New music: “The Ballad of Miss Ella”

You might have been expecting further posts about Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, and you would be justified in thinking that surely I had either a) written more on the book itself; and/or b) whined my way further into The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP].

However, I had a deadline, which I have met by ignoring all those other creative bits.

Miss Ella is a performer extraordinaire who hails from New Orleans.1  She was a chanteuse at her own nightclub, the Kingfisher Club, and was forced to flee back in 2005 during that “unfortunate storm,” as she refers to it.  She managed to save her neon sign and her piano player and headed out into the world to share her gifts.

She herself was saved only through a miracle, and during the storm and ensuing events she found that she had been gifted with extraordinary shamanic powers, you guys, powers that she is now committed to using to the betterment of mankind.  Plus the singing.

I cannot tell you how honored I was when she asked me to write an opening number for her act, one that would serve as an introduction and explanation for her beautiful, empowering story.  I wrote one version for her, but she gently spurred me to try again2 and I’m glad she did, because this time I got it right.

When she told me last Friday that she had a show coming up and expressed a desire that the new version be in her hands STAT, I set to work.  One never wants to disappoint Miss Ella.

Here then is “The Ballad of Miss Ella,” subtitled “The Spirit Is Coming in Me”: score [pdf] |


1 Actually she’s from Pascagoula, MS, but she does not often refer to those early days.

2 I believe her exact words were, “Here’s a YouTube.  I really like it, don’t you?


I’ve been reading The Fire Starter Sessions, by Danielle LaPorte, as one of the potential competitors for Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.  It’s not really a competitor, but it is a very good “get off your butt and do what you love” kind of guide, so I’ve been reading it and journalling answers to the worksheet questions at the end of each chapter.

The worksheet for this last chapter, “The metrics of ease,” though, has me flummoxed.  Here are the questions:

  • What exactly needs to get done in your life and livelihood?
  • What’s your competency level for each activity?
  • Which of those activities actually makes you feel strengthened?
  • Which of those activities doesn’t really light your fire?
  • What can you do to develop these strengths and interests?
  • What three actions will you take this week to condition and nourish your true strengths?
  • What three actions will you take this week to decrease your time spent on activities that drag you down and don’t feed your true strengths?


I’m kind of reading this book to get a grip on how much I really want to be some kind of workshop leader/TED Talk sort of thing, and so this chapter stopped me cold.

What exactly needs to get done in my life and livelihood?  Empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, clean the litter box, cook some meals.  Honestly, that’s about it.  The rest of it—blogging, composing, writing, volunteering, Camping with the Hippies™—is completely optional.  If I stopped tomorrow,1 it would not make a sound in the forest.2

So then the rest of the questions become moot, don’t they?  Do they?  Should I forget that I literally have no obligations other than to wear pants and not smell in public and pretend that she’s asking about what I wish I were doing? (Or do I?)

Understand that I am not indulging in self-pity.  I am honestly at a loss as to how I should answer that first question in terms of planning my third career.

More work is required.


1 I am not stopping tomorrow.

2 For those who are just joining us, I am retired, in the sense of “Governor Nathan Deal moved the Governor’s Honors Program from the Department of Education where it had been for literally 50 years to his own Office of Student Achievement and didn’t care to move the director of the program with it.”

We’re doomed.

Oy.  From the FaceTubes, a comment on a friend’s posting about Donald Drumpf’s call for violence from the podium:

So, the fact of the matter is that the leftwing (primarily blacks and hispanics) violently attack impoverished whites tens of millions of times each year in america. We are a very violenced, crushed people and the oppression is building against us, and people act offended if we mention it and then commit violence against us some more to make themselves feel better. I’m exactly sure how empowered white libs are able to sweep this under the rug: they want poor, unempowered whites eliminated from society due to the violent cut-throat competitive ideology of the left. Look into how non-white poverty is tended to versus white poverty, and it’s shocking that this nation is committing a genocide against multi-generationally impoverished whites in front of everybody’s face, and everybody’s mad at the impoverished whites enduring it and still trying to silence and slaughter them. it’s happening in Britain as well. Trump is the first time we as whites have had something like representation in this country. He’s not ideal, but at least he gets it and is brave enough to face black/brown violence and do the right thing. Remember, rightwing whites aren’t the ones calling for violence. The left is just implementing some sort of Opposite Day brainwash as they pull this genocide off. The bible talks all about it.

