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.
I’d recommend Haydn—particularly the piano works. Tell your digital concierge, “Play Haydn keyboard sonatas.”—and you’re good for several hours of peaceful working- or reading- music.
If the raw sunlight gets in your eye-line, tape a piece of colored construction paper on your window—the room stays lit, but you don’t get that one headache-inducing reflection in your field of vision. And it looks cheery—like a child’s art project—but you have to replace it once a year because construction paper fades and becomes very dreary-looking, in the end.
As a smoker, I’ve taken to confining myself to two rooms of the house—here in the front room, where I work, and my bedroom, where I watch TV and read. If the doors are kept faithfully closed, the rest of the house doesn’t reek of smoking—but it must be noted that I often open the front door for front-room ventilation, and I have a window-fan on exhaust in the bedroom, year-round (yes, it does get a little chilly in winter).
I’ve also surrendered to the smokeless ashtray—it’s stupid and noisy and uses too many batteries and is a pain to empty every time it’s full—but if you use one, it will demonstrate that most of the smoke in a smoke-filled room comes from the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray, not from the smoker’s exhalations. And studies have shown that smoldering butts give off the dirtiest second-hand smoke—much more unhealthy than ‘smoked’ smoke, and more of it.
Grapes, celery sticks, and baby carrots make the best working snacks—you can eat all you want and it won’t do the kind of damage that chips, crackers, or candy can do. Also, for smokers, hot tea provides a bit of steam-cleaning for the lungs—and drinking tea all day won’t fry your nervous system like coffee. There is something about tannic acid that makes tea bother my digestion more than coffee—but only if I’m really chugging it down, cup after cup. Moderation in all things, as they say.
Don’t multitask. Do what you’re doing and leave the rest for later—it may seem slower, but in truth, when each task is focused on, it gets done better and quicker—and if you go from one to the next without pause, the overall time-use is less than if you hop from one thing to another all day long—the hopping around makes you feel busy, but you’re actually wasting time interrupting yourself. And focusing on a task reduces the number of errors.
Enjoy your work—it is a choice. Even the most menial tasks can become a game in your mind. Indeed, the more menial jobs lend themselves to mind-games better than complicated ones. Insisting to yourself that you hate what you’re doing is counterproductive—and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Stop when you’re tired. This is certainly something you don’t always have a choice about, but when the choice is available, take it. Nobody ever did great work while running on fumes. I often found that tasks that take an hour in overtime can be done in five minutes when approached fresh the next morning. Answers that play hide-and-seek in the darkness of fatigue will stand out clear as day in the clarity of morning.
Even in the middle of the day, pausing to refresh can do wonders for your productivity—much more so than dutifully slogging on. Short breaks are like remembering to breathe—something else you should try to do. But here is where ‘multitasking’ can actually be useful—if you get stuck on one project, and you have something else to work on that will take your mind off it, that can be as good as a break.
Get a comfortable chair—if your workplace won’t give you one, steal one. I remember one workplace where the office manager was a real stickler about furniture—I would steal a good chair from another room. Every night she had the janitor put the chair back where it came from—and every morning I stole it again. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, as the Corps likes to say.
Don’t get ahead of yourself—whenever I do that, I always skip a step. People used to ask me why I always walked with my eyes on the ground—and I would answer that I didn’t like to step in dog-poo. Ah the good old days, when picking up after our pets was considered beneath us. Still, there are things to trip on, slide on, and stumble over—watch where you’re going.
Well—who knew I had so much free advice to give. And you know what they say—free advice is worth every penny you paid for it.
On the one hand, I could hate myself for becoming too old to have any ambition in music any longer; but on the other hand, I’m not so sure the intensity of my grasping for music was entirely helpful. There are certain aspects of my piano playing today that I believe are enhanced by my lack of fixation on exactly what I’m doing. I’ve always known that certain activities are done best when least thought of—and music is certainly a great example of that, but I’ve only recently seen certain aspects of that which have ‘held me back’ to a degree.
I always knew my physical limitations would hold me back in piano-playing. So it wasn’t until I accepted that, at sixty, I had probably reached wherever my physical abilities would take me, that I became aware of some mental limitations I had placed on myself—at least in the way I thought of my playing as it related to making sounds. Music is such a wonderful gift—it changes with maturity, always morphing into something more richly-layered, like one’s self, but never degenerating, like one’s body does.
So I accept that the music I play today is as good as it will get. It’s not as much as I hoped for, but it’s far more than I ever dreamed of, back when I started. It has been both a challenging and comforting companion—the best kind of friend.
Today I played a nice long improv. I’m not sure what it sounded like, so, we’ll see.
Then I played a bunch of classical arrangements for piano. Three of them were decent enough to post.
Then I played a little ‘trailer’ at the end.
So much for the musical portion of my day.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 6:29 PM
The Enemy of My Enemy (2016Oct26)
It’s funny—here we are with two weeks left—everyone’s pretty sure of the outcome of the election—more than that, everyone’s pretty clear that Trump was an evil anomaly—a thing that we narrowly avoided mistaking for a fit candidate. Yet one can still hear conservative pundits talking about his policies—as if he ever had any firm, practical, thought-out policies in the first place—and as if it still matters now, with early voting heavily in Hillary’s favor. Trump is fortunate to find the Republicans so in denial, and so blindly partisan, that nothing he says or does prevents most of them from pushing for the defeat of their arch-enemy, Hillary Clinton.
And this seems indicative to me. The Republicans have adopted an unhealthy habit of using any old rationale, provided it is anti-Democrat, and calling it a policy. The fact that these policies are impractical (like building a wall and deporting millions) or unconstitutional (like banning a religious group) or just plain crazy (like “bomb the hell out of them”) doesn’t seem to matter as much as whether a policy can be used to beat Democrats over the head. The blind partisanship, and nearly overt bigotry and sexism that lies at the heart of conservatism, have shed the restrictions of logic, science, and sense.
The influence of money hangs over both parties, but the Republicans seem to favor the plutocrats philosophically, as well—as if they approve of a classist view of the citizenry. This hit-or-miss business of the American Dream was like winning the lottery, even back when it had more frequent examples. To think that we can go along as we have been, with people being helpless in the face of big businesses, just so we retain the illusion of economic mobility—is to ignore the oncoming waves of change that will make employment a very different, and much less common thing than we are used to.
Republicans and Capitalists see the system as set in stone. Their focus is entirely on the status quo and the quarterly forecasts. They fear the true future—the reality behind their pushy forecasts—because time is no respecter of wealth or property or law. The Democrats (the good ones, at least) are more willing to face the future, and to say that people have rights that transcend profit.
When Democrats attempt to enact social safety nets, business regulation, or consumer protection, the Republicans always claim that the government does these things badly—and that the free market would do all this naturally, given free rein. This is false. It reminds me of a time when I was a young man working for my father’s company. I went to him and asked for a raise—I told him I couldn’t afford to live on my current salary. He replied that the company doesn’t pay people what they need—it pays people what they’re worth. (He could be a real hard-ass sometimes.)
Now, in a business paradigm, that makes perfect sense. But as a person on disability now—a person, in other words, who is worth nothing to a company—I can tell you that the free market doesn’t care if you are happy or sad, alive or dead—all it knows is mathematics. The Republicans get partial credit for their claim, however, because it is indeed rare that a government program runs any better than a square-wheeled bicycle.
