The morning after

Yesterday, as you will recall, was the spring equinox, which I celebrated not with my usual fête but with twelve solid hours of contemplation.

I may have to do this every year.  It was amazing.

First, of course, the weather was gorgeous: clear, balmy-to-warm, and just enough breeze to ring the windchimes.  Perfect.  I opened the gate as the courthouse chimed noon.

I took a fresh waste book and began writing during the day; whenever I found myself with “nothing” to do, I wrote.  I mused, I recorded, I complained, I transcribed bits from “Leaves of Grass.”

I read, both Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft.

I wrote letters.  Well, half of one letter.

And of course I walked the labyrinth.  No specific topics or problems, just quiet, balanced walks.  Every now and then the morbid part of my mind will escape its restraints, and I will find myself grieving over some putative future time when we have sold the house and are moving, either into a smaller house or some kind of protective custody, and I have to take that “last walk” on my beautiful labyrinth.  But last night, as I was exiting the labyrinth and those thoughts began to bubble up, I said, out loud, “That may be, but this is not that walk.  This is not the consciously last time I walk this labyrinth.”  I think that will be my mantra of gratitude every time I walk.

A little after 7:00 pm, I got up to light the fire, and was astonished to see:

Yes, that’s the westpoint bowl, but look at it: it’s bathed in light, a perfect rectangle.

It’s a reflection of the setting sun on the back windows of the basement, and on the equinox, apparently, we get this stupendously woo-tastic effect.

So, future generations, after the Current Administration throws us all into Mr. Burns: a post-electric play territory, remember that you have a marker for when the sun is making its shift to summer.[1]

Over the course of the day and night, we had a handful of visitors. No huge rush. No conflicting woo-needs.

Finally, after everyone else had left and/or gone to bed, I was alone again.  I walked the labyrinth more than a couple of times, dreamed at the fire, and was in general in a state of gratitude for the day and for the space and for the people.

As midnight chimed, I extinguished the fire and closed the gate.

—————

[1] This is assuming of course that the house is not burned to the ground.

Balance

Today is the Spring Equinox, the day when the sun shares its light with us for exactly half the 24 hours of the day.  From here on out, the sun will rise earlier and set later, giving us more and more — and warmer and warmer —daylight.

Earlier peoples paid a lot more attention to these things than we do, out of necessity.  We are a pattern-making species, and once our brains kicked in, it probably didn’t take long for us to notice the lengthening and shortening of days and the fact that the sun rose and set further and further north or south every day.  I know I would want to create some sort of system to mark those turning points.  Maybe stone pillars in the ground.  Something like that.

Anyway, I like to mark the solstices and the equinoxes with observances in the labyrinth because what’s the point of having an alien landing strip in your back yard if you’re not going to go all hippie-woo in it?

Given that I am an Existential Mystic, I reserve the solstices for actually meaningful observations.  The winter solstice is the Annual Meeting of the Lichtenbergian Society; it is the one of the two high holy days of Lichtenbergianism.[1]  The summer solstice is whatever I choose to make it, but is generally a fire pit kind of night of reflection.

The equinoxes, on the other hand, I don’t mind having a party: friends, spouses, cocktails, funky music on the sound system, laughter, conversation, good times.  If someone wants to walk the labyrinth or ring a bell or two, great; otherwise, let’s chill.

Today, though, I am doing something I’ve never done before: I am holding the labyrinth open for meditation from noon until midnight.  No party, no bar, no loud music.  No loud conversation.  Just me and my kilt and the fire.  I’ll read, I’ll write.  I’ll clean, I’ll tidy.  I’ll walk.  I’ll have my phone, but otherwise I’m offline.

Ceremonies?  Rituals?  Nothing specific, just whatever comes to mind.

What am I looking for?  I don’t know that I’m looking for anything, but I’ll be paying attention to the quiet, to the music, to the space, to gratitude, to balance.

If you’re reading this, and you would like a period of quiet reflection, the gate will be open at noon.  Bring whatever woo you like.

(If you’re in the mood for a party, check back with me in September for the fall equinox.)

—————

[1] The other is July 1, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s birthday.