I mean to say, what??

It’s a solid wall of paranoia, a veritable Plato’s Cave of alternate reality, and I don’t really know how to approach it.  For one thing, there’s not a single verifiable fact in the whole post.

  • blacks and hispanics violently attack impoverished whites tens of millions of times each year in america
  • [impoverished whites] are a very violenced, crushed people
  • oppression is building against us
  • “people” act offended if we mention it
  • commit violence against us to make themselves feel beter
  • white libs want poor whites eliminated from society
  • violent cut-throat competitive ideology of the Left [what??]
  • non-white poverty vs. white poverty
  • this nation is committing a genocide against multi-generationally impoverished whites
  • trying to silence and slaughter them
  • It’s happening in Britain
  • Trump is the first time whites have had something like representation in this country [what??]
  • [Trump] gets it and is brave enough to face black/brown violence
  • rightwing whites aren’t the ones calling for violence
  • the bible talks all about it.

Mercy. I can’t mock this because it’s so sad.  The author is stuck in a fever-swamp of resentment, and I’m willing to believe that from where he sits there’s a lot to resent.  For a good long read, far better written and more qualified to say so than I, see “I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump,” by Jonna Ivin.

It would be easy to dismiss this posting by saying that the author is mentally unstable in some way, but I think we need to be careful in ascribing our opponents’ political views to insanity (or stupidity).  Certainly, if this man truly believes what he has written—although indeed my first reaction was to re-read it as satirical (cf. Poe’s Law)—then we must ask ourselves how we can deal with him and those like him.

Attacking him won’t work, of course; it would just confirm his worldview, not to mention being unkind.

If he were a personal friend, I might ask him to explain his concerns in a personal narrative, i.e., what has happened to you to convince you of these truths?  Sometimes that allows the narrator to begin to realize that those Others might have the same story and in fact might be the victims of the same system as he.

Sidebar: I do think that unempowered poor whites are victimized. Their jobs have vanished, their neighborhoods decayed, their healthcare nonexistent.  Their death and suicide rates are rising.  But I can’t see that the “Left” (by which our author seems to mean “Stalin” or something) has done this.  On the contrary, it’s the conservative business class who have created the economic situation that oppresses the poor.  I don’t think that the overlords have done this “to” the poor whites, however; they don’t actually give a shit about whom their transactions might harm.  But asking our author here to pick through any kind of Marxist dialectic is expecting Plato’s cave dwellers to break their own chains.

The friend on whose feed this was posted is a kinder, gentler hippie than I, and she asked him if he had any links to the “tens of millions” of acts of violence against poor whites, or to the “genocide” being perpetrated in front of everybody’s face.  I’m not sure this will have any kind of effect since having data is not the kind of thing this type of speaker usually does, and I’m not sure he has a firm grasp of the technical meaning of “genocide.”  But kudos for her for trying the Socratic approach!

Mostly I find this man’s post depressing and disturbing, because he is not alone.  Donald Trump is clearly and deliberately appealing to this very attitude of victimization with every step of his campaign, and just as clearly there is nothing anyone can do to break that spell he has woven.  The very fact that there are no facts in the post—or in Donald Trump’s spewings from the campaign stump—means we are dealing with millions of stampeded amygdalas, and there is no way to stop that stampede with rational measures.  All we can do is hope that when they plummet off the cliff that they don’t drag us along with them.

But it’s not looking good.

