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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two-tune Tuesday

It's Tuesday. It is also hard to put any other piece of sentence-ending punctuation to the end of that sentence.
One cartwheel over the quicksand curve
of Tuesday to Tuesday and you’re gone,
summering, a ship on the farthest wave.

- from The Young, by Roddy Lumsden
It is, however, not snowing or icing, and the temperature hovers at a fluctuating 33°-34° F (1° C) as I drive in this morning. I set my alarm for 4:00 this morning just in case, to check for snow or ice and what that might portend for the college on this week of fall quarter finals. One quick look told me I could safely slide back under the warm covers for another hour or so.

The worst thing possible on a very cold winter early-morning is having to get out of a warm bed. The best thing possible on a very cold winter early-morning is getting to go back into a warm bed. So it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

A two-tune playlist was all I got this morning, since both tunes were long running. Nick Cave's O Children is a tune I could easily let repeat over and over. A lot has been written about the lyrics in this tune, with interpretations running the gamut of children in concentration/labor campus to the legacy one generation imposes on the next. I have no idea what the song is supposed to convey, but it is wonderful music.

Then Charlie Haden's recently (2005) reconvened Liberation Music Orchestra did a nearly 17 minute medley around America the Beautiful from the Not In Our Name album). Haden brought the group back together to record a message of protest to the politics of the Bush II presidency and, in particular, the actions being taken by the US against other countries. Charlie uses the music to articulate a different definition of patriotism and to make the statement that what was (then) currently taking place was not being done in our (collective) name or with our blessing.

That is the history of this ensemble, albums of protest and declaration, mostly about military action abroad. The band on this album is a veritable who's who of jazz greats and the music is wonderfully rich and powerful.

So only two tunes this Tuesday morning, but two wonderfully rich and powerful tunes.

Today's playlist:
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, O Children
- Charlie Haden, America the Beautiful (Medley)

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Frost, depression glass and Thanksgiving

The popular dude is scantily clad this morning, shiveringly cold. Cars parked outside overnight are now on the roads with small quickly scraped-clear port-holes through which bleary-eyed travelers are peering. Cars that pulled out of garages this morning are smugly clear-windowed.

It is coffee (or tea, or mate) weather. Coffee served up in a thick, probably chipped, utilitarian mug that absorbs the heat and warms the hands as much as the coffee warms the back of the throat.
It seemed those rose-pink dishes
she kept for special company
were always cold, brought down
from the shelf in jingling stacks,
the plates like the panes of ice
she broke from the water bucket
winter mornings, the flaring cups
like tulips that opened too early
and got bitten by frost. They chilled
the coffee no matter how quickly
you drank, while a heavy
everyday mug would have kept
a splash hot for the better
part of a conversation.
- Ted Kooser, from Depression Glass

Mom had an extensive collection of depression glass (her set was amber) we sometimes used for special occasions, too. Like Thanksgiving.

Explain Thanksgiving, a uniquely North American holiday, to someone from another country. The back story, told usually from the imperialist perspective, is easy enough. What we've made of the holiday which commemorates that "first" hard winter and the First Nations people that helped the settlers through it, though... "It's really a holiday about food. We spend a couple of days whipping up a big dinner, usually turkey, stuffing, gravey, mashed potatoes, and a list of other traditional foods, and then sit down with friends and family to eat. The Dallas Cowboys usually play a game on Thanksgiving, so the TV is likely on somewhere, too."

Just like those early pioneers, contemporary traditionalists will enjoy green bean casserole, jelled cranberry that, when slid from a can, looks like sliced pink dog food quivering on the platter, and baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows and sweet enough to set my teeth on edge.

Still, any meal shared with family and friends, and with coffee, served with pie, in well worn heavy mugs - hard to go far wrong with all of that to be thankful for.

Today's Playlist:
- Weezer - Space Rock
- Train - Cab
- Pink Martini - City of Night
- Ron Affif Trio - Eric's Zinc Bar Blues
- John Mayer - Free Fallin' (Live)

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Before the sun is lit

Tuesday, the "what day is it?" day of the week. Still the beginning of the work week, but also still early days. Wet. Choosing from the multiplicity of PNW terms for the various nuanced forms in which water can fall from the sky here, I'd say alternating misting and drizzle. Wiper speed: indecisive.
Listen. .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
And fall.
- Adelaide Crapsey, November Night

The campus is quieter in the early morning in the wet wintery months. Probably, nobody wants to get out of bed and out into the wind-blown wet any sooner than absolutely necessary (don't look to me to blame them!). I pass not a single moving person or car as I travel the length of the campus and the service road along the golf course toward my office.
In the sad November time,
When the leaf has left the lime,
And the Cam, with sludge and slime,
Plasters his ugly channel,
While, with sober step and slow,
Round about the marshes low,
Stiffening students stumping go
Shivering through their flannel.

Then to me in doleful mood
Rises up a question rude,
Asking what sufficient good
Comes of this mode of living?
Moping on from day to day,
Grinding up what will not “pay,”
Till the jaded brain gives way
Under its own misgiving.

Why should wretched Man employ
Years which Nature meant for joy,
Striving vainly to destroy
Freedom of thought and feeling?
Still the injured powers remain
Endless stores of hopeless pain,
When at last the vanquished brain
Languishes past all healing.
- James Clerk Maxwell, from Lines Written Under the Conviction That It Is Not Wise To Read Mathematics In November After One's Fire Is Out
Or maybe also not in the wet depths of November before the sun is lit and glowing weakly, filtered through the clouds.

