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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Early morning dark, rain falling, weekday-getting-ready routine, mildly melancholy-infused thoughts

Like a small campfire under a heavy canopy of conifer trees, the living room end table lamp creates a hub of visual warmth and light once I switch it on this dark early morning. The light radiates outward across the living room in fading concentric circles. Out the apartment window I can see cars moving slowly and quietly through the intersection of my little Hollywood-set-esque "downtown." The occasional pedestrian, hood up and slouching against the falling rain, shuffles sleepily in and out of the Starbucks across the road. Somewhere outside I hear a dog barking energetically for a few seconds, then back to the relative silence of the street and rain. The street lights glow, just like my end table lamp, and reflect in the rain puddles and the shimmering wet of the cobblestone-like street below. Most of the storefronts are only partially illuminated, still closed until an hour of morning yet to come.

In a future that feels almost like a past I’m positive is there—
But where? I think my life is still all conversation,
Only now it’s with myself. I can see it continuing forever,
Even in my absence, as I close the windows and turn off the lights
And it begins to rain.
   - John Koethe, from Ninety-Fifth Street
Celebrating our differences is one thing, living them is still something else. We are still sorted and described by the things that make us different (which, I suppose, is what the whole notion of "difference" is all about). As Kermit so famously sang, "It isn't easy being green." Kermit also sang:
Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide
So we've been told and some choose to believe it
I know they're wrong wait and see
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me
   - from, The Rainbow Connection, written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
Early morning dark, rain falling, weekday-getting-ready routine, mildly melancholy-infused thoughts, I suppose. What is the freedom of choice? " individual's opportunity and autonomy to perform an action selected from at least two available options, unconstrained by external parties." (Wikipedia's definition works as well as any I've seen). But, really, what isn't "unconstrained by external parties" in a connected society? Every free choice is a negotiation with some sort of cost or consequence, maybe very small or maybe large.
Still, my grandmother takes my hand downtown
pulls me right past the restaurants that have to let us sit
wherever we want now. No need in making trouble,
she says. You all go back to New York City but
I have to live here
    - Jacqueline Woodson, from what everybody knows now

Life is nothing, if not complicated.

But I like a rainy tuesday early morning like this one. I move to the kitchen and turn on the back right stove burner, the smallest burner where my little espresso pot, already set up last night with finely ground yerba mate, waits. I microwave a cup of whole milk, and wait for the pot to build up pressure and force the water up through the mate and into the upper chamber. Combine: my mate latte is ready. The only latte choice remaining is whether to take the time to enjoy it here or pour it into my thermos and enjoy it when I get to campus. I grab my thermos.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hacking Gavin's woodpile

Friday, ever popular and confident, swaggers in with sunshine in his face and the weekend in his back pocket. The colors along the lane leading to the freeway are all oranges, yellows, and reds, made fluorescent by the morning sun's backlighting.

One can be tired, stressed, worried, distracted, disquieted, frustrated, angry, or even indifferent, but in that singular visual moment when Friday works his magic with sunlight and color it is all forgotten. This is a living-in-the-moment gift, a being present present.

Just don't turn on the news.
And everywhere the free space fills
Like a punctured diving suit and I'm
Paralyzed in the face of it all
Cursed with the curse of these modern times
   - Bruce Cockburn, from Gavin's Woodpile
Living in the moment can be difficult, though, when the information rushing in is all so horrific and hard to fathom. When I feel increasingly disconnected from the society in which I live because the risen order of the day is ripping access to life itself, let alone quality of life, from so many while fundamentally reshaping our nation's evidenced values to reflect the narrow self-interest of a very select few.
I remember crackling embers
Coloured windows shining through the rain
Like the coloured slicks on The English River
Death in the marrow and death in the liver
And some government gambler with his mouth full of steak
Saying, "If you can't eat the fish, fish in some other lake.
To watch a people die -- it is no new thing."
And the stack of wood grows higher and higher
And a helpless rage seems to set my brain on fire.
   - Bruce Cockburn, from Gavin's Woodpile
Like many, I struggle to balance staying informed, engaged, and active with the earnest desire (if not need) to shut all the news out. I'm reminded of another Cockburn lyric (from Broken Wheel) that didn't pop up on today's commute playlist:
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble --
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel
No adult of sound mind
Can be an innocent bystander
Then I see Friday morning sunshine glowing through fall leaves again as I pull into the parking lot on campus, like a magnificent stained glass window—only better, and I hear:
Rain rings trash can bells
And what do you know
My alley becomes a cathedral
   - Bruce Cockburn, from Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon
Surely there is a way to reclaim that which should be holy from the dystopia of the, "...curse of these modern times." Breath in deeply and savor these discovered golden moments like a talisman, keep our focus on people always as distinct and unique individuals, and draw on this to champion the change we need and want.

