Keep on keepin’ on

18 06 2014

I am a terrible, terrible guitar player. It’s why I keep playing.

Makes sense, right? Why do something well when you can suck?

I’d rather not suck. I’d rather that everything I do, I do well.

I’d also like to do more, and to do more is most often to do what I don’t know how to do.

Which means I’ll be terrible when I first do it.

Now, I keep playing because I’d like to get better, because I think I can at some point do it well. I didn’t re-up with the Gotham Rock Choir because I wasn’t convinced that more practice would make me a sufficiently better singer. It’s one thing to be terrible on the way to getting better, but quite another to be terrible on the way to mediocrity.

Rather takes away one’s motivation to practice.

I doubt I’ll ever be great on the guitar—that fucking F chord—but with practice I am improving, enough so that I can gull myself into practicing even more.

So, at some point, I’ll be merely terrible, then mediocre, and then all right. I don’t know that I’ll ever get beyond all right, but, for now, it’s enough to know that I can at least get that far, and that it’s just possible that I could, someday, be good.

Time to try something else to be terrible at, then. I’ve long wanted to learn French. . . .





And I know things now

7 05 2014

Modernity is dead is in a coma.

Okay, not modernity—modernity is still kickin’—but my medieval/modern project to suss out the beginnings of modernity, yeah, that’s on life support. I’ll probably never pull the plug, but the chances of recovery at this point are slim.

The main problem was that I never had a thesis. As a former post-modernist I was interested in the pre-mod: learning about the last great (Euro) transition might help me to make sense of what may or may not be another transitional moment.

And I learned a lot! I knew pitifully little about European history—couldn’t have told you the difference between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, that’s how bad I was—and now I know something more. I’d now be comfortable positioning the Renaissance as the final flowering of the medieval era, arguing that the 16th and 17th centuries were the double-hinge between the medieval and the modern, that the Enlightenment was about the new moderns getting chesty, that Nietzsche crowbarred open the crack first noticed by the sophists, and that the medieval era in Europe did not truly end until the end of World War I.

None of these is a particularly novel observation. I make no pretense of expertise nor even much beyond a rudimentary working knowledge: there are still large gaps in my knowledge and large books to be read. And I will continue reading for a very long time.

But I don’t have a point to that reading beyond the knowledge itself. It’s possible that something at some point will present itself as a specific route to be followed, but right now, the past is an ocean, not a river.

That’s all right. I’m a fan of useless knowledge and wandering thoughts.





Listen to the music: 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer

18 03 2014

Clearly, this woman is more energetic than I am. Or more obsessive.

When I decided to listen to all of my cds in alphabetical order, I never considered reviewing each and every one.

Okay, maybe I did, but only for a second. It wasn’t meant as a writing assignment for myself, but as a listening assignment. Why did I have these cds, this music? What was I missing? What held me? What no longer did?

Jayzeus christy, why did I buy this?

After I thought the thought, I had another: Hey I should blog about this. Sometimes I run a little dry in the blog department, so blogging about these chunks of listening space would keep the posts flowing. (Bad image, but you know what I mean.) And writing about it publicly would help to keep me listening, even if I got bored with the whole thing. It turned a lark into a project, a way to track my commitment to the music itself.

It’s worked pretty well. Sometimes I listen because I want to listen; sometimes I listen because I haven’t listened in a while; sometimes I listen because there’s something in this set of cds that I want to talk about.

The mixed motives keep me moving.

Anyway, while I very briefly considered mini-reviews of each cd, I turned against the thought almost immediately: blegh. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to offer my response to each cd—as Megan Seling notes, this woman is setting herself up for a book deal (and sure, I did I get a nice bump in readership when a Listen to the Music post was Freshly Pressed: imagine if I were really committed!)—but I wanted to follow where the music took me, not mark every step along the way. If somewhere amidst 10 or 20 cds I came across an overlook or a canyon or a hidden river, I wanted to stretch out in these spots, to linger, to find out if there was still anything there, anything more.

I may be listening my way along the trail, but I’m after something more.