Today's full playlist:
- Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel: Clear moon, quiet winds
- Tim Janis: September (Piano Reprise)
- The Living Sisters: Hold Back
- Jakob Dylan: Something Good This Way Comes
- Terence Blanchard: In Time of Need
- David Gray: Caroline

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sailing into the weekend

It's happened. At some point this week, and I wasn't paying sufficient attention to mark the exact day, we hit that time of year when my car's rear-view mirror stays angled into night-mode both coming from and going to the campus. Pre-dawn and dusk now tightly bookend my working day.

A warm gourd of mate to play against the morning chill while I finish up this post and all is well.

I have had the i-device on my Bruce Cockburn playlist the last day or two, so it is all Bruce for the drive in this morning.
Rainfall on rolling green
Wavy lines and peacock sheen
Rainfall on rolling green
Prettiest world I've ever seen...

...Born under a rainbow sign
Flash of wave in space and time
Molten glass and hearts that shine
Stone to gold in fire refined
- Rainfall
Or maybe a little more commute-appropriate...
Down on the plain of 10,000 smokestacks
Trucks butt each other to establish dominance
The newspaper next to me leans over and says matter-of-factly
"Sacred mountains towers above meadows" - uh huh - and above us

Grim travellers in dawn skies
I see the beauty -- makes me cry inside
It makes me angry and I don't know why
We're grim travellers in dawn skies
- Grim Travelers
and (for those whose commute is more freeway than side street)...
Billboards promise paradise
And tattoos "done while you wait"
Possible futures all laid out
On the sweeping curve of the interstate
- Life Short Call Now
Or more comfortingly...
I ran aground in a harbour town
Lost the taste for being free
Thank God He sent some gull-chased ship
To carry me to sea

Two thousand years and half a world away
Dying trees still grow greener when you pray

Silver scales flash bright and fade
In reeds along the shore
Like a pearl in sea of liquid jade
His ship comes shining
Like a crystal swan in a sky of suns
His ship comes shining.
- All The Diamonds In The World

Which could also refer to Friday, that most popular dude, sailing into the weekend at some point later today.

Today's playlist:
- Bruce Cockburn: Rainfall
- Bruce Cockburn: Salt, Sun And Time
- Bruce Cockburn: Peace March
- Bruce Cockburn: Grim Travelers
- Bruce Cockburn: Life Short Call Now
- Bruce Cockburn: All The Diamonds In The World

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sprites in the mist

I swipe the windshield wipers to no effect and squinch my eyes like I'm some sort of superhero sending laser beams out from them. I keep my speed low, especially on the side streets where I know from a history of mornings (though cannot see today) the sulky teenagers in their predominantly dark clothes and tune-the-world-out ear buds are starting to queue for a bus they don't want to take. I turn up the defrost setting in the car, as if the obscuring mist outside is really on the inside of my front window.

Nothing I do makes any difference against this Thursday morning fog. This is the type of fog that presses against the eyes and creates a slight claustrophobia out of physical space. It reduces cars to fuzzy headlamps, trees into strangely dancing sprites that refuse to resolve except back into trees and shrubs when you arrive up close to them, and people into the slightest of ghosts.
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!"
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”
- A Man Said To The Universe, By Stephen Crane
So the fog slows the pace of life down a bit, forcing us to grudgingly acknowledge our limitations against elements we cannot see through, but it doesn't bring things to a full stop.
Draw the lines! Assume the crow’s nest, Pip. This ship
sails on music and wind, and away with birds.
- from Soundings by Robert Wrigley
This morning's sailing music, though, was all talk.

Today's full playlist:
- Morning Edition, NPR

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

An impatient season

Thursday morning, early, dark, but clear skied. A beautiful day is forecast, though that is hard to evidence at this hour. Traffic is moderate, but pushy, impatient. Feels like people are running late, rushing to get somewhere other than where they are now.

This morning's first song up is also about impatience. Bruce Cockburn's Pacing The Cage:
Sometimes you feel like you live too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage
If we're honest, most of us have felt that way from time to time. The past few weeks of political brinksmanship back in that other Washington are certainly enough to do that. Same song:
Powers chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage
Yes, that about sums it up.

I said, in a post back in November of 2011:
Let us also recognize that this hatred-driven politics is like unleashed fiendfyre, from the last of the Harry Potter stories (don't pull that face, you know you read it, too!). Terrifying, all-consuming, indiscriminate, and uncontrollable, it destroys everything it can reach. From the Potter story, "...the flames chased them as though they were alive, sentient, intent upon killing them. Now the fire was mutating, forming a gigantic pack of fiery beasts: Flaming serpents, chimaeras, and dragons rose and fell and rose again, and the detritus of centuries on which they were feeding was thrown up in the air into their fanged mouths, tossed high on clawed feet, before being consumed by the inferno." Ask them in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Ireland, Palestine, Israel, and much of Africa what the politics of hatred begets, and you may hear a response that sounds a lot like the above quote.
The seasons also feel, to me, impatient to change.

Fall burst quickly into fiery trees of yellows, oranges, and reds. Now, only a few weeks later, the leaves are rapidly browning and falling, sweaters are back in vogue, and stores are starting to sell Christmas and holiday decorations.