Adventures in spam commenting

I’ve had some lovely spam comments recently.

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Never would have thunk I would find this so inaelpensdbsi.

Smart thkinnig – a clever way of looking at it.

Good to find an expert who knows what he’s tanlikg about!

Seriously to all you Libs: EAT A FUCKING DICK.Fuck you all.You will always be pussy pieces of shit not worth the sacrifices many good men and women have made for you.I hope you idiots get hit by a bus.There will never be any renolciciation with you scum of the earth. Never. ——(Note: this was an attempted comment on Five Easier Pieces #4: a start.  I mean to say, wot?)

Put money into brazier as well as panties. If you desire to hide an important dimension amount, you will need to begin from the most important core. A good breast support definitely will carry and help your bust line and draw the interest nearly your greatest real estate. A well-fitted bra may also create the phantasm belonging to the more shapely middle. When you are large-chested, go ahead and reveal your current cleavage with a great push-up and even support brassiere. A new weight losing panty might help minimize progresses in addition to protrudes and help a person’s clothes healthy significantly better. Given that Prada is often a top rated developer model, celebrities have the money to purchase plus show it’s design. Megastars including Nicole Kidman, Nicole kidman, Scarlet Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and also Jennifer Aniston all have recently been spotted donning Prada with InStye Magazine. All the developer signifies The movies fashion. Prada also may promote his or her clothing giving specific concepts so that you can super stars to make use of and turn into noticed in it all ——(In response to I don’t even know, which at least was recent.)

Gosh, I wish I would have had that intromafion earlier!

Your cranium must be prietctong some very valuable brains.

Back in school, I’m doing so much lenniarg.

—————

I… I really don’t get it.

The intertubes was not much help:

screen capture from Google books, Hacking: Hacking For Beginners and Basic Security: How To Hack

I understand why you would scramble a word to get past the spam filter—that’s where we got the neologism pron, after all.  But the words being scrambled in the simple sentences above are not going to be on anyone’s watchlist, so there was no need to scramble them.  Plus, as I’ve discussed before, these things don’t even appear to have a link in them, i.e., there’s no trap for you to fall into.  So what gives?

Even more puzzlingly, there must be something embedded in these comments, because otherwise why would the spam filter have gotten most (but not all!) of them?  (The “brazier” one was snagged because the paragraph of gibberish was followed by a torrent of links, always a tip-off.)

Can anyone enlighten me?

 

The root of all evil

Here’s the link to the article imaged below.

Emphasis mine.

This is Gingrich’s modus operandi: he loads everything he says with nasty, vituperative words so that even if you are only paying attention halfway, you cannot avoid feeling revulsion at whatever the hell he’s ranting about.

He’s done this since the 90s, and he’s done it deliberately. If you wonder where Kellyanne Conway or Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly came from, look no further.

Newt Gingrich is why we are where we are today.

Too busy for this.

The motto of the Lichtenbergians is Cras melior est, which means Tomorrow is better,[1] which is an amusing call to “structured procrastination.”  Part of the lesson of our First Precept is to slow down and not produce dreck that needs more time before you share it with an audience.

I personally have extended that lesson to more of life: getting All The Things done is not necessarily the way to happiness or an understanding of yourself and/or the universe.  Being too busy is not a sign of success, in other words. So when I come across a title like “If You’re Too Busy for These 5 Things, Your Life Is More Off Course Than You Think,” I go to check it out to see if there’s any strategy for not-doing that I could learn.

Well.

tl;dr: it’s more Things To Do.

Here’s an outline:

  1. Organizing your life
    1. Environment
    2. Finance
    3. Relations
    4. Health
    5. Spiritual
    6. Time
  2. Plan & Invest in Your Future
  3. Tracking Important Metrics
    1. (He’s currently tracking his income/expenses; new email subscribers; relationships; progress toward goals; weight, muscle-mass, and body fat percentage)
  4. Prayer & Meditation to Reduce Noise
  5. Move Toward Your Goals Every Single Day

That last one is the tell, isn’t it?  His motto is clearly Fac plus ut facere plus possis.[2]  He probably would salivate at this page.