“Gestures of approach”: a personal response to a scholarly article

In the most recent edition of Caierdroia: the journal of mazes & labyrinths [v.45, 2016], I was struck by the following quote:

As Ullyatt notes in “Gestures of approach”: aspects of liminality and labyrinths, “A threshold constitutes a boundary line or marginal area… from which a movement inward or outward may be inferred, even if not necessarily pursued….”1

Given my interest in all things liminal, I tracked down Tony Ullyatt’s article, published in Literator [32(2) Aug 2011: 103-134] and gave it a read.  Here are some thoughts.

Summary: Ullyatt discusses some definitions of liminality, discriminates between two- and three-dimensional aspects of labyrinths, summarizes various descriptors of the labyrinth walking process, and finishes up with a “brief consideration of the liminal significance of the Knossos Labyrinth’s location on the isle of Crete.”

For those just joining us, a limen is a boundary; the term—as liminal and liminality—has been appropriated by ritual scholars (Turner, Van Gennep, et al.) to describe the boundaries between “real” life and the mental/social/spiritual states entered into by practitioners of various rituals: shamans, priests, labyrinth walkers, artists,etc.  I have used it in  Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy to link ritual, the Hero’s Journey, and the creative process.

Essentially, the liminal state is where we are when we strike out from the normal (State A1) and find ourselves in unfamiliar territory (State B).  With any luck, we will return to State A2, changed/triumphant/renewed.  If we’re talking about labyrinths, that boils down to entering/center/leaving.  That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

What I found curious about Ullyatt’s article was that he (she?) takes the OED definition of liminality and springs from the concept of “threshold” to discuss the opening of the labyrinth as an entrance to a house, i.e., entering a labyrinth is in some way similar to returning to one’s own hearth.  It seems to me that this is missing an essential element of any labyrinth: crossing the threshold of a labyrinth is not returning in any way but rather a leaving, a striking out from State A1 to arrive at State B.

Yes, “threshold” implies a house/home, but Ullyatt has not considered that, like Bilbo Baggins, we may find ourselves over that threshold following a road that goes “ever on.”  Or that we may someday need to break through a wall and make a new door where there was not one before so that we can create new paths for ourselves.  We may go into a labyrinth, but I think it is the same as going into the woods: in no way are we seeking the familiar when we do so.

As we Lichtenbergians say, while sitting around the fire pit beside my labyrinth,

Take the pathway
to explore
Return to the fire
to confirm

Ullyatt goes on to talk about the labyrinth as sacred space, quoting Eliade:

The sacred is always dangerous to anyone who comes into contact with it unprepared, without having gone through ‘the gestures of approach’ that every religious act demands.

This concept has always interested me since I have found, both with my labyrinth and especially with the 3 Old Men labyrinth, that there is a tension between the expectation of “dangerous approach” and the reality of these two labyrinths.  Indeed, at the burns we have found that many people express trepidation in entering the labyrinth, especially when the Old Men are officiating.  (We are fairly awe inspiring.)

My take is that the burners who pull back from entering/experiencing the labyrinth are responding to the labyrinth’s powerful pull as a sacred space and to their own fear that they don’t know the “gestures of approach” that will allow them to enter it safely.  I also believe that they recognize somehow that to enter the labyrinth is to strike out to the unknown, to leave State A—and who knows what State B could even be? If you’re a hippie who’s just trekking down to see the Effigy or to boogie at Incendia, that may not be on your agenda.

As Ullyat asks in a series of pertinent questions:

Apart from the certainty of the path itself, what expectations might we have about what could happen to us, psychologically at least, on the journey to the centre? Where are we heading? And in which direction? Are we moving “inwards” and, if so, what does that mean geographically, physically, psychologically, or spiritually? When we arrive at the centre, where are we then? Have we arrived at some sort of inner sanctum, the core of our being, the central purpose of our journey, after which our lives will be changed in some manner forever? What were we expecting to find at the centre? Have those expectations been met, and, if so, in what ways and to what extent? What are we meant to discover there? […] At the centre, are we only halfway through our travels? Uncertainty seems unavoidable unless we are made ready for the experience.