All things weird and wonderful, 36

8 01 2014

Why do we sing?

Why do we dance? Why paint and hop around and declaim in pentameter and chop stones into bodies and trees into ravens and how can people become so naked in themselves so as to become someone else, in front of god and everyone?

There were times watching some of the would-be soloists in the Gotham Rock Choir that I was embarrassed at how they let themselves just sing—just sing!—and let the song cover every missed note and skipped tempo and just, just sing.

And then I would be abashed, for so missing so much.

I don’t understand why we do this: let ourselves go in front of one another. I don’t understand why we sing and dance and conjure beauty and sorrow out of the rough leavings of this small world, I don’t understand this at all—except to know that I am moved by these conjurers, and their conjurings.

When I say there must be something more I don’t mean magic or angels but these conjurings, the way we take what we’ve got and make something other, something more, than what was there before.





You can’t go on, thinkin’ nothing’s wrong

21 10 2013

Two things.

One, I hate Google Drive. Maybe if it worked I wouldn’t hate it, but it’s not working so I hate it.

Two, I don’t know if this is depressing in and of itself or for its utter lack of imagination.

The question of labor is going to be huge in this century: if machines are more efficient than people for the vast majority of tasks which people currently perform, then what is to happen with those people?

Do you think the sun will shine more brightly on those released from the factories, the fields, the retail counters, and the office cubicle? Once the machines are installed, what use will be found for humans?

One possibility is to rationalize our sociability, to  monetize the things that separate us from machines , which is what Brad DeLong suggests:

Our society will then be enormously rich: our collective and average productivity will be awesome. But the society will only be a good society if we can figure out how to employ each other in high-value (3b) activities–only if we find ways to organize life so that most of us can actually add a lot of value by amusing, pleasing, and encouraging others will we have a society of mutual respect, and of only tolerable inequality.

The problem with this interpretation, however, is with the notion of “added value”, which is a nice way of saying “economically useful”. In previous versions of capitalist society, economic utility was a way for [non-enslaved] humans to free themselves from blinkered judgments of “one’s proper place”: by dint of one’s wit and work, a man could make his own way.

That way might still be terrible—Marx and Engels made much of the barbarity of industrialization—but, as those who toil in the 21st century version of the “dark satanic mills” observe, it sure beats life down on the farm.

But now the hollowing out of men and society that Marx saw as the culmination of capitalism is breaching our consciousness. We worked because we were human and because we were human we worked: we accepted the deal that our worth was to be found in our utility because we could always find ways to make ourselves useful.

And now, if we are no longer able to make ourselves useful?

I hate Google Drive because it’s meant to be useful and it is not useful. It is a useless tool, a contradiction in terms; if it can’t be made useful, it should be discarded. But if humans become useless tools, are we to be discarded? What’s next?

I don’t trust Marx’s solution, because, really, there is no solution. But we need a new imagination; there must be something more.





All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror

16 09 2013

When I was a young ‘un I was all about performing.

Give me a stage and I’m on it, a light and I’m in it, and a chance to shine shine shine, and I’m takin’ it. A full-length mirror in my bedroom, a stereo, and a balled-up fist were my substitutes for the stage, the orchestra, and the microphone I wanted more than anything.

When I was pre-teen, it was all about Hollywood, but a bit of adolescence and I turned east, toward New York and the theatre (which was the genesis of my desire for New York).

Theatre in high school provided some of my best memories; it was also the peak of my performing days. I was at best competent, something which I had figured out even then, so while I very briefly flirted with the idea of going into theatre (in terms of considering whether or not to apply to Northwestern), once I decided on Madison, it was clear I’d major in political science, as a prelude to a career in journalism.

Funny thing about print journalism: it is a backstage activity. Yes, television is now clogged with scribe-pundits, but back in the olden days, journalism meant print (tv was something else entirely), and any fame would be confined to a front page byline on a national paper.

The jazz of journalism for me, though, was even less the bylines (tho’ that mattered: I still remember my first headline story, on a strike by the TAA, the grad student union) than getting the next day’s news the night before, and taking part in churning events into news.

