mythological tales. As a rational man, I can’t possibly respect these ideas—yet, as a man, I can respect other people having other ideas.

If someone says to me, “I’ll pray for you.” I am capable of holding my tongue—there is little to be gained by insulting someone who has just expressed concern for my welfare. If, at a funeral, a child is being reassured that grandma will be happy in heaven—I’m not going to be the cretin who decides Grandma’s funeral is the place for discussing atheism. But I behave this way because of my respect for other people’s feelings, not my respect for their beliefs.

So please, Humanist-question-contributors, stop asking questions that are sneaky attempts to force us to show respect for your faiths. We don’t respect your faiths—we are unable to. It’s nothing personal—we are simply practicing freedom of religion by answering ‘no’ to all of the above. What we can and do respect are your feelings—if you want to believe in God, we will try not to laugh about it or argue against it.

But if you insist on believing in something that isn’t there, there are going to be conflicts of perception—women and gays are two good examples. The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the kind of bloodthirsty nonsense that’s playing out in the Middle East right now. Yet Religious Freedom can only do so much—there will always be disagreements between people of different faiths—and people without faith—the point is to try to live side-by-side, in spite of the disagreements. That’s the reason for separation of church and state—so that no one can make rules to enforce their beliefs, or to criminalize another’s.

But you are probably asking yourself—wouldn’t I, as an atheist, try to criminalize theism, given the chance? I would be tempted—there are many aspects of faith that seem little more than child-abuse or bigotry—indoctrination from infancy, or bias against women and gays—these things are wrong from my point of view. But then again, they were deeply religious people who came up with freedom of religion, and separation of church and state—and those principles kept us atheists from being declare outlaws, back when our lives could have been forfeit. Turning your own good ideas against you would be the height of ingratitude and incivility. I like to think I’m better than that.

So please, Humanist question-submitters, try to stick with questions asked out of curiosity and avoid questions that are little more than subtle digs at ‘the other’.

 

I keep hearing all this BS about how we have to come together now. Yes, he won the election—that doesn’t mean he stopped being a monster. Yes, your candidate won—that doesn’t make you right. I’d love to ‘come together’—but not with Nazis. You people come back to America—we’re waiting right here. Meantime, try not to turn this place into too much of a friggin nightmare.

I’m starting to think the only reason for Republicans is to turn out the Democrat vote, every other election.

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I’ve seen a lot of Trump-supporter memes, crowing over their victory all over the internet. Let me remind you of something. The Nazis attacked Britain—and the British invented a thinking machine—a computer—and Germany ended up as smoking rubble. The Japanese Empire attacked America—and Americans invented the ultimate killing machine—the nuclear bomb—which destroyed Japan to its very atoms. My point being that intelligent, imaginative, open-minded, decent people don’t like to waste time on belligerence and rancor—but it’s still a really bad idea to piss them off.

A Noisy Afternoon   (2016Oct29)

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Saturday, October 29, 2016                                              4:21 PM

The peace and quiet of the suburbs is a myth. In the spring you have chain-saws and wood-chippers, in the summer it’s weed-whackers and mowers all day long, in winter it’s either snow-blowers, snowmobiles, or the collective grumble of an entire neighborhood full of individual emergency generators keeping their furnaces working during a power outage. That’s all discounting the delivery trucks, garbage trucks, septic trucks, oil trucks, moving vans, road-crew vehicles that clank in a variety of rhythms, and the occasional hot-headed hot-rodder with a muffler problem. The ‘summer special’ is the ice-cream truck that plays a Stephen-King-rendition of a nursery rhyme for hours on end—but never passes in front of your own house.

However, in the fall we get the king of noise-makers—the mighty leaf-blower. The guys that operate these things wear muffler-headphones like they use at an airport—but they fail to hand them out to the rest of the neighborhood. I miss the good old days—when the only loud noises were people playing their stereo too loud—or some drunk beating up his wife with the actual Hollywood soundtrack effects. There really should be laws regulating the manufacture of these unmusical noise-makers. I know that it makes people feel like they’re really working when it’s loud—but a car makes less noise, driving by, than these hand-held lawn-tools do—there’s something wrong with that, and very oppressive.

You may hear the whining of this thing during my videos—if I waited for them to stop, I’d never get anywhere. I played a few song-covers from my Looney-Tunes Songbook today—Warner Bros. published an oldies-songbook comprised exclusively of pieces used in the classic cartoons—it’s great fun. Some of the lyrics are very un-PC, but I just play the piano on those tunes, usually. I also attempted new improvs—it was a struggle, but there might be something there.

I’ve got the latest snaps of princess poopypants—they’re included in the videos. She’s such a charmer. I’m just crazy to finally meet her! If I wasn’t such a wreck I would walk to California, just to see that little baby. But at least I get the movies and the pictures—and they’re coming for the holidays (I hope—young peoples’ lives are so hectic).

Anyhow, here it is one o’clock in the morning and I’m still finishing up these videos—I just want to talk. And this imaginary piece of typing paper is my friend. I type and words come out on the screen—it’s just as if I were communicating with someone. Well, at least it’s quiet now. All the leaf-blowing men are snug in their beds, or drinking at a bar. I wonder how the Cubs did tonight?

O, no! Now, their only chance is a big upset. Go Cubs. (I’m a Mets fan, but a century is long enough to wait.)

Reviews   (2016Oct18)

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016                                               2:14 PM

Beautiful day. Leaves is fallin. Sun is shinin. Can’t beat that. Sarah McLachlan may be an acquired taste, but her music is fantastic—what a voice. I’m making a video—I just played Bach’s keyboard arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in D, an early transposition from an early influence of old J. S.’s.

Then I played an improv—I don’t know what I’m doing, but it felt good. Now if it only sounds good. I called it “High-End Stroller” because that’s what baby Seneca rolls in these days. There’s a break about a minute in—the camera does that every twenty minutes, making a new file, but it loses a second or two of recording. I took too long with the Bach, I guess—it’s not usually a problem because I rarely play piano for more than twenty minutes—and I often restart the camera recording when playing for longer. What I really need is a film crew, I guess.

 

Shall we discuss politics? No! It’s far too nice a day for that—and tomorrow’s the final Shootout at the OK Corral, so let’s wait, shall we?

Autumn preys on my weakness—if anyone ever wrapped themselves up in melancholy, it’s me—and that time of year (thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…) sorry, Shakespeare got me—this time of year makes me dive deep into memory, loss, and the unending cycle of change that is living.

I fairly delight in depression while the summer fades, the leaves fall, and the winter looms. We must remember that ‘clinical depression’ is an imbalance, that modest, occasional depression itself is natural—a way of crawling into bed and putting the covers over our heads, while working or relaxing. Chronic Depression, the problem, is much in the news nowadays—but if you get depressed, sometimes, there’s no need to panic—it is only when it takes over your life that it becomes a problem with a capital ‘P’.

I used to prefer the grey, rainy days—but now I settle for leaves falling—the wet weather chills me to the bone, making me stiff and achy. I still enjoy breezes—you’d have to be dead not to enjoy a breezy day. But enough about the weather.

I just read a sci-fi book called “Machinations” by Hayley Stone. I was disappointed that the plot was a straight rip-off of Terminator, but it was well-written, with good characters, so I finished the book. Dear Ms. Stone: It isn’t science fiction if you don’t have a new idea—it’s just writing, however good. I took one star off of my Amazon rating—because it was a good book, but it wasn’t good science fiction. (If I finish a book, I usually give it full stars.)

I saw the “Ghostbusters” re-make—loved it—loved everyone in it. I don’t see how they could have pandered to fans of the old original any more than they did—and it was nice. Anyone who wasn’t satisfied is just too hard to please.

I enjoyed a few episodes of “Lucifer” on TV, but as with all outlandish premises, they try to ‘mealy-mouth’ it down to a drama, instead of juicing it up into a comic-book fantasy. I watched nine episodes of “Luke Cage” on Netflix, but I’m getting too old for the kid stuff. I’m having trouble with stories that contain corruption, violence, and amorality—they just upset me. My options are narrowing tightly—I’m down to mostly biopics.

I’m trying to read the new Bruce Sterling book, “Pirate Utopia”, but it’s hard—I’m sorry, I just can’t stand ‘alternate history’ sci-fi—it’s a bridge too far for me. Woulda, shoulda, coulda—that’s all it means to me. But Bruce Sterling is heavy-sledding—I’ll keep on for now, and see if I get drawn in. It might be one of those books you don’t get until you re-read it. Sometimes, they’re the best.

Pete and I   (2016Oct10)

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Monday, October 10, 2016                                               9:25 PM

My good friend Pete came by today and we talked briefly about the presidential race and the disgusting Donald. We had a wild session today—I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but I’ve edited the videos, so you can decide for yourselves.

Right now, however, I have a big back-log of musical offerings. Some were delayed by waiting for fresh baby pictures of the princess—there are several improvs and a Haydn piano sonata. Then there are five song-covers and one improv, from Pete and me collaborating this afternoon. All together, it’s quite a concert—but don’t feel like you have to watch it all at once. A lot of production work, after the actual recording, goes into these videos, so I’d prefer they be savored, wherever possible.

Between the inspiration of becoming a grandpa and the turmoil of the campaign season, I’ve had all my buttons pushed lately—and I flatter myself that it’s coming out in the music. I’ve been doing satisfying stuff lately—not all of it recorded and posted to YouTube—but I like to think that what I do post is representative of my recent work. Pete encourages me—so blame him, if you like.

“Wrong Guy”

“Four (4) 60’s Covers”

“MacArthur Park”

 

“Music Room”

“Haydn-and-Improv Hash”

“Philosophical”

“Cautiously Optimistic”

“Sight-Reading a Haydn Piano Sonata”

“Storms May Come”

“A Phoenix, I”

“Mickey’s ‘Mama’ Song”

History   (2016Oct13)

Thursday, October 13, 2016                                             1:44 PM

We all have history. I have incidents in my past of which I am not proud, things that make me wince to remember. But I tell myself that I learned from those mistakes, that I’ve become a better person by feeling the shame of past sins—I’ve come to realize how thoughtless behavior can feel to the person on the wrong end of it, and now I am more careful in my words and deeds.

I’ve also learned that mistakes can’t be undone. If confronted with my past, I tell myself, “Don’t deny that you hurt someone—that would just make it worse—like hurting them all over again.” It’s easy for me—I don’t have any dark secret to confess—I’ve simply been rude or thoughtless in my youth at certain points—and felt bad enough about it afterward that the memories haunt me.

Donald Trump didn’t coalesce into existence behind a podium one year ago—he has a history, too. Now, he prefers to label it a ‘media conspiracy’, but it used to be a reputation he was proud of—the wealthy Manhattanite man-about-town, with an eye for the ladies. His boasting, aboard Billy Bush’s bus, is an example of him propagating that rep—and his bragging about being the owner of a pageant, thus being able to pop into dressing rooms, jibes neatly with the accusations of then-fourteen-year-old girls who describe the same experience from their point of view.

Of all the blatantly transparent lies that Trump has told throughout the campaign, his denial of his own personal history is the biggest whopper so far. It must be dizzying, even for him, to go from bragging about this aspect of himself, to denying it as a filthy lie. I’m starting to think that Trump’s emphatic untruths are a subconscious compulsion—when he says, ‘Lock her up’, he’s really shouting to the world, “I should be locked up!” Perhaps that explains why he mirrors everything Secretary Clinton says, in reverse—he’s actually agreeing with her in the only way his ego will allow him to say it?

Who knows? I’m no psychiatrist. Yet, as a layman, I still feel confident in saying he has a screw loose. Millions of Americans find it appealing—that’s the real problem. I can see that he’s crazy—but how in the world do I get someone else to see it? I can’t put my eyes in someone else’s head.

I saw a Facebook comment this morning where someone said everything I have said, that Trump still won’t show his taxes, he’s horrible and unfit, etc., but ended with the conclusion that our country needs to be ‘disrupted’ by someone like him, because it is too ingrown and self-defeating. I don’t dismiss those points but, as I’ve said before, you don’t fix a computer by taking a hammer to it. And governing fifty states at once, plus being the world police, makes the USA as complicated as any computer. In many ways, it is more complex—people always make everything more complicated. Setting off a bomb, as a president, seems more an expression of frustration than a thoughtful judgement call.

Plus, Trump and the Republicans habitually downplay all the good news coming out of the latest stats. (Isn’t it funny how we value stats based partly on how well they agree with our opinions?) If you look at the stats, the idea of ‘four more years of Obama’ is hardly the threat they wish it sounded like. If a Democrat President with the entire Congress standing in his way could have this much success, imagine what Hillary could accomplish with a willing Senate, maybe even a House of Representatives.

This women’s-equality thing and inclusion-of-gays thing is working out just fine—to the outrage of the far right. Their only chance was to bring us backwards before the new attitudes could settle in. Trump was their shot at that. But it looks as though we may have dodged the bullet.

Trump’s campaign boils down to: ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ He does this because, in business, the answer is always ‘the bloated billionaire’. Unfortunately, this is politics, where the answer to ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ is never ‘the bloated billionaire’, it’s ‘the lifelong public servant’. Vote for Hillary.

A Good Breakfast Ruined   (2016Sep22)

Thursday, September 22, 2016                                        11:35 AM

Breakfast—is there anything sweeter than a hearty breakfast—and a handful of pills? Well, the pills are something I’ve acquired over time—what I really like is the bacon and eggs and hash browns—and then the sour of orange juice washing it all down—and then the hot, steamy, rich coffee (I take mine with lact-aid milk—the half-n’-half of the lactose intolerant).

And the best thing about it is that one isn’t supposed to have a hearty breakfast—all those nitrates, and fats, and the salt—OMG. Heaven forfend! But that just makes it taste better. And no breakfast is truly enjoyed without a newspaper, or at least a crossword puzzle or something—so you feel like you’re preparing your body and your mind for the day ahead. Well, the rest of the day—I don’t usually get around to breakfast until noon-ish—I know, I know—but it takes me a couple of hours just to wake up all the way. I’m kinda punchy for a while, at first.