And Thursday, the great pretender of the week, is an impatient day in and of itself. Being not quite Friday, with its cusp of the weekend promise, it cannot pass quickly enough.

On the other hand, I have very much needed this full week to start catching up after a summer of too much time away from the campus. As I back into a leaf-littered parking stall outside my office, the impatience to get in and get going is all mine.

- Bruce Cockburn, Pacing The Cage
- Richard Thompson, Take Care the Road
- Lucinda Williams, Right In Time
- Van Morrison, Real Real Gone

- Posted via Hermes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

And yet, my brother

Brother, I knew you and I didn't.
We were so different in so many ways and yet,
We shared a common history, a common bond.

My memories are your memories.
Same father, mother, house, dog and yet,
We tell those stories as disparately as strangers.

We cheered for most of the same teams.
Our texts flew back and forth during games and yet,
So much went carefully unsaid, safely unsaid.

Our paths through life were very different.
We skirted each other's trails and yet,
Did that have to be, was this our-each choice?

I know you weren't always who you were.
I do understand, really, why things were and yet,
I still could not bridge the remaining divides.

There was sincere love between us,
Beneath the rub of our differences and yet,
It was sometimes hard to reach that deeply.

You have found your rest and peace.
You are free from any bonds here now and yet,
Our paths are the more divergent even for that.

- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesdays are like that

Good morning, Mr. Malleable, you unformed lump of clay possibilities, glass midway full of water, you Geiko's-happy-camel-on-hump-day. Given this holiday-Monday was part of the weekend and I have this Friday off, today remains the mid-point of a three-day week.

The morning dark keeps creeping later and later into the day, stealing back territory from the retreating hours of daylight. Completely dark and pouring rain when I first woke up, yet grey-filtered full light, wet, but sufficiently not-raining to have the car's rag-top rolled back by the time I start this drive into the campus. The weather is as indeterminate as the day of the week.
Suppose you ’re dressed for walking,
And the rain comes pouring down,
Will it clear off any sooner
Because you scold and frown?
And would n’t it be nicer
For you to smile than pout,
And so make sunshine in the house
When there is none without?
- Phoebe Cary, Suppose
The campus is between quarters again, with another two and a half weeks before the start of fall quarter. For now, for the relatively few of us moving around the buildings and walkways during the break, we wear the campus like a pair of oversized shoes, making too much noise with every step.

Speaking of noise, the seagulls are raucous this early Wednesday morning. I think that is supposed to mean they are moving inland in anticipation of more heavy weather.
I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water...
- Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
Kind of like that, but with more cloud and less golden sun.

Did anyone else catch the Sigur Rós concert (part of Apple's month-long live broadcast iTunes concert series in London) this weekend? Good stuff, Maynard (there, that's two TV commercial references in one blog post - a record for me, I think!). They did a nice 1.5 hour long mix of new and older tunes, including a sweet rendition of Svefn-G-Englar. Hmmm... its been a while since I've tuned the iPhone to my Sigur Rós playlist. Something, then, for the ride home later today.

As for this morning's in-coming commute soundtrack, it was a nice blend of tempos, style, and artists. If there was any point of discord, it was the rather jagged edge between Michel Legrand (all sixties soft-swinging piano and harmonica) and Phil Keaggy's sudden electric guitar. Taken as a pair - a gentle quiet start with an energy-infused conclusion.

Wednesdays feel much like that; make of them what you will.

Today's playlist:
- Michel Legrand: The Summer Knows
- Phil Keaggy: Arrow
- Mark Knopfler: The Car Was The One
- Rikarena: El Parar Pan Pan
- David Gray: Debauchery

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Morning's Chauffeur

Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
Terrible, invisible
A million small evangelists

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travelers and the sleepless belong

- Sasha Dugdale, Dawn Chorus
The days are less long than they were even a week or two back, as summer threatens to morph into fall. My early morning commute is now a lights-on drive, with just enough darkness (or just little enough light, if you prefer) that the rear-view mirror will soon need to be flipped into night mode to shield me from the bright contrast of the headlights behind me. Almost, but not quite yet.

The Brad Mehldau Trio eases me into the morning commute, gently swinging a slightly deconstructed rendition of the old Hoagy Carmichael standard, Nearness of You. And someplace about mid-tune the sun slips above the trees, somewhat faded behind the layer of grey across the sky.
If you listen closely some morning, when the sun swells
Over the horizon and the world is still and still asleep,
You might hear it, a faint noise so far inside your mind
That it must come from somewhere, from light rushing to darkness,
Energy burning towards entropy, towards a peaceful solution,
Burning brilliantly, spontaneously, in the middle of nowhere,
And you, too, must make a sound that is somewhat like it,
Though that, of course, you have no way of hearing at all.
- George Bradley, The Sound of the Sun
Bright or grey, wet or dry, I do love the early morning hours. It is the time of the day I find most sensorily tactile and the primary reason I have come to prefer cars that allow me to remove, drop, or roll back the top to sweep the morning into my passenger seat to accompany me on the drive in to campus. Though which of us is the driver and which the passenger is open for debate.