… Further, we might ask: Is the obliteration of the self, even temporarily, one consequence of arriving at the centre?

I wouldn’t go in either.

Of course, the Old Men are not there to guard the space, although that may be difficult for the average hippie to discern by torchlight.  We simply hold the space for anyone to encounter on their own terms.  We knew going into our first burn that we would host drunken revelers, smart-ass kids, and idiots.  All are welcome to enter, race through, step over the walls, laugh riotously, and in general miss the point.   That’s perfectly fine.  We’re not there to enforce orthodoxy.  Or heterodoxy, for that matter.

I will note here that the labyrinth of the 3 Old Men presents an interesting variation and challenge on the usual definition of labyrinth and the process of walking one.  First of all, there’s not one path, there are four—and each of those four paths split and rejoin twice before reaching the center.  We often see burners enter the labyrinth under the assumption that they are encountering a maze—that is, they are there to solve a puzzle and must be on guard not to be tricked—only to find, if they’ve chosen the “wrong turn” that they are merely in a simple loop and cannot be tricked except by their own expectations.  However, it is undeniable that there is an element of choice present in this labyrinth that is simply not there in the traditional unicursal design, from which entrance to use through the splits in each path to which exit to take.

Further, when the Old Men are officiating, the shape of the experience changes.  Without them, participants can walk to the center and back—the usual A/B/A journey (albeit with the above-mentioned choices to make).  When we’re standing at the entrances, though, there’s another, significant focal point.  After journeying “there and back again,” the walker is offered an additional, final opportunity to find meaning in the experience: depending on which Old Man he encounters, he will be offered a blessing, a request for a blessing, or a struggle (however he defines it).  I would be interested to know whether most participants regard that final encounter as in fact “final,” the end of their experience; or, as I see it, a second “beginning,” a hippie equivalent to Ite, missa est.3  I imagine that mileage varies.4

At any rate, in the second half of the article Ullyatt goes on to lose the thread of his topic with a meandering discussion of three-dimensionality, i.e., the space around labyrinths, and something something Minotaur.  He does note that a labyrinth is a “sheltered space,” that “the space around the labyrinth (rather than just the area the labyrinth itself occupies) may offer some sense of spiritual refuge and safety.”  I have certainly found this to be the case, both in my own back yard and with 3 Old Men.  Even with the camp next door blaring karaoke “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or Incendia’s DJ whomp-whomping away across the road, burners have told us repeatedly how calming they have found our installation—and now that we’ve been to enough burns, they look for us to provide that refuge.

Liminality.  It’s a thing.


1 Louët, A.P., & J.K.H. Geoffrion. “Labyrinth doorways: crossing the threshold.” Caierdroia, 45: 11-31.  This was a discussion of representations of literal doorways at the entrances to floor labyrinths and need not concern us here.

2 Lyles, et al. The Book of the Labyrinth. The Path.

3 Said at the end of the Catholic Mass.

4 Deserving of some thought and analysis, but not here: what choices are being made by those who leave by the “front” entrance to the labyrinth, i.e., the octagonal mat with our bowl of white kaolin body paint, and where there is no officiant?

Lies—why does it always have to be lies?

I am connected on the Facetubes to several individuals who are—and I am being as kind as I can here—seriously whacked rightwing nutjobs.

Because I am trying to be a better person every day and in every way,  I generally do not respond to the crap they post about politics, but merciful Cthulhu they have gotten on my last nerve.

I present to you some of the stuff they have posted this week.

::sigh:: Who makes this stuff up?  It’s not true, it’s never true, and yet people post this crap all the time.  First of all, “beloved photo”?  Really?  Okay, sure, maybe members of the DAR all have this on their walls, I don’t know.  But it’s not even a good photo.