Now, take a look at this picture of my niece holding my granddaughter—just look at the smiles on these two gals. It’s quite a photo, no? I stared at it for a good few minutes—it’s as good as a TV show.

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But before I have my breakfast, I’ve uploaded this morning’s improv—it came out pretty good because I wasn’t entirely there. See, I tend to overthink things—so, when playing the piano, the more asleep I am, the better.

 

Thursday, September 22, 2016                                        12:43 PM

Aaah—so satisfying. Now that’s a breakfast. I made the mistake, however, of substituting the TV-news for a newspaper. When really bad stuff starts to go down, I realize I didn’t know how good I had it, when it was all presidential election claptrap—they were just filling time because they had no news—and no news truly is good news.

I see video of a pack of Tulsa police gunning down a stalled motorist in the middle of the highway in broad daylight. I ask myself, ‘what the hell is it like, living in Tulsa?’ I ask myself, ‘what would it be like if our cops just shot people down in cold blood like that?’ I find myself grateful, not to live in Tulsa—what a stain on this country. Then the stain running for president, the Donald, becomes the first Republican to hassle the cops about shooting black people. Why? Because, this one time, the shooter is a woman—Trump’s not castigating the police, he’s saying women don’t have the balls—a very different issue—but Trump’s an ass, and wouldn’t know the difference.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the cops shoot another black man—this time they say he had a gun—his family says he had a book. The cops won’t release the video—they had one excuse yesterday—today they have a different excuse—they’re saying they’re just following the law. But the law about releasing cop videos just got rushed through their state legislature—so it doesn’t take effect until next week—and on the hypocrisy goes. But that doesn’t stop the media from drooling in anticipation of more violence during community protests there—so they can say there’s violence on both sides. Vultures.

I must confess—if the cops made a habit of shooting at me, I’d be tempted to shoot back—but I’m white, so maybe I just don’t understand the situation? Regardless, it sure ruins a good breakfast.

I’m an escapee. My disability sidelines me from the distractions of life, so I get to watch the rest of humanity go about its business. It’s a disturbing show—we’ve got a lot of chaos going on in the world. You who have jobs and other distractions are lucky; you don’t spend the day poring over the problems of the world.

I’m an escapee. I already died once, so my concern over dying is not the big deal it once was. Everyone knows we all die someday—but we don’t usually accept it—and that’s a healthy thing. I’ve accepted it—and while that tones down the fear of dying, it also detracts from the ambitions of living. Plus, I’ve gotten old, so any ambition of mine would just annoy people. My day is past, just like Dr. Evil holding the world hostage for a million-dollar ransom, in a time when a million bucks barely pays for a new house.

I’m an escapee—even from myself. I used to be very intent, very tightly wound—now I have trouble concentrating, so I’ve let go of all that OCD behavior, as much as I could. I enjoy playing the piano when I first wake up, because I’m not all there yet—I don’t get in my own way as much.

We’ll all be escapees in November, when Hillary gets elected—we will have escaped an unholy confluence—NBC Universal, The Republic Party, and the Alt-Right movement have created a monster out of a joke. In truth, Trump remains laughable. It’s the half of the country he’s bamboozled into supporting him that’s scary.

We’re also beginning to escape from our past Conspiracy of Silence shielding police misconduct in the persecution, and murder, of minorities. For generations, certain police in certain communities have indulged their bigotry in a calculated and cold-blooded fashion. For generations, minorities’ claims of unwarranted search, seizure, arrest, beatings, and killings have been waved away with a ‘he said, she said’ and a ‘who you gonna believe?’

But now we have video. The old tradition, the evil conspiracy, is being shot through its own heart—its secrecy—and I confess to a certain glee as I watch these criminals-in-cop-clothes try to explain away the truth as it plays on a screen in slow motion. The thin blue wall of silence doesn’t work against YouTube footage—bigots, your day is come.

Unrest will be part of this process. The unwillingness to absorb this age-old confederation of persecution, even while it plays on our TV sets, faces tremendous inertia among white people. We don’t want to believe that such villainy has been sniggering behind our backs while we trusted our men and women in blue. And we recognize that many police do their jobs with pride, competence, bravery, and integrity.

But our respect for the police as a group cannot be a shield for this pernicious evil that resides within it. Black communities gather in outrage, risking harm themselves, to protest this cancer within law enforcement, and within the hearts of communities. Evidence is plain to see—yet we do nothing but debate talking points.

Changes must be made. Perpetrators must face consequences, even when they wear the uniform. Improved training and community outreach must become the norm—as must criminal prosecution for these brazen killings committed under the guise of ‘keeping the peace’. Ironic, and unacceptable—and most of all shameful. Shame on them. And shame on us if we don’t root out this corruption with the same intensity with which we support our cops.

But I see all this as ultimately good, as progress—an ancient evil has been caught in the light of day and, if we do right, will be hounded into non-existence. Trump points to this unrest and other violence, and tries to say that violence and crime are increasing—statistics, as usual, make a liar of him—but that’s how he wants to frame our reality, so we’ll all get scared and vote for a bully. Crime and violence are at historic lows. The recent unrest is a part of making the police a force for good for everyone, including every shade of skin.

This is important work, not cause for hysteria. But, regarding Trump, that could be said about many of his positions, on just about every issue.

Seneca and Me (2016Sep17)

Saturday, September 17, 2016                                          12:58 PM

Wow—even I’m tired of me—I can’t imagine how fed up you must be, dear reader. But it’s the weekend now, so I’m going to do my best not to say anything until Monday, maybe even Wednesday—who knows?

Our granddaughter has a wonderful new toy in her crib—a small keyboard that she can play with her tootsies. Punkin sent me a video of it, so I’ve made a new video of the two of us playing together. Enjoy. (I’m the one in the green shirt.)

Balance   (2016Sep14)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016                                              1:45 PM

La-dee-da…. I don’t care. Let it all swirl around me. I usually feel obligated to pay attention, to try to sort the wheat from the chaff. But it all roils on, with or without me—I could live the rest of my life without a glance at the world and no one would ever notice. I could stop watching TV or going online, wait until November, vote for Hillary—and the result would be the same as if I had obsessed over all the political reporting, day and night, leading up to election day.

Those of you with the health and strength can rush down to campaign headquarters and volunteer to get out the vote—you may even decide that you’ve found in Politics a lifetime career—you can make a difference. I am unable to do so—but that’s okay—like I said, my lack of involvement frees me from worrying about my level of engagement.

We live in a media-centric culture. It is a mirror that we hold up to ourselves—and so our lives are judged not just on what’s happening, but whether we find ourselves entertained. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves—as if the whole family-of-man was driving its car down the interstate, admiring itself in the rearview mirror, trying to keep one eye on the traffic and the road signs. We must pay attention—but there are some things that don’t require our attention—they get in the way of the stuff we must keep watching for—dangers, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Not that we don’t need entertainment—I’m not saying that. Ever since fireside storytellers lit the imaginations of their tribe to mark the end of the day, people have hungered for entertainment. It is a part of who we are—just as much as eating or sleeping. In modern America, we’ve found that an overabundance of tempting foods can transform nutrition into a health threat. By the same token, it seems that we have the ability to over-indulge in entertainment to the detriment of our mental health. Sensationalism leads us on, to shorter attention-spans, lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.

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As a bookworm, I was an early-adopter of today’s media overload. Long before it was popular to spend the entire day staring at a rectangle in your hand, I was reading a book during every free second of my time. Even back then, I found that reading books (a supposedly relaxing activity) could become a binge activity. I’d reach a point where the eye strain, stiff neck muscles, and headaches made it necessary to stop awhile—even at three in the morning, with only one chapter left to find out the ending.

I got a lot out of those books—I learned a lot and I was exposed to new concepts and perspectives that broadened my understanding. But I also missed out on a lot of other things—the kinds of things other people did—which narrowed my understanding. It’s that whole ‘balance’ thing—it always bites us in the tush. And when it comes to the popularity and ubiquity of the I-phone, balance goes completely out the window.

People in olden times often resisted having a phone put into their home—if they wanted to talk to someone, they would go and see them. Nowadays, landline home-phones are only remarkable in that younger people have begun to feel landlines are superfluous. And, as in those days, we have many people today who don’t wish to ‘be online’—if they want to talk to somebody, they’ll call them on the phone. But like the people before, their children are using texts and Twitter and Skype, et. al., to keep in touch—so they are forced to adopt the new tech, if only to talk to their kids.

But what if you’re among the millions of people without the money for gadgets, without access to the internet, perhaps without even literacy? We are creating a divide between the digitally-enabled and the dark-zoners—and these two groups live in worlds that the other cannot comprehend, much less share.

We are approaching a point where digital illiteracy and lack of access will become more disabling than a lack of money. It is a new form of what film-director Godfrey Reggio called ‘Koyaanisqatsi‘ or ‘life out of balance’. Only, in this case, it is specifically Humanity that is putting itself out of balance.

Prototypical ‘wild’ humans evolved to live a life of constant struggle and frequent deprivation. We have built civilizations that free us from such rigors—but being free of the necessity of fleeing from predators, free of hunting, gathering, and finding water and shelter—that doesn’t change the way we evolved.

We still need to exert ourselves. We still need to balance food with activity. We still need to bond, to form social groups, and to share stories. We still need to keep these animal bodies of ours balanced on the tightrope of biological function. Any extreme unbalance of exertion, food, leisure, entertainment, or self-regard causes problems—as lack of balance always will.

So, in the end, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with eating McDonalds or playing Black Ops or Tweeting—the danger lies in imbalance, in overdoing any one thing to the exclusion of a diversity of activities. Just as a conversation must include both talking and listening, our lives must balance our pleasures with our requirements. We take our bodies for granted—but we ought to stop using them occasionally, just long enough to listen to them and give them what they need. But I should talk—I collect unhealthy habits like they were baseball cards.

Okay, videos for today—one new one, and one from a week ago that I’ve put off posting.

 

 

So I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

Visitors   (2016Sep13)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016                                          7:50 PM

What a day—what a beautiful day. Lorraine Gengo and Joanna Binkley came by today, bought me lunch, and we sat and talked about cabbages and kings, just like the old days. All the high school years I spent chasing them around like deer—and just as hard to keep up with. And now they invite themselves over. Wonders never cease.

Of course, it’s a sad occasion—we were all good friends with Cris, and Cary still. He was a very striking personality and we all feel his passing. Still we talked of other things, too—catching up on forty years is both plenty to talk about, and nothing to talk about, but we made do.

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I usually spend the day trying not to wear myself out but today I don’t mind being exhausted—I don’t get out much. Seeing people from the olden times really lifts my spirits. I’m kicking myself now, that I hadn’t the presence of mind to take a picture! And me making a movie every damn day…

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Seneca’s latest video came out adorable, just like they all do. She’s got two outfits in the new pictures—one says, “Dad and I Agree—Mom is the Boss” (a nice fantasy—everyone knows the baby is the boss) and the other has a whale on it. The teddy-bear looks like a permanent fixture—it’s so cute the way little’uns have ‘sidekick’ dolls or toys or blankets that cannot leave their sides.

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I’m happy also to note that my granddaughter continues the family tradition (well, my tradition—Bear is a normal person) of wearing mis-matched socks. I think it adds a certain panache, don’t you?

 

Pete’s coming! New videos from the Buds-Up Consort coming soon—watch this space….

 

Improv of the Past   (2016Sep06)

Friday, September 09, 2016                                              1:01 AM

I’ve been working on my video—it is a reminiscence of those who’ve passed away, particularly our old friend, Cris Miller, but also of children grown up, good times gone by, and, really, just fragments of the past—so if I’ve left you out, it is only the combination of having far too many friends and relations (and too many pictures of them all) and the fact that photo-shopping and video-processing over one hundred photos is hard on my eyes, my back and my hands, which made me pass up hundreds more that I would have liked to include. I apologize in advance—and promise there will be other days and other videos. If you are included and don’t like your photo—I apologize for that as well. I tried to create a pleasant journey back in time—that was my only goal.

Among the departed, you will see pictures of my father, my Gramma Duffy, my Grampa and Gramma Dunn, my Aunt Lois, Claire’s father, her Nana Ruth, my brother Russell, my brother-in-law, Jimmy Alaimo, and old friends—Billy Woerter, Rob Freeman, and Cris. I lacked photos for Stephen Breen, Kevin Ivory, Joey Arena, George Lesti, or the legendary Gil Freeman. And I must confess, my weak memory keeps me from remembering the names of all my old friends who’ve since gone.

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I have no trouble with faces, though, so a crowd of unnamed memories stand with those I remember and those in this video. This video is for me, but it’s mostly for all of them. However, this isn’t just a memorial—if you see an old picture of yourself, that doesn’t mean I thought you’d passed on! It simply means that, while you may be a part of my present, you’re also a fond part of my memories of the past.

Friday, September 09, 2016                                              4:44 PM

I made a three-day job of it—but it’s finally uploading to YouTube right now. Please don’t ask for an explanation of the non-chronological order or the randomness of the themes—it’s partly my memories, but also simply what pictures I had to work with.

I watched it through before posting—QC, don’t you know. I realize now this video is so personal that it won’t make a lick of sense to anyone else. It started out as a desire to use all eight pictures of Cris Miller that I had (plus some sketch-artwork from a finished picture, I’m proud to say, he once framed and hung in his home). It just got out of hand—I was suddenly haunted by all the photos I had of loved ones whose pictures (and memories) are all we have left. And then, some living loved ones slipped in, because ‘loved ones’—and then a few photos that were just ‘from the past’. I never could be organized.

The piano-video came first, luckily, because all this photo-shopping has worn me out. I thought it went well, but you decide.

 

Response to Derek Sivers (2016Sep04)

SAM_2276

Sunday, September 04, 2016                                            6:59 PM

Response to the Derek Sivers Article: Why are you doing?