Today's commute playlist:
- Brad Mehldau Trio: Nearness Of You
- Annie Lennox: Why
- Tingstad & Rumbel: Empire Builder
- Toro & Moi: Still Sound

- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lucid, inescapable rhythms

Mr. Malleable, Wednesday, has just popped 'round, checking in to see if I feel accomplished so far this week (on the downhill slope toward the weekend) or still trudging up the hill toward mid-week. Suitably both, thank you.

Summer fog swirls lightly around the car on the drive in this morning. It's a refreshing 55° (13° F) so I roll the top back on the Fiat and let the fog slide through the car as I put-put toward campus. The forecast calls for low 80's (or high 20's, F) by late afternoon.

This is what the pace of mid-summer calls for, that calls to me:

Maybe this weekend, if the weather holds. For today: commute. It is unusually early, even for me, so I have most of the roads along my route to myself. I love the regular calls of birds as I pass along, so I lower the volume of the music. Like evenly spaced loud-speakers running the length of a very long transit platform, as one bird's call fades the next one comes into range and takes over, keeping their message unbroken.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.


I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
- Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
It is mostly crows, jays, robins, and small songbirds, not blackbirds for my commute, though. Lucid, inescapable rhythms, indeed.

Speaking of rhythm, there sure was a lot of Fountains of Wayne today. Literally every other tune was theirs in this morning's random shuffle.

Today's commute playlist:
- Fleet Foxes: Battery Kinzie
- Fountains of Wayne: I Know You Well
- Brendan James: Begin
- Fountains of Wayne: Hotel Majestic
- The Bad Plus: Flim
- Fountains of Wayne: You Curse At Girls

- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Mourning is not forgetting... it is an undoing"

Sunday afternoon, 72° (F, 22° C), a light breeze, sitting in a rocker on the back deck, sipping mate (as in Yerba), listening to birds chirp. From here I can see the Olympic mountains in the far distance while everything between here and there fades into the illusion of unbroken forest. I'm a million miles away from this past week, if only for a moment.

Do you ever get tired of being in the driver's seat, metaphorically speaking? I know I do, or rather, am. Just now, anyway. Normally it is just fine, I am comfortable there. But now and then...
Isn't it hard
To be the one who has to give advice?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
I see the skyline blurred through the plastic on your back screen door
Not unlike the faces of the people who keep turning up in the places we go
The ones we'd never see if things weren't going so well
When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free
And sewed me up and here I am
Isn't it hard
To be the one whose phone rings all day everyday?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
Mouths move without vision -- without regard for consequences
Eyes fill with memories poisoned by intimate knowledge of failure to love
Sometimes, sometimes, doesn't the light seem to move so far away?
You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
you help me but who do you cry to?
'Cause isn't it hard
To be the one who gathers everybody's tears?
Isn't it hard
To be the strong one?
- Bruce Cockburn, The Strong One

I think that's an age-based thing. When I was younger I always wanted to be the driver (figuratively and literally). I would insist; I wanted to be in control of where I went and what I did. The driver gets to make the decisions. As time passed so did that insistence. I still prefer driving, mostly, but now I'm also happy to take a side or back seat when asked or offered. And, of course, I better understand that the whole notion of being in control is illusory.
Sometimes, though, getting to make the decisions becomes having to make the decisions.
I lost my brother, my only sibling, this past week. That is the safe and conventional turn of phrase. Maybe if I am more blunt it will be more real: my brother is dead. Nope, it still seems unreal.
So much has to be decided even while the grief is fresh, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows. We must make permanent decisions while we have not yet come to terms with the permanence of the loss. There is no pause button so we can stop for rest and then come back refreshed to carry on with our sad task list.
A quote I have often shared with others now comes to mean everything to me:
"Well, you know, it's an evil thing, this attempt to reverse the process of mourning." The Canon stepped back on to his own territory and became a different being. "Mourning is not forgetting," he said gently, his helplessness vanishing and his voice becoming wise. "It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the knot. The end is gain, of course. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact."
- Margery Allingham, A Tiger In The Smoke
Now, I guess, comes our season of carefully undoing every tie to recover that which is permanent and valuable about my brother. It is a selective process of preserving memories to live with.
I think Melville just might have written this (Monody) for me and my brother:
To have known him, to have loved him
After loneness long;
And then to be estranged in life,
And neither in the wrong;
And now for death to set his seal—
Ease me, a little ease, my song!
By wintry hills his hermit-mound
The sheeted snow-drifts drape,
And houseless there the snow-bird flits
Beneath the fir-trees’ crape:
Glazed now with ice the cloistral vine
That hid the shyest grape.

There has been no commute this week, no commute soundtrack to record here. Indulge me, therefore, to end with one more piece of lyric which could be a soundtrack for all of this:
God waves a thought like you'd wave your hand
And the light goes on forever
Through the seasons and through the seas
The light goes on forever
Through the burning and the seeding
Through the joining and the parting
The light goes on forever
Gypsy searches through the cards for clues
Alchemist searches for eternal youth
Human reaching almost makes it but not quite
The soul strikes out at what the wind blows by
You live and it hurts you, you give up you die
Oh, let me rest in the place of light
Fugitives in the time before the dawn
Backed up to the wall with weapons drawn
Like mounted nomads always ready for a fight
This creature that thinks and so can fake its own being
Lightless mind's eye not much good for seeing
Oh, let me rest in the place of light
God waves a thought like you'd wave your hand
And the light goes on forever
- Bruce Cockburn, from The Light Goes On Forever

I can, I think, live with that.
- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beginnings and Endings

Monday, glorious sun-flooded Monday. Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and with enthusiasm. No question this morning - top all the way back for the drive in to campus.