But again, who made this up? And why do people believe it?  That second question can be answered with “Because they want to preen their patriotic feathers.”  They are patriots; you are not.  “They hate us because of our freedoms.”  No, not really, and embracing chauvinism as a virtue is not very attractive.

But who made this up?

Yeah, I get it.  We can’t handle the truth.  For differing values of truth, apparently.  What does the geography and culture of the Middle East have to do with… I don’t even know what their point is here, other than they hate Muslims.  And yes, dear, you’re a racist, even though Islam is a religion, not a race, and socialism has nothing to do with the Nazi SS.  Those are your guys, not ours.

Stock photo of black woman.  √ Anti-Obama rant. √  Absolutely no basis in facts… √√

The idea that the “rest of us” are worse off than in 2008 is laughably false.  No, salaries are not where they need to be, but that ain’t because Barack Obama “gave away jobs”—how does that even work??  I think it’s a hoot that whatever rightwinger cooked this one up at least gives black people credit for paying taxes; their usual position is that Those People are moochers.

It’s a lie.  Cf., “I’m a racist,” above.

And then there’s Hillary.  There’s plenty that can be said about Clinton that is true1; why post absolute fabrications?

Created for a Photoshop contest.

Nothing in this meme is true.  Nothing.

And now we have the whole tsimmes about who poops where.  The ignorance and cruelty is astounding.

Oy.  You can see why I don’t respond on the Facetubes to these idiots.  Can you imagine trying to get them to comprehend, much less empathize with, those whose gender is not the same as their birth certificate? Why, it would be almost as hard as getting them to understand and admit that the problem they’re trying to solve2 doesn’t exist.

Would it be snide of me to mention that the individual who posted most of these also posts this:

Yeah, you’re right, it would be.  So I won’t.


1 Check out any Bernie supporter’s Facetube feed if you don’t believe me.

2 Spoiler alert: they’re not trying to solve it.  They’re trying to fear-monger to get out the amygdala-dweller vote.

New(ish) cocktail: Honey Please

I was looking through my cocktail notebook last night and decided to test one of my originals that I think I only made the one time.  It didn’t sound as if it would actually be viable; best to make sure, and if not, strike it out of the notebook.  ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS and all that.

As it turns out, it wasn’t an ABORTIVE ATTEMPT, but it was a SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.  The original was simply American Honey and Galliano, but in a burst of inspiration I added Amaro Nonino to it, and now, pending further testing, it works.

Honey Please

  • 1 oz American Honey
  • 1 oz Galliano
  • 1 oz Amaro Nonino
  • 3 dashes orange flower water (optional)
  • basil leaf/lemon peel garnish

Yes, the garnish is a bit twee, but a little showing off never hurt anyone: make two slits in the basil leaf and thread the lemon through it.  If you have a classy triangular pick, stick that through there too.

I’m out of Amaro Nonino, so further testing is moot at this point.  More work is required.

Mousie Music

The other day, the incomparable Berkely Breathed put up on his Facebook page the following strip:

His apology is directed to the equally incomparable B. Kliban:

This reminded me that years and years and years ago—the heyday of Kliban’s cat comics—a melody popped into my head for these lyrics.  It’s nothing like the cartoon would suggest, but it was catchy and enjoyed a certain vogue amongst the young people who hung about at the theatre in those days.

It has occurred to me that I ought to drag it out (of my head—it’s never been written down that I remember) and see if it would work for my “hero’s theme” for my Unidentified Music Project.  It’s certainly catchier than any of my ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS in the linked blogpost.  The trick will be to see how flexible it is for variations.  More work, as we say, is required.


“Love to Eat Them Mousies” | pdf |

P.S. To the estate of B. Kliban: I have no intention of using these lyrics in any way, so unsharpen your pencils and put your cease & desist letters away.  Your copyright is not threatened, at least no more than the intertubes has already threatened it.