Goals are for the young. Their goals allow them to push themselves, to experience the ups and downs of life, and to learn who they really are and what they’re capable of. Having achieved a goal, one looks back and sees the entire journey differently for having reached its end. Do that often enough, and one becomes an adult.

SAM_2273

 

Adults come to see life not as an Olympic event, but as a group activity—being a good, supportive family member, being an engaged employee of your workplace, being a contributing member of your community. Goals in this context are what one does with the interstices—diet and exercise, continuing education, workbench projects, artistry, whatever. Thus I find the whole subject of goals difficult to get my arms around.

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But exceptions abound—entrepreneurs, visionaries, activists, geniuses of one type or another—such people include disruption in their life plan, while still trying their best also to be the ‘adults’ described above. That’s a tall order—which is why there are not more of such people. Only the truly driven have any reason to make life even more challenging than it already is. The rest of us tend to make a goal of finding something pleasant to do during our leisure time, and making as much of that leisure time as we can.

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I thought myself exceptional—until I’d become more familiar with the world and realized that, out of seven billion, exceptional isn’t always automatically ‘rich and famous’. I found my exceptionals to be balanced neatly against my weaknesses. I found ‘rich and famous’ to be a silly goal, because both balance their advantages against their hassles. And I found that personal, private success is hard to enjoy when there are so many people with less comfort, less wealth, and less opportunity.

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On the other hand, saving the world is a tall order—and I’m not that ambitious. I would have to satisfy myself with being engaged in my family’s, and my community’s, welfare—but then I became disabled and found myself the target of support, rather than the source. Surprise! Nothing educates like vulnerability. A great chunk of my ego was carved away. A great load of gratitude was grudgingly taken on. I went from dreaming of doing things no one else could do, to wishing I could do what any average person could. I was, as they say, ‘taken down a peg’.

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We don’t choose our goals any more than we choose our talents or our failings—goals accommodate themselves to the size of their container, if you will. But I appreciate your advice—whatever the goal, we should all be seeking maximum joy and personal growth—and time is short, so whatever we want to do, we better get busy doing it.

 

Thus endeth the lesson.

Daddy’s 1st Dance   (2016Sep02)

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Friday, September 02, 2016                                              7:10 PM

I finally got in a file-folder from Bear, containing over 100 Photos of Seneca showing off his daughter, Seneca, at his Restaurant—he appears to dance about the place, introducing the Princess to all his co-workers. It’s beautiful—so I made a video of it. I can’t speak for the piano music—my fingers were a bit tired from photo-shopping all those pics—but I think it will do.

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The photo sequence repeats once, because I only show each picture for 0.75 secs. That left me with a-minute-and-a-half for the whole sequence, but the music is three minutes. It’s driving me crazy to be in New York while my baby granddaughter is growing up in California—it’s just so wrong. They’re going to visit at Christmas time, so I’m very impatient for the holidays. Meanwhile, I have to settle for photos. Arggh!

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Well, anyway, that was a full day’s work—and I think it came out okay—but I think I’ll use these pictures again, more slowly, on my next video. I like the way this one suggests movement, but it’s a little frenetic. I’d like to see the pictures come more slowly. Next time.

ttfn.

 

36th Anniversary   (2016Aug29)

Monday, August 29, 2016                                       9:57 AM

For some reason, 36 years ago, I married a Bear. She married a Clown. We did the things that other families do—house, kids, pets, Christmas, birthdays—but we did something you don’t see too much of—we were silly. I find silliness to be precious—it’s something a lot of people don’t have time for. Some people even have an aversion to silliness—though that makes them the perfect people to be silly in front of.

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Bear is not always relaxed enough to get silly—she spends most of her time being quite serious and busy. She’s lucky she has me—I know the value of silly. I’ll check—but I’m pretty sure she feels the same way—yeah, pretty sure…

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I told her last night that I had forgotten to get her a gift. Bear doesn’t care—Bear doesn’t like a lot of gift-giving. She likes Christmas presents and birthday presents and she doesn’t mind a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day—but that’s it. No Mother’s Day, no Easter, no wedding anniversary, nothing where she feels a gift would cheapen the day. I try to get gifts anyway—silly ones, of course—but when I forget, it’s not the end of the world.

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She said, “When I go shopping tomorrow, I’ll get myself some flowers.” That’s what we do—I tell Bear I didn’t get her a present, and she gets it for me (for her). I think she prefers to do her own shopping and decide what she wants—silly gifts are all well and good, but….

To the outside observer it might look like I get most of the benefit of being married and Bear gets most of the work—but only because it’s true—and I have an excuse—and a note from my doctor. But I do bring something to the table—old world queens had their court jesters—and Bear has her Clown. Plus, I kill spiders and fix toilets.

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I don’t even want to think what my life would have been like without her. So that worked out pretty good. I am the lucky one.

Sunday, August 28, 2016                                         12:33 PM

It’s Addictive   (2061Aug28)

I’m having trouble getting any work done on the computer. My wife is having trouble leaving the house. Friends come over and when they try to leave they just can’t walk out the door. It’s a real problem. We’re all addicted.

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I’m a nerd by trade. My usual PC-monitor backgrounds and screen-saver slide-shows have always been NASA images—false-color galactic spectaculars, grandiose launch-fireworks, awesome celestial bodies—you know the drill. But I have recently received an influx of my granddaughter’s baby-pictures, which reminded me of younger times, when my computer graphics included our own infants—before they grew old enough to be self-conscious about being on daddy’s screen-saver. So, now, only occasional close-ups of solar storms or galactic star-cradles interrupt the steady stream of baby worship.

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If you’ve had kids, or grandkids, then you know that your baby pictures are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen—and it’s hard to look away. This is especially true when the actual enfant is on the opposite coast, unavailable for grandparental doting. Well, it turns out that having a slide-show screen-saver of such images is pretty close to graphics heroin.

I finish my typing or Facebooking or whatever, I go to leave the room, and I find myself caught, in glancing backward, by the full-screen splendor of our little Seneca. I walk into the same room later on, and I can’t bring myself to hit a key, stopping the screen-saver—I just sit and watch. When Claire (or anyone, really) tries to walk past the computer on their way out the door, they find themselves stopped in their tracks. She’s a cutie, what can I say?

I have piano recordings I’ve put off for days now, because I won’t edit the video without some fresh Seneca graphics to replace the image of me sitting and playing (with over 1,900 YouTube videos, I’ve seen more than enough of myself). Claire is holding out on me—but that’s between us, we’ll work it out. In the meantime, I have one recording that I really like—I may have to post them as is—or at least this latest one.

The universe is a big place (he said, apropos of nothing) and if we are honest with ourselves, our individual selves are such a minute part of the planet—itself a minute part of the whole—and we must accept that ego is entirely a biological-evolution thing—it is as misleading as our perception of the Earth as a flat surface—ego is a special case, only valid to one person in a specific point of time and space—certainly not any part of the larger reality around us.

We accept ego as a driving force, giving us the confidence to move forward, the sense of self-worth that allows us to believe in our goals and dreams—just as we move across the earth as if it were a table-top—it’s practical. But an overabundance of ego in one person is usually recognized in those around him or her—as delusional. So we conclude that ego, like glandular balance, is a healthy thing, and egotism, like any metabolic imbalance, is unhealthy.

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Our egos are like our faces—other people see them clearly, while we cannot. And there is no mirror for an ego—except perhaps the brick wall of harsh reality, though sometimes even that has no effect. I’m not sure how big my ego is—I can’t be certain if my ego is in balance or not. It troubles me. But then, I’m out of shape too—no question, yet I can live with that—more easily than I can get myself to exercise every day. Sometimes I have to accept that I am what I am.

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My point? I don’t know—my point is that it’s hot—too hot for this heavy, long-sleeved shirt I wore in the air-conditioned part of the house. My point is that I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of presidential politics and it’s virtually impossible for me to write about anything else. But it’s Sunday, so I’m trying to take a day off from all that. Still, I catch myself nibbling around the edges of it.

For me this political ‘rumpus’ is about human nature, about character, about strength of purpose and clarity of vision—it’s not a party to me, it’s not a hootenanny where I get off on the sheer emotional energy of it. I’ve always been too damned serious—and this election is an exaggeration of that side of me. Don’t think that, because I’m taking a day off, that I don’t have a lot more scolding and griping to do—but that’ll wait.

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In the meantime, I only have eight measly photographs with which to make four videos—I guess if I can’t squeeze any new shots out of Jessy or Claire, I’ll have to fall back on photos I’ve already used—we’ll see.

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In My Prime   (2016Aug19)

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Friday, August 19, 2016                                           6:21 PM

Once upon a time I supervised thirty employees and ran the computer systems all by myself—I made and spent money like a lord, because times were fat—People thought I was a computer genius, and in that context, I kinda was. Along the way, I had married, we’d had two kids, a dog, three cats, a house, and two cars. We live in a lovely, woodsy neighborhood with a beach on the lake, just north of New York City.

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I worked hard, long hours on the hardware, the software, the supplies, training the people (people didn’t know what to do with a computer back then—and, to be fair, all the computers were different, with different, custom-made programs). I talked to clients and suppliers on the phone. I talked in meetings. I talked to individuals if they had a question or problem. I kept everything going and, on the side, de-bugged programs or wrote new applications. I was often brought in on a big closing as the resident nerd—back then, if you had your own nerd, you could get ahead of the competition using those new ‘computer’ gadgets. I was big stuff—in a small way, for a short time.

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But I had my own corner office, with a beautiful view. I had a nice chair. I was happiest when I was just sitting at my terminal, writing code. That was the easiest part of the job. Dealing with customers and co-workers was never my strong suit. I was younger than a lot of employees, and that could be awkward for both of us.

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On my birthdays, a group of friends and family would join me at a fancy restaurant. We’d eat fancy food and drink pricey wine—it was very sumptuous, not hard to take at all. Eventually, we’d toast to my birthday and everybody would say, “You are the lucky one!” It was said half-joking, ironically, because there wasn’t anything too special about me, but I was undeniably enjoying a lucky life—and it was a night to celebrate.

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But I believe it. I said it to someone just recently. They looked surprised. They said, “You? You’re the lucky one?”, incredulously.

I said, “Yeah. I should have died ten different ways by now but I’m still breathing. I should be a grouchy misanthrope hiding in a solitary cave somewhere but (and here I looked at my wife) I live in this wonderful place with wonderful people. I have everything I want and nothing I don’t.” Now, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not much of one, not in any way that really matters.

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I do believe it. There are so many ways in which the twists and turns of fate could have put me up against it, but that has never happened. Fears arise, troubles come, but with time they all fade, and a better day dawns—every time. If that’s not lucky, I don’t know what is.

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And yet it isn’t much different from your life, is it, dear reader? We are all tremendously lucky to be waking up to this day, eating food, being with others, cruising around, reading books, whatever you like doing. It’s good, right? I mean, it could get worse. That would suck. That would be bad luck. But meanwhile we swim in a stream of good luck, barely noticing the miraculous moments go by. I am the lucky one. Say it with me.

Yes It Pours   (2016Aug17)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016                                           5:28 PM

Two months ago, when our daughter’s pregnancy (and on the west coast, yet) lurked in the back of my mind—and it still looked like we might get taken in by Trump’s big con—and I was smoking too much and doing too little—back then, I resumed my anti-depressant prescription. That’s how bad I got.

But a half-a-pill a day of that stuff really pole-axed me. Yes, I smoked a lot less, because a lot less of me was there—I was zombified. But the cutting back on smoking was good for me—I felt much better. The only trouble was that I wasn’t doing anything else, either—and I wasn’t upset about that. I was very far from upset about anything at all.

Now, if I had wanted to spend my life on drugs, I could do that all by myself—and with much fun-ner drugs. So I compromised—now I take a quarter of a pill every day—and only until October, when I will stop altogether, and see how it goes. There’s a reason I stopped taking them, after all, and if I can do without, I’d really prefer that.

So, back then, it wasn’t just raining anxiety—it was pouring. But now, with our brand-new, cute-as-a-button granddaughter, I’ve been inspired to play new piano improvs. Claire’s trip has inspired me to get out and do more—like doing my own shopping. The influx of baby pictures has given me lots of busy-work in photoshop, making them fit into my YouTube videos. I enjoy my playing more when I’m looking at photos of that beautiful baby instead of myself—I think it makes me sound better.

Then Pete came by today—Hooray! I was pretty disappointed with last month’s recording, because of the anti-depressants making me punchy and basically out-of-it. But we made up for it today.

We started with a request: “Jesu—Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J. S. Bach. (That’s two requests in August—for me it’s been a banner month for music.) I played it slow, so I would make less mistakes—but Bach is good that way—it’s still pretty, even slow.

Then we did a couple of jams back-to-back. That video is called “On A Wednesday Afternoon”. I enjoyed it much more than the title might suggest—I guess I was going for the ‘soft-sell’, there. No Pete Cianflone session would be complete without a bunch of weirdness in the video—blame it on Jessy—if she had sent me a bunch of baby-pictures, you wouldn’t even see us on the video.

Then Pete suggested we cover a Golden Oldie from the 60s, so we played “Let’s Live For Today”. Now, about “Let’s Live For Today”:

Songbook from “Great songs…” series, titled “of the Sixties – Volume 2″ gives the following credits:

“Let’s Live For Today”

Words and Music by Guido Cenciarelli, Giulio Rapetti and Norman David – © 1967 by BMG Songs, Inc.

But Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia gives the following credits:

“Let’s Live for Today”

Writer(s): Michael Julien, Ivan Mogull, and David Shapiro.  “’Let’s Live for Today’ is a song initially recorded by the English band The Rokes in 1966. The song was later popularized by the American rock band The Grass Roots, who released it as a single on May 13, 1967.”

I leave that mystery to someone else to solve, but we had fun playing it—it’s not really a piano piece, but we made do.