Pulling into the campus at 6:45 AM the sunlight was draped, in Dali clock fashion, over the top and front of Snoqualmie Hall, and the campus was so quiet. It must be the early hour, because today is the first day of summer quarter. I was reminded of Shelley's line, "As beautiful as a wreck of paradise," from his poem, Epipsychidion.

Soon the campus will be bustling with students, though not as crowded as it would be any of the other three quarters. Summer quarter has a slower feel to it, which belies the actual intensity of its compressed calendar.

Summer quarter is a starting point for many students, getting a prerequisite class or two out of the way before diving into fall, winter, and spring quarters. New beginnings, or at least a continuation for our returning students.

Today is also an ending day for me. We lost a dear colleague this weekend, to cancer. Today our office assembles with an all-too-painfully-obvious empty desk in our midst. Tears, hugs, stories, remembrances, and even some laughter at memories of the time before this separation. Some work is getting done, too, but half heartedly.

Shelley, same poem, comes to mind again with another phrase lifted out of context, but appropriate to the moment even so: "...make the present last, in thoughts and joys which sleep, but cannot die, folded within their own eternity."

Such is the power of memories.

Today's commute playlist:
- Dr. Dog: Heavy Light
- Belle and Sebastian: Nightwalk
- Bruce Cockburn: God Bless The Children
- Seamus Egan: Mick O'Connor's
- Fountains of Wayne: Fire in the Canyon

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Largo Monday

Monday, the fourth day of summer (or, to be technical, the fourth full day but fifth actual day of summer for those of us in the western half of North America, since our solstice came about an hour before midnight this past Thursday). It’s wet this morning. It was pouring shortly before I left the house, but merely misting as I drive into campus.

Cockburn pops up on this morning’s playlist (given 20+ of his albums in my music collection, the odds are in his favor) with And We Dance. A free-spirited love song with poetry-as-lyric:

Midnight flight
Midnight flight 
Fullmoon light 
Laughter in the air 
It's a party all right 
Slate-blue clouds 
Iridescent sea 
I'm heading for you 
And you're headed for me 
and we dance and we dance and we dance...


Paradox and contrast 
Variety and change 
History repeats 
But it's never the same 
We've got this time 
We've got this rhythm 
Till the whole thing comes apart 
Like light through a prism
and we dance and we dance and we dance...

Followed by Before The Mountain from the wonderfully unique Largo album (Sadly out of print now). This is another oddly free-wheeling love song. If you can find a copy of this album, you won’t be disappointed. As the review of thalbum puts it:

Largo's concept is a heady one: A song cycle based on Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony," which was itself inspired by the Czech composer's love for indigenous American music of the early 20th century. But thanks to the songwriting savvy of mastermind Rob Hyman (of the Hooters) and the efforts of such special guests as Joan Osborne, Cyndi Lauper, and Taj Mahal, the concept never weighs down the music. Stylistically, the set ranges from the swamp-rock shuffle of "Disorient Express" to the poignantly soaring power balladry of "An Uncommon Love," with a real highlight coming via "Medallion" (which transposes Springsteen-styled workingman's rock to the life of a Pakistani immigrant cabbie). --*David Sprague*

Largo is as good a term as any for this morning, too. “(esp. as a direction) in a slow tempo and dignified style.”

Good, as they say, stuff for a Monday commute between the quarters.

Today’s full playlist:

  • Zack Hexum: All I Want
  • The Beatles: Yesterday
  • Bruce Cockburn: And We Dance
  • Largo: Before The Mountain
  • Camera Obscura: You Told a Lie

Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

To the motion be true

Thursday, that fake harbinger of weekend, the great pretender, almost Friday. When I first got up this morning it looked like the weather would be dry and mild. By the time I left the house, though, it was steady rain.

Wet or dry, this is a stunningly beautiful time of year here. Everywhere I look I see lush deep greens and bright new-growth spring greens. Trees are blossoming in soft pink and white, the early rhododendrons and azaleas are starting to pop in a wide variety of colors, and the purple heather —now a part of so many urban landscapes— adds a complementary color along the foot of the everywhere-green. Seasonal change abundantly visible and visceral.

Today's randomly selected soundtrack was excellently chosen by the small digital gods of the iPhone. This was a string of tunes that played nicely together, as if designed to be played in just this order. Yet they will likely never play again in this order on mine or anyone else's iPhone. Could happen, statistically, but probably won't. Nothing in this algorithm is that static.

