Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde’

Coup

Monday, June 20th, 2016

i've been waiting for the sun tw

I’ve Been Waiting For the Sun painting by Nolan Winkler

“If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.” Oscar Wilde

I think it is important to view the Bernie Sanders saga in the context of the larger takeover of our society and our government and our psyches that began in earnest in the 1970s and was vastly accelerated by the enthronement of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980.

True, our society and government were heavily influenced by the wealthy elite from the moment our nation was founded, but the Great Depression and FDR modified that influence tremendously, and thereby ushered in a social and cultural renaissance that peaked in the 1970s when the corporate oligarchy began to take the requisite steps to wrest complete control again. Every President of the United States since Reagan has obediently carried out the agenda of the corporate overlords.

I published my first novel in 1978 at the close of the era of independent publishers. From my point of view, the corporate takeover of publishing and the movie industry at that time were key steps in stifling dissent and preparing the population for submission to corporate rule. I worked very hard to break into publishing, only to watch in horrified fascination as virtually overnight, teams of politically conservative anti-creative money crunchers replaced the most creative and open-minded people in every large publishing house in America.

The first order of business for these anti-creative teams was the firing of any innovative editors, many of them middle-aged, who believed it was their purpose in life to find new and original voices to bring into the cultural matrix. In the movie industry, similar house cleaning took place, with innovation and counter-culture ideas verboten.

Whenever several corporations take over entire industries, corporate consolidation of that industry inevitably follows, and within a decade after the initial takeovers, a few massive corporations owned all previously freestanding publishers, all the movie studios, and eventually most of the mainstream media outlets: newspapers, television networks, and radio stations.

Simultaneously, our public schools were being gutted and turned into pseudo jails, citizens who could afford to would send their children to private schools, and our universities became little more than conduits for the best and the brightest to find their places in the corporate machinery that was quickly taking hold of every aspect of our lives.

Without a vibrant creative culture, the collective imagination withers, and this withering makes for dull minds, and dull minds cannot discern truth from falsity, nor can dull minds raise children capable of discerning truth from falsity. This, in my opinion, is the context in which the Bernie Sanders saga must be viewed.

“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end…but not necessarily in that order.” Jean-Luc Godard

A few weeks ago, Marcia and I were walking along Albion Street in Mendocino on a windy evening, our stomachs full of excellent food from the Mendocino Café, when I espied a crimson geranium plant lying by the side of the road, leaves and flower clusters wilting, a tangle of roots spread out on the ground like the tentacles of a dying octopus.

I picked up the beautiful plant, soon we were home, and I planted the dying geranium in a big pot already containing a recently transplanted rose bush. I gave those withered roots a big drink of water, and for the next few days babied the plant until some of her leaves began to show signs of revival. I pruned off those branches and flowers that were clearly not going to survive, and now we have a spectacular blood-red geranium as companion to an equally spectacular pink geranium gifted us by our neighbor Marion.

“Remember, the music is not in the piano.” Clement Mok

So we live in a country that purports to be a democracy, and is certainly not. We live in a country where elections are now routinely rigged. We live in a country that is the home base of a huge and aggressive military-industrial complex that perpetuates war in order to perpetuate itself. We live in a country that has a government serving the interests of a small percentage of the population at the expense of a large percentage of the population. And we live in a country that is the leading cause of the demise of the entire biosphere.

What can we do to counter these truths about the country where we live? I think Bernie Sanders’ campaign provides an answer, though his campaign is not the answer. His campaign has lasted one year. In that short time, he galvanized tens of millions of people to give him money and support his candidacy. He harnessed the enormous desire in the population to take back our government from the corporate oligarchs.

But we the people don’t just want an honest government; we want a decent society and a vibrant culture. And those are things we might create without the influence of corrupt government. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters boycotting movies and television shows that promote violence. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters working to institute Single Payer Healthcare state by state. Imagine those Sanders supporters actively and rigorously supporting local businesses instead of out-of-town corporations. Imagine a hundred million Sanders supporters striving to use public transportation instead of cars.