Still, politics makes everything into a win/lose proposition. If a program isn’t perfect, it’s worthless. If a program is working, you shouldn’t criticize it. This is all very ineffectual and immature nonsense. Outside of political speeches, it is obvious to all of us that if something important doesn’t work, you don’t throw it out—you fix it. And one thing the Republicans don’t make a lot of noise about is this: government programs are complicated as much by wealthy influences and corporate lobbyists as they are by their inherent complexities.
And the whole ‘small government’ argument—please. You don’t hear Russia or China talking about ‘small government’. Our beloved Constitution is the rule-book for our government, such as it is, so we have to have government. And if we have a government, shouldn’t we have a good one, rather than a small one? What is the virtue of small, in the context of the 21st century? It would be nice to pretend we all live on our own farms, and don’t need no G-men snooping around—but that was two centuries ago. These fifty modern states, plus assorted territories, need an up-to-date, fully-functioning government—and anyone who wants it otherwise is a fool or a traitor.
When you don’t know if you’re being hacked by the Chinese, the Russians, or the North Koreans—do you want small government? When hurricane surges flood New York City—do you want small government? When the Republicans extol the virtues of small government, they are cheering for the idea that businesses can make a profit from abusing people’s trust—but only if the government turns a blind eye. That’s what ‘small government’ means to big business—and that’s why Republicans campaign on it. I’ll believe them when they start to advocate for ‘small military’. You don’t hear that one much, do you? ‘Small government’, my ass—the freedom to rip us off, more like.
What I really can’t understand is why people are so willing to believe the worst of Hillary Clinton. Have you seen The West Wing, or Madame Secretary, or Scandal? To be a politician, even a well-meaning one, you have to play the game—and it’s a rough game. When the Alt-Righters try to blow up her every machination into a demonic conspiracy, it works much better on Hillary than it ever did on anyone else. Why is that? I can never see the point.
Is it the old female catch-22—that if they’re tough, they’re crazy bitches, and if they’re not tough, they can’t handle a man’s world—is it that bullshit? Maybe partly—but I’ll tell you my theory: you remember how we went for good ol’ boys for our last four presidents? Bush Sr., Bill, and Bush, Jr. were none of’em geniuses—and Obama got away with being smart by being so darned charismatic no one noticed. But in all those elections, there were smart, capable, but non-charismatic eggheads that would have made decent presidents—and we practically thumped our chests in defiance, as if to say, “We don’t need any pencil-necked geeks running this place.”
And now we are stuck with Hillary—smarter than us, more reliable than us, harder-working than us—of course everyone hates Hillary. We’re all looking around for a president we can ‘have a beer with’—the most important credential America knows of, in a president. The candidate we want is missing—and boy are we ticked off that we have to vote for the candidate we need. We’ve never made a practical choice for president before—and wouldn’t you know it—it’s a woman this time. Ooh, my aching back.
That’s my theory. The presidency gives one person too much power—we can live with that, but we’re sure not going to vote for someone who’s smarter than us—that’s a step too far. Fortunately, most voters will (as they say on the news constantly) ‘hold their noses’ and vote for her. As if…—Hey, we’re lucky to have Hillary—take a look at the guts of your I-phone and tell me it’s okay for America to have a moron for president.
I have to laugh when the Republicans bow to the inevitable, and tell people to vote for Hillary for president, but to make sure they vote Republican on the down-ballots—to keep a ‘check’ on her power. Yes, sure—the woman whose life has been all about helping children and families—be afraid of what she might do—be very afraid. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to re-elect the bunch that thought stymying every initiative of President Obama’s, just because he’s black, was a great idea—oh, yes—let’s put them back in Congress, by all means. Although, personally, I think they should all be lined up and shot. Effing traitors.
The Republicans are just Trump-Lite—they both advocate the same things—testing us to see how self-destructively stupid a lie can be, and still work on the electorate. The Republicans never win an election because they are right, they win because we are stupid enough to believe their lies.
What no one talks about is the Russian interference in our election. Why are they doing this? Well, let’s see—they’re only attacking Clinton—not one email from the Trump camp. Can we deduce anything from this? It seems to me that they want Hillary to lose. Why would the Russians want Hillary to lose? Maybe they’re afraid of her. If they were afraid of Trump, they’d be trying to sabotage Trump’s campaign. But they don’t care about any other candidate—just Hillary. Am I the only one who sees some significance in that?
I think they’re afraid of her. If I were Russia, I would be afraid of Hillary. She’s gonna shut down their little expansion party—she’s gonna stare them down and, if need be, shove a cruise missile up their asses. You don’t mess with Hillary. Trump hasn’t gotten any endorsements to speak of in this campaign—it’s a shame that Putin is the only one who wants him to win. Thus, the Wikileaks are something of an endorsement for Hillary, if you think about it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Well, coincidence is the wrong word—it’s not a coincidence that people like Van Gogh’s paintings or Beethoven’s compositions—but there is something ineffable about ‘great’ art—no one can really say what makes it great. They can tell you why it’s impressive, why it’s well-designed or something—but not why the whole world wakes up one morning and declares a thing great. Still, not everybody likes Beethoven—even if it’s just because they haven’t much listened to his music—and if Ludwig can’t get a 100% approval rating, then neither can you.
That’s why arts teachers are always harping on just pleasing yourself—you’re your own proof-of-concept—if you like what you write or draw or play, then you have at least one person in your audience. However many people might eventually agree with you is something you can’t really do much about.
Still, when I write, I’m inviting someone to spend time on reading me—and I know that I have to capture someone’s interest if I expect the whole thing to be read. You shouldn’t work to please an audience—but your work must have consideration for an audience—a subtle point, but it still makes it all very confusing. Worse still is the question of autobiography—when is TMI TMI? When does a story of my past involving someone I know stop being reminiscence and cross the line into defamation and libel—of them, or myself? Conversely, how much investment can I expect from readers if I’m too shy about my shortcomings or mistakes to tell the real story? If I write about bending the law here and there, am I telling a good story or am I publishing a criminal confession? It’s looks easy—writing isn’t easy.
I’ve had an exciting notion that I hope will lead to new possibilities in future—when I was younger I would sometimes draw a crowd looking over my shoulder while I drew in my sketch-pad (back then I was well-practiced, drawing everywhere I went—so the drawings were more impressive than what I can manage today). Still, as I tried to think of a video to front for my audio track of piano music—it occurred to me that even watching me draw a so-so picture was light-years ahead of yet another one-shot of my ugly mug at the old eighty-eight—so I figured ‘Use the kitchen—there’s plenty of light there—and just draw whatever—it’ll be better than still photos or my usual wind-in-the-trees video from the front yard’.
We shall see. Let me just create the video—one second….
Okay, it’s processing now—it looks like it’ll be more interesting than my usual video—but this was just a trial run—I’ll have to come up with better subject matter in future—and I’ll have to try and put just a little more artistry into my drawing, if possible—I’m practically drawing cartoons in this first video. I’m helped by the fact that the drawings took me ten minutes—so I used the video at double speed to match the five minutes of music I needed to cover—and that makes my drawing look more deft that it actually is—I’m not complaining.
Now my head is whirling with all the possible videos I can do using the drawing as the visual part and my piano (or, as in this first one, my electronic piano) for the audio—and it makes me yearn even more for the days when I could fill a piece of oak tag with a very detailed ink drawing. Maybe this will give me the impetus to get back to drawing more seriously—who knows. I’m excited.