We weren’t the story, but we wrote the story, and I decided I liked that more than anything.

Skip forward 25 (or so) years, and I still love that backstage churn. And while there is a performative aspect to teaching, outside of the classroom I am not only not interested, but dread taking center (or even side) stage.

Which is why I joined Gotham Rock Choir. Of course.

Yes, a big piece of this is kicking myself out of my rut, but the GRC provides something more: active discomfort with the activity.

Oh, Absurd, you’re saying, that makes so much sense: of course you should choose to do something which you won’t enjoy.

Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s one thing to get off my ass to do more of the things I’m used to doing, but quite another to push myself to see if I can get easy with something which makes me uneasy. And it requires a commitment, which just magnifies the unease. . . so, y’know, perfect.

If I really don’t like it after this cycle (which ends in December), I won’t re-up. But if the experience doesn’t kill me (which it won’t), maybe I’ll be willing to try something else, discomfort be damned.

If I want there to be something more, then I have to try something more.





Listen to the music: It’s as easy to learn as your ABC

9 09 2013

Oy, what a mess.

I have arranged and re-arranged and re-arranged yet again (and again and again. . .) how I organize my cds. When they were still all in their jewel cases they were kept on a homemade cd rack; to find a cd meant scanning the shelves.

I’d always kept the pop and classical & opera cds apart, but went back and forth on where to put the blues and jazz cds, as well as the soundtracks. Sometimes I’d mix them all together, sometimes I’d keep the blues and jazz separate, sometimes the blues stayed with the pop while the jazz occupied its own space.

This was a manageable problem when I had a couple of hundred cds, but as that doubled (and then trebled), I kept messing with the order. I’d create categories (pop-blues-jazz-world music-soundtracks-electronica-compilations) then wonder what to do with a jazz soundtrack (e.g., Kansas City) or electronic world music (Finnish Ambient Techno Chant). At one point I separated out all of the women—which did not work. At all.

Once I got rid of the jewel cases and moved the cds into boxes—I never wanted to do the sleeves thing, both because I wanted to keep the cd “covers” & inserts and because I didn’t want to keep shifting everything every time I added a cd or decided to reorganize—I kept at the rearranging and sorting and segregating, even though it made less sense to do so once I realized it was easier to print out a list of all of my cds than flip through them looking for a particular artist or band.

Still, I kept to a basic schema of pop/blues-soundtracks-jazz and classical (which, of course, did not jibe with the organization of the printouts). The problem with this organization, however, was that I almost never listened to anything that wasn’t pop-blues: it was the bulk of my collection, I knew it best, so when I’d flip through the cds, I’d start with the pop and never go beyond that.

Thus the mess: This past summer I simplified the non-classical side, tossing everything all together. This has been great, actually, as I make my way more-or-less alphabetically through my collection—I hear more in the mix-up—but has temporarily wrecked my record-keeping of this “listen-to-the-music” venture.

It should be (mostly) smoothed out in the next round, but this one? Oy.

100. Patsy Cline, The Patsy Cline Story
101. Eddie Cochran, The Original Eddie Cochrane
102. Bruce Cockburn, Stealing Fire
103. Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas
104. Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
105. Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate
106. Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room
107. Leonard Cohen, Ten New Songs
108. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
109. Holly Cole, Temptation
110. Holly Cole Trio, Don’t Smoke in Bed
111. Colleen, the golden morning breaks
112. Shawn Colvin, Steady On
113. Shawn Colvin, a few small repairs
114. Paulo Conte, Best of Paulo Conte
115. Continental Drifters, Vermillion
116. The Coral, The invisible invasion
117. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, My Aim Is True
118. Elvis Costello, All This Useless Beauty
119. Elvis Costello, When I Was Cruel
120. Susie Arioli Swing Band, It’s Wonderful
121. Susie Arioli Swing Band, Pennies From Heaven
122. Louis Armstrong, Pure Louis
123. Chet Baker, my funny valentine
124. Big Chill
125. Big Easy
126. Blue Note Festival, Touring Artist Sampler
127. A Chorus Line
128. Mary Coughlan, After the Fall
129. Mary Coughlan, love me or leave me
130. Mary Coughlan, Uncertain Pleasures
131. Cranberries, Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?
132. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle
133. Baku Beyond, The Meeting Pool
134. Stephen Barry, Original
135. Jane Birkin, Arabesque
136. Ketil Bjornstad and David Darling, The River
137. Ray Bonneville, Gust of Wind
138. Jeanie Bryson, Some Cats Know
139. Bill Charlap, Stardust
140. John Coltrane, Impressions





Take it easy

14 06 2013

Another dream about Madison.