The same holds true of the poetry selection from this morning's "spin" of the Poetry Foundation iPad app. This app opens to a "spin" button, which then randomly selects two themes from two separately scrolling lines and pulls up poetry related to that combination. Today's spin combined the themes of Gratitude and Youth, and the first poem offered matches this morning's theme of changes. Easy As Falling Down Stairs by Dean Young, starts off with: To always be in motion there is no choice... and later goes on:
No matter
how stalled I seem, some crank in me
tightens the whirly-spring each time I see
your face so thank you for aiming it
my way, all this flashing like polished
brass, lightning, powder, step on the gas,
whoosh we're halfway through our lives,
fishmarkets flying by, Connecticut,
glut then scarcity, hurried haircuts,
smell of pencils sharpened, striving,
falling short, surviving because we ducked
or somehow got some shut-eye even though
inside the hotel wall loud leaks. I love
to watch the youthful flush drub your cheeks
in your galloping dream.
or we can draw on Sam Baker's lyric from this morning's first song, Juarez:
A beautiful woman
Wraps around his shoulder
Eyes painted like clay
Except older
She says hell of a deal
Ain't it
This getting older
He sings an old song
A song to himself
He sings waiting round to die
Waiting round to die
or (with more grace), Bruce Cockburn from Mighty Trucks of Midnight:
I believe its a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time someday
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way
or, better still, Cockburn again, from The Gift:
These shoes have walked some strange streets
stranger still to come
Sometimes the prayers of strangers
Are all that keep me from
Trying to stay static
Something even death can't do
Everything is motion
To the motion be true
That all seems about right on a beautiful, though wet, spring morning. To the seasonal change, to colorful rebirth, to gratitude and youth, even, yes, to death in its time, to the motion be true.

Today's full playlist:
- Sam Baker: Juarez
- Phil Keaggy: Lady Slippers
- Bruce Cockburn: If A Tree Falls
- The Beatles: Long Tall Sally
- Dire Straits: Money for Nothing
- Sheryl Crow: Letter to God

- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

We haven't seen everything

Low hanging clouds and almost-fog give way to overcast skies as I drive in this morning. It's Wednesday, that most malleable day of the week, and I woke this morning at 4:00 AM. I wasn't woken by anything in particular (at least, not that I am concisely aware), I was simply awake. I know better than to fight that circumstance in the early morning, because once I'm awake, I stay that way. So up I got, very early, and early out the door.

The iPhone is set to an all Bruce Cockburn mix this morning which, with more than twenty albums to draw from, covers a lot of possible songs.

Lovers in a Dangerous Time kicks off the playlist as I point the Miata toward the college. This song could be the anthem for the supporters of marriage equality, and particularly during the current Supreme Court DOMA case:
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime --
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
When you're lovers in a dangerous time

As I listen to the song, I am reminded that I recently had a long-time friend show a homophobic facet of their world view, quite unexpectedly. Questions popped out of my initial hurt: Don't they know we have a gay son? Do they really mean this of/toward our children, whom they have known for a lifetime? Is this a true representation of how they really feel?

Somehow, they didn't know this about our son, as it turns out. They hadn't thought through all of the nuances in their comment, and were quick to retract it when my wife reached out with some of the questions raised above. Years of friendship are stronger than one painful incident, after all.

But what if we didn't have a gay son, couldn't put a known face to this struggle? Would I have been as quick to question the comment, or would I have let it sadly pass? Would they, in turn, have been as quick to acknowledge the unintended ramifications of their statement?

Hatred of others is so easy to fall into, as long as the others don't have specific faces and names. The history of propaganda has clearly taught us that. Let us be clear on this point: to say you can hate the "sin" (the word usually used in this phrase) but love the person is to hate the person. You can add a thousand words of justification to that idea, but it doesn't change the fact that you have directed your hatred toward an aspect of someone else. You have made that one aspect of a complicated human being into a defining and unreconcilable state of being "other," and separated. How else can the recipient of the remark possibly take it?

My commute ends to the final notes of You've Never Seen Everything. This song has one of the most beautiful chorus melodies wrapped into one of the most difficult songs to listen to. Difficult not just because its verses are all spoken poetry, but because of the song's subject matter. The premise of which is that no matter how much you think you've seen, someplace else something totally outside of your imagination or experience is taking place. That and the idea that we sometimes let all the bad news in the world block out the sunlight:
Nobody's making me say this
I'm talking to you
Been traveling 17 hours
Irradiated by signals, by images
of viruses, of virtues
like everyone
Like exiled angels we swing out of the clouds
Above night city-
Fields of light broken by the curve of dark waterways

On the other side of the world
an unhappy teenage girl sets fire
to herself, her house, her neighbourhood and some that dwell therein
Sorry simulacrum of sad dawn

You've never seen everything
and the chorus:
Bad pressure coming down
Tears - what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around
The song never gets any more cheerful, but the poetry and imagery in it is worth a read or, even better, a listen.

Bruce is right, if rather darkly so. We haven't seen everything. That is sufficient reason for moving forward gently and speaking with care. We all have much yet to learn from those around us, as well those who live far away. From everyone we are tempted to cast as "other." From those we do not know yet, with their faces and names.

Today's full commute playlist:
- Lovers in a Dangerous Time
- World Of Wonders from Bruce Cockburn Live
- If A Tree Falls from Big Circumstance
- You've Never Seen Everything from the album of the same name

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A naked moon and music

The popular dude is back, sauntering in like Sunday through Thursday never happened. Are we ticked that he disappeared for six days, without a word? Nope, we're always glad to see him. He exudes that sort of confidence, does Friday.

Today's commute soundtrack was equally self assured. It has to be if its going to pit John Denver up against Miles Davis or Nada Surf.

The first track is from John Hassell's 2009 release (and I love this title!) Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.