I’m being unfair, of course.  He has found that paying attention to life, all aspects of life, rather than simply flying blind, is a better way to live, and I cannot disagree with him on that idea.  More power to a thoughtful life!

But this Lichtenbergian has found that the metaphor of a plane flight has one important flaw as a guide to thinking about life, and that is that it’s all about getting somewhere.  Your destination.  Your goal.  I’m generally suspicious of this kind of thinking and I almost always have been.  (Back in college I wrote a sonnet about throwing stones: as long as you’re throwing stones, you cannot fail; it’s just when you aim at something that the universe becomes an impediment.)  It’s far too easy to let a goal become your life.

So I thought about it, and I think I have a simpler list of things to keep you on course.

If You’re Too Busy For These 4 Things, Your Life May Be On a Course

  1. MAKING: Making a living?  A home?  A quiet space? Art? Cocktails?
  2. SHARING: Sharing your home?  Your love?  Cocktails?
  3. GIVING: Giving to your community?  To the next generation?  To yourself?[3
  4. SMILING: Seeking for joy? Beauty? Cocktails?

There you go.  That was easy, wasn’t it?

Cheers!

—————

[1] Technically, I’ve been told recently, it ought to be Cras melius est.  But Latin teachers are notoriously disputative, and it’s already on all the t-shirts and mugs.

[2] “Do more so you can do more.”

[3] Specifically, cocktails.

To our children we shall say…

There is a piece of music running through my head, and I do not want to write this blog post.

In the early 80s, probably 1983, I ordered a pre-bundled set of Newbery Award winners for the media center at East Coweta High School, because the collection I had inherited in 1980 was particularly weak on fiction.[1] One of the titles that I pulled from that box was the 1982 winner, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, by Nancy Willard.  I was a little nonplussed.

This was a picture book.  Surely the Newbery committee had made a mistake.  Then I opened it.

I will admit that the first thing that I loved about the book was the illustrations.  They’re beautiful, muted gouache paintings with deft architectural fantasies and adorable animal portraits.  (It was 2002 before I realized that Alice and Martin Provensen illustrated my favorite book as a child, The Color Kittens.)

Then I started to read it.

WHEN WE COME HOME, BLAKE CALLS FOR FIRE

Fire, you handsome creature, shine.
Let the hearth where I confine
your hissing tongues that rise and fall
be the home that warms us all.

When the wind assaults my doors
every corner’s cold but yours.
When the snow puts earth to sleep
let your bright behavior keep

all these little pilgrims warm.
They who never did you harm
raise their paws a little higher
and toast their toes, in praise of fire.

I was in love.

I began to set some of the poems to music.  “When We Come Home, Blake Calls for Fire” was first.  I know I did “William Blake’s Inn for Innocent and Experienced Travelers” and “The Tiger Asks Blake for a Bedtime Story” and “The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives” before I stopped.  After all, I did not have the rights to create a song cycle from this book, and having received a firmly worded letter from Dr. Seuss’s estate when I asked permission for my one-act opera version of Green Eggs & Ham, I was not about to ask Nancy Willard.  The work went into the “trunk.”

Fast forward to 2002, when I was retiring as artistic director of the Newnan Community Theatre Company.  Having decided to go out in a blaze of glory, I translated The Marriage of Figaro, which was every bit as hard to pull off as you might imagine,[2] so when my lovely first wife came home from her book club to say that Bette had a project she wanted me to work on, I snapped, “Not until November 10!”, which I repeated to Bette herself when she immediately launched into her pitch the next time we met.

The project was to audition/train/accompany a dozen young people, ages 8–13, to an international get-together in our sister city of Ayr, Scotland.  Other than airfare, all expenses would be paid.  Well, OK, sure, why not?

The deal was that the Scottish Opera had this little touring thing, two adult singers and as many children as you could cram onstage, based on their national poem, “Tam O’Shanter,” by Robbie Burns.  They had premiered it the year before, and Ayr was inviting all its sister cities to send kids to take part in it again.  We were there with students from Norway, Germany, and of course Scotland.  It was huge fun.