Part of why the corporate oligarchy never greatly feared Bernie Sanders or his followers is that they thought we were not going to do much more than support Bernie and hope he would win and do all sorts of wonderful things for us, rather than start doing wonderful things whether Bernie won or not.

Smart phones are portable computerized televisions that tether us to the corporate system. Unless we are willing, en masse, to change our lives so we are not servile users of the system, we will never have a Bernie Sanders become the leader of this nation. Bernie Sanders proved there are many people who want big changes. But he has yet to prove there are many people willing to make big changes.

Shortly after the anti-creative corporations took over the book publishers and the movie studios, the collective imagination began to wither.

Crazy Money

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Greed Redux

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2015)

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.” Mark Twain

Just got the annual news from Social Security about how much they will be sending me each month in 2016. Last year, they upped me from 565 dollars to 575, not much of an increase, but this year the powers that be have declared: there was no increase in the cost of living in 2015. Thus zero increase in Social Security for me, though my Medicare payment is going up, so actually less money for me.

For our own government, I mean our own corporate-controlled Congress and President, to claim the cost of living did not go up in 2015 is akin to saying peanuts grow on trees and rain falls upward from the ground. The absurdity of their claim is more than enough proof we have been taken over by a bunch of amoral sadistic poop heads. How, you may wonder, did they come to the startling conclusion that the cost of living did not rise, given that food prices have gone through the roof, ditto rent, healthcare, insurance, you name it. They came to this startling conclusion because they do not count food and insurance and healthcare and rent in their calculations. What, you may ask, do they count? Nothing that matters to most people.

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” Oscar Wilde

In oddly related news, the San Francisco Giants just signed a six-year deal with pitcher Johnny Cueto for, I hope you’re sitting down, 130 million dollars. That comes to 21.6 million dollars a year. Now in a good year, Johnny will throw about 2700 pitches that count, which means he will make 7,777 dollars per pitch. That means every time he throws a pitch in a regular season baseball game, he will make eight hundred dollars more than I get in an entire year from Social Security. Per pitch. I know, I know. There’s nothing stopping me from getting down to work and making of myself an elite major league baseball player. Okay. So I’m lazy.

“Life’s two great questions: “Why me?” and “What do I do now?” William L. De Andrea

Marcia and I recently spent two nights in Santa Rosa visiting Marcia’s mother, and while we were there I went into a Safeway store for the first time in almost forty years. Yikes. We were questing for a particular soap Marcia’s mother likes and beer. Everything in the store had a price and a club price, and the club price was much lower than the non-club price. Everyone in the market seemed to be in a huge hurry, a life-and-death kind of hurry; as if they thought the store might explode at any minute.

Just for fun, we decided to dip our toes in the future and try the self-checkout line where a customer, theoretically, doesn’t need to interact with a human being to buy things. But they won’t let you self-checkout alcohol in Safeway because you might be a minor and the machine wouldn’t know that, so we ended up going through a regular checkout line.

When we got to the regular checker, he rang up the soap and beer and said, “Run your club card through the slot to get your discount.”

“We don’t have a club card,” I admitted. I was going to say this was my first time in Safeway in forty years, but I thought he might call Security if I said that, so I left things at not having a card.

“You could ask your neighbor?” said the checker, smiling at me and then smiling at the man in line behind us, a fellow buying an eight-pack of bottles of wine.

And before I could ask the checker what on earth he was talking about, the fellow buying the wine reached over and swiped his club card through the slot and our total went down from 22.84 to 18.37.

“Now go get your own card,” said the checker, winking at us. “Just takes a minute at the club registry. Right over there.”

But since we probably won’t be going to Safeway for another forty years, we made a beeline for the exit, and right outside the store we came upon a man and a woman and their two small children huddled in the freezing cold together with three suitcases, the man holding up a sign saying he had just lost his job, they had been kicked out of their apartment, they were hungry and cold, please help.

We gave them five dollars. The woman thanked us, but the fact is our neighbor in the checkout line had just saved us almost five dollars we would have been glad to spend on beer and soap, so why not give the money to these cold hungry people?