It was so vivid, but, of course, it’s now all faded. I was in Madison, with T., in the Union (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Union) and near Lake Mendotat (which, of course, was nothing like the actual Lake Mendota: in my Madison dreams the shoreline is a coastline and lake scallops are oceanic waves), and when I awoke, I was so sad that I wasn’t living there.

Living in that dream-Madison would be so easy; I missed the chance of that Madison-dream.

Of course, that’s just what it was: a dream. Madison is a lovely town (when Scott Walker ain’t around, but it’s no longer for me. I may visit it again on my next sojourn to Wisconsin, and I set a part of my second novel in Madison, but as a real place, it’s not mine.

Part of this is my sense that to live there would be to ‘go backwards’, but more than that, I would always be looking for something beyond what Madison could offer.

This is not a knock on the joint: I’m restless, full stop, and thus unable to indulge he pleasures of staying put.

Then there is the fact that I am made uneasy by ease. Even assuming an identical level of financial uncertainty there as I have here, life in Madison would be easier in every way. You know those t.v. shows or books wherein newcomers are able to find a rich & quirky community life, with beloved hangouts and folks willing to tell-you-what? That would be possible in Madison.

Which is why I can never live there.

Okay, I could live there for a time—for a semester, maybe—but the idea that I would land there and stay there and stay there and there. . . no ma’am.

I’d wonder what I was missing, not just in the what’s-going-on-elsewhere way, but in the sense that ‘this is too easy: what’s the catch’? I always think there’s a catch.

I’m too skeptical, even suspicious, to live easy. This is not a wholly bad thing—looking for something more has its own rewards—but I miss out on the pleasures, and, perhaps, sorrows, of letting it be.

There is a whole other life which is beyond me, a something more available only to those who aren’t searching for that something more.





Oh write me a beacon so I know the way

24 02 2013

dmf is an enabler.

He turned me on to Wallander, which third series I just finished watching.

Okay, note: here be spoilers.

Yes, my weakness for police procedurals was fed by the mischievous dmf, who dangled Kenneth Branagh-as-a-Swedish-cop in front of me, knowing I would bite. It was dark and gloomy and  Wallander was dark and gloomy and the long shots of the prairie and the sea somehow managed to be both peaceful and menacing.

I generally only watched one episode a night. Unlike, say, Waking the Dead, there was little light relief in each episode, nor was it like Numb3rs, where things often turned out okay; no, Wallander was an hour-and-a-half of anxiety, waiting for something to go wrong.

To its credit, things didn’t always go wrong, but, honestly, you knew better than to think the right would last for long.

I’ve only watched a couple of episodes of Luther—Idris Elba, duh!—and really, really enjoy Alice Morgan, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Luther and Wallander share the same dim fortune. Luther’s wife came to him in the last episode I watched, but I bet, as with Wallander’s girlfriend, she won’t be long with him.

But maybe not, maybe the producers will allow him Zoe, if only to keep we viewers on edge wondering if she sticks around (or stays alive). I do have to say that, as much as I liked Vanya, I worried that he was messing things up with her; it was easier after she left.

Anyway, one downside to watching all of these procedurals is that certain plot points are repeated across the various series. This past fall CSI featured a 3D-printed gun; a week or two later, the terribler-and-terribler CSI: New York. . . featured a 3D-printed gun. Brennan was shot in that lousy Bones episode with a bullet that couldn’t be found; a frozen meat bullet (which turned out to be a frozen blood bullet), I hissed, thinking of a similar bullet from, I think, an years-ago CSI.