Today's playlist: all songs from a Bruce Cockburn playlist

  • Maybe the Poet
  • When the Sun Goes Nova
  • Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon
  • Stab At Matter
  • Gavin's Woodpile
  • Turn, Turn, Turn

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Poetry and photography

Tuesday morning, wet and grey. The coloring leaves of the trees along my commute route glisten and hang heavy in the steady rain. They slice through the visual dull of roads and skies like yellow and orange flames painted along the side of a flat-grey muscle car from the 70's. They pop.

I read a fun article on the Poetry Foundation site earlier this morning, comparing observational photography to poetry. Of the former, the author says, "With observational photography, emotion recollected in tranquility is only relevant if you have managed to capture it at the time. If there’s poetry, it’s often only by being quick." (Seamus Murphy, from Two and a Quarter)

Big hippie
This day was so slow
And i can see you feel it too
Sometimes you wish you knew karate
Oh, the things that you could do, like
Crossing in between the greens
Just because you want to
Not because you ought to
Oh, how can you ever explain
They can never feel your pain
Neither can you 
   - Fountains of Wayne, from Go Hippy
To be sure, there can be a fine line between observational and less-passive, more directive forms of photography, and "quick" can also require patience while you wait for just the right quality of natural light, time of day, or alignment of naturally-occurring circumstances to capture that special poetic moment. Very similar, in fact, to finding just the right word or turn of phrase.

The solstice gable of my roof is dialing
Noonaway gardens and the flutes are gone,
The first leaf slowly flutters summer down,
Yet here, anew, causing the light to be,
The children are coming slowly up the stairs,
The leaded stained-glass window on the landing
Shattering rainbows over the bannister. 
   - Thomas Hornsby Ferril, from The Children Are Coming Slowly Up the Stairs
Because poetry, too, has its quick moments. When a poet captures in words, however carefully selected, a specific memory-based moment in time they are no less observational than the photographer. Is it any different when the poet's words also conjure up a specific personal memory in the reader's mind? Murphy shares several quotes from Seamus Heaney's poem, Digging, to illustrate his point. Heaney is describing a specific memory from his own past, but his words perfectly capture a sound from my own past, too:
Under my window, a clean rasping sound 
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: 
My father, digging.
In observing life both the photograph and the poem can bear witness both what we see on the surface and what we feel for what we have seen.

For he chases the balled up poems which I discard on the
   floor and so enjoys them despite their imperfections.
For he can move each ear by itself.
For from the side I can see through his eyes like water.
For he is easy in this life.
For he carries no cash.
For he does not have any pockets.
For he saves nothing, not even a bone. 
   - Hunt Hawkins, from My Cat Jack

Today's Playlist:

  • Tamba Trio, Moça Flor
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim, Águas de Março
  • Glen Campbell, The Impossible Dream
  • Spamalot, The Song That Goes Like This
  • India Arie, Strength Courage & Wisdom
  • Anita Baker, Giving You The Best That I Got