“The only way to be absolutely safe is never try anything for the first time.” Dr. Magnus Pyke

We’re giving Bernie Sanders some money to help him run for President of the United States, though I’m fairly certain, no, I’m absolutely certain there is no chance he will be given a chance to win the nomination. So why give Bernie money? Because we think his attempt is a valiant one, and though the overlords have directed their media managers to give Bernie as little coverage as possible, he does speak for a vast majority of Americans, even if many in that majority don’t know he does.

Furthermore, I believe Donald Trump is being used to clog the media so those who need most to hear Bernie will not. Yes, that sounds like a conspiracy theory because anything suggesting we’ve been taken over by amoral sadistic poop heads is labeled a conspiracy theory.

But imagine if Bernie had the money to buy some prime time television hours to talk directly to the American people without Hilary or some other corporate stooge interrupting him. Imagine Bernie having as much money as Johnny Cueto to make his pitch.

New Year’s Intentions

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Fruit tart mandala 1 - 1:1:2015

Fruit Tart Mandala photo by Bill Fletcher

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Sigmund Freud

Sitting on the big old fanciful redwood bench overlooking Portuguese Beach on the southwest edge of the little town of Mendocino—the venerable perch falling apart, a thousand carved initials and names worn away by the inexorable machinations of sun and rain and fog and wind and time, oh especially time and her microbial allies—I gaze down upon the placid waters of Big River Bay.

The gentle winter sun is smiling on dozens of migrant ducks sharing the heart of the peaceful cove (Portuguese Cove?) with grebes and cormorants, while a steady stream of voluble tourists rushes by me. Two big pelicans glide into view, circle the assembly of bobbing ducks and grebes, and make splash landings quite close to shore.

“What are those?” asks a little boy, stopping directly in front of me and speaking to his companion, a very wide man talking on his cell phone.

“Hold on a minute,” says the man to whoever he’s talking to. He glares down at the boy. “What do you want? Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”

“What are those big birds who just landed?” asks the boy, pointing at the pelicans. “Those ones with the big noses.”

“Sea gulls,” says the man, resuming his phone conversation. “Sorry about that.” He listens for a moment. “No, we’re gonna wait and see it in Imax. They have 3-D here, but no Imax.” He snorts derisively. “The boonies.”

“I don’t think those are sea gulls,” says the boy, shaking his head.

“Those are pelicans,” I venture to say.

The man on the phone shoots me a nasty look and gives the boy a shove to make him move along.

“There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.” Eugene O’Neill

2014 came to an end just as I was getting comfy writing 4 at the tail end of 201. Now I must unlearn the 4 and entrain my brain to write 5. How swiftly time flies when one is old, but not ill. I struggled through a serious health challenge in 2014, and for those months of illness the hours were days, the days weeks. Now that I’m well, months fly by in no time, thus confirming the psychological nature of time.

“If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.” Oscar Wilde

A gang of tourists, four women and two men, gather in front of me. One of the women asks her cohorts, “Do we have a destination or are we just walking around?”

“Spotty reception,” says one of the men, frowning at the screen of his phone.

“When I was here with Richard last year,” says another of the women, “we saw whales. Well, spouts. But I think we were further out on the headlands. They call this the headlands.”

“Richard,” says another of the woman, spitting the name. “What does he know?”

I saw the spouts,” protests the woman who was here with Richard last year. “Regardless of what Richard knows or doesn’t know, I saw them.”

“Can we please not talk about Richard?” says the man with the spotty reception.

A silence falls. Waves slap the shore. The gang moves on.

“We are divided into two categories of people: those of us who are trying to escape from something, and those of us who are trying to find something.” Ileana, Princess of Romania

Heading home, my knapsack full of cukes and zukes and eggs from Corners, I bump into a friend coming out of Harvest Market, a woman I haven’t spoken to in a good long year. She smiles sheepishly and says, “I see you walking everywhere and I always think I should be walking, too, but I’m always in a hurry and I don’t know why. I mean…what’s the rush?” She laughs shrilly. “Why am I so busy?”