Oh, the dreaded day is upon me! While I comfortably hide in my house every day, crippled by social anxiety, poor social skills, a compulsive suspicion of others’ motives, and simple shyness—I am secure in the knowledge that there are boundaries to a person’s property—If someone knocks on my door, I don’t have to let them in—I can say, “Go away.” –and no matter how rude of me that is, they legally have to go away.
But today, the normal rules don’t apply. Today I must put on a full set of clothes—I must accomplish my full ‘toilette’ and present myself, smiling wide, to whatever crowd of monstrous children inhabit my doorstep. I must have a bowl full of bribes for my own protection. And worst of all, I must engage with all their parents as if they were common sights upon my doorstep with a frightening attention to my health and mood—I must say I’m fine and ask them if they are also. It makes me shudder.
I miss the old ways of childhood. When I was of school age, I knew every kid in a thirty mile radius—I wandered near and far, and so did they—we mingled in the way only those unfamiliar with their surroundings have a need to mingle. But now I don’t know my next door neighbor—with a handful of exceptions, I don’t know a soul in my neighborhood—and while I’m exceptionally anti-social, they too are anti-social by virtue of being grown adults with ‘things to do’. We are all more likely to form our social-circles based on old school ties and our present place of work. Indeed the modern mode is to accept ignorance of our neighbors as part of the ‘hominess’ of being at home, where no one will ‘bother’ you. I am acutely aware of this because I’ve been unemployed for so long—I have no workplace mingling, no new employees to meet, no old employees to say goodbye to.
So when I have to look across the ‘connecting costumed kids’ at the complete strangers that are my neighboring parents, I feel both disappointed and extremely uncomfortable. People freak me out. They sometimes believe the strangest things. They sometimes staunchly oppose scientifically-accepted realities. Some of them even carry firearms—I guess—or so I’m led to believe. There are lots of people who are a little crazy, but not so crazy that they’re locked up for it—they just wander around, having lives just like the rest of us—but they scare the bejeezus out of me.
Void unimaginable, an ocean without a floor or shore
Floating there I wait and see only distance and space
No company to joke with—no more after or before
Floating where eternity dances yet hides its face
With feet that never find a place
And I am small amid the vastness
And I am lost among the stars
And I am never going to see again the green
And I am stuck forever in between
And if I died no one would know it
And if there’s hope no one will show it
In this vastness
The power of nothingness overwhelming my mind
No chink in the every of everywhere always
No feature or landmark remaining to find
Come speak to me love—(I don’t care what she says)—
Say what you will but please say Yes.
Face and Bubbles – Collage
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:10 AM
Well, I may have gone a little too dark on this poem—I tried to pull the nose up, at the end—but maybe too little too late. Anyway, the point is that too much solitude is as mentally unhealthy as too little sunlight is physically unhealthy. Love is necessary, or friendship—even simple companionship which, while not as profound, may be easier to come by—I’ll take anything to break that recursive loneliness loop that eventually drives one insane.
The new pictures are made with my new oil pastels—I haven’t quite got the hang of them yet. I’ve always had a problem with color—I tend to use them all. I like prisms and rainbows—I’m very democratic, even inclusive, when it comes to color.
The piano cover of “Autumn In New York” goes well with all the gold and orange leaves outside my window—my voice—maybe not so much. I threw in the other three covers just because. I’m struggling with my improvs lately—I have been trying to make them better for decades, but I feel like I can’t find anything new anymore—we’ll see—maybe I’ll have an epiphany or something. In the meantime, I’m just trying to sound entertaining.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 10:38 AM
Real Progress (2015Oct27)
In just a few days, we will have reached the one-year mark on our presidential campaign—I can’t help wondering what the previous twelve months of back and forth were supposed to accomplish, other than to fill air time on cable-news shows and politics-based social media threads. It’s hard to stomach all the focus on ‘who it will be’ without any concern about ‘what will they do’. Yet, with the right-wing, those are the same question—a tea-party candidate will do nothing—except try to keep others from doing anything—that’s their whole agenda.
Likewise, a moderate Republican will do nothing—not for lack of trying, but because of their tea-party brethren. And even a Democrat will get done only as much as the executive office allows—because the House and Senate are still firmly in the hands of the GOP. The only real hope for governmental or legislative action is if the Democrats can find a way to win back those Congressional seats, as well as win the White House. So this presidential campaign obsession is just the usual media focus on the inconsequential. Ben Carson (not to mention Trump) is a scary possibility—but the odds of anyone but white males voting for either one is so low as to make their chances in a general election ‘slim to none’.
The same can be said of Bernie Sanders—he’s got the far-left tied up, but he could never get the majority of the nation’s voters either. That leaves Hillary, whom everyone has assumed will win all along—only she’ll be hobbled by the same GOP congress that bedeviled Obama. Again, the real story—the story that’s being ignored—is whether the Democrats can elect local support, outside of the presidency.
Of course, I could be wrong—we may get a Republican president, if voters are stupid enough—what a hell on earth that would be. Despite Obama’s heroic efforts, we still haven’t dug ourselves out of the hole the last GOP president buried us in. The only good that came out of Bush’s two terms was getting Democrats out to vote—Obama began his terms with a friendly Congress and I’m still confused as to how we managed to screw that up.
Well, not really—the answer is horribly simple. The Democrats, while they have an edge on common sense and American values, are just as dumb, lazy, spineless, and corrupt as the Republicans—both our candidates and we voters. Intellect and transparency can find a place in the Democratic party—which, as I say, gives them something of an edge—but we’re still people, just like the GOP folks. And people are human—with all the failings that implies.
When I look back on all the changes in society, I’m dumbstruck by the incredible progress we’ve made. While we still struggle with racism, at least it has lost its legitimacy in the laws of our land. While we still lack gender equality, we have seen women get access to birth-control, jobs, and inclusion far beyond the Suzy Homemaker mindset of my childhood. While we still have issues with LGBT equality, we have at least progressed beyond the point of considering homosexuality as a crime, or a mental disease. To me, this is the real progress of our country—I could care less about laptops, cellphones, smart-cars, and DNA sequencing, if it doesn’t have the open-minded humanity that an enlightened, modern culture deserves.
I don’t know. I have a lot going on inside me—it makes me feel like I have something to write—but there’s just chaos in there, virtually screaming a million things at once, none of it coherent. So, no, not really anything to write.
My body seems to be slowly bouncing back from its long decline—enough so that I begin to feel restless about spending all day every day inside this tiny house. Not that we don’t love our cozy little cabin—but hell, sometimes you have to go out. Now, that wasn’t true—hasn’t been true for many years—I’d focus more on having the energy to get out of bed or make myself a sandwich or take a shower. But before I got sick, it was pretty common—I get bored and frustrated very quickly when I’m in touch with my full capacity.
And I’m sick and tired of retracing my words just to explicate that ‘full capacity’ now does not mean back to my original 35-year-old, healthy, rambunctious self. Take it as given that if I’m talking about a resurgence of my vitality or a sharpening of my senses, I’m only talking relative to my near-death experience and decades-long infirmity. I’ll never be young again. I’ll never have twenty-twenty vision again. My hands will never be steady again. And most of all I’ll never have the ability to get lost in my own thoughts again.