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Just being me

Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.  
   - Anna Swir, from Happy as a Dog's Tail
Sometimes I find I don't really know how to relax and just be myself in a given moment. I can live in my head, over-thinking and making complexities where they don't need to exist. Memories from a minute ago, an hour ago, a day ago, a month, a lifetime, get re-lived and analyzed, as if I could construct some alternate reality for them if I re-live them enough. I find myself trying to understand life, intimately, rather than live it as it comes. I'm not talking about fatalism or determinism, just the ability to, as the quaint little prayer goes, "accept those things I cannot change and [have] the wisdom to know the difference."
I grow a little stiff with, a little lean with, a little faint with, a little
worn with seeming.
I must need to conquer my mind.
The roses dead because of drought
because whoever lives here cares enough
to let their roses die. I must
need to conquer the notion
anything needs conquering. 
    - Ari Banias, from The Happy
Then, on less frequent occasions (though more and more frequently), I settle into my self, my time, and space (some would no doubt say I am being fully "present") and, like a breath exhaling, I spread out and relax. Is contentment the same thing as happiness? Maybe; probably. I know I'm finding more and more of that now.
To come to things—swift
as a ray of light, or a look.
To live as I write: spare—the way
God asks me—and friends do not. 
   - Marina Tsvetaeva, from I am happy living simply
The musician who goes by the name of Perfume Genius recently wrote a song (Just Like Love):
Sleeve cut just off the shoulder
You are christening the shape
They'll talk
Give them every reason
For child, you walk 
Just Like Love
Of that song, Perfume Genius says, "I saw this Facebook video of a boy, probably around seven, wearing a dress he had fashioned from a blanket, sashaying through his house while his mother applauded and cheered him on. He was so proud. It was such a beautiful thing, but bittersweet because I knew his spirit would change soon, that he’d become self-aware and ashamed, at some level. The song is about how divine he is, then and always — that he was born perfect."
Feeling and being me
Is good as good can be.
I claim my own identity. 
I am as happy as a flower
Perfuming its one hour
With a sweet sense of power. 
   - Katherine Wisner McCluskey, from Wholly Happy
When you are a lifetime of practiced at being what you are not, it takes a while to relax. It does, though, get better.

Today's Playlist:

  • Perfume Genius: Just Like Love
  • Bill Frisell: Fields of Alfalfa
  • Carl Jackson & Merle Haggard: Must You Throw Dirt in My Face
  • Calder: 9-Vessel
  • Brian Withycombe: My All
  • Donavon Frankenreiter: Dance Like Nobody's Watching
  • ELO: The Whale
  • Bruce Cockburn: Justice

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Wednesday morning wanders quietly by, as much passing as present. A sense of forward movement is created by this apex of midweek.
If this is Wednesday, there’s a demo on the green at 11. Took B to his first down at Quonset Point in August. Blue skies. Boston collective provided good grub for all. Long column of denims and flannel shirts. Smell of patchouli made me so wistful, wanted to buy a woodstove, prop my feet up, share a J and a pot of Constant Comment with a friend. Maybe some zucchini bread.  
From Living, by C. D. Wright

Like an old Olds 88 I recently saw at a local car show - life is feeling "futuramic" of late: dynamic and shifting, constant change (and, maybe, growth), new horizons.
My sister woke me very early
that morning and told me
“Get up, you have to come see this
the ocean’s filled with stars” 
   - From Future Memories by Mario Melendez
Speaking of future, my favorite musician/poet has a new album (his 33rd studio album!) coming out this Friday. Bruce Cockburn's Bone On Bone sounds like another gem and, "...touches on many subjects close to Cockburn’s heart, including the poet Al Purdy, life in Trump’s America, and the complexities of personal spirituality."

A poet/songwriter who loves poets:
Pokers in the counting house counting out the bacon
matter's getting darker in the universe they're making
they love the little guy until they get a better offer
with the dollar getting smaller they can fit more in their coffers
and the doings on the corner neither sung nor seen
they're circling the shopping carts at Sherbourne and Queen
I resemble that assembly but I'm not the same
Al Purdy's poems are the name of my game
the winds of fate blow where they will
I'll give you 3 Al Purdy's for a twenty dollar bill 
   - Bruce Cockburn, from 3 Al Purdys  (you can listen to this song here)
Of the song, Cockburn says, "Then I had this vision of a homeless guy who is obsessed with Purdy’s poetry, and he’s ranting it on the street. The song is written in the voice of that character."

And I'm feeling futuramic; that is the voice of my character for, at least, this moving-forward Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ancient and compelling

Monday having been the Labor Day holiday all of yesterday, he comes this morning dressed as Tuesday. The sky has that peculiar orange-tinged brown of coming snow, even though it is already nearly 70 (F)/21 (C) and a little muggy, on its way to a forecast high of 93/34.

It could be Ash Tuesday, from the looks of it, but without pancakes. There is even something not unlike snow gently filtering down around me.

I came out this morning to find my car covered in a dusting of very fine ash, the skies smokey, the light heavily filtered and looking for all the world like it did during the recent solar eclipse, and ash falling ever so lightly from the skies. Today's forecast simply says, "smoke."