The last bit of improv was bang-ish, so the video is called “Monstrous”. Pete said he might be able to come back next week, so we may get two sessions for August—who knows? We toasted the baby—well, I did, Pete doesn’t drink. A good time was had by all. I hope it’s as good to listen to. Enjoy.

As I was saying—new baby granddaughter, clearer mind, more piano music—and having more fun at the piano, baby-picture photoshopping, regular shopping… and it looks like there’s no need to worry about Hillary being elected—(but Vote anyway!) Suddenly, it’s not just raining good things, it’s pouring. Ah, life. That’s what I say. Ah, life.

Monograph   (2016Aug15)

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Monday, August 15, 2016                                       9:52 PM

Why do I always do this? I post a blog-entry about my rage over politics, full of invective and damnation—then, later in the same day, I post another blog-entry swimming in sweetness and light—usually to go along with my new granddaughter’s latest photo-shoot, hopefully with accompanying piano video using said photos. It’s ridiculous—no one who wants to read one could possibly want to read the other. What am I doing?

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Truth is, I’m just being myself. I try not to get worked up about the election, but then I watch CNN or whatever, get a whole new bee in my bonnet, and I’m off to the races. I’d much rather spend the day doing what I did this afternoon.

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Bear and Punkin have been emailing me regular albums of virtually daily baby pictures. Today’s batch of eleven photos inspired me to create a new frame for the photos in my video. I work in photo-shop (the Corel version) with screen grabs of medieval illuminated page borders and fancy capital letters (which I used to create a monogram-inset for the royal princess’ picture-frames), going to extra pains to ensure that each photo is the same size and in the same position. Otherwise the video doesn’t flow as well.

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Our old friend, Chris Farrell, came by to tune the baby grand today. I waited until his visit before I played today’s piano improvisation. I hope you’ll notice the clarity of pitch—it should stand out, compared to the ‘sour’ recordings I’ve been making these past few weeks. I have to watch that, because frankly my ear isn’t good enough to notice, but I know musicians who actually suffer, hearing an instrument played out of tune. Today’s video does not have that problem. As they say, all mistakes are mine alone…

 

 

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This is one cute baby. I have trouble sometimes finding inspiration to record my 2,000th improv (actually, my YouTube-uploads total is more like 1,976). However, knowing that I need an audio track for my baby-pictures videos makes it seem easy—but then again, I don’t try as hard—I just try to play something a baby might like. Today’s piece ends with a lullaby of sorts, hence the title.

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Bear tells me that Lil Sen watched my previous video on YouTube—out in California—and seemed to think it was okay. Talk about inspiration. I’ll be playing piano improvs until further notice, no problem. Bear returns this Thursday—poor Bear, I’m sure she’ll be sorry to say goodbye (just for now) to our little sweety-pie. Though I’d better come up with a different nickname—I doubt Jessy wants to be called our ‘old sweety-pie’! But it’s bound to be confusing when your baby girl has a baby girl. I’ll work on it.

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G’night….

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)

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Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.

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I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.

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I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.

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And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.

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But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?

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We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.

These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.

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Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.

So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.

 

ttfn.

The Doldrums   (2016Aug12)

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Friday, August 12, 2016                                           8:36 PM

Oh my. Did someone order a steam bath? What kind of ungodly weather is this? Wait, I remember now—every year about this time of the summer, it gets obnoxious enough that we almost feel grateful when the cold comes back. I hate the cold weather, but even I get fooled this time of year. Whew! I can’t stop sweating through all my clothes—it’s yucky.

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Bear remains on the West Coast with her daughter (and her daughter) so I’ve been running around like a healthy person. I get so wound up I can’t sleep at night. Then I don’t wake up until noon. It’s getting me confused. I try to read books as much as I can—but that only lasts the length of the book. Then I have to wait until I’m ready to start a new one. You can’t just close one book and open another—it’s a rule, I guess. But I don’t like it.

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The only bright point in this long wait is that my granddaughter’s pictures come in a fairly steady stream. I could stare at her all day—she makes me smile like an idiot, just sitting here by myself. Just knowing she exists makes my life a pleasure. After the first bunch, I requested some pictures of Sen with her eyes open. Oh man—I don’t know—it took me two days to process them all for a video—and I had to play eight minutes of piano improv to last the length of the final movie. I hope you enjoy it.

 

..

Heart of Light   (2016Aug08)

Monday, August 08, 2016                                       3:03 PM

 

“’You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

‘They called me the  hyacinth girl.’

-Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer”

—  (from “The Waste Land” (1922) by T.S. Eliot)

 

I know that all you working stiffs hate the start of the work-week, but I’m enjoying the beautiful weather and my good mood. The sun is shining. I’m free as a bird—and I’m a grandpa now, too—it’s really too sweet. Claire is, I presume, enjoying her beautiful granddaughter Seneca and spending time with her Jessy, and Big Sen.

I don’t know for sure because, when you’ve been together for 37 years (36 of them married, end of this month), two weeks away from the sound of my voice is the best vacation Bear could possibly ask for. So I don’t call. I’ll see her in two weeks. Besides, there’s no news here to report anyhow—unless you count the fact that Spencer and I haven’t starved to death without someone to look after us.

I always start to really love the summer when it’s just about to end. It seems so cruel that all the beautiful plants and flowers and all the leaves on the trees will all fade and fall. Soon I’ll have to close the windows—sacrificing fresh breezes for warmth—I think that’s the part I hate the most. Sometimes, in winter, I open the bedroom windows for as long as I can stand it—just to get a little re-oxygenation.

But temperate climate is where it’s best—yes, you get winter, but it’s harder to live in temperate climes, so you don’t get the profusion of jungles, insects, and creepy-crawlies of various kinds that make the tropics so claustrophobic. Winter is like a broom that sweeps away the ephemera that can only live in the hot sunlight—herding the irresistible force of Life into a dignified annual cycle, rather than an eternal riot of birth and rot—what Joseph Conrad called the “Heart of Darkness”.

But we still get a taste of the easy life, every summer—just a tease, but enough to fuel our dreams through the long winters. I love having all the doors and windows open all day—especially on breezy days, when the whole house breathes with the weather. Those flowers which haven’t already done their business are at peak bloom, blousy and vulnerable to wind—the last fireworks of nature’s annual explosion—so beautiful, and so sad, for their grandeur means the end is near. As they should correctly say on Game of Thrones, ‘Autumn is coming’. Right? I mean, who has Winter without first a Fall, for crying out loud? Why don’t the Game of Thrones people ever say, “Fall is almost over.”? That’s show-biz, I guess.

I’m going outside—all this talking about the outdoors has made me restless. See ya.

Crickets   (2016Aug07)

Sunday, August 07, 2016                                         9:51 PM

The summer night is soft and cooling, but noisy—what with all the crickets calling through the screen door. It’s peak summer—quiet as a tomb. If you had somewhere to go, you’re already there. Me, I like to stay home usually. Spencer’s kind of the same way. It’s a Sunday night—it doesn’t come any quieter, if you don’t count the crickets.

I don’t watch the Olympics—not alone, anyway. I’ll linger on an event in the midst of channel-surfing, but that’s about it. And no programmer in their right mind would air anything good while the whole world’s on vacation and the Olympics are on. So the usual tired offerings on Sunday night are exhausted on a Sunday night like this.

I made some videos—one of them uses the pictures Bear took, out the window of her airplane as she flew to California. The other is the first request I’ve had in a dog’s age—someone asked me for a melancholy tune—so I’ve done my best to be absolutely drippy in that one.

I’m trying to make chicken noodle soup and blog at the same time—I’m likely to burn up a pot and go hungry. Wait a second—I’ll go check on it…. Still a minute on the timer. Oh no, another thing I forgot—Roadies is on—I’ll be back.

Sunday, August 07, 2016                                         11:36 PM

Here I was complaining about nothing being on TV, and I remembered that I like to watch Roadies, and then John Oliver, on Sunday nights. Man, TV goes by fast when you’re watching good stuff without commercials! It’s so rare on regular TV—I can see why people switch to binge-watching whole series seasons online. It’s much more satisfying—and if you don’t like it that much, you can just move on. I have a few Netflix series that I started and got tired of—I told myself for a while that I’d get back to them but as time passed I realized that wasn’t going to happen. But I’ve watched some really good stuff on Netflix, every season, all the way through—like Stranger Things, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt —bingeing is great!

 

So now I’ve got one last improv to post before I call it a day.

Monday, August 08, 2016                                       12:27 AM

I got my bowl of Liptons, in case you wondered—there’s a timer app on Windows 10—good thing, too, because I never heard the kitchen timer go off. Imagine—I can cook and PC at the same time now—hmm… This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

See, I used to multi-task—like a normal person. But I have no short-term memory—or I have advanced absent-minded-ness (I was always absent-minded). Anyhow, I go for a long time without looking up from the keyboard—but with a timer?—oh, man.

I think our trip to the store yesterday helped ‘wake me up’ a little. I can do things—but then I get tired or I muck it up. So I get to a point where I stop doing stuff. But I should really make more of an effort to go outside and move around a little, every other day at least. I’m only mostly useless—I have to remind myself I’m not entirely useless. Not entirely. Not yet.

Okay, enough, the video is uploaded and it’s late—more later. Good night all.

 

 

Not So Good   (2016Aug05)

Friday, August 05, 2016                                           2:21 PM

Okay, so call me a starry-eyed optimist. I always reach for the moon—yesterday I was day-dreaming about a Clinton presidency with a Democratic-controlled legislature—with bill after bill, just sailing through—and changing the face of our future. But I just saw Hillary Clinton give a press conference in DC that was co-hosted by the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists —and Hillary said that even if she wins, and even if Dems take the Senate, there will still be a GOP majority in the House.

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For at least two more years, she would have to contend with Paul Ryan’s Mad-Hatters Tea-Party. She recommends that supporters write their congresspersons to let them know we’re watching, let them know how we feel about obstruction of important bills—and of course to vote for Democrats in 2018 (though she didn’t say that last part—she has to stay on message about this election—she only alluded to the low voter turn-out in off-year elections, which allows the GOP to keep sneaking in).

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Thus it won’t be all peaches and cream—even if there’s a Democrat blow-out in this election. The GOP will be able to continue their policy of obstructing the Dems and claiming the Dems can’t do anything. I don’t know why people keep falling for this. Massive misinformation campaigns in targeted demographics—that’s my take on it—the GOP can evert any issue—they can take the simplest cause and turn it on its head. Their reasoning never survives close scrutiny, but if they hammer half-truths into their base, over and over—their nonsense starts to sound like sense.

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People are suffering. People are angry. Why people blame Hillary for this is beyond me. Hillary doesn’t control the government—legislation goes through the GOP—or never makes it past the GOP, more like—so why do people still believe them when they blame Obama? They’ll try the same thing if Hillary wins—but maybe people will catch on. Maybe people will see that an adversarial two-party system is deadly—only a truly bi-partisan system that does its work, and leaves the differences on the sidelines, has enabled our government to function throughout its first two centuries. We cannot continue with the GOP mind-set of winner-take-all. It’s bad for everybody.

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Still, I remain optimistic. Our government will inevitably embrace the 21st century and all the digital magic that comes with—and streamlining data-collection, analysis, communications, and policy-making will do for bureaucracy what it has already done for our military—state-of-the-art tools for finding trouble-spots, creating solutions, and implementing those solutions, with digital monitoring that allows real-time feedback on its efficiency, will allow our government to change as quickly as the times—all we need to do is make sure the right people are deciding on our heading. Will America be run to please the wealthy and big businesses—or will we be governed in terms of what’s best for everyone—rich or poor, big or small? We decide—one way or another, we will not enter into our future without having anything to say about it—we just have to believe—and act appropriately.

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The GOP and the lobbyists rely on political inertia and public indifference—the USA has run so smoothly for so long that many people feel our elections are just going through the motions. Let’s prove them wrong—let’s all vote—in every election—and get involved in politics more, locally as well as nationally. It’s a government by the people—but if the people lay down on the job, other influences take advantage. We have to fight back—no matter how boring or tedious the process may be. Vote for Hillary—and if you don’t like her, vote anyway—vote for somebody. Get off the sidelines. This isn’t a football game that we watch at home—this is reality—get involved.

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***

Better   (Same Day)

Enough. I’ve been hanging out here with Spencer—just us guys. Claire has found the way to San Jose and is holding her granddaughter as we speak. Lil Seneca is happy and healthy and Jessy is well also—Big Sen had to return to work. Lately Claire has taken some art classes including life studies sessions, pencil technique, pastels, charcoals, and even watercolor. I get a free art show every time she comes home—in one of today’s videos I share two of my favorite Life Studies with you.

 

I remember my teens—I was a pretty needy kid. I wanted to make friends in the worst way. One way I tried was to make my parents’ house a sort of Grand Central terminal for all the kids in my class who wanted to hang out somewhere, without their parents, and with other kids to hang with. Sometimes, when my parents weren’t around for awhile, we’d get some really heavy traffic going through the living room. After some time it became annoyingly clear that I had started something that I couldn’t stop.

Well, we never get that kind of traffic in our living room today. But since it is the room I record in, I often catch Claire or Spencer walking past the piano during a video—I think it adds character to the show. I have one today that shows the merest glimpse of Spencer, so I’ve called it Dunn & Son, Ltd.

 

Lastly, my piece de resistance, Granddaughter, is frustrating to post—I have all these beautiful pictures of our new baby, but I’m not sure I’m happy with my piano-playing on this video. The pictures make up for it, but I wish I liked the music better.

 

ttfn

 

Original Content   (2016Jul30)

Friday, July 29, 2016                                                7:45 PM

Okay, enough politics—what do I know, anyway—other people are already saying anything I have to say—people who get paid for it. I’ve been so swept up by the spirit of the Democratic National Convention—it was thrilling. But patriotism is something only idle people have a lot of time for—most people have stuff to do. So—time to stop obsessing over the TV and C-SPAN, and go back to reading books and watching movies and talking about myself. I know I’m not interesting, but I am interesting to me—and I like to write—or I should say type—I actually hate to write. If I had to do this with a pen and paper—I wouldn’t bother. But in an age of digital records, there is no saving of effort or of paper—there’s just ‘original content’.