I used to think of that zoned-out state I’d get into while programming code or drawing a picture as a kind of wandering—but it wasn’t. I was taking for granted something that came easily to me—but now I can see it for the very strenuous hacking through the mental jungle that it was. I can feel the effort of thought now—if I heard about effort of thinking in those young days, I refused to believe it. I couldn’t perceive any effort—even though my mind was functioning like gang-busters. I miss that a lot—in the way you can only miss something that you lost without ever having known how valuable it was.
Of course, I also miss it because it was my meal ticket. I used to think that I was lucky to find a job in programming and systems—now it is clear to me that I was never good at anything else, not professionally. My mind started to weaken from illness at about the same time I was considering looking for more challenging coding work. It was very frustrating to lose my super-power, slowly, mysteriously, just as I was trying to move on to even more difficult puzzles. Now I can’t program my way out of a paper bag—which leaves me with a large past life that was headed towards something I can never go back to. So, yeah, I miss that a lot.
My old self is dead. I am alive. It’s a quandary.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015 10:29 AM
Fall proceeds apace—others have posted some striking photos of the leaves changing, so I’m gonna pass on taking my own photos of the yard and environs. The urge to photograph things is always there, but I’d rather conserve my energy on the off-chance that I’ll get antsy enough to draw a picture instead.
The endless drone of leaf-blowers gives the Fall a sour strangeness—these people want their mess cleaned up and their lawns bare, and they don’t care how much racket they make getting it done. Who could have imagined that getting an artificial wind to blow would be best accomplished with tiny engines that make a deafening whine and emit grey clouds of diesel soot?
But enough of my seasonal peeves—no more. What matters is the doing—and what am I doing?
Monday, October 19, 2015 6:04 PM
Joseph Henry was an American physicist who discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction nearly simultaneously with Michael Faraday, the Englishman who, through the vagaries of history, is known as its sole discoverer. But such quibbles about ‘first-places’ abound in the history of science—Morse was not the first man to send a signal by electrified wire, Edison was not the first man to create a moving picture (or a light-bulb, for that matter)—there are often two stories. One is the closely researched story of who did which step and when, and how it all ‘worked out’ to what we’re familiar with today—and the other story is what we call ‘popular history’, where Ford ‘invented’ the car and Italians ‘invented’ pasta.
It is a little odd that in trying to tell some of the detailed, accurate story, an historian has to set up and knock down several widely-held misapprehensions common in the popular understanding of history. Serious historians must tell the true story while ‘untelling’ the false ones. This can lead to great interest amongst the populace—and some will argue with any history based on the archived records simply because they love the popular version so much better. And some details are just too bothersome to retain—Columbus’s voyage west to the Indies involved five ships—this is well-documented, and even taught in school—but the image of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria endures.
The only book offered on Amazon.com has a blurb which extols the great achievements and the seminal place that Joseph Henry held in the formation of the United States as a scientific world leader, but such importance is belied by the fact that there is only the one book—a biography. I placed an order for a used copy—I want to see if I can find out why we care so little about a man who was Edison’s Edison.
I’ve also downloaded Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” from the Gutenburg Project’s digital library—I’m thinking of doing a video that combines my readings of passages, my illustrations of the story as images, and my music as soundtrack. The book is enormous—the idea of illustrating every passage, even in rough sketches, would take a younger man than myself—and completing such an audio/video chapter-book is that much more unlikely. But it will give me a project that never ends—and in my mind, they are the only ones worth starting.
I like this new business of ‘clarifying’ things—walking things back, revisiting ones comments, non-apologies for things that may or may not have been said (hey, they’re on videotape). When I went to school, if you said something stupid that tail was pinned on your donkey for life—no take-backs. I guess grown-ups get to come at it two or three times (or over the course of a weekly cycle, as with Jeb’s recent multiple-choice answer to a simple question).
This plays right into Trump’s hands, since he wants to make questionable statements—keeping the media coming back, keeping him at the top of every news-hour recap—campaigning for free, courtesy of the 24-hour infotainment cycle. God help us if he ever gets to that part of a stand-up schtick when the performer says, “But, seriously, folks…”—even a glimmer of intelligence will seem to us the wisdom of Jove.
But fuck Trump.
I join all of you in dreading the end of summer—I could use another three months of this weather, but we’ll probably only get another three weeks. Yet, with global warming, we won’t have any snow until February. I liked it better the old way—four seasons, all distinct, all on schedule.
Hooray! My driving test is scheduled for October. Re-licensing, here I come. It’s a two-edged sword, though—I’m pretty confident I know how to drive, but how embarrassed will I be if I flunk my driver’s test at the tender age of fifty-nine?
The quest for Brahms-ian competency trudges on—I’m playing the Opus 117 every day—all three Intermezzos. I get better and better—I keep thinking: soon, I’ll be able to post a video of me playing the Brahms Opus 117! But it’s a moving target. Once I reach one level of familiarity, it only accentuates how poorly I’m handling the rhythm, or the dynamics, or the voicing, or the fingering, or the phrasing—there’s no end to the damned thing. I figure I’ll just keep going. This will be the first time I’ll have practiced a piece before posting a video of it, and I don’t want it to be a waste of effort—I want to sound like I can play the thing—yet that remains to be seen.
My drawing continues to defy me—I know I can do it. Not as well as when my hands didn’t shake, but I can still get something out of it. No, the hardest part is getting myself to start. I have to find the pad and the pen and put on my glasses. (Who’d have thought you need to see what you’re drawing? You’d think you’d know, like you’d feel it or something, but no—not that easy.) Once I get going, I forget the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray—it’s always been that way—I look up a half-hour later and see this long ash that I could swear I just lit a second ago. It’s the starting that stops me.
My poetry had a good summer—must have been four or five poems. They’re good for my drawing, too, since I have a “Graphic Poetry” blog and I get impatient, once I’ve written a decent poem, to have some artwork to make the new post with. It gets me drawing.
So with all the recent activity, I daydream about releasing a twelfth digital album on CD Baby (See my eleventh here). It would only be my second digital album, really. The first ten were privately burned to CD and distributed as Xmas cards to my friends and family somewhere between five and ten years ago. It’s just as well—I feel like my recent efforts are another level above my old stuff—not necessarily ‘great’, but certainly much better than my earlier recordings. Still, like the work on the Brahms, I’m inclined to wait and see just how much better I can get over the next few months or years.
I’m also toying with the idea of printing out my poems. The beauty part about creating each poem as a graphic, like a small poster—is that I don’t need to do anything but print them out on good presentation paper with a fresh ink cartridge and a ‘highest quality’ print setting. I could even print them on both sides of the heavy paper, just like a real book. But while I’ve always meant to learn some DIY binding craft, I never got around to it—so I’d still be stuck with a loose pile of papers. I don’t know, just junk I think about…
I have two kinds of improvs—ones that I just sit down and do, and ones that I think about beforehand. Today I did both. When I improvise on the piano, I have one rule—if it sounds like someone else’s music—stop doing that. I’ll gladly copy a chord progression or something general like that, but if I’m not being original, I’m not really improvising, am I? I even go so far as to try not to repeat myself—though to listen to my stuff, you’d find that hard to believe. Still I maintain that, technically, no matter how many times I play one-four-five chord progressions or circle-of-fifths, I’m always trying to do it differently in some way.