On the plane home, the adults in the party decided that Newnan could do the same thing, invite all our new friends to the U.S. to perform in some unidentified work.  I remembered William Blake’s Inn.  I opened my laptop, put on my headphones, and gave it a listen.

Hm, I thought, not bad.

When we got back home, we had a meeting of the interested adults and I played for them the pieces I had.  They liked it.  Let’s do it.

But that meant I had to ask Nancy Willard for her permission.

This inn belongs to William Blake…

I printed out the songs I had, made a CD of the fairly shabby MIDI realizations, and wrote a letter pleading for permission—or at the very least, hope that she wouldn’t sic her lawyers on me.

A couple of weeks later, there was email.  nawillard@vassar.edu.  I stopped breathing.  I may have cried.  I opened it.

Dale,  good heavens–of course you have my permission.  What a wonderful
gift appeared in the mail today–all those songs!

And that’s how I became friends with Nancy Willard.

It took me another couple of years to finish setting all the poems to music, and then I had to orchestrate it, so it was not until 2007 that we felt we were ready to put it front of the public.  The whole time Nancy was generous and encouraging.  And then we met her!

We had gone to New York and I emailed Nancy to see if she and Eric Lindbloom, her husband, could come down from Poughkeepsie to have lunch.  They did, and she was exactly in person the way she was in correspondence and in all the videos and interviews I had seen of her: funny, kind, super-smart.

We discovered many shared habits, including that of writing ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS at the top of new work (she used the term WASTED EFFORTS).  Finally, as we were parting, I pulled out the two copies of William Blake’s Inn, my original paperback and the hardback I had bought to put on display whenever we performed so that I didn’t risk losing the copy I had composed from.

Oh, she said, she’d have to take them with her.  My heart sank.  What if I never got them back?

But no: she needed to take them home with her because she didn’t just autograph them. She painted in them.

Make Believe,
and make it strong and clear…

Finally, on May 3, 2007, we had a “backers audition,” where my intrepid group of volunteers sang the whole work, with what we called “cardboard and hot glue” staging of “The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives” and “Two Sunflowers Move Into the Yellow Room.”  The idea was to get a commitment from various individuals/organizations in the community to actually stage the work for the international thing.

Everyone loved the music.  No one stepped up to take on the project.

I will be honest: perhaps I could have done what I always do, which is to just do it all myself.  But I refused.  For one thing, I had a son in college; I didn’t have the cash to throw at the project (like I did with Figaro just to get it done right).  For another, I was tired of all these “supporters of the arts” not actually supporting any arts.  I was resentful.  So we just put it on the back burner, where it has stayed.

Through the years, I’ve made a few feeble efforts: a friend gave it to the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, who passed it on to the Chicago Children’s Theatre, who passed it on to the Chicago Symphony, where I’m sure it was discarded.  I’ve offered it to UGA, to the Springer, to the Center for Puppetry Arts.  But no one’s interested.  It’s too short (40+ min) for a mainstage show, and too complicated for a children’s piece.  It was written as a song cycle for adult singers.  It can’t really be done with just a piano; the later pieces were written for orchestra without going through the piano first. There is no script, no plot; whoever did it would have to do an enormous amount of development to flesh it out—which I think is the most interesting part about it.  But I know it’s not an out-of-the-box piece.

And so it languishes.

Last spring, I emailed Nancy because I was working on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, and I couldn’t remember the term she used for Abortive Attempts. I got back an email from Eric, asking me to call him.  Nancy had fallen the summer before.  She was mostly bedridden and in decline.  I didn’t share with anyone what I knew, because it was clear they were keeping it private.  As Nancy said to Eric, “It’s not like it was before, is it?”

Then a couple of months ago I got an email from a teacher in Idaho.  I-DA-HO, KENNETH.  Could her small charter school perform William Blake’s Inn?

I wrote Nancy to tell her.  And then I wrote her again last month to remind her that although she had always demurred at discussing financial arrangements for when those huge royalty checks started pouring in, I was reminding her that I had decreed that we would make it a 60/40 split.[4]

I got a letter, dated Feb 18, from Eric.  Nancy was resting comfortably, still at home, but in hospice care.