Sampling and soundscaping are terms frequently used when talking about Hassell's influential work. According to ECM (who released this album), Hassell described this album: “A continuous piece, almost symphonic, with a cinematic construction” and drifting “clouds made out of many motifs.” It is certainly complicated and haunting, and very much worth the listen (headphones recommended). Regardless, that title deserves to be a poem. Then again, that isn't a bad way to consider this album, as musical poetry of the complex rather than sweet easy rhyme variety.
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.

Barking, by Jim Harrison
Good stuff, Maynard!

Today's full commute soundtrack:
- Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: Cinema Paradiso (Main Theme)
- John Hassell: Time And Place
- Miles Davis: Moon Dreams
- Matt Nathanson: Faster
- John Denver: I'd Rather Be A Cowboy (Lady's Chains)
- Nada Surf: Blond On Blond (acoustic version)

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rain and Racism

Thursday morning, grey and lightly raining, as befits early March in the Pacific Northwest. This is what we know, what we expect. It tells us the natural order is still preserved. To someone from somewhere else, this might be the final one-too-many wet day in a row that sends them fleeing for somewhere else, but we are (mostly) comfortable with our gray and rain.

Are we as complacently comfortable with the un-acknowledged racism we all live in, I wonder? I wonder this this morning in particular because of a conversation I had with a colleague yesterday which was reinforced by a powerful op-ed piece in the NY Times this morning (thank you Twitter!): The Good, Racist People, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Selma, 1965. Photo from a tweet by Michael Beschloss

As a white heterosexual male living in the U.S. I live with a silent privilege that is not equally enjoyed by everyone. So certain is this privilege that I rarely notice it. I have to stare at it intently to recognize it, even though it surrounds me everywhere I go. It would otherwise never cross my mind that nobody surreptitiously follows me around a store because they think I look like a shoplifter. It isn't remarkable to me that the way I speak doesn't cause the person on the other end of the phone to subtly change they way they "see" me and the tone of our interaction. I am generally not described to others first and foremost by the color of my skin or my ethnicity. And while I have certainly had to work hard to get to this point in my life and career, I really was afforded opportunity.

Day to day, minute to minute, none of this is exceptional to me. It would, however, be exceptional to many people of color in our country, to many people of different sexual orientation, to those with visible and invisible disabilities, to people who speak English with an accent, to many women. People who work every bit as hard (harder in many cases) than me but who simply do not have the same access to opportunity that I have had.

It doesn't even strike us as odd that everyone who isn't a white heterosexual male has a term to describe them, to describe the extent to which they are not white, heterosexual, or male. We may argue about these names, occasionally settle on different branding terms as societal awareness shifts from generation to generation, but we still use these terms to catalog difference.
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

Water of life is going to flow again
Changed from the blood of heroes and knaves
The word mercy's going to have a new meaning
When we are judged by the children of our slaves
No adult of sound mind
Can be an innocent bystander
Trial comes before truth's revealed
Out here on the rim of the broken wheel

You and me -- we are the break in the broken wheel
Bleeding wound that will not heal
from Broken Wheel, by Bruce Cockburn.

It's one thing to be acquiescent about rain, grey skies, low hanging clouds, but quite another to continue on as complacently naive about our relationship to our fellow human beings. This is the uncomfortable conversation we must continue to have until this fundamental relationship between us all changes for good. Anything less is acquiescence.

Today's commute playlist:
- Buena Vista Social Club: Pueblo Nuevo
- Shirley Horn: Once I Loved
- John Barry: Dances with Wolves
- Sigur Rós: Daudalogn

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fragile Routine

Thursday, a steady fine rain lands quietly on my windshield this morning, briefly accumulating only to be periodically swept aside by the wipers. Lightness is just starting to return to the early morning commute. Headlights a still needed —as evidenced by a headlight-less black Camry that quickly came and went from nothing to nowhere— but only just.

It has a been a spell since I last entered a post here. The usual routine was interrupted by a family medical emergency and all the other-worldly trappings of time spent driving to and from, waiting in, planning around hospitals.

Routines are luxuries, really, flowing from the conceit of believing we are in control, we are making the plans, we have choice in all things.
You are creating distinctions
that do not exist in reality
where “self” and “not-self” are like salt
in ocean, cloud in sky
oxygen in fire
said the philosophical dog
under the table scratching his balls
- from the poem In Every Life by Alicia Ostriker

Maybe routine and non-routine are a difference without a distinction, just different ways of marking days and hours. Every parent quickly learns that babies don't come with instruction booklets, and even children quickly learn that life isn't predictable. So why do we so often strive to make it so? None of us know the full measure of our hours, so do we treat each hour as precious and worthwhile, or as if each was dependably planned on? If you ever need to be reminded of the fragility of plans, spend an hour in the family waiting room of a critical care unit.
Perishable, it said on the plastic container,
and below, in different ink,
the date to be used by, the last teaspoon consumed.

I found myself looking:
now at the back of each hand,
now inside the knees,
now turning over each foot to look at the sole.
- Jane Hirshfield, Perishable, It Said

Routine or otherwise, Thursday has come around again.

Today's full playlist:
- Fountains Of Wayne: It Must Be Summer
- John Mayer: Gravity
- Bob Marley: I Shot the Sheriff
- Jónsi: Animal Arithmetic - Live
- Madeleine Payroux: You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The gaseous state of steel wool

Friday. Fog. Freezing fog, frozen streets alternated with wet roads, and grey stubby vistas. Shapes resolving out of cotton as I drive cautiously forward. Not cotton, more like the phase-changed gaseous state of steel wool, if steel wool had a gaseous state. Certainly more that color.