Oddly, you can do a lot of different stuff in music without changing the overall sound of what you do. And that’s a shame for me because if my music showed half the invention and exploration I put into it, it wouldn’t sound nearly so monotonous.
Today’s improvs get ‘poems’ to go with them:
We don’t call Freedom chaos but it is
Unless there is some self-control involved.
We’re free from someone else’s stupid rules—
That doesn’t mean we do whatever we want.
Freedom lets us have our own opinions
But preference isn’t purpose—think what you want
But do the right thing.
Let’s all do the exer-blues—ankle-weights and running shoes—
Fancy pants, expensive trainer—fat-to-lose, or muscle-gainer—
Sweat to Eighties—leotards, ladies—pumpin’ Ahnolds—compress Hots/Colds…
When I was a boy, I liked to lie on the floor of a dark room and listen to classical music. My closed eyes became an IMAX screen for Rorschach-fueled fantasies—vague daydreams of struggle, passion, voyaging, and victory. Back then, I didn’t listen to music the way I do now—I simply heard a soundtrack to an invisible movie. Dvorak’s New World, Tchaikovsky’s 1812, Smetana’s Moldau, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter—they all suggested vague plotlines of grand adventures, terrific battles, and transporting joys—and Beethoven’s symphonies were right up there in my ‘top hits’ list. Classical music has always been the soundtrack to my daydreams.
Because I felt that classical music (mostly Romantic, and symphonic, at that time) was a ‘drug’ that would take me on a ‘trip’, I preferred listening to it on my bedroom record-player to sitting in the audience at Lincoln Center—a privilege that my public school provided as often as twice a year, thanks to the wonderful Mr. Freeman, our music teacher. Young people, and non-musicians of any age, I suppose, can hear music without truly appreciating that musicians have to make it. In a sense, music, to me, came from a flat, round piece of vinyl.
Walt Disney and I had that in common, sort of—but he was not a lifelong music-lover—he didn’t come to appreciate Classical Music until he had already become a successful filmmaker. But upon discovering these treasures, they became his passion. He began to use it in his “Silly Symphonies” animated shorts. While working on an extended Silly Symphony of Dumas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who was slipping in popularity) Disney determined to make it part of the full-length feature that came to be known as “Fantasia”, a set of eight animated classical works performed by Leopold Stokowski (the premiere conductor of the times).
I was in my late teens by the time I saw a reissue screening of what, by then, had become a classic film. The original 1940 release of “Fantasia” was marred by the start of World War II—the lack of European market revenue, and the mixed critical response, made the film seem a failure upon its opening. Plus, there were high costs involved in making an animated feature film—even more so in the case of “Fantasia”, as it was the first film shown in stereophonic sound, and ‘Fantasound’ equipment had to be installed in every theater that screened the film!
“Fantasia” is a treat—a celebration of both music and art, created by the world’s most beloved and successful commercial artist. Every musical piece in the film brings out special features of the individual pieces—and of music itself. For someone familiar with the music, the animation ‘accompaniment’ brought a whole new dimension to the works—and for those hearing them for the first time, it was an indelible, endearing introduction. The skill and effort of the creative teams, the innovations of artistry and technology used to achieve the film, gave the final collection of flickering images and sounds substance to rival the great pyramids of Egypt.
Now, having said all that, it’s not hard to imagine that today’s musicians could find “Fantasia” to be dated and superficial. It may be difficult for any of us today to appreciate the technical challenges of 1940—with the debut of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991, we experienced the first CGI-generated animation (and the first animated film to be nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar). Yet, to me, the old Disney animated classics are still marvels of effort and organization—and the proof is in the enduring value of the surviving individual cels, as collectors’ items and as works of art suitable for framing and hanging on the wall. That’s what those old films were—a sequence of hundreds of thousands of hand-painted artistic masterpieces! In comparison, CGI animations are akin to pyramids built with modern construction vehicles—still impressive, but hardly the same effort.
More importantly, serious musicians focus on the pure sound—what else is there, in music? Music videos have been a part of our culture since the 1980s—with their tendency to push more-pedestrian music’s popularity using provocative visual accompaniment, they can make ‘adding visuals’ seem overly manipulative. Plus, there are now many serious composers who are known for their soundtrack compositions made specifically for film, such as Richard Stephen Robbins’ score to “The Remains of the Day” (1993)—or even Karl Jenkin’s score for the DeBeers diamonds ad (1994). It is understandable that today’s musician might see “Fantasia” as opportunistic or exploitative of the great composers. But that would be overlooking the educational and popularizing effect of those times.
It was only the previous decade, the 1930s, that public radio broadcasts of classical music had allowed the masses to hear concert music—prior to radio, classical music had remained as much a privilege of the ‘upper class’ as it had been in the days of noble patronage, centuries before. And Leopold Stokowski, José Iturbi and Arturo Toscanini were still freshly-minted radio stars—the NBC Symphony Orchestra gave its premiere broadcast in 1937. Classical music, in 1940, was in a certain sense, the ‘latest thing’.
Plus, Disney’s animations ‘closed the distance’ for new fans of classical—instead of seeing the mechanics—a film of the orchestra itself, playing—we see the kinds of fantasies that listening to such music can inspire. Disney’s “Fantasia” showed music from the listener’s perspective, not the performer’s.
So when we are tempted to dismiss the film as trite or silly, we ignore its historical context. I’m reminded of Owen Wister, the author of “The Virginian” in 1902. Today we laugh at the clichés of Westerns—the shootouts at high noon, the schoolmarm sweethearts, the strong, silent gunslingers—yet all of these memes were original ideas when Wister first penned them. They only became clichés because these images were so powerful that they were copied and varied ad infinitum, for a century. In the same way, Disney’s enormous influence on our modern viewpoint blinds us to the originality and impact of his work when it was first created. Respect must be shown.
Not that I don’t respect Beethoven. I loved his Sixth Symphony long before I saw “Fantasia” and I love it still, in spite of the fleeting mental image of bare-breasted, gamboling centaur-nymphs imprinted by the film. I also see dancing mushrooms whenever I hear Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and feel the urge to belly-laugh whenever I hear Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours—but I’m sure the composers themselves, if we could ask them, would be flattered to have received the loving attention of Walt Disney.
I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.
Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.
Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).
Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.
Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.
Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.
And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.
Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):
First, a few admissions about my ‘poetry’—I have two gears, as it were, one of which is to get all technical and use a rigid meter and rhyme scheme (in this first gear, I can use the confinements of format to excuse any stiffness or awkward phrasing). My ‘second gear’ can be seen above—I basically write what I’m thinking, but I don’t allow myself any of the run-on sentences that are too much a feature of my prose. I chop off all my lines before they reach the right-hand side of the page and I capitalize every first letter of every line. However, I also allow myself to go from one thought or idea to another without any ‘connective tissue’, much less a segue—and I allow myself encapsulated symbolisms, used as shorthand, without being too judgmental about their aptness or comprehensiveness (i.e. describing all of modern, first-world technology as “addiction to the washing machine”).
But my poetry is also a great time-saver, for me and my readers. Take this line: “The more special we believe we are, the worse we behave.” Now, this thought, ordinarily, would come to my mind as an inspiration for a lengthy blog-post on human nature and the problem of modern humanity—and I do so love stringing those words together into a cohesive argument or illustration about truth and reality. But poetry is a beautiful thing—in poetry, I can just write down that ‘kernel-ized’ concept as a single line and, by the ‘rules’ of poetry, it is now left to the readers to read that line and write their own blogposts in their own heads. I trade the pleasure of spelling things out to a ‘T’ for the ease of simply saying the germ of the idea.