Original Content means something you wrote yourself—without reference to Star Wars or Orange Is The New Black—something no other reasonable person would want to sue you for stealing. Be warned—if you do write something profitable, unreasonable people will come out of the ‘word-work’ to lay claim to it. But most writing has little value—so as long as you know you wrote it, you shouldn’t worry. If you’re serious about money—apply for a copyright. It’s easy—it doesn’t cost much (if you really expect to make money)—and it’s the first thing any serious professional writer does.

Original Content also applies to photos, artwork, music, and especially video. If you generate original content, which then generates a lot of clicks—you’re supposed to get paid for that. But mostly that stuff is generated in-house, so it’s not like you can just shop stuff around—although that might be a possibility, I suppose—but you’d have to go meet people. You can’t do business online—not all business, and especially closing a deal. When the Internet was young, sharing stuff was a big deal—now everyone wants to make a buck online—it’s no easier than most office jobs, unless you get a lucky break.

But I’m retired. I generate writing, artwork, and music and I just post it online. I don’t want someone else to use it without my permission—but I have no plans for a cyber-empire. I just want to be a part of it. I can’t do what young people do—posting photos of my junk, making dates on the dating app (damn, what is it? I wanna say ‘Rascal’ or ‘Heartify’…), or multi-player gaming—which I assume is tough on ‘grandpas’ like myself, especially if your hands shake. Most of the new online stuff is ‘young people only’—they don’t say that, but old people who try to fit in ‘with the kids’ are just as creepy online as they are in person. So I do ‘grandpa’ stuff and I post it. I post my piano-playing on YouTube. I post my essays on WordPress. I keep in touch with friends and relations on Facebook. I posted my old drawings on Pinterest, but I rarely have cause to add anything new.

I don’t expect a lot of people to listen to or read my stuff—some nice people do, who know me and don’t mind sleep-inducing stuff. I’m basically just putting my work out there for my own satisfaction—I like to do it. I used to have a spark of ambition—not much of one—I used to think maybe I’d become a great artist. Then I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. Eventually, I decided I just wanted to live a life without a specific goal—that’s a bad approach, but I was lucky. I ended up with a loving family, surviving a fatal disease, and cancer, and becoming an actual grandpa—oh, and I eat regular. I can’t complain.

Sometimes, after I had done a good drawing, I’d Xerox it—and the Xerox copy would look more professional than the original. There’s something of that in my postings—they just seem more substantial for being online for the world to see. I’ve actually had people tell me not to post stuff—you can’t post online without encountering trolls—but I pay them no attention. It’s like they used to say, “If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.” That’s even more true of YouTube posts—if you don’t like my piano-playing, don’t watch it. I usually listen to classical music, myself—I usually only watch my own stuff once through, to check that it uploaded okay. Or I listen to it on CD, when the radio isn’t playing anything I like. It’s my fallback music.

So, Claire is flying to CA soon to meet our new granddaughter—Spencer and I will have to rough it on our own for two weeks—I hope we survive. Jessy and Seneca and Seneca are doing great. My mom had her 85th birthday today, down in Hilton Head, SC. I saw party pics on Facebook and wished I could have been there, instead of just calling to wish her a happy one.

I’ve gotten calls from Kevin Bouricius lately—he’s up in Massachusetts, trying to quit smoking. There’s a book of his oil paintings for sale online—it’s expensive, but the paintings are incredible. (http://www.blurb.com/b/4506248-paintings) He also has actual paintings, if anyone wants to go up there and buy one.

I’ll have to call Pete to set up our August jam—we usually try to post once a month, and I feel like I didn’t do too well this month, what with starting on anti-depressants at too high a dosage—I’ve halved it and I feel like I’m fully conscious again—although it was a great relief to be brain dead for a few weeks.

I was thinking, since Claire and I have our 36th anniversary coming at the end of August, about how our tradition used to be that Claire took the kids to Cape Cod or somewhere, and I’d stay home and work—we spent our anniversary in different states for years. I know it’s a weird tradition—but we’re slightly weird people. Well, the kids are grown, I don’t work, and Claire does—so that tradition has lapsed in more recent years—but if Claire stays with Jessy long enough, maybe the old tradition will come back one more time. I love the weird traditions, the ones that our just our own, the best.

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I’ve been letting my muttonchops grow out lately—I look like I guy who shouldn’t have muttonchops but grew them anyway. Hey, you get bored when there’s so little to do. I shaved all the hair around my ears yesterday—I look like an idiot—and the muttonchops only make it stupider. But I stay indoors all day, so nobody sees it—just like my weird clothes. It’s kind of funny when I do go somewhere in public—people look at me sideways, but what’s the use of being sixty if I’m going to care how I look?

I have no new videos. Here’s a reprise of some recent ones:

 

 

 

Arrival   (2016Jul20)

Thursday, July 21, 2016                                           4:03 PM

Jessy spent two days in the hospital having her daughter, Seneca Duffy Burr—we didn’t get nervous until yesterday afternoon, when she stopped calling to go into delivery, and we didn’t hear back until 8:30, when we got to be the first to see our new grand-daughter via Facetime, straight from the delivery room, before they even weighed her (8 lbs., 4 ozs.) Jessy looked very tired, with good reason, Seneca looked relieved, and baby Seneca looked like a sleepy angel. I have never seen Claire so joyful—and I couldn’t stop grinning either. We went from worry over our baby to having a new baby (okay, so we’re just the grandparents—she’s still ours).

We’re still walking around on clouds today. There are no words. But here’s a thousand words worth:

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and here’s a couple of re-posts of the ‘before’ Jessy:

 

 

..

Diminishing Returns   (2016Jun27)

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Monday, June 27, 2016                                            11:20 AM

Diminishing returns—that’s what I’m dealing with here. My hands shake, my vision is blurry, my head is all kinds of discombobulated. I’m weak. I’m short of breath. I get kinda squirrely whenever I have to talk to people in person—I just get into a loop, second-guessing myself and them—basically, I’ve just lost the ability to deal. I used to be a shut-in because I didn’t have the strength to walk around—now, I think I hide indoors because I know that regularly interacting with people will expose my insanity and get me committed.

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Smoking is a problem—I shouldn’t smoke, of course. But I don’t have that much else to amuse myself with—being damn-near dead—so it’s hard for me to rationalize quitting to save my life. What life, without a smoke to pass the time?

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Loved ones—sure, I have those. But they have actual lives—they’re busy, they’re engrossed in their own stuff—and any leaning on them takes away from that. I think one person stuck in a frustrating place is sufficient—I can’t see dragging them into this. The paradox of age and infirmity—I’m supposed to be all that more grateful for my continued existence, even as it loses more and more of the features that constitute an actual life. When people congratulate someone on reaching their ninetieth birthday, all I can think is ‘That poor bastard—what must his day be like?’

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Not that I’m promoting euthanasia—I’m not paging Dr. Kevorkian. It’s just that younger, healthier people think of old age as ‘extra additional years’, as if their seniority will be as full and engaging as their thirties or forties. But it’s really a matter of diminishing returns—to a certain extent, we fade before we die. And fading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, I’m still breathing and I’m still watching TV and eating my breakfast every morning—but I’m used to more than that, or I was—I want more than that.

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Pain? Yes, certainly. I mean, it’s not like someone amputated one of my limbs or anything—but there’s definitely pain. The headaches are the worst because it makes it hard to think of something else—which is my go-to remedy for other pains. But let’s face it, with the back spasms, the stiff neck, the random nerve pains and restless leg—thinking about something else only gets me so far for so long. The gas pains from my messed-up guts are usually the sharpest—sometimes the cry coming out of my mouth is the first notice I have, it’s so sudden. I usually try to morph it into a sentence, as in “AAH-ow ya doin’ this afternoon?”—just so I don’t scare people into worrying about me.

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My close acquaintance with my old friend, pain, makes me a big fan of OTC pain relief—my favorites are aspirin and ibuprofen. But those things only work for a short time—and the next day, I have nerve-endings that are even tenderer from the after-effects. I reach the point where it’s impossible to up the dosage any higher, and the pain is that much worse—it’s a dead-end solution with a high price-tag. Stronger drugs are out of the question—the same cycle, with far greater costs and risks.

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My life is so sedentary I spend most of my time watching TV—and it embarrasses me. TV is such a festival of stupid. So I turn it off and start reading. A few hours later, the pain behind my eyes reminds me why I don’t read like I used to—it’s amazing how much physical effort it takes to read. I used to think it was the most relaxing thing in the world—how healthy I must have been!

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Here are three poems I stole off a few poetry sites:

Cacoethes Scribendi

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

 

If all the trees in all the woods were men;

And each and every blade of grass a pen;

If every leaf on every shrub and tree

Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea

Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes

Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,

And for ten thousand ages, day and night,

The human race should write, and write, and write,

Till all the pens and paper were used up,

And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,

Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink

Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.

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The Birthnight

Walter de la Mare

 

Dearest, it was a night

That in its darkness rocked Orion’s stars;

A sighing wind ran faintly white

Along the willows, and the cedar boughs

Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across

The starry silence of their antique moss:

No sound save rushing air

Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,

And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,

Thou, lovely thing.

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Moonrise

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889

 

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:

The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,

Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,

Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quit utterly.

This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,

Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

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Why poems? I don’t know—it just came up. Poems are nice—when they’re short enough. I used to read epic poetry—whole books of the stuff—I don’t have that kind of concentration anymore. I own many different English translations of the Iliad and the Oddysey—I prefer the ones that don’t go too ‘prose’ and don’t go too ‘lyric poetry’—it’s difficult to retain just enough of the poetry of it that you don’t lose the pace of the storytelling—a subtle balancing act, which is why there are so many versions. I wonder what it must be like in the original Ancient Greek?

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I always wish I’d learned more languages. Languages are the most liberal-arts thing there is—it’s hard to see how they can be of practical use, yet those who learn them have a great mental advantage over the monolinguist. I studied French in high school and college—I never became fluent because I never used it. But even in an English-speaking environment, I’ve run across some Latin roots and French phrases that are gobbledy-gook to other people—so it wasn’t a complete waste. It’s still the easiest way to be the smartest person in the room—knowing a language that no one else does, when that language pops up. And wouldn’t it be nice to watch a foreign film and not have to read the captions?

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I got a new TV recently—I switched to LCD because my old Plasma screen acted as both television and space heater—very convenient in winter, but a real pain in the ass come summertime. My old buddy, Flippy, came by today to take the old monster off my hands—I hope he’s going to use it in a well-ventilated area. It was a huge, expensive TV, so I’m happy that it didn’t end up in the junk pile.

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The new TV is disappointing—I bought a 32′ diagonal Sony LCD because I figured if I moved it closer to the bed (the big one was all the way across the room) it would have the same apparent size as the big one. But Sony tricked me—the screen is 32″, but the picture is much smaller, unless I go full zoom, which fills the screen but makes the picture grainier. Consumerism is such a bait-and-switch con game. Plus, the TV was surprisingly inexpensive, until I realized that I now need a sound system for it (the old, big one had it built-in) and the sound systems price out at about the same price as the new TV! So now, instead of being happy with my purchase, I’m watching a tinier screen with tinnier sound. Argggh!

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One good thing about the new TV is that it’s Wi-Fi enabled. That means I can switch to Netflix or Hulu—I can even watch myself on my YouTube channel videos—that’s pretty cool.

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Okay, here’s one of my favorite Bach pieces:

and since it’s a really nice composition, and I don’t play it that well, here’s the link for Glenn Gould, playing the same piece, but properly–and beautifully:

Enjoy.

Journal Entry (2016Jun19)

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Thursday, June 16, 2016                                          4:43 PM

This rush to the gun stores—I don’t get it—how often are these peoples’ homes being invaded? Just how primitive is life outside of Westchester? Westchester has people who feel the need for self-defense, too—where is this fear coming from?

There’s a dichotomy to civilization—we create communities that are stable, where you don’t have to have a gunfight to survive, where you can walk down the street with a high degree of certainty that you won’t be attacked. People like me take that at face value—and reason that introducing firearms into the environment only increases the danger. But then we start to imagine that people might sneak around and break in and rob us, rape us, or kill us. We start to think that our lives are at risk. But I find it hard to maintain that paranoia against the lack of anything like that ever happening in my neighborhood. That stuff doesn’t happen where I live—or if it happens, it’s less frequent than a bolt of lightning.

There are places where violence is common. That’s different—I can’t speak to that, because I have no idea what it’s like. But I am among the vast majority of people living in developed countries where violence is rare and quickly attended to. And for people like me, owning a gun is just asking for trouble—it’s unlikely to be needed, and far too likely to cause problems simply by being there.

It’s not a dichotomy so much as a distancing of ourselves—the world is still a place of terrible struggle, with war and poverty stalking the earth. Our protected pockets of civility exist by virtue of military defense preventing encroachment by the barbarous hordes—and civilian police who are (mostly) restrained against oppression of their charges. In other words, we understand that our peace is built on fighting happening elsewhere—and that, therefore, violence is still useful and necessary—just not where we live.

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But having created these areas of ease and civility, shouldn’t we use them as such? We are in no danger of becoming the Eloi to the Morlocks of violence—when we have these mass shootings, we also often see formerly peaceful residents become, in an instant, people who risk their lives, and sometimes give their lives, to defend those around them. What we have not yet seen is anyone who is carrying and has the presence of mind to return fire. So what does that tell you about guns and self-defense?

I’m in no hurry for my chance to find out if I have a hero inside me—but I will face that when and if. What I won’t do is spend a lifetime preparing for my worst imaginings, pumping myself up for a battle that isn’t being fought.