But phase-change requires pressure and Friday isn't about pressure, is it? For the traditional work-week crowd Friday is the wrap up of the week and the portal to the weekend. Friday, after all, is the Popular Dude of the week.

Yet somehow this morning feels more like a visitation from the ghost of the popular dude. Still popular for all the same reasons, but rather than bounding cockily into the room he's slipping in around the corner of our vision like so much smoke.

Reminds me of a Bruce Cockburn lyric (I know, doesn't everything?) from The Coming Rains:
In the town neon flickers in the ruins
Seven crows swoop past the luscious moon
If I had wings like those there'd be no waiting
I'd come panting to your door and slide like smoke into your room
Speaking of crows, have you ever read the poem Two Old Crows, by Vachel Lindsay? It starts:
Two old crows sat on a fence rail.
Two old crows sat on a fence rail,
Thinking of effect and cause,
Of weeds and flowers,
And nature's laws.
One of them muttered, one of them stuttered,
One of them stuttered, one of them muttered.
Each of them thought far more than he uttered.
I won't give the rest of this short story away, but will say its worth the journey.

And finally, speaking of the journey, my commute soundtrack was again (by design this time) totally Sigur Rós:
- Fljótavík (Live)
- Ekkí Múkk
- Svefn-G-Englar
- Von

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Frost's white face

Monday morning follows the weekend as reliably as fever follows viral infection, and there is a lot of both rolling about this winter. We're in our winter clearing now, one of those strings of days featuring cold blue skies, bright sun that doesn't warm, and no clouds or moisture. For the Pacific Northwest, this is cold weather, dropping into the low 20’s at night, highs in the mid to upper 30’s, or maybe cresting 40° F (4° C) at the peak of the day.

I know, to many that's not cold at all. Some of you are living with minus signs in front of your high temperature for the day. But for here, for us, this is our cold snap, all nose stinging, icy roads, and frosted surfaces.

The roof of our shed needs cleaning, with tufts of moss and lichen outlining most of the shingles like little English hedgerows separating so many little fields. Up close, bristling with crystalline hoarfrost, it could be a winter country scene.

"Meanwhile the sun squints at this starched poverty—
The squint itself consoled, at ease . . .
The ten-fold forest almost the same . . .
And snow crunches in the eyes, innocent, like clean bread."
- Osip Mandelstam, Alone, I Stare Into the Frost's White Face

So much beauty out of such spare ingredients. Almost monochromatic, yet with a sparkle that would make many diamonds envious, light and shadow playing the roles usually filled by color and contrast.

My commute soundtrack was also simultaneously spare and rich, and one of those coincidentally random combinations that give me pause: two renditions of a single tune by the (appropriately?) Icelandic band Sigur Rós, from two different albums. The first version, from their album Von, is an atmospheric twelve-minute soundscape. The second version (from Hvarf - Heim)) is a mere nine minutes and much more to the point melodically. They really don't even sound like the same piece of music, and maybe the fact that one version has a second "s" in the title suggests they are, in fact, different words and different tunes? Maybe I need to learn Icelandic.

Regardless, they formed a beautiful soundtrack to my extra-early (had to be in by 6:30 AM) morning drive through this dark frosty world toward campus.

Today's Playlist:
- Hafssól
- Hafsól

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday, music, and playful biographies

Monday morning and it is a dark and wet one at that. Not pouring, but just enough misting rain to keep the wipers on at some less-than-full interval. Here's a funny thing about interval wipers: they are never quite the right pace for whatever conditions you are experiencing. Change the setting all you want, and it will remain slightly faster or slower than you really need for the amount of wet across the windshield. Maybe that's just a PNW thing, caused more by the vagaries and variety of rain here than by any fault of engineering.

Our campus enters the second week (first full week) of classes for winter quarter, so things are already starting to buzz as I pull onto campus. Car lights move across the dark mostly-empty parking lots, a small number of students are walking here and there, and the parking closest to the buildings is already starting to fill. Proximity always seems to win when selecting parking.

Speaking of proximity, I did a little housecleaning on my ebook library shelves the other day, with the result that only three currently-in-progress books are sitting in the biographies section of said library. Is it just me, or does it seem these three characters are maybe interacting with each other, just a bit playfully?

The drive in was slower than usual, augmented with a stop for coffee this morning, so the playlist was longer than usual as well. I had to use the skip function twice to pass over a holiday tune (always a risk when I allow the iPhone to pick randomly from my entire music collection), but I let one holiday album tune slip through: Pink Martini's Congratulations from their Joy To The World album. It's a Japanese (and is sung in Japanese) New Year's tune, which still seems fitting enough this early in January. It's mostly rare for holiday tunes to pop up in such a mix, so getting three of them this morning runs against normal odds. I'm guessing the random-play algorithm has some element of 'recently-played' factored in.

A good playlist, overall. Nilsson was the highlight—how could anyone not love that tune?

Today's full playlist:
- Midlake: In This Camp
- Chick Corea & Bela Fleck: Mountain
- Pink Martini Congratulation (Happy New Year)
- Travis: Under the Moonlight
- Harry Nilsson: Everybody's Talkin'
- El Perro del Mar: Walk On By
- Norah Jones: Don't Miss You At All

- Posted via Hermes.