“You must enjoy being busy,” I suggest. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“But then I have no time to walk, and when I do have time, I’m too tired.”

“I know how that is,” I reply. “Fortunately, I like to walk, so it’s no great sacrifice for me.”

“I watch too much television,” she says, giving me a quick hug. “But my New Year’s resolution,” she shouts as she runs to her car, “is to watch less and walk more.”

“I think in terms of the day’s resolution, not the years’.” Henry Moore

Nowadays I prefer intentions to resolutions—much easier on the psyche. For 2015 I intend to be more regular and enthusiastic about my stretching regimen, to plant my first round of summer vegetables earlier than last year, to grow more pumpkins, and to stay healthy. I further intend to resume my practice of handwriting at least one missive to a friend every day, even if the missive is merely a postcard. I intend to produce a new album of piano-centric tunes, to complete Book Three of the Ida’s Place saga, and to bring out a coil-bound photocopy edition of the sequel to Under the Table Books, a sequel I wrote six years ago: The Resurrection of Lord Bellmaster. And I hope to be less cranky and more upbeat.

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” Casey Stengel

Predictions for 2015: the California drought, slightly dented by a wet December, will go on, the apple harvest will be stupendous, the earth will accelerate her climatic catastrophes to express her displeasure with the behavior of our species, wholly unexpected events will change the course of human history, the race between cruelty and kindness will continue apace, and pelicans will continue to splash down on Big River Bay.

Tapestry

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Tapestry

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2013)

“In individuals, insanity is rare: but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” Friedrich Nietzsche

My brother sent me an email with a link to a page at Amazon where one can purchase, for just three hundred dollars, a Parrot Drone Quadricopter. This drone weighs four pounds and is twenty-three inches by twenty-three inches small and is equipped with a video camera. The drone can be controlled using an iPhone, iPad, and android devices. The four-prop drone records and shares video while flying. There were three hundred reviews by people who have purchased this particular drone, but I did not read any of the reviews because I feared one or more of them would include complaints about the limited bomb-carrying capacity of the drone.

 “There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

A friend sent me an email suggesting I read something by a fantastically successful American novelist I had never heard of. I was not surprised I had never heard of this writer, as I read almost no fiction by living American writers. Why? Because nearly every time I give one of these writers a try, I am more than disappointed, I am horrified. I suffer from the knowledge of proper grammar and syntax, and when an author reveals in the first paragraph or first page of his or her novel or short story that he or she knows little about grammar and syntax, I find it impossible to proceed.

But when a friend emphatically recommends a writer, I will at least give that writer a look-see. Alas, this latest fantastically successful writer failed the grammar/syntax test before I was three sentences into his multi-award winning novel, and seeing that these failures continued regularly thereafter and were clearly not the fruit of an intentional stylistic choice, I gave up and went back to working on my own fantastically unsuccessful, but grammatically sound work.

“Democracy don’t rule the world, you’d better get that in your head; this world is ruled by violence, but I guess that’s better left unsaid.” Bob Dylan

A young professional football player named Aaron Hernandez has recently been arrested and charged with murder. The owner of the team he played for, the New England Patriots, assembled a group of reporters to announce that Hernandez had duped them by pretending for two years to be hardworking and polite while also proving to be a fantastic football player. Now it appears Hernandez was a gun-toting, drug and alcohol-using criminal who may have killed even more people than the one person he is accused of killing.

The owner of the New England Patriots was outraged that Hernandez was not the person that he, the owner, thought Hernandez was. Indeed, many people involved in professional football, a sport that celebrates violence and encourages players to try to severely injure each other, also expressed outrage that this young man, who grew up in an ultra-violent society listening to ultra-violent rap music and playing ultra-violent video games and watching ultra-violent movies that glorify gangsters and guns and senseless killing, might prove to be criminally violent.