It’s totally logical, you know. In a race, looking back, looking around for your rivals—that’s the worst thing you can do. You want to drive forward completely focused on the goal. Equally, in life you want to focus on the goals ahead—any time you spend being petty towards others is a waste of effort and it can even make you lose your stride. If you face the world openly, gladly, and without malice, you create less friction in your passage—you might even get others to wish you well and support you. That’s how I see it—and even if I have built this rationale on a personality that is naturally disposed that way, that doesn’t negate its efficacy.

I’m uncomfortable around people—but even I know that being generally positive about things is the easy way to get along with others. There are times when I’m forced to disagree or contradict—and I’m all too eager to do that—but I have learned that, even then, the minimum amount of conflict is to be sought. I have to restrain my killer instinct, or I run the risk of making a worse wrong of being ‘right’. Arguing can do that to people—and I am one of the worst offenders in that regard.

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It’s fairly simple to turn that around—to make the point that wrong must be attacked with vigor and stomped into the ground, even when it’s hard on people—but I still maintain that it is the wrong that needs stomping, not the person. When Senators Tim Scott and Lindsay Graham spoke before the Senate today, they both cited the stunning character of last year’s church-shooting victims’ family survivors, when they forgave the man who killed their relatives in open court.

And when you examine our prison problem, you see its roots in our stubborn insistence that prison continue, as in darker, more ignorant times, to be punishment and not rehabilitation. I am not the only one who gets carried away with a sense of vindication—but there are people of such strength of character that they can rise above their passion. I’d rather those people had the so-many-millions of twitter-followers that lesser beings accumulate—but then, they probably have better things to do than tweet.

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Friday, June 17, 2016                                               11:42 AM

So there I am, just doodling along, enjoying my peaceful life—and then this stranger posts a derisive comment on my YouTube post, laughing at how badly I play Mendelssohn on the piano. Now, I know I’m not going to win any prizes for my piano playing—but I don’t need to be laughed at by strangers-what the hell?

They say life is a competition—and I suppose that’s true. But in many ways and in many cases, life is a competition because we make it one. And we prefer to compete with people we know we can beat—come on now—is that really competition, or is that just bullying? I play the piano—I’m not naturally gifted—I play because I enjoy the challenge. Finding someone worse, and laughing at them is not a challenge—it’s easy—and it’s sad. Pitiful, really.

I felt bullied, so I reported his comment as bullying. I’m glad that YouTube has that function—though I’m a little concerned that the guy’s YouTube channel might get wiped. Then again, I didn’t ask for his ridicule—and if his life’s work gets erased just because he picked on me, well, maybe he’ll think twice next time. We live and we learn. Who’s laughing now?

I get so upset at random, unnecessary cruelty that it gets me crazy—I can’t stop obsessing over the question of why someone would just add random ugliness to the universe. I guess it makes him feel better about himself—better than if he gave compliments to the pianists that are better than him. I really don’t know—it mystifies me. And, of course, I’d like to kick him in the face—cowards from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean can insult strangers all too easily, safe in the knowledge that they can’t be found and confronted. I’d love to surprise him on his doorstep—I may not play piano well, but I bet I can kick his ass.

Still, that would be as unnecessary as his rudeness—because twisted trolls like that are punished by their own existence. He may have sent a tiny parcel of hate my way, but he’s soaking in it. Happiness, for him, is a long ways off—and not getting any nearer anytime soon.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016                                           8:56 AM

I’m An Asshole   (2016Jun18)

I can be such an asshole. I’ve tried to train myself to be a nice guy, but it’s a very thin façade. As soon as someone is an asshole to me, I turn right back into one myself and give back as bad as I get. And I wanted so much to believe I am a nice guy. Sure, you think I’m a nice guy—but you’ve never been mean to me. Whenever someone is mean to me, I spend hours, days, obsessing over how I can be even meaner right back. That’s not nice—but it is me. I’m like a colony of fire ants—ordinarily, I’m just a lump in the dirt—but if you kick a hole in it, all these vicious little insects start crawling around looking for something to bite.

Poor impulse control? An overdeveloped sense of vengeance? Plain old spitefulness? Or perhaps all three. I’m frustrated by the enormous gulf between who I want to be and who I really am. Sure, if everyone just leaves me alone—or if everyone says only nice things to me—I can keep it together. But that doesn’t really count—it’s how you respond under pressure that’s the true test of character. The worst part of it is deciding that my tormentor is a miserable excuse for a human being, then realizing I’ve been goaded into being just as bad, or worse. I start by hating them and end up hating myself.

Let’s see if I can’t shift some of the blame—maybe that’ll make me feel better. What is the return on insulting strangers? Why should someone I don’t know decide, ‘hey, let’s ruin this guy’s day by crapping all over his posts’? Shouldn’t I show up on their doorstep, introduce myself, and kick their asses? How else are they ever going to learn? Sometimes I reason that the troll is surely bullying lots of people—and he’s picked the wrong guy this time. I tell myself that they need to be responded to, if only for the other victims who are too hurt to respond, too insecure to reject the facile judgments of some online brat. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

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But then I start to question my motives—am I just latching onto an excuse to vent my own anger? Is this guy some broken, twisted nightmare who will only get worse from all the scorn I send his way? Still, when challenged, I feel obligated to fight back.

There’s a big paradox to this—and it extends beyond this particular scenario. Whenever someone is a miserable person, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve been made miserable by people or circumstances. Their personalities have been deformed by abuse of some kind—do I really want to add some more bad vibes? But then, having been molded into monsters, can I really just ignore the abuse they direct toward myself or others?

It’s like crime. To a certain extent, one could make the argument that all crime is insanity—a person who does anti-social stuff has been made to think it’s acceptable to commit crimes—by want, by abuse, by desperation. By the standards of a law-abiding citizen like myself, they’ve lost control of themselves—and that’s insanity. By the same token, all prisons should function primarily as mental hospitals—the inmates are only there because their minds have failed to register the need to meet society’s minimum standards of behavior.

But most people are as bad as I am—we think, ‘well, they did something bad—they should be punished—we’ll worry about their state of mind later’. That’s sloppy thinking—and even sloppier ethics. And where does it get us? Overcrowded prisons whose only rehabilitation programs are sodomy and gang initiation. Yeah, that’ll work.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016                                             10:56 AM

Father’s Day   (2016Jun19)

What a great day. The sun is shining. I got presents from my wife and kids. I had a pretty good morning session at the piano (sorry, no recording). I’ve been playing from a songbook “Happiness is… Italian Songs”, a gift from my good friend Randy. Today I discovered it included ‘Cosi Cosa’, which you Marx Bros. fans might remember from the shipboard-feast scene in “A Night At The Opera”. A few of these songs also have grace notes and whatnot that make me feel like I’m channeling Chico at the piano—I’m really a sucker for Italian popular songs.

It may be simply a welcome contrast to a lifetime of Irish songs, my heritage on my father’s side—both he and his own father were prone to sing in a fine Irish tenor—‘Danny Boy’, ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling’, etc. My dad would sometimes get an entire bar or restaurant full of people to sing along, after a nice meal and a few drinks. As a boy it embarrassed me, but as I got older I realized there was a certain magic to it. And his dad actually sang for loose change in bars sometimes, during the Depression when there was no other work to be found. My grandmother would describe how my infant father slept under one of the tables as his father entertained.

It is impossible to be a father without feeling the obligation to be the strong man, the defender, the provider—and those instincts struggle mightily under the onus of disability. My wife and kids have cared for me through many years of illness—and I’m very grateful—but it’s hard to maintain any self-respect as a complete dependent. I don’t recommend it. But what a great family I have!

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A note on the artwork: The eight drawings used in this post are scans of old drawings from back in my still-healthy-enough-to-draw-a-straight-line days. I had lost too much fine motor control to do fine art, but I could still do cartoons, flyers, and illustrations. Some of these are from the bittersweet final years of still hanging on to my job–so I’m nostalgic about them for two reasons.

Seriously   (2016May31)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016                                                     11:34 PM

I take myself seriously—probably too much so. But it’s all of a piece—there are people that wouldn’t be able to take themselves seriously as a writer or musician, or artist, without some validation or recognition or encouragement. But I do it without any of that good stuff—the taking it seriously makes me take myself seriously, even when there’s no apparent evidence that I should.

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See, I don’t worry about whether I’m good or not—I was lucky, as a kid, to be gifted with a pencil and paper—lots of people told me I was good at drawing. But some people weren’t impressed. I noticed that. I wondered ‘how can I please a lot of people, yet fail to please everybody?’ I would come to discuss other peoples’ drawing—and find that I liked some that other people didn’t like, and lots of popular artists didn’t appeal to me.

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So I see the whole question of “Am I any good?” as a slippery one. Then I had the bad luck to fall in love with playing the piano—without any ability to play the piano. I was objectively bad. I played anyway, because I wanted to play—and I thought, ‘who knows, maybe I’ll get better.’ Well, I didn’t. I got better than I was, but I never got ‘good’. I felt safer with piano—I knew I could spend the rest of my life practicing and still have plenty of work to do. I enjoyed being challenged by something I was bad at more than being good at something I was talented at.

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Then I got sick—and now my hands shake—so I can’t draw good anymore. I don’t really miss it. I miss people asking me to make custom-drawn birthday cards and flyers and stuff like that—I loved being useful—but I don’t miss trying to think up something to do on a blank piece of paper. After a while that became a lot of pressure. One of the things that made me a big draughtsman was I loved attracting an audience—people used to love to watch me draw—for a while, I’d be quite a showman about it—playing to the audience. That made sitting in a room, drawing pictures, to show people only after they were completed, seem unsatisfying.

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These days, I see some performance artists do a big painting for an audience, maybe dancing around while they throw paint at the canvas—and I think ‘good for you—you found a way to make it work for you.’ I should have realized, back then, that I enjoyed drawing for spectators—I wouldn’t have gotten so tired of drawing. I stopped doing the ‘performance-drawing’ because I noticed I let the quality of the artwork go, just to score points with the crowd—it’s too bad I couldn’t just have accepted that as a fair trade-off. (If I take myself too seriously now, it’s nothing to how too-serious I was as a kid.) But, spilt milk under the bridge, etc.

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Anyhow, the point is, I’ve been doing stuff throughout my life without any serious concern about whether I was good or not. I’ve come to recognize that as a blessing. There are so many people who don’t draw, who don’t play an instrument—because they’re worried about being good at it. To me that’s not the point, at all. It’s the doing, not the judging. If you do something—and you get some good from doing it—you’re done. Whether other people approve or not. I always hear disapproval as encouragement to try harder.

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I’m never worried about what other people will think—I’m only concerned with doing my best. And because I’m all about the trying, I take it very seriously. Which turns into taking myself seriously. It’s all of a piece. But I’m sure it makes me insufferable, most of the time. Sorry about that.

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Money and Time (2016May07)

Money

Friday, May 06, 2016                                               11:33 AM

America was relatively young and full of beans after the second World War—the middle class exploded, salaries climbed to the sky, and poverty reached a record low of 11% in 1974—a figure we haven’t seen since. My whole adult life has been witness to our economic decline—so I can easily understand people wanting to ‘go back’ to better times. But grow up, already—hey, I’d like to be twenty-one again, too—but that ain’t gonna happen. We call it the ‘past’ for a reason.

And America, having reached those historic highs by being America, is never going to recover that prosperity by undoing the social progress that is America’s defining feature. That’s a bill of goods being sold to us by the finger-pointers, who blame various groups for something that is systemic—the changes in global and domestic economy that have brought us to where we are now are not going to be fixed by targeting some ethnic or religious faction—and certainly not by blaming the poor.

Business used to be a social contract that included stockholder profits in the equation—it has been whittled down to where it now concerns itself solely with that one objective—and as always happens when greedy people oversimplify a situation, we are seeing a lot of dysfunction in business—especially in the area of employment. For one thing, nobody has had a raise since 1980. People don’t make money in America anymore—a few people own money, and the rest of us have to scramble for the scraps. You’re not gonna fix that by blaming the Mexicans—or the Chinese. You’re only going to fix that problem by returning to a world where employees matter to their employers.

And if America has let itself become too accepting of child-slave-labor products from overseas, we’re not going to fix that by importing that cold-blooded attitude back here to America. Businesses have been very eager to cancel their interests in North Carolina due to gender-rules in bathrooms—when are we going to stop importing goods from countries that treat their workers like serfs? It doesn’t help that our politicians spend more time and energy on rationalizing our dysfunctions than on finding solutions—but the real problem is that too few people have too much say, and those rich bastards have hearts of stone. The easy answer is just to kill all the rich people. Maybe after they spend a few days ducking bullets, they’d re-acquire some respect for the people that actually create their fortunes.

It’s a puzzle, alright—how can we keep getting new gadgets, new discoveries, new insights—and the result always turns out to be a bigger mess than we’ve ever had to deal with before? How can we have unheard-of productivity and at the same time suffer under unemployment and low wages? What the hell? Someone has rigged the table and we’re all getting taken.

Time

Thursday, May 05, 2016                                          11:37 AM

Our kids were born in the 1980s. I was born in 1956, my parents in the 1930s, my grandparents were born in the 1910s—we’ve been a very 20th century family for quite a while. Here we are, 16 years into the next millennium, and I’m about to become grandfather to our first 21st-century kid. To him or her, my entire century will be a vague notion in a schoolbook; I will be a strange, wrinkled old man; his or her world will be something I never fully understand.

You can see why people are so fascinated by stories of time-travel—time-travel isn’t that much different from a genie granting wishes—you can have whatever you want, but the genie will put a fatal twist on it that you didn’t see coming. Time is such a troublemaker that even if we could jump around in it, we would still have problems with it.

My biggest problem with time is that time only goes quickly by when I’m happy. What’s with that? What evolutionary advantage is there in losing track of time when you’re happy? Maybe it’s our bodies saying to us, “Well, there’s no danger here—don’t pay any attention.” If danger can heighten our awareness, then perhaps happiness does the opposite. Maybe that’s why orgasms are so brief—it’s Mother Nature getting us back in the game, so we don’t get eaten in the afterglow. Happiness is a blank space to our instincts, and they just shut down until we return to the drudgery of survival. And perhaps that’s why an old codger like myself is mistrustful of happiness—we are at our most vulnerable when happiness turns off our alarm system. Perhaps that’s why the Puritans were so dead set against being happy—it has similarities to intoxication.