All you serious poets out there will have recognized by now that I am describing ‘writing prose in a poetic format’ more than ‘writing poetry’. I know when I’m reading ‘real’ poetry, because it leaves sense impressions in my head and evokes ephemeral feelings, without ever displaying any coherent thoughts or unmitigated images—and I respect that. Also, I truly hope that something like that effect is achieved by my less-nuanced writings–it isn’t as though I’m trying to do it wrong. I know that if I tried to write that ‘real’ kind of poetry, I might succeed—but I’d be more than likely to get lost down the rabbit-hole of thinking poetically, un-sequentially, unconnectedly. And, if you’re not involved in creative pursuits, let me tell you—it’s as much about what one becomes, through pursuing the creative, as it is about what one achieves as a creative person. Madness is catching—and I prefer to cherry-pick my madnesses.
All that being said, poetry is undefinable—so if I write anything at all, as long as it has Caps at the beginning of each line, regardless of grammar, it’s my poem. And fortunately there are others who agree with me. Tyler Syd, a poet friend of mine, has chosen to include the above poem in his upcoming public reading (something which I’m very proud and flattered to know). I appreciate that because, while I may not consider myself a traditional poetaster, I do feel that I have something to say—and poetry, by virtue of requiring the readers to engage their own thought-processes and imaginations, is far better suited to communicating my somewhat ‘intellectual’ musings on society and the nature of reality.
While blog-posts are more straight-forward and specific, most readers will read a blog-post with half a mind towards what their comments or complaints or disagreements might be—with poetry, my readers do not approach the piece from that point of view. They put more focus on what is being said rather than their own responses. They maximize my images through their own imaginations rather than confine them to the limits of reflexive debate and objections. Not that I’m hiding from argument—just from ‘argument for argument’s sake’.
Have you ever had that experience where you’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly realized that you are wrong and the other person has a point? I used to hate, hate, hate that feeling! But now, in my dotage, I’ve learned to enjoy it, to embrace the revelation of something I hadn’t previously seen. And I learned, in the process, that a lot of argument is nothing more than momentum—the desire to keep on fighting, right or wrong—which is admirable in its way, but perhaps not entirely suitable to logical argument. And in such a complex world, I feel that reducing unnecessary argument is vital to positive progress. Thus my hearty disapproval of modern news media—we are in vital need of information, but we are force-fed controversy instead, because of its greater ‘entertainment value’—what a load.
It also fuels my resentment towards fundamentalists—the world is such a messy tangle of ideas, the last thing we need is a bunch of people re-raising questions that educated, thoughtful people have long since put to bed. To look upon all the amazing discoveries made by geologists, biologists, and astronomers—and dismiss it all in favor of one’s own ignorance—I can’t see that as anything other than madness—willful, egotistical blindness to the obvious. These same people will use jet airliners to travel and computers to communicate their ‘ideas’ about the falsity of science—I don’t know, I guess logic just doesn’t appeal to them.
I suppose I shouldn’t blame them—after all, logic isn’t the bottom line, survival is. We don’t need to make sense as much as we need to keep breathing. And if they want to trade logic for the chance to keep breathing even after they stop breathing, well, they’re certainly making a good start on it—an afterlife makes about as much sense as a fish on a bicycle. Now, go away, before I decide to capitalize all my first letters and turn this into a poem….
One last thing–here’s the drawing used to make the poetry-graphic, and an alternate version of the completed graphic:
I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do, I Do….
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 1:00 AM
So I wanted to say to all my friends that in spite of my being atheist, I still believe in the impossible—and I believe in magic, spirits, UFOs, and anything else—but having said that, I don’t believe any of us really knows anything—thus it would be idiotic not to believe in the unknown.
The thing about most religions is that they seem convinced they have specific knowledge of something none of us can possibly know—like what ‘happens’ after we die. I haven’t the slightest idea, but I don’t think anyone else does either. And I’m highly suspicious of anyone who says they do.
People say, “You have to have faith in God”, but all I really need is to have faith in the person or persons saying that. If God wants me to have faith, he/she/it should say so, and stop all this passive-aggressive nonsense. If someone wants me to have faith, they need to start with first principles—why should I trust the person speaking? I’d be likelier to clap for Tinker-Bell than to pray to a God who is at once so unknowable—and yet so well-known-and-understood by the leadership of these religions.
I saw a TV ad for a drug—the announcer was saying something about side-effects ‘may include swelling of the lips or throat’, but I misheard it as, ‘smelling of the lips’—and that got me thinking about random side-effects—this is a bit that Colbert (on his ‘Report’) does a lot—and I came up with—
Side-effects may include:
smelling of the lips, lobster-jaw, enphlegmation of the flamm, kitten-sneeze, and boxer/brief bruising..
(But, with my useless memory, I may just be sub-consciously plagiarizing Colbert for half of these.)
Yet Another Thought:
I’ve just burned my newest CD of improvs—a full hour and twenty minutes worth of what I consider some of my most listenable piano-playing ever—if I could just remove my first 1,332 videos, maybe someone might actually listen to the last 15—still, I had to post the 1,332 to get here, so nix mox…
I’ve also written an entertaining essay or two (although, as with my music, amongst the dross of hundreds of essays) but it has become clear to me that there aren’t a lot of people looking online for witty banter in essay form—who’da thunk it?
Lately I’m really upset about my hands shaking—drawing wild pictures was always my big crowd-pleaser, and now that I have the globe for an audience—I can’t draw!
_*+*_X P E R _*+*_ D U N N _*+*_*+*_X P E R _*+*_ D U N N _*+*__*+*_X P E R _*+*_ D U N N _*+*_*+*_X P E R _*+*_
The above is a potential posting to generate revenue.
I liked ‘five bucks each’ because that was my first sidewalk art festival price, back when I was fourteen, in Bedford Hills, 1970. But it presents a conundrum –packing and shipping are gonna run me darn near $5—and that’s only domestic—my international friends may be loss-leaders—no, not may, they’ll definitely go over $5. So I should make it $10—that way I’d end up with about five bucks net apiece.
So, now my whole idea is screwed—if I have to charge over five bucks, the question becomes, ‘What are my drawings worth to the average consumer?’ the answer to which is, ‘Nothing, if not sentiment or curiosity’—which begs the question, ‘How would ten bucks, paid by a FB friend, be any different from pan-handling?’ Having reached that cul-de-sac, I’m forced to ask myself if I really believe my drawings are worth money?
I never really have. They’ve always seemed both more and less than any price—something I did for people, as a favor or a gift. But I want to build some kind of mental scaffolding that will make the drawings seem worth the effort, outside of my own ambitions (which I long ago fulfilled—as anyone who has found happiness in life can say) thus I’m left with the problem of how much would be a seeming pittance for my hoped-for customers and still pay its own freight, as it were.
Ten dollars is the best figure from that point of view—but there’s a funny thing you learn in advertising—if you only charge a fraction of what the thing usually sells for, no one will buy it because they’ll assume it’s no good! This actually happened to me once, when I created a marketing-demographic-by-zip-code program for back-end analysis (go ahead, make your jokes). At the time, inferior programs from specialty companies went for $15,000 to $30,000 a pop. We offered ours at $500 and no one bought it. We persuaded a client to do parallel mailings, to match us against the two top alternative products—and the results showed that our product worked better. And even with that proof included in our sales pitch to clients, they still stayed away in droves. We raised the price to $5,000 and people started buying it—sweardagod.
So, now the question becomes, ‘If I’m asking ten bucks for a decent work of art, aren’t I kind of guaranteeing that only the pitying will buy it?’ I mean, where’s my sense of self-worth? I almost have to ask more than ten bucks, or I’d be insulting myself, in public, for no good reason. So what, twenty, twenty-five?
Yeah, but then it’s no longer a pittance. If I still had a steady hand, I’d offer to do portraits—but I found likenesses difficult enough when I was in full health—trying to do them now would most likely result in a caricature—and few people appreciate having to pay to be insulted.
Which reminds me—I need to somehow say that I don’t do requests in the specific sense, only in subject matter—again, I’d need better physical self-control to realize someone else’s visions on paper. But I can do landscapes, or a picture from tales or myths, general stuff—the more general the better. And heck, why commission a picture when it’s something you can already see in your mind, anyhow?
So, that settles that, ten bucks it is. I’m not going to be pushed around by control freaks who want me to draw their pictures instead of mine. Wow, I’m starting to remember why I stopped drawing—it’s not the work so much as the worry. Better make it $15.
Okay, my fellow bloggers and bloggettes, any comments, criticisms, suggestions, warnings—all are gratefully welcomed—please help me design a nice little poster for me to post. Some sample drawings are included below for your perusal.
I feel like I must have done something wrong. It just came to me that I’ve hardly ever cared about anything but music. I used to draw and paint to pass the time—I was good at it and I liked being able to impress people—but in the end, it wasn’t something I had to do. Same with reading and writing—a fantastic way to spend time—and it always took me away from the most unbearable environments—in the same house with an arguing family, being a brat on a bus full of brats, being stuck on a long line, and others. So I draw, read, and write here and there—but there’s only one thing I have to do—listen to, and play, music.
From that perspective, I can visualize my whole life, my jobs, my social interactions, my buying habits—as one big structure whose purpose is the perpetual availability of music to listen to, and a piano to practice and play on, and a stack of songbooks to sing from. Don’t get me wrong—many of my hardest efforts were in service to my Claire and my Jessy and my Spence. But anything I do for myself is unfailingly music-related. Nothing else has that feeling of obsession that I just can’t shake.
Unfortunately, I was not blessed with any talent for music—in general, I’m pretty awkward—and at piano, I’m markedly so. Any slight ability I display now, at the age of fifty-seven, is due to daily practice since the age of fifteen. And whatever ability that may be, it is easily out-shined by any toddler with musical talent and a few weeks of lessons. Do I have a great knowledge of music? Yes, indeed. And do I have a familiarity with music history that goes beyond that of nearly everyone? I do. But I’ll never be a musician, in the normal sense—I must eternally satisfy myself with my own puny capacity, and my improvisations (in which I attempt to make strengths of my weaknesses).
Thus, there is a Zen aspect to my music-making—I must see my music as one thing and ‘real’ music as another. Otherwise, I’d have to give up the piano. It makes for a unique situation—there aren’t many pianists who practice every day, but never perform in public, never collaborate with other musicians, and are still waiting, forty years later, to get ‘good at it’. But that it exactly my case.
The one thing that remains invisible to everyone else is the satisfaction I feel when I’m playing improvisationally—every day, I imagine that today’s improv is tremendous. Most days, I have a camcorder running and when I see the playback or burn a CD to listen to it, I hear something that is not at all tremendous—in fact, it stubbornly sounds like me playing badly—it’s mystifying.
I’m lucky, I guess—when I was young, I was very bright—I got used to being sure of the right answer, even when everyone else thought differently—it is a very good attitude—I wish I could share it with people who didn’t do well in school, who became averse to non-conformity and repelled by new data. I always feel sorry for people who disqualify themselves from learning, reading, listening to classical music—someday they’ll run schools so that the slower kids will have as much respect for their own viewpoint as they do for the teacher’s—but I won’t hold my breath.
So much of my life is a hot-house flower—it can only survive because the conditions are perfect for it. I don’t have to spend the majority of my time at an eight-hour job every day, because of Disability. I have a very fine baby grand in a living room that really only rates an upright. I have the advantage of having been mentored by Matt Glaser in junior high, and Gil Freeman in high school. I was raised to sing Christmas carols and Boy Scout campfire songs, and to sing along with the AM radio pop tunes of my day. As the cherry on top, listening to records of both Keith Jarrett and George Winston taught me, at an early age, that playing the piano can be as much a cathartic experience as a performance.
When I was a teenager, in the heat of a summer day, I could put LPs on the record-player—Glenn Gould playing the Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II, by Bach—and it would have nearly the same effect as an air conditioner—the cool, geometrical perfection of Gould’s Bach affected me in a physical way. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture would make my blood hot and ready for battle. Silly little pop tunes could make me feel like my heart was breaking (and I loved having my heart broken) or that I was ‘king of the world’.
My sincerest sympathy I reserve for the people that see music as one thing—as rap, or as Bob Dylan, or as Theophilus Monk. Even confining oneself to a single genre is, to me, a tragic waste of potential experiences. I like medieval music, Bulgarian folk choirs, baroque recorder music, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Enya, Michael Hedges, Carol King, Randy Newman, Leroy Anderson, John Williams (the composer and the guitar player who made the name famous first). I like the Archies, the Partridge Family, the Monkees, Air Supply, Bread, Kris Kristofferson, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, John Philip Sousa, the Roach Sisters, both Guthrie’s (Woody and Arlo), Judy Collins, Burt Bacharach, and just about every other ‘bad’ musician overlooked by ‘serious musicians’.
I’ve seen every musical movie ever, I watched Bernstein’s TV programs on music appreciation when I was little, I listened to every Nonesuch record in the library, back when Nonesuch produced LPs from ‘Bulgarian Folk Music’ to the ‘Koto Music of Japan’. Music is so much a part of my life that if it was excised from my history, my biography would read: “I am born. I get married. I have a family. I die.”
And that being the case, it seems rather unfair that I should be without even a hint of musical talent—but nobody expects life to be fair, and for good reason. I think it has been good for my character, such as it is—overcoming failure every day is character-building, if nothing else. My dreams of being a great musician would probably lack their zest if I had the slightest idea of what being one is really like. Isn’t that strange? On the plus side (and I say this all the time) it’s good to have a life-long pursuit that can never be completed. I know that Yitzhak Perlman could say the same thing—but being the world’s greatest living violinist, he doesn’t have to focus on that particular fact the way I do.
Today was a rest day. Not that I actually schedule rest days—I only have days of high activity, high productivity days, terrible days, and rest days. I like days when I’m active—I get up and move around, even go outside; I talk to people; I do the crossword; I write, draw, or play the piano—anything that rouses the circulation at least a little, anything that puts some spark in those brainwaves.