“The two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books. The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food and the diet books tell you how not to eat any of it.” Andy Rooney

Recent news suggests that the vast book-selling conglomerate Barnes & Noble may soon go out of business. In my youth there were only independent bookstores. Then the era of chain stores dawned and chain bookstores such as B. Dalton and Crown Books popped up everywhere and put many independent bookstores out of business. Then along came chains of giant bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders and they put the chains of smaller bookstores out of business and put many more independent bookstores out of business. Then along came the interweb and Amazon and the advent of e-books, and Borders was wiped out and now Barnes & Noble is collapsing, which should portend a few good years for the remaining independent bookstores patronized by a shrinking number of people who are still willing to pay full price for books and have not yet converted to e-readers.

In the course of this swiftly evolving bookstore landscape, the personal computer became as ubiquitous as television, cell phones took over the world, and the proper use of grammar and syntax became a dying art, not quite yet entirely dead, but nearly so. And the amazing thing (amazing to me) about the pervasive misuse of our beautiful language in most of the books published in America today is that very few people are aware that anything is amiss with the writing they read.

Several people have responded to my lamenting the demise of good writing with eerily similar proclamations along the lines of, “I don’t care how good the writing is so long as I like the story.” This strikes me as deeply ridiculous, as ridiculous as saying, “I don’t care if there’s any water in the river, so long as I can catch some fish.”

“The one thing the public dislike is novelty.” Oscar Wilde

On July 9, 2013, NBC news reported: “New research shows the more pollution, the higher the health risks.”

That startling news brings to mind those feature articles that appear in Lifestyle and Home & Garden sections of Sunday newspapers everywhere and have been appearing in those sections every few months since the 1960’s, articles about an amazing new phenomenon called organic gardening. These articles invariably feature smiling people who have been gardening in this revolutionary new way for at least a year or so and just love the results. These radical gardeners don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers yet somehow still manage to grow vegetables and fruits that taste wonderful.

I wonder why it is that organic gardening is forever being characterized in the mainstream media as something new. I find this to be one of the great mysteries of my lifetime, every bit as mysterious as the constant rediscovery that walking is good for us.

“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” William Shakespeare

When I was a young man, I read an obituary that had such a profound impact on me that I can still see the entire layout of the obituary in my mind’s eye. The large black and white photograph accompanying the long article was of a slender man with a long white beard sitting at a table and writing with a pen on a large piece of parchment. This man (I can’t remember his name) was famous for three things. The first thing he was famous for was that he had been one of several dozen people involved in a renowned (now forgotten) research project concerned with the relationship between human health and walking. The second thing he was famous for was the invention of a simplified English alphabet (now forgotten) that he believed would usher in an era of universal literacy that would in turn lead to universal prosperity. And the third thing he was famous for was that he lived until he was a hundred and seven and was mentally and physically fit as a fiddle until the last day of his life.

I don’t remember much about his simplified alphabet except that he had eliminated the use of most vowels, which struck me as a bad idea since I loved vowels, a love that continues to this day. I do, however, remember the details of the research project he was involved in that evaluated the effect of walking on human health. According to the obituary, when this man was in his sixties, he was in such poor health that his doctors declared he would soon be dead. He was obese, his heart was failing, he was anemic, pre-diabetic, his liver was shot, on and on. It was at this point in his life that he got involved in the research project with several dozen other elderly people who had also been declared hopelessly ill by the medical establishment.

The project required that these people take long walks every day, and by long walks I mean walks of ten and fifteen and sometimes twenty miles, with only occasional days off from walking. According to this obituary, nearly all the people in the study not only got completely well—theretofore incurable diseases and ailments literally disappeared from these people—but they all lived well into their nineties and beyond.

“There are seven different souls in each person: the mineral soul, the vegetable soul, the animal soul, the human soul, the angelic soul, the secret soul, and the soul of the secret of secrets.” Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak

Last night I dreamt I was helping Aaron Hernandez clear away branches hanging down into a small meadow where Aaron was going to be acting as a psychotherapist for people coming to him for help. We worked in silence, I doing the pruning and Aaron dragging away the branches. I felt peaceful and optimistic, and I had no doubt that Aaron would be a great help to the people who came to see him. Strangely, the more branches I pruned, the more branches there were to prune, yet I felt confident that we would soon get the branches cleared away and Aaron would be able to proceed with his work.