Then again, I have to wonder why I’m so afraid of being vulnerable—I made it sixty whole years without ever having to use a gun or a knife—or even my fists. It reminds me of how bad my fear of dogs once was, without ever being bitten—there was a mean dog on our street, but it never bit me—it just strained against its chain, making the most angry barks and growls. I think I was frightened by its display of viciousness—it obviously wanted to confront something. Also, I think people treated their dogs worse back then—mean dogs don’t come out of a vacuum—they are a reflection of their owners. I was no less afraid of people—they had more bark to them, back then, as well.

Nowadays, fear grows and grows—and it has less cause than ever. I go through night-terrors and anxiety attacks without any reason—I’d be more comfortable with actual dangers—at least those can be faced down. This vague, unfocused terror is a thing unto itself—it just is—what do you do with that shit?

Lesley Stahl has come out with a new book, “Becoming Grandma”, about the wonders of being a grandmother—she claims there is an actual biochemical change in a person who is granted a grandchild—I hope she’s right. Claire and I are fairly dancing with anticipation. And time bustles on.

Good Morning    (2016Apr16)

Friday, April 15, 2016                                                5:03 PM

Doggerel

 

“Auugh!”, as Charlie Brown used to say

—Though I prefer the traditional “Grrr!”

“Doh!” sez Homer Simpson—though I like a solid “Damn!”

On Firefly they say “Fracking” when they might as well say “Darn”.

I say “Golly-Gosh” a lot, ‘cause I know it won’t do no harm.

But if I’m really in a huff a give a loud “Harrumph!”

Just so you’ll know I’m pretty close to losing all my shit.

‘Cause when I get to swearing there’s no telling when I’ll quit.

 

Saturday, April 16, 2016                                          12:24 PM

Good Morning

Lately I’ve been getting a busy signal from my brain—‘temporarily out of order’, ‘please wait—maintenance in progress’—whatever it is that makes my brain useless for anything except self-preservation. But today I’ve awoken with the feeling of fresh canvas—as if my brain is saying ‘yes, of course you can be creative—what are you waiting for?’

It’s kinda like when my hands are too shaky—I can’t play the piano, no matter how much I want to or how hard I try—but in a larger sense, in that my head is the ‘shaky’ part and if I push it, only garbage comes out. But as I say, today—fresh canvas, clear sailing, blue skies—however one puts it. And I don’t know where to start—should I just relish this feeling of power and potential for a while or should I jump right in and start doing?

Creativity cuts both ways—I can revel in sumptuous daydreams, just privately enjoying my own imagination—or I can attempt to hitch my Pegasus to some earthly activity—a poem, a drawing, an improv—which is a greater adventure, but has its pitfalls. My head is signaling that my creative juices are once again flowing—but I’ve yet to hear from the body, which decides every day on a different amount of gas in the tank.

Some days the body fairly screams for activity—pushing me out the door for a walk around the block, or doing a little spring cleaning on some especially dusty part of my work area. This is rare, though. Most days I’m lucky if I have the wherewithal to do some CD-ripping while I sit here typing. I complain about having to do this but truthfully I’m grateful for a little busy-work that falls within my competency—and I kinda dread the day when I’m done with the ripping. There’s something reassuring about having some simple job to do whenever I feel idle—feeling totally useless is one of the great drawbacks to disability. It can really eat away at your self-image.

Posting a poem, picture, or recording can be very satisfying—it feels like an accomplishment. Getting responses, in the form of likes, shares, or comments, really adds to that feeling—but sometimes the total lack of response can undo all that good feeling. Often, in desperation, I’ll ask Claire to look at my post and give me an opinion—she usually reassures me that I haven’t wasted my time. I have to be careful—I want attention—to a point—but not so much attention that I feel obliged to return that attention to others—I want to be admired without the hassle of admiring someone else’s stuff. I’m self-involved—what can I say?

Most people see a lack of energy as the inability to get sweaty doing hard work—it’s so much more than that. The brain uses energy—a chess player burns more calories than a weight-lifter. And that energy goes into learning, into appreciating what others do, and in doing your own stuff. Without energy, I learn less and am less interested in what others are doing—so when I do my own stuff, it’s claustrophobic—I’m trying to weave new patterns by rearranging old memes. Back in my healthy days, my creativity was a response to the torrent of new input of ideas, images, and concepts found in the world around me—now I’m trying to squeeze creativity out of a vacuum of house-bound, isolated idleness. The law of diminishing returns stands as a specter, always at my elbow.

I wouldn’t dwell on it—but there really is an exclusion that comes with age. I can’t hang out at a college student union or a local bar or any of the places that I remember enjoying—I’ve outgrown them—and even if I don’t accept that, the young people there will let me know in no uncertain terms just how out of place they consider an old geezer at their haunts. In a private setting, good manners usually prevent anyone from rubbing it in—but out in public, the elderly stand out. I think the sight of old people makes the young uncomfortable—we are proof that their fantasy will someday metamorphose into something like us—and with us out of sight, they are protected from that unpleasantness.

People fear death and wonder why—since it comes to everyone. But age is the real boogeyman—just as inevitable, sooner arrived at, and visibly uncomfortable—death is a mysterious and sudden end to everything, but age is a lingering torture of diminishments—activity, freedom, and comfort all shrinking with each year. Sure, it builds character like nobody’s business—but once your character has finished building itself, what then? Like T. S. Eliot says, we acquire a perfect understanding of our lives, just when it has gotten past time for that understanding to do us any good.

One’s children are a temptation—how easy it would be to try to attach myself to their lives, to make a surrogate life for myself by intruding in theirs—there’s no end of excuses I could make—my experience, my knowledge of the world and of people, a lifetime of skill and wisdom. But by doing that, I’ll only delay the time when they begin to think for themselves—by ‘helping’ them forward, I’d really be pushing them somewhere I never got to, for my own reasons—it just wouldn’t do.

No, age is the ultimate hard lesson—there’s nothing you can do but learn it—if you struggle against it, it just makes you look foolish.

 

Sunday, April 17, 2016                                            5:32 PM

Scarlatti

I just finished a very difficult piece by Scarlatti—something I’ve practiced for decades and today was the best stab at it I ever took—so when I finished, I stood up and said, “Where’s my thunderous applause? Why don’t I hear thunderous applause? Something’s gone terribly wrong if I’m not hearing thunderous applause—and I’m not hearing thunderous applause—heads will roll.” In this way I comfort myself for doing well in an empty room. And of course I didn’t have the camera on—but that’s a funny story.

 

I recorded a quick trifle in the front room, and brought the camera into the living room, where the baby grand is, but then decided not to set it up and turn it on. I told myself, “You know, if you turn the camera on, somewhere there’ll be a noise—and you’ll get upset that the recording is ruined—and it’ll be a whole thing—so just leave the camera off.” So I did. And, boy, did I call it—the world’s most annoying dishwasher timer went off about twenty times before it finally quit—but I was able to just keep playing—because no one else was listening and I didn’t give a damn about the timer myself. I love it when I’m right. But that’s when I was comfortable enough to play the Scarlatti, to a marked lack of thunderous applause. You win, you lose, I always say.

 

Murder on 34th Street

This brings me to “Miracle on 34th Street”—the bane of atheists everywhere. I just caught the last half of it—the modern, Mara Wilson version. I prefer the original, Natalie Wood version—but this 1994 version is even more devastating to atheists. The trouble with “Miracle on 34th Street” is that it addresses the biggest problem for atheists—what about the children?

The central theme is encapsulated in this quote from the film: “If you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”  Or, even worse, this one: “If this court finds that Mr. Kringle is not who he says he is, that there is no Santa, I ask the court to judge which is worse: A lie that draws a smile or a truth that draws a tear.”  We can use a ‘get tough’ policy when we are speaking to adults—but what about children?

We parents want to give our children something to believe in—nothing has caused me more doubt and worry than to raise our children without any religion—not because I believe in one of them, but because it is Santa Claus on steroids—something to believe in with a vengeance, as it were. I yearned to offer my children this imaginary comfort—and if I could have offered them the magic without all the poison it contains, I would have. Yet in the final analysis religion’s darkness outweighs the sparkle of fairy dust—I couldn’t indoctrinate my children into one of those shams and still look at myself in a mirror.

I was often tempted to lie to my children while they were growing up—some of the questions they asked made me sick to answer truthfully—because people can get very ugly—and the ugliest of them seem to gravitate towards the money and the power, thus shaping our society far more than the wishes of the vast majority ever enter into it. We live in a world where the unethical is often legal and the ethical is always bad business. To prepare our children to meet that world we have to warn them of some of the worst humanity has to offer—not that I laid it on that thickly, but even the barest outlines of society can be unpleasant to explain to innocents. This is especially true when you live to see a smile on their faces.

So, as pleasant as it might have been to spin them a yarn about angels and doves and pearly gates, I gave them the truth as I saw it. I don’t regret it. There are some nasty people out there who profess a strong faith in god—and if you ask them they’ll tell you all about him—some of them even talk to him. I’d have been damned if I was going to raise my kids to be prey for those types of crazies.

Journal Entry   (2016Apr12)

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Saturday, April 09, 2016                                          10:27 PM

In high school I wrote a term paper comparing T. S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”—a spurious pairing based on both titles inferring the existence of a ‘land’ of some sort. On first reading I found T. S. Eliot rather opaque—so I was able to make a case that both works involved a lot of nonsense. My teacher was probably so glad that someone bothered to read Eliot that she forbore from destroying my facile interpretation of his poem—I think I got a high grade based solely on the ambition of my reading.

But having been introduced to Mr. Eliot, I was off and running. I read all his poems and most of his plays—then I read most of his essays—then I read critical analysis of Eliot’s life and works, seeking some explication of this rather difficult poet. In the process, I was led to read parts of the Bible, some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Marvell and Donne, Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual To Romance”, and a good chunk of Fraser’s “The Golden Bough”. At one time I could recite “Burnt Norton” from memory—though at sixty now, and having read all the Four Quartets many times over, I think I understand the poem better now than I did when I could recite it.

Eliot is a strange influence on a young man—he was both after and before his time. He was after his time in the sense that Old World propriety meant more to this native of St. Louis than to the inhabitants of the modern-day London where he spent his adult life. He was before his time in many ways—not least of which being his rejection of religion in his youth and his return to it later in life—not unlike the born-again backlash against secularism that would sweep America a decade after his death.

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Eliot being as much a philosopher as a poet, studying his work as an adolescent may have made me old before my time, at least mentally. Looking back on it, I feel that studying Eliot made me old before my time in much the same way that being ill for so long, and even dying momentarily on the table during my eleventh-hour liver transplant, made me dead before my time. In my mind the two are similar in having made me an outsider among my contemporaries and robbing me, in a sense, of the innocence enjoyed by most people—both the carefree-ness of youth and the ignorance of death most adults maintain right up to the end. But there is room for doubt as to whether those things affected me or if I just have that sort of personality.

Because of this feeling I have a tendency to feel irritable whenever my thoughts turn to social ills, politics, or man’s inhumanity to man—I know that most people give these things only cursory attention now and then, rather than becoming obsessed with our immature behavior as a race. Most people cling to the assumption that humans shouldn’t be any better than they ought to be—but my ‘old geezer’ perspective rants and raves at our insistence on such ingenuousness. I look ahead so persistently that I never enjoy the present—it is a maturity shared by few. And that’s the way it should be—it is foolish to take the world’s troubles on one’s shoulders, when there is little to be done about it other than fret.

‘One day at a time’ is considered great wisdom by many—to me, it smacks of the grasshopper—wasting away the present, without a thought for tomorrow’s troubles. But then, I’m no big fan of ‘surrendering to a higher power’ either. So no twelve steps for me—I get along without them, but I’m glad they work for other people.

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Monday, April 11, 2016                                          11:53 AM

Yes, I know that Monday has a bad rep amongst the working—but for those of us who are unable to work, Monday has a sweetness to it that workers could never imagine. After being disabled it took me years to get over the vestigial thrill of the weekend. Every Friday night I would get that conditioned response—relief that the weekend was finally upon us—but what followed were two more days just like all the rest, if not less enjoyable.

Stores close early on the weekends—those that open on Sunday at all—and you can’t call any place of business to work out a billing or customer service problem. The weekend roadways, should I venture out, are crowded and slow. House-bound people tend to watch a lot of TV—and weekend TV sucks. (Okay, I’ll give you “Madame Secretary” and John Oliver on Sunday night, but that’s it.)

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All weekend long it’s mostly sports on TV—I could never acquire a taste for televised sporting events—believe me, I’ve tried. Even Turner Classic Movies (TCM) deserts me—Slip Mahoney and the Gang in the morning and silent films at night. The news channels (which I dislike enough on weekdays) run ‘caught on tape’ prison documentaries instead of live reporting—which is very apropos—weekends on TV are a lot like prison. All of this makes perfect sense—the vast majority of people have lives—and those lives are busiest on the weekend—why run top programming for an empty room?

I’ve learned to love Mondays. On Monday the New York Times crossword is as easy as it’s going to get—and Jeopardy is once again on at seven—those may seem like little things, but they loom large when one’s life has few other high-points. Weekend food is usually leftovers and take-out, so the food is better on Monday, too. Everyone else is starting their week and that excitement comes through a little, even if there’s a lot of tail-dragging that goes with it. When weekends involved a lot of partying, I used to have a terrible time on Monday morning—now that I can’t have that sort of fun, enjoying Mondays is my booby-prize, I guess.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016                                          9:50 AM

There is so much music. I own so many CDs that a strong man couldn’t carry them all in one trip—stacks and stacks of them pile up as I continue re-ripping my collection to my new external hard drive—and all I can think about as I go through them is how much music is missing. My old LP collection was more complete, and I never lose that urge to buy enough CDs to equal that former glory—but that old collection was largely built up during my dad’s tenure as VP of Direct Mail at BBDO, back in the sixties. It included the Deutsche Gramophone recordings of the complete works of Beethoven (about twelve volumes of six records each) and the entire Time-Life classical music series (another pallet-full of records)—an avalanche of recordings he was given as free samples in the course of determining their mail-order ad campaigns. (We used to joke that he should talk Mercedes Benz into doing a Direct Mail campaign.)