Nancy Willard died the following day, Feb 19, 2017.

Part of my grief at losing her is that we never staged the work completely.  never staged the work completely. We never got to have her as a guest at the dazzling international premiere so that she could receive the tribute that she certainly deserved.  I’m angry at the world, I’m angry at Newnan, I’m angry with myself.  I failed my friend.

Now students at Moscow Charter School, in Moscow, ID, will be performing William Blake’s Inn in May. Are they capable of doing a fully staged production with orchestra?  No, but here’s what I learned from Nancy Willard: if you’re given the gift, you give it again.  Just as I was given the chance to create something new and beautiful from Nancy’s deeply meaningful poems, I look forward to seeing what those students come up with.  I’m hoping to work with them via Skype to bring their ideas to life.

We’ll start our journey as children,/but I fear we will finish it old.

Now “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way,” the great central piece of the entire work, won’t leave my head.  Those opening chords, which return to such great effect in the “Epilogue,” keep up their chime, and the recapitulation at He gave silver stars to the Rabbit, with its unexpected and gorgeous major key take on the mysterious first theme—they’re on permanent loop, reminding me of the beautiful beautiful soul who gave me permission to create them.  I know that if I listen too carefully, I will grieve outright.  I’m okay with that.

My adventures now are ended.
I and all whom I befriended
from this holy hill must go
home to lives we left below.

Farewell cow and farewell cat,
rabbit, tiger, sullen rat.
To our children we shall say
how we walked the Milky Way.

You whose journeys now begin,
if you reach a lovely inn,
if a rabbit makes your bed,
if two dragons bake your bread,
rest a little for my sake,
and give my love to William Blake.

—————

[1] My predecessor had righteously sniffed that a liberrary was for research.  If the chillren wanted to read for fun, they could do that at home.  The fact that most of our clientele came from homes without books seemed to be irrelevant to this woman.

[2] What made me think we could even do such a thing? A hugger-mugger performance of Green Eggs & Ham at a Reading[3] several years previously—I stole the joyous ending of the piece from the Act II finale of Figaro.

[3] I’ll explain some other time.

[4] Her resistance to business dealings was extraordinary.  In her original email she pointed me to the rights department at Harcourt, the publisher of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, where they explained to me that they didn’t own the copyright—she did.

Great moments in package design

The other night, while dining at home ‘neath the candle-light — as one does — my eye fell on the matchbox:

Did you see it?  No, not the ludicrous “Fueled by the Diamond™ Ignition System” thing.  The other thing.  The “NEW LOOK!” thing.

I mean to say, wot?

I have a few questions.  Number one, WHO DESIGNS SUCH A THING?  Number two, WHO ASKS FOR SUCH A THING TO BE DESIGNED?

I mean, here’s the old one:

The old one is actually a cleaner design!  I am reminded of the classic “Microsoft Designs the iPod Packaging” video, which if you haven’t seen, you really should.

So I guess the embedded question is WHY?  Why would someone do this?  Sometimes the NEW LOOK! thing is an indicator that the package now contains less Windex or fewer Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but that is clearly not the case here. The back of the new box gives us a clue:

There it is: The match tip in this product contains perchlorate materials.  Special handling may apply in California.  With a link. We had to redesign the box to include a hazardous waste warning so that we could continue selling the product in the world’s sixth largest economy.

That’s fine, but the fact remains that the NEW LOOK! blurb is stupendously ridiculous.  I know for a fact — because I know these kinds of things — that not a single soul on this planet of 7 billion people has ever walked down the aisle of a store and stopped, lured in by the promise of a NEW LOOK! on a box of Diamond™ matches, and said, “Hey, honey, come over here!  These matches have a NEW LOOK!  Imma buy me some of them.”  NOT ONE, KENNETH.

This is why the aliens won’t talk to us.

A quick side note:

“Flavor Protect™ Wrapper”?  Really, Land O’Lakes?  Really?  It’s just a wax paper wrapper.  You have to name it?  Market it?  Trademark it?

Now the aliens are just laughing at us.