About those goals…

I’m using a piece of software called Scrivener to write Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, and a very good piece of software it is, too.

One of the many tools it offers is the ability to project word count goals and to see how you’re doing in the current session.  If you tie your session goals to your putative finish date, it will tell you how many words you need to rip out in that session in order to stay on track.

Because of one Camping With the Hippies™ or another, I’ve been a bit slack in writing:


7,500 words for today in order to “finish” by tomorrow. That’s okay.  I have to reset my total word count goal upwards anyway: each chapter is working out to be around 2,000 words, and that’s before I go back and work in charming illustrative anecdotes from all the Lichtenbergians.

N.B.: I could too do it, if I wanted to.  So there.


Lichtenbergianism: Pitch perfect

Today in our continuing book study of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP], we look at the pitch.

There are two kind of pitches: 1) the elevator pitch, which is over by the time the elevator gets to the next floor, and 2) your long-form pitch. [p.70]

I keep trying to come up with a snappy elevator pitch:

  • Art & Fear only funny”?
  • How to Write a Novel in 30 Days for slackers”?
  • Twilight, but well-written. And no vampires”?

Perhaps, as the authors1 also suggest, my subtitle is the elevator pitch: “procrastination as a creative strategy, or how I stopped worrying  and learned to love doing it wrong.”

“The Mouse Whose Name Is Time,” by Robert Francis—click to read the whole amazing poem

The long-form pitch is no less simple.  It’s supposed to be a paragraph or two, but still under a minute.

How about:

In 2007 a small group of creative amateurs founded a society dedicated to celebrating their procrastination and found, to their amazement, that their productivity improved. Now they share the secret of their success with nine “precepts,” ways to re-organize your thinking about how you create and why.  Sometimes counter-intuitive and usually amusing, their strategies distill some of the most obvious secrets of the creative process to free you from your own mindblocks.

Hm.  How about:

Sure, you can buy a book to help you cure your procrastination, but why would you? Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy frees you from the worry and the guilt—and shows you how to use your bad habits to become more productive in your creative life.  No matter whether you’re a writer, an artist, a composer, a programmer, a gardener, or any other creative type, the Nine Precepts of Lichtenbergianism will give you ways to rethink your creative habits and give yourself permission to succeed—by failing!

That’s better, and more in sync with the tone of the book.

Tomorrow is better!  That’s the motto of the Lichtenbergian Society, a group of creative men who bonded over their shared tendency to procrastinate and found that they became more productive because of it. Now Lichtenbergian chair Dale Lyles shows you how you, too, can stop worrying about your bad habits and learn to love your own creative process.  Whether you’re a frustrated writer, artist, composer, gardener, or programmer, you’ll find new ways to think about how you create and why, from Task Avoidance to Successive Approximation to Ritual to Abandonment—if you give yourself permission to fail, you give yourself permission to create.  It’s that simple!

One more:

Are you a creative genius?  No, only Mozart is a creative genius, and you are not him.  But you are creative—yes, you are, admit it—and you want to overcome your fears and your bad habits so that you can write that novel/paint that painting/compose that song/program that app.  Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy gives you nine Precepts, ways to restructure your thinking about how you create and why so that you can just get to work and create the work of your dreams. But not today.  Tomorrow is better.

And I’m spent.


1 I keep saying “the authors” because it’s easier than typing out their names: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.


Yesterday, I tackled the Dill Plant That Ate Newnan again.



This is the third time I’ve done this since it sprang back from the freezing cold this winter.  It is irrepressible. And it’s trying to colonize the butterfly garden in front of it.

No lie, I had to get the pruner to cut through the stalks,  and the frondage I carried to the street weighed about 15-20 pounds.  I suppose I should dig the whole thing up, but I don’t have the heart.  All I can do is cut it back down so that the sprinkler can get to the rest of the garden.

If you ever need dill, you know where to find it.