Mystery Inventions

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Magician and Daughter Mystery painting by Todd

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2012)

Deeply moved by a concert of music by Martinû and Mozart, a man gives fifty dollars to a street musician, a Venezuelan bass player whose musical inventions are reminiscent of Eric Satie and Bill Evans. The bass player uses the fifty dollars to buy herself the first nourishing meal she’s had in weeks, after which she catches a train to visit her mother for the first time in several months, and arrives to find her mother dying. With her last breath, the bass player’s mother reveals the identity of the bass player’s real father; and while questing to find her father, the bass player meets a pianist with whom she records ten improvisations, each a musical meditation on the question: what is life all about?

“As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more mysterious.” Albert Schweitzer

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas makes an excellent case for the digging stick and the ostrich egg being the two most important inventions in human history—more important than fire or weaponry. I am reading The Old Way again, Thomas’s masterpiece about the Bushmen of the Kalahari; and I find her book the perfect antidote to the information overload and resultant anxiety of this digital age. Here is a tiny taste of The Old Way.

“A digging stick is humble, yes. The very name of this item in the English language shows how seriously we underrate it—we assign specific nouns, not vaguely descriptive phrases, to objects that we consider important. Our long stick with a blade at the end is call a spear, for instance, not a stabbing stick. But even if a pointed stick seems insignificant to us in our innocence, as an invention of consequence it ranks with the discovery of the deep roots themselves and has made more difference to our species than virtually all the other inventions we celebrate with more enthusiasm.”

“Then, too, there is the ostrich egg. This useful item is first a meal and then a water bottle. To use these eggs, we had to do only two things—steal a fresh egg without being kicked by the ostrich, and open a hole in the shell. Unless the egg is opened carefully, the contents will spill, so the best way to eat the egg without wasting the contents is to pick up a rock, tap open a small hole in the shell, and stir the contents with a stick. After sucking out the egg, we had an empty eggshell, with obvious implications. An ostrich egg holds from five to five and a half cups of water, more than a day’s supply. No further refinement was needed except a wad of grass for a stopper.”

“On the dry savannah, the need for water limited our foraging. One ostrich eggshell filled with water could expand the foraging range of its owner by fifty to one hundred square miles.”

“Only one kind of primate—our kind—found a way to reach the deep buried foods, carry small amounts of water, and modify tree nests into ground nests so that we could sleep anywhere.”

“There is no greater mystery to me than that of light traveling through darkness.” Alexander Volkov

Writing about inventions, I am reminded of that old joke (and its many variations) about a world conference to determine the most important invention of all time, each nation having an egoistic stake in nominating an invention thought to have originated in their country.

So the Russian representative rises. “We nominate sputnik. After all, first satellite started space race that put people on moon and spawned most important technological breakthroughs thereafter.” Loud applause.

The American representative stands. “Hey, there’s no denying sputnik was a good little kick in the pants, but has anything changed the world more profoundly than the computer? We don’t think so. We nominate the computer, that fundamentally American creation, as the most important invention of all time.” Thunderous applause.

Then the representative of the group or nation the joke teller wants to make fun of stumbles to the podium. “Of course, sputnik was a game changer, and life without computers is almost unimaginable, but there is one invention we think is far more amazing than both of those illustrious inventions, and that is the thermos. Keeps hot things hot, and cold things cold. How does it know?”

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” Anais Nin

In 1900, the average life span of an American was forty-seven years, and the average life span for people in many other societies in the world was considerably less. The invention and deployment of penicillin in the 1940’s is credited with increasing that average life span to eighty years for citizens of America and other so-called advanced nations. Prior to the widespread use of antibiotics, millions of people, especially infants, children, and the elderly, died annually of diseases now easily cured. The most troubling result of this vast increase in human longevity is the increase in human population far beyond the regenerative capacity of the planet.

Consider this: paleoanthropologists have found almost no remains of pre-historic humans older than thirty. Lose a step ten thousand years ago and you were tiger food, or possibly vittles for your brethren. Now try to imagine the world today if most people still died shortly after their wisdom teeth emerged to replace those molars lