Monday, February 24, 2020

Hera and Zeus

(with thanks to Rick Shupper)
And as we all well know, it's only Hera's
touch that we can count upon to quash our terrors
when we think of all the awful careless errors
all too frequently committed in the name of Zeus
when, after far too much ambrosia, he'd be on the loose -
applying tasteless changes to the graceful spruce,
spreading as if virally to every other fir tree. The nugatory
waste of Zeus insensibly marauding into every category
of the living plants! -- particularly that of Morning Glory
which in Hera's hands inevitably realized the true divine,
especially in lavender or violet or purple-blue, the fine
revealing sensibilities of which are infinitely out of line
with Zeus's bad-boy tactical attack: to cast a ghastly spell
which could oppose the foolish acts of Hera, and dispel
all mortal hope: his Morning Glories looked like hell.
So how his rages must have burst
when he again discovered the accursed
finality of the reality that Hera got here first.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Checking In with my Singing Voice

Checking in with my singing voice has become an interesting venture - it’s as if what this voice demonstrates is, despite my having (I suppose) to accept that is the product of my body, created by my lungs, mouth, throat, musculature, brainfunction, hearing, that it finally is a quite separate autonomous creation of my body - my voice, like any thought, proceeds from me but it is not me: the collaboration it makes with the breathing fleshly apparatus upon which it depends is subtle and strange: I know what I think I want of it but it has its own agenda. When I become close to thoroughly pleased with it, it’s because it feels full of unexpected magic. Body and voice collaborate at their best when both insist on achieving their individual aims - then they become an actual instrument. The faculty of ‘intention’ becomes then a mix of mind and what feels like chance but what may actually be my voice holding out through all of the body's machinations (physical and emotional and possibly mystical) for the sound and feeling it wants to have and be. Then sometimes for a whole evening it can come close to what both flesh and it yearn to be together. But even then it’s always the oddest balance, alive with misconstruing, electric with misunderstanding, hot with ambivalence - all of that creating a trembling unity, a center that cannot hold, though somehow is holding anyway and co-achieving the vibrato and shaped notes and very human feelings that they each either can live with or exult in. In the best moments these co-achievers (body and voice) are by far more exultant than merely accepting, thrilled at having come as close as possible to a goal that satisfies both. But how fragile and fleeting an achievement it is!
The two songs I just recorded tonight - Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Summertime - bear witness to this co-achieved fragile exultancy. This is not to say that they're by some outside measure "good" or "bad" - that's up to whoever listens to them. Only that they became something close to what they wanted to be.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Getting Down to Essence

for Richard, on his 79th Birthday
“Getting down to essence” is a topic you have
taught me lessons in, an intricate curriculum
qui tournaient toutes les pages de ma vie
quotidienne or so in French I think as we sit
in Le Pain Quotidien, lessons I’m quite sure that
you’ve no inkling you have given me: lessons
that have riven me into more pieces than it
would be provident to count: extremities I can’t
surmount of self and being that you now see
splayed across this screen, seen in the scene
of that cafĂ© – you on your iPhone to Toru, me
a scribbled tone poem, silly rhyme and rhythm,
riding schisms that obtain between our old
endearing brains, a landscape of two bumber-
shoots – erroneous, felonious – harmoniously
blabbing, acting, dreaming, fearing, mourning,
loving, laughing until we can’t breathe, with no
defense against the seethings of complexity
that somehow, now, seem less to vex me
than to leaven me, voici, ici au Pain Quotidien:
as on tap with Essence as our Boycat or
our Girlcat, and as pretty and as witty and as fat
as Kitty – all of us in the enlarging lap of all
the days and years that were our daily bread.
To learn to get down to an essence will instruct
us how to get ahead: a process of exfoliation,
dropping all the mishegoss, stopping all the folderol,
throwing out the hems and haws so we might
finally inhale far less impeded air: a time now
to release – rewrite the laws! Blessed because
we’ve wisely taken care to see there’s less
we need to think about. But all the lessons you
have taught me teach there is no less, there’s
only more. Life is Life Galore! Essence only knows
abandon. Essence never lessens, it expands.
I’ve felt that from your heart, seen it in your hands.

Monday, February 10, 2020

My One-Note Spew - Proclamations by a Propheteer

Berlin, February 10, 2020
I’ve long been aware but only recently have defeatedly come to accept and confess that I suck at reasoned argument. What I do is make proclamations. Proclamations do not, for me, depend for their interest on logical back-up. Nor do they seek to invite agreement or disagreement. When I look for even remote counterparts in the arena of proclamation pretty much all I can find are propheteers. I use that word because I don’t like the hubris in ‘prophet’. Propheteers trade in cadences that may carry a mystical sense of perception, but they are not chosen by a deity to be a mouthpiece. Some people turn to them as if they were that but always with ultimately silly or disastrous results. My tribe of propheteers centrally include D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson and Henry James.
In the hands of these accomplished artists proclamation becomes an ardent plea from the soul to be known and heard. My proclamations are only beginning I think to rise above one note spews. Many of which including this one have surprised even me by their pared-down-to-the-brink-of-idiocy singular message, which is that nothing ultimate can be known. I didn’t realize I had already begun hanging all my intellectual hats and coats in that closet including the ‘saving’ ones of the arts - indeed it seems clear to me that none of even the most pleasurable of creative pursuits can do anything other than distract us from the one seemingly inescapable fact of Being: it is senseless. Meaning can only be manufactured through the manipulation of symbols we ourselves have had to construct to build a system which would give us the means to communicate — a means which because of the more complex level of monkey brain we’d attained was capable of abstract ideation. This meant we could examine memory meticulously, investigate events and feelings for clues about what was likely to happen again, use it as a guide to what might be reasonable to expect in the future, strengthen our powers of anticipation. Many animals lower on the brain-size scale do this too, of course, but as far as we know they don’t manufacture from experience the same complicated illusory schemas which we call Past and Future, or create the illusion we do of time. It’s as if we can’t live without creating an encompassing scaffolding up and down which we climb to hang continually re-patched coverings of concepts we believe (decide) were cosmically preexisting. We are not wrong to do this: it’s our nature to make ‘sense’ in this way, possibly (certainly held to be) essential to our physical and emotional survival. That ‘human nature’ encourages our creativity, generating voluminous fantasies, some of which prod ‘practical’ mechanical inventions, some prodding Art, some prodding elaborate neuroses. Because all of these mental constructs originate from and make use of reactions to our physical senses and hungers, they have an incontrovertible sense to us of actuality. But none of it can transcend the confines of our essentially solipsistic minds. We cannot think except self-regardingly. 
This closed system of perception is probably fine in many ways. It suggests how and why we create culture, whose innumerable satisfactions surely in the moment requite the desire in our lives for some sense of purpose. But that what they amount to is a great variety of powerful distractions is, I think, not lost on us on the deepest levels — even those distractions powerful enough (love, politics, religion, art, sex, vengeance, patriotism, a sense of mission in one’s work ... etc.) to convince us they offer a cosmic answer to our lives. Effectively, for some people, perhaps they do. 
But it seems to me one hunger this perceptual system generates which cannot be satisfied may be the source of all anguish: the hunger to know why any of this is happening. We are perhaps existentially cursed with our curiosity: cursed because it seems inevitably to invoke the deepest dark wish inside every living being sentient enough to wonder who and what it is, and why.
Even as I type these words I find myself rushing into the crowd of naysayers — who feel themselves to be yeasayers — who’ve assembled in angry response to what they take to be my bleak message that we’re all existentially afflicted In the one-note way I assert is the source of all anguish. Why can’t I espouse a deep-soul connection to any of the activities of life that for long moments have given me torrentially inarguable meaning? Drawing strange creatures, singing Cole Porter songs, playing Brahms on the violin, writing proclamations like this? What other solution could I want?
But I squeeze back out of that crowd. The anguish of Unknowing won’t relent. I’d like to think there’s a kind of beauty to that. But I don’t know that I can. Perhaps I don’t have to find it harrowing. But how not to?
I’m in Berlin for 12 days. There is a spirit here that answers me in kind. Though not like New York which answers me in toto. Berlin sexualizes anguish. It is extraordinary to feel ‘known’ by a place devoted to doing that. That may be a strange note to end on, but I think it may be the note in this one-note-spew.
I am half-German after all.