Such activity inevitably leads to a productive period. I’ll record some piano music; I’ll write op-ed-type essays; I’ll scan in some old artwork or I’ll photo-shop my artwork and my photos, whatever I usually do when I feel like I’m involved in life, even if only peripherally. The ultimate goal is to ‘Post’ things to my online friend-circles—a finished recording, a proofread essay, some graphic artwork of my own creation. Not everything I write gets posted—and I’ll tell you why I’m glad about that. If I was comfortable posting everything I wrote, I wouldn’t be getting at the heart of things that are important to me.
And that’s probably the same reason I can’t get a toe-hold on any fiction-writing—if I wrote about things I care about, things I felt are too personal to share with ‘the public’, even in fiction form, I would feel too exposed. Plus, all my characters would be transparent ‘takes’ on the people closest to me—my family and friends. So, even if I was comfortable laying myself open to the world at large, I wouldn’t feel right using people I care about as characters in a story. Sometimes, when I’m reading something, I’ll wonder to myself about the author and whether he or she felt embarrassed about certain scenes or dialogues, especially when it involved recognizable characters from their actual life.
Anyway, it’s not for me. I don’t think I could write an intimate love-scene and be okay with my children reading it, or my mother, or my neighbors, or really anybody—no, writing fiction is for thicker-skinned people than me. And I see no point to writing fiction that can’t be shared with the world. Still, I can write essays to myself about myself—that falls under the heading of ‘therapy’ (like those letters they tell you to write and then tear up when you’re mad at somebody). And I have felt certain instances of clarity that came as a result of putting my thoughts and feelings into words.
But I often rant about public issues and historical perspectives and my ideas about what’s going on in the world—and those I can gladly post. Likewise, a lot of my piano recordings don’t make it to YouTube. Some days I record 45, 50 minutes of piano, but have to edit out everything but the six-to-twelve minutes of Improv (when there is an Improv). And my drawings, too, are edited and selected for posting, with many being too poorly drawn or too weird to share with the world. My productive days always follow my active days, but sadly my active days don’t always result in productivity—a lot of being good is working and practicing, and I’m hard enough to listen to when I’m recording intentionally for a YouTube posting!
That’s my active days and my productive days—then there’s the recoil. After posting a particularly felicitous piano improv, or essay, or poem, there’s a feeling of incompleteness—and the better I feel about a post, the more it hurts to watch it just lie there, no likes, no plays, no comments. Some days, when I feel I’ve reached a new quantum-level of quality, I could almost scream, “Why won’t anyone look or read or listen? How can this incredible effort go unnoticed?!?”
The truth is, I avoid the usual means suggested for building an online following—building my list of contacts and followers, posting my stuff to a site that is a platform for a specific art form, ‘liking’ other people’s posts to get them to feel obliged to return the favor… All that stuff reminds me of my old ‘mailing-list’ days, when very ambitious entrepreneurs would start a catalog mailing just to acquire a list of people who were proven likely to buy something from an expensive (‘high-ticket’) retail catalog. All these tips about networking and building a client base aren’t really new—they’re just new as an online activity. And it’s all salesmanship—it requires the same brain activity as selling cars: the oily friendliness, the tempting of the prospect’s ego, the jabs at the prospect’s sense of inadequacy, and the mind-games of ‘closing’ the sale.
It’s all hucksterism—and I used to get paid to do it professionally—I’m not even a little bit inclined to do it as a ‘hobby’. Plus, while I knew the techniques of ad-copywriting, targeted marketing, eye-catching layouts, and glossy presentation, I was never good at the face-to-face stuff. I’ve never been good with people, unless they were as guileless as I am—babies and pets seem to love me—big clients and movers and shakers—not so much.
So my online followers are few and I have no plans to try to increase their number except through random happenstance. That doesn’t change my despair at having no hits on my latest post, but it does explain how I can hold on to the conceit that I might be good at something, while having no practical indication of that possibility from my ‘audience’ of friends and relations.
So, productivity must give way to the whiplash of recoil—I put it out there, and nothing comes back—these make for bad days—and that’s over and above the ‘bad’ days of my physical functioning. These are days when I listen to my video over and over, asking myself, “Is it really good? Or am I too close to tell?” And I read my essays over and over. Sometimes I’ll find a typo, or a grammatical lapse—but mostly I just read them repeatedly, asking myself if I’m saying something worth hearing, or am I just making an ass of myself?
Better are the rest days. These rest days come when I’ve done a lot over a short time span, my fingers are stiff, my mind is fuzzy and I don’t even try to do anything more just yet—and I am still high enough off my creativity-buzz that I don’t think about anyone else’s response to my stuff. I tell myself, “Just take it easy—you’ll be feeling better tomorrow.”
Long ago, in a decade far, far away, my friend Randy owned a big spread up in the Vermont hills–a beautiful idyll with meadows and wood-trails and ponds and streams. Randy made his own pond (and stocked it) but still, he had a pond. On one visit, I designed and built a footbridge over his stream–my one and only engineering project.
rough sketch 1 for Directions Map
I was already losing focus, losing fine motor control in my drawings, and suffering from chronic fatigue, etc. So I would make short visits up there to build bridges and draw flyers, but then I went home and only heard about the huge galas that followed my visits. Randy described one gathering where my footbridge was the access to all the big tents and lean-tos. The bridge was such a big hit that someone eventually drove a car over it. To their surprise, the bridge was unfazed by an automobiles weight. Soon they were all driving back and forth over the bridge–until some wiseguy decided to ‘push the envelope’ and drive a big pick-up across. My bridge was fazed, and no one would ever again build a usable bridge over that stream.
rough sketch 2 for Directions Map
The Annual Pig Roasts were huge affairs. The police citations from previous fests were nailed up on a wall of honor–no party ever got cited less than three times. It was a three-day event–people would caravan in with huge RVs, tent cities, and a host of less-easily described people and living quarters. But the only way to get all those people together was to send out invitations–which was where I came in. The first flyer had a sort of ‘last supper’ drawing of a bunch of cartoon pigs seated at a long table, drinking and eating–the best drawing of all but, unfortunately, one for which I have lost all the art and flyers.
The next year, I would be unable to draw as well, and Randy had to settle for two pigs toasting with beer mugs. The year after that, Randy had to settle for re-using the same art, and just updating the words. This was one of the hardest periods for me–I was becoming a shell of my former self and still believed that I just wasn’t getting enough rest–and it hurt me to have to say ‘no’ when people asked me to draw–they couldn’t understand that my ability had simply dried up and blown away, and neither could I.
If you’ve never drawn a map of directions to a party, be advised that it isn’t as easy as it looks–fortunately (from my POV at that time) a map done properly once need never be drawn again.
final drawing for Directions Map:
There were early sessions between Randy and I as he explained what he wanted the picture to look like…
early sketch 1 ‘party pig’
…and I drew rough sketches to see if we were talking about the same thing.
After fixing upon the figures, we then discussed the ‘scene’:
rough sketch – left-side ‘toasting pig’:
rough sketch – left-side ‘toasting pig’:
Randy was very kind, always offering to put me and Claire and kids in his House (which he designed and built himself!–the only permanent structure with utilities and running water). Alas, we were raising young kids and I was falling apart inside, so we never did get to see the roasts. (I had been to the very first one, but had spent the two days in bed, sick and exhausted.) Still, they were wonders of the art of hospitality and it’s a shame Randy doesn’t live there any more.
randy’s Invite & Thank You:
Randy has been writing poetry lately, under the URL cloudfactor5.wordpress, and very good poetry, IMHO. You can judge for yourselves at: cloudfactor5