I am one of five siblings, but neither my parents nor my siblings showed any interest in classical music back then—all the free records went to me and no one was jealous about it—in fact, I often fought over the living room hi-fi with my siblings—they much preferred Rock and R&B. I liked that music also—but I preferred variety—I wanted to listen to all music. The whole world was mesmerized by rock’n’roll back then—when I actually bought classical records  at Fox & Sutherland’s, they were going cheap—sometimes only a dollar or two, where Beatles albums were closer to ten bucks. The whole classical catalog was referred to as ‘loss-leaders’—records that were produced to enhance the reputation of the label, rather than to make a profit.

Having that in my early days, I would get huffy, later on, when some piece of classical music became popular—“Thus Spake Zarathustra” used in the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Bolero” used in the movie “10”—people would say, “You’ve got to hear this!” and in my mind I was always thinking, “Yeah, right—like I’ve never heard that before, you philistine.”

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When you listen to classical music and read classic literature at thirteen, you get used to being an outsider. But there is a way in which everyone will suddenly become an expert on something that found its way out of obscurity and into the spotlight for a time—and I find myself caught between my delight that others are finally sharing in the joy I get from these obscure sources—and resentment of my private preserve being trampled by the unwashed. But it’s not all my fault—I spent most of my time feeling outside of society and to do that day after day required that I build up some pride in being different—and there’s some unavoidable bitterness when that difference gets erased in a surge of popularity.

To make matters worse, there is so much music that even my obsession has gaps in knowledge. When ‘Classical Music’ appears as a Jeopardy category, I always assume I’ll know all the answers—but oftentimes I don’t—there’s just too much to know. Plus, ‘opera’ is the most popular form of classical music—and I’ve never much cared for opera—I don’t know much about it. Well, that’s not true—but I know less about opera than an opera buff.

It makes me laugh when Music Choice’s ‘Classical Masterpieces’ channel gives out with three factoids about the composer, that cycle on the screen while the piece is played on the audio. It’s ludicrous—they could be scrolling the composer’s complete entry from Grove’s Music Dictionary—or at the very least, the Wiki entry—in the time it takes some symphonies to play. Do they suppose that would make people less likely to watch? How information-phobic are people, anyway? They’d probably tell you that the factoids are meant to pique your interest so you’ll go google the composer yourself—but that’s just lazy.

Then again, I only turn to that channel when I’m reading—still, they could actually build up a viewership of music-geeks, if they put a little effort into it—maybe not—I don’t know. They make me irritable anyway, mis-titling and mis-crediting a surprising number of audio-tracks—so I know there’s nobody home at that company that gives a damn about classical music. I guess it’s still a loss-leader.

 

Here’s a song cover and an improv from yesterday:

 

 

 

Piano   (2016Apr06)

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Wednesday, April 06, 2016                                              12:14 PM

I feel better about my piano-playing when I listen to some Erik Satie—but that’s a false equivalence—since his rebellious ‘ditties’ flew in the face of more than a century of standards and practices in Western music, whereas my plonking about comes long after Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage—not to mention Zappa. Still, there’s something similar there and it makes me feel better about myself and my playing. I’ve been practicing a lot of Chopin and Tchaikovsky lately—and those two are definitely not reassuring to later musicians but, rather, make one feel that music in general is far beyond mere mortals.

MORNING AND NIGHT

 

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Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky—it’s weird how most of my practicing boils down to these three nowadays—I used to be all about the Baroque—especially Bach, Handel, and Telemann. I still play them on occasion but in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for that intimate personal touch so prevalent in the Romantics. I’ve also progressed to where they have become more accessible—the Romantics can be more demanding of technique.

TELEMANN

 

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I’ve been doing a lot of writing and a lot of piano-playing lately—but I haven’t had the presence of mind to include the piano recordings into the blog-posts, so this post will include several YouTube recordings I’ve neglected to share recently. Beyond that, there’s a great deal of piano-playing I won’t be sharing at all—sometimes I take a break from recording and just play—it gives me some elbow-room to take a break from being recorded. I’ve tried to learn to ignore the camera, but nothing I do seems to make me unaware of being observed—and that tightens up my playing in a way that makes playing without the camera a tremendous relief.

KLAVIERWERKE

 

I wrote a poem yesterday about Tchaikovsky—not a very good poem, but I can’t help that. Much has been made of Tchaikovsky being gay (true) and of his being pressured into committing suicide (false) so it’s difficult for me to imagine his life and times—however, it is true that in spite of his innovative compositions, his contemporaries sometimes criticized him for being too European and not Russian enough—kinda strange for the guy who wrote March Slav, huh?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016                                          3:16 PM

 

Pyotr Ilyich

My fingers plonk the keys—some Tchaikovsky

For beginners—full of Russian folk themes—

And the poor man’s life—under the thumb of

Entitled bullies and spoiled aristos.

Tchaikovsky is so delicate—so effeminate in some phrases,

Such fairy-like, walking-on-air-ish-ness—

His music is beloved—but for such a man

To live in the cold world—the horror.

 

I love Tchaikovsky—anyone, really, destroyed

By their own delicacy—to live is to die, and no matter

How long the course, among the many ways to die

What more glorious fate?

So many of us rail against the challenges of life.

We neglect to feel life—and our accomplishments,

Even those of grandeur, are as nothing if we fail

To build something inside us.

Pyotr Ilyich will live forever.

 

-© April 5th, MMXVI  by Xper Dunn

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But evolving acceptance of gays has rendered the isolation and frustration of millions of gay people through the centuries a uselessly cruel tragedy—in a way, by channeling his struggles into his wonderful music, Tchaikovsky got more out of his social taboo than most gays of the past. That doesn’t lessen his suffering—but his legacy is a lot more than most gay people in his era were granted. I sometimes ponder the possibility that most of the fine arts were practiced by a predominance of gays—it being the only place where they could express themselves without being thrown in jail or burned at the stake. Then I remind myself that there’s plenty of misery available to the straight life, too—enough to evoke creative expression to equal the biblically damned.

TCHAIKOVSKY

 

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I also played an improv to go along with my previous post about Grandma/First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Candidate Clinton—which I belatedly include herein:

GRANDMA CLINTON

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Then there’s this business, which I couldn’t think up a title for, so I used a misspelled version of a current movie title:

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And that brings me up to date with my YouTube postings. I hope you enjoy some or all of them….

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Daily Doings   (2016Mar24)

Thursday, March 24, 2016                                                9:23 AM

Golly, what a week. You have no idea how busy I can be, doing nothing. In between manically surfing my cable-box’s channels, shuttling new-release movies in and out of my On-Demand cart, reading books on my Kindle, doing the daily NY Times crossword, setting up my camera to video my piano-playing, editing and posting piano videos, and writing blog-posts like this one—I’m also trading comments and thread-posts on Facebook, WordPress, YouTube, and Medium—sometimes for hours at a time.

There was an especially tricky crossword today—it involved a phrase being written in a circle—with no clues except that it was of a part with the theme of the puzzle. Once I finally completed the puzzle I felt a great wave of futility—and I realized why I only like the easy crosswords. A tough crossword is just as difficult as figuring out what I’m going to say when I write—but when I’m done, all I’ve done is figure out what someone else was saying—what a waste.

I feel a similar futility when I get drawn into protracted threads of debate—or even discussion—online. I’m typing messages to a stranger (or a group of strangers) then they type something in response—and what do you get out of it? Nothing. It’s pitiful what a person will do for distraction when there are no useful alternatives.

Most days are interrupted by pills, and again by a cigarette-rolling session (and maybe another rolling session, IYKWIM). And there are countless times in a day when I make myself a cup of tea. But that still leaves an entire day without responsibilities or tasks of any kind—hours that desperately need filling.

I remember a time when everything was the reverse—I once dreamed of the thousand and one things I would do if I wasn’t chained to a nine-to-five job that left me with barely enough energy to watch a little TV, go to bed, and do it all again the next day. That’s where most people live—so I don’t expect a lot of sympathy for having too much free time—I must sound like those people who try to explain how ‘hard’ it is being rich or famous or something.

Still, when I used to dream of free time, I assumed I’d be healthy and of sound mind—which is not entirely the case here in reality. Think of me as crippled, if that helps—I do—worse yet, I think of myself as someone who is invisibly crippled—I get to be disabled, but I have to explain that to anyone I meet (because it doesn’t show) and I don’t convince everyone—there are still plenty of people who think I’m just lazy and rude—a quitter. Some things just can’t be absorbed by people who haven’t experienced it themselves. And if I thought it was frustrating being kept from my dreams of accomplishment by a steady job, it was nothing compared to this maddening inability to do anything requiring stamina, deftness, focus, or memory.

That does bring a certain amount of variety to my blog-posts, though. Since I can’t work on anything for days on end, I start each day as a blank slate—this past week I’ve done posts about piano-playing, music, copyright disputes, banking, terrorism, politics, literature, poetry, autobiography, history, and science fiction. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was fascinating. But here I sit in an empty room (and on a beautiful day—really beautiful) just typing away whatever comes into my head—hardly fascinating.

My most continual ‘effort’ lately has been my CD-rippings to my new hard drive—I have a huge CD collection; my old hard drive died weeks ago; and I’m only about one hundred CDs in (about 5 Gbytes worth) right now. I forget that I’m doing it some days—but these last three days I’ve been going at it pretty steadily, and there’re still months of ripping ahead. Nowadays, with everything being downloaded, a shelf full of CDs just seems like a waste—no one will ever listen to any of it unless it’s stored digitally.

Conversely, when I’m done, I’ll be able to buy another $40 hard drive and copy the whole collection for a friend or relative—that’s the equivalent of thousands of dollars’ worth of music that I can just give somebody—that’ll be nice. It’s about half classical and half the popular music of my generation—it would take weeks of 24-7 playing to listen to all of it—so there’s bound to be one or two people that would enjoy that.

The thing that takes the most effort in ripping CDs is when you hit a CD that doesn’t load all the info automatically—you who don’t listen to classical music may have never experienced that—but there are many obscure and ancient recordings on CD, and typing in the track-title, artist, and composer for every track on the CD can be painfully tedious—especially wearing the hi-magnification specs I usually need to decipher most CD printing. Plus, Windows Media Player is ridiculously touchy—and if my palsied fingers brush against the wrong key before I hit ‘Rip CD’, all my typing may disappear and I’ll have to start all over—I’ve learned to be very careful when doing this.

Finally, when I just despair of being productive, I play Snood or Candy Crush or my favorite, Candy Crush Soda. I play way too much of this foolishness—not every day, but more days than I’m proud of. That’s when I realize that people don’t need to accomplish anything much more than keeping busy at something that amuses them. In “The Matrix” the ‘nightmare’ scenario was that everyone was plugged into a virtual reality that wasn’t real—but let’s face it—the only thing wrong with that world was that the virtual reality they were trapped in wasn’t any fun. If the evil aliens had created a seductive virtual reality, then the humans would have told their hero, Neo, to get lost.

But Writing Isn’t Easy   (2016Mar20)

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Sunday, March 20, 2016                                          10:12 PM

As with most days, I’ve had images fed into my head through the television all day, some of them entertainment, some news, some political—and I could recount them all for you, as if you hadn’t seen the same stuff—or, if you haven’t seen any of it, I could spare you the trouble—and let me tell you, some of it was troubling—so I won’t upset either of us by doing that. Then I could give you my opinion about it all, after carefully phrasing it so that I had some chance of being interesting or amusing—but there are people that do that for a living. Who am I to try to take the bread out of the mouths of professional pundits?

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Most of my political posts, especially the ones about current events, are my version of the ‘primal scream’—do you remember primal scream therapy? Do they still do that? I remember thinking—that’s a great idea—most people could use a good scream every now and then. But I’m not much for screaming, so I blog about things that upset me. The only trouble is—it usually just makes me more upset. Maybe that’s why you don’t hear much about primal scream therapy any more.

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I get confused, too. There’s so much—should I debate the logic of a thing, the legality of it, the constitutionality of it, the humanity of it, the practicality of it? Should I cite history? That’s always dangerous—most history doesn’t have a beginning or an end, so if you start talking about one thing, you’re bound to run up against other things that may hurt your argument more than help it. Should I argue the semantics of what’s been said? Should I argue the meaning implied by the words? Should I just call someone an idiot—or is there more to it, something that makes that someone merely ignorant or neurotic? If I write too stridently about the ‘right thing’ will I come off as too goody-two-shoes? And if I soft-peddle the ‘right thing’ will I be consigned to that ninth circle of hell reserved for the uncommitted?

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Then there’s my being an atheist—should I bring that up if I think the issue is influenced by religion—or should I avoid it because it’s such a heavy thing to bring to the party? Is it better to avoid the subject for being unpleasant—or will I feel better if I’m painfully honest at all times? As with anything that involves society, there’s a part of writing that assumes you’re writing to be read—if you’re not going to think about the reader, then why are you writing? On the other hand, why are you writing if you’re not going to say what you think? Both good questions—and the question isn’t simplified any by the fact that readers’ brains come in all shapes and sizes.

Revery

I used to draw—it taught me something important. One person would look at a drawing and say they thought it great—then that person would look at another drawing and say it was a clunker. Then another person would give me the exact opposite opinions about the same two drawings. Proof positive—you can’t please everybody—there’s no such thing as good—there’s just what someone likes. Sometimes a lot of people will like the same thing—that’s just a coincidence—and there are still going to be people that don’t like a popular thing, anyway.