The Norse Ridge fire in the Wenatchee National Forest is raging and the winds are bringing its output our direction today. The cremation dust of so many trees swirls around us. the girl
at a bend near the Museum gazebo: she tips
a throe of ashes from a brassy urn,
kneeling, not pious, just there, slanting her head
as if to speak to the passing, do it right,
shrug fine ores into the river—it takes so long
to cast away so little left of kin or friend
to Schuylkill, Delaware, Chesapeake, Atlantic,
someone she knew, walked gardens with, and must have loved. 
   - W. S. Di Piero, from The Ash Bringer
I had Al Stewart's Year of the Cat queued up on my phone this morning, so it proceeded to create an ad hoc playlist built around that song. Nostalgia music, most of which I hadn't heard in many years.
But kissed unconscious between Medicine Bow and Tombstone
He shall love at the precipice brink who would love these mountains.
Whom this land loves shall be a holy wanderer,
The eyes burned slick with distances between
Kennebunkport and Denver, minted of transcience.
For him shall that river run in circles and
The Tetons seismically skipping to their ancient compelling music
Send embassies of young sierras to nibble from his hand.  
   - Thomas McGrath, The Topography of History
Old tunes, if not "ancient compelling music," with which to drive through the ashes of ancient and compelling woods on this rather ad hoc Ash Tuesday start of the work week.

Today's playlist:

  • Al Stewart, Year of the Cat
  • Little River Band, Reminiscing
  • Bread, If
  • The Hollies, Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
  • Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Spinning Wheel
  • Cat Stevens, Wild World

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Lions through the smoke

Red sun rising again this morning, much like it set last night. Last night it looked overly large and swollen, like one of the itching mosquito bites on my legs. This morning it just looks a bit weary, tired of trying to reach us through the fire-smoke haze that brownly particulates the air with ash from the BC wildfires up north.
Can you imagine the air filled with smoke?
It was. The city was vanishing before noon
or was it earlier than that? I can't say because
the light came from nowhere and went nowhere. 
    - from, Smoke, by Philip Levine
Crossing the Ballard Bridge this morning that same weary sun cast a lovely red reflection of itself, stretched out toward me like a stripe of Oscar-night reception red carpet along the water below. I thought about stopping to try and capture the image in a photo, but as anyone who knows the bridge also knows, that isn't really possible. Not without consequences!
Smoke, like memories, permeates our hair,
our clothing, our layers of skin.
The smoke travels deep
to the seat of memory.
We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk,
we carry this scent with us. 
   - from, Smoke in Our Hair, by Ofelia Zepeda
The campus has the quiet sort of busyness of summer quarter as I pull in this morning. I'm digging out of email and tasks from a week off: consequences.

We went up to BC for the week. We were supposed to be in a cabin on a lake in the middle of the wilderness area where all the forest fires are burning, but with the area evacuated and roads closed, that wasn't possible. So we spent our week in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, basking in unusually warm weather and breathing wood smoke like we were sitting on the wrong side of a bonfire all day. Despite the change in plans and the smoke, it was a lovely week away. I finally got to meet some of Darren's Vancouver friends in person. Good people and gracious hosts!
Rain forest
Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing lobotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam -
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills -
Cortege rhythm of falling timber. 
   - Bruce Cockburn, from If A Tree Falls
So the sun is blood red, the air smokey, some of those "mangy B.C. hills" are burning (as is America's democracy), my inbox is overflowing, and, for whatever reason, I'm still feeling good. Very much like another Cockburn tune that didn't come up in this morning's random shuffle playlist:
Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me 
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me 
Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I'll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me 
Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me 
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are... 
   - Bruce Cockburn, from Wondering Where the Lions Are
They're out there, very real and still pacing through the smoke, but at bay for now.

Today's playlist:
  • Olsen Olsen, Sigur Rós
  • Please Forgive Me, David Gray
  • I Tried to Leave You (Live), Leonard Cohen
  • For Those That Are There, Kyle Asche Organ Trio
  • Naima, Karrin Allyson
  • Turpentine, Brandi Carlile
  • No More "I Love You's", Annie Lennox
  • Íllgresi, Sigur Rós
  • Lonely People, Augustana