The plot points aren’t necessarily shared across the entire genre: there are things that show up on the forensic shows that wouldn’t, say, matter much on any of the Law & Order series. The too-creepy-even-for-me Wire in the Blood shares more with the tamer-but-still-creepy Criminal Minds than with, say, the Inspector Lynley series (which I stopped watching because he was so insufferable), or NCIS. And Cold Case was a rather direct theft of Cold Squad.

And, of course, you learn to be far more skeptical than the cops, and to keep an eye out for any halfway-well-known actor: that person almost certainly will figure prominently in the the plot. Both of these can detract somewhat from one’s enjoyment: you the viewer figure things out more quickly not because you’d be a better detective than these folks, but because you can see signals to which the t.v. cops are blind.

Would I have been any kind of detective? I doubt it. For one thing, I had zero desire to become a cop, and it was only in my thirties that I realized how much I liked puzzles—and that only emerged when  wondering what I might have specialized in had I gone to (and made it through) med school. I liked diagnostics, so maybe internal medicine, but more likely, pathology.

In any case, with training I might have been a competent enough detective, but I doubt I’d have been anything more than that, and might not have been even that.

Now, now I’m a competent enough adjunct professor, and trying to be something more than that. Perhaps that’s among the reasons I like procedurals: I’m still trying to puzzle my way through, so I appreciate those moments, even if fictional, when the puzzles have been solved.





Listen to the music: No I don’t want to hear it

13 11 2012

Four hundred and sixty.

That’s how many cds were stolen, four hundred and sixty: 407 pop, et. al., and 53 classical. Of those, I replaced 276 of the stolen pop, and 22 of the stolen classical—which means of course, that 131 pop and 31 classical were not replaced.

I’m no longer exactly sure how my cds are arranged—since they’re now all in my wine-box bureau, i.e., hidden away, I’m much less likely to rearrange them by various genres—but it looks as if my jazz, classical, traditional, and perhaps soundtracks are separated from the pop, blues, and electronica stuff.

So, had my collection not been pilfered, I would have already listened to:

1. Dot Allison, Afterglow
2. American Music Club, Mercury
3. Laurie Anderson, Mister Heartbreak
4. Laurie Anderson, Home of the Brave
5. Laurie Anderson, The Ugly One With the Jewels and Other Stories
6. The Band, The Last Waltz

I would have been able to replace all of these from the used bins while I was living in Montreal, but for whatever reason, I chose not to.

Right after the burglary, I was mad to rebuild my collection exactly as it had been, title for title, whether or not I had listened to or even much liked the lost cd. After awhile, however, I relaxed, and while browsing for the gone-away cds would also be on the lookout for new (used) discs that I wanted more than the old-used discs.

I do remember that I wasn’t terribly impressed with Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak, and while I liked Dot Allison’s cd, there were always others that, on my scavenges, I found more interesting. I can always get that later, I thought.

Yes, I did have renter’s insurance, but there was a limit as to the dollar amount of the cds they’d replace. I bought extra coverage, but it still wasn’t enough to pay for everything. (I’m not complaining: my insurer dealt with me quickly and didn’t contest any of my claims.) Anyway, that my coverage was limited meant that I couldn’t just stroll to the HMV and load up on [outrageously high-priced] new cds.

That was fine, actually, as I preferred with both cds and books* to prowl the used shops. I’m not much of either a shopper or a hunter, but my atavistic impulses emerge at the challenge of trying to find what I want in the bins and on the shelves.

Then there is the added thrill of coming across something that just looks. . . intriguing, and taking it home for the hell of it. Sure, that can happen at a new-goods store, but it seems that kismet is more likely at a hodgepodge kinda joint.

So while I didn’t  replace 162 of the cds (although there are a few I couldn’t find and still pine for), I did end up finding room for hundreds of cds I might not have otherwise.

On the whole, I’d rather I hadn’t been burglarized, but with the music, at least, the loss led to something more.

*Oddly, not one of my books was stolen. I wonder why that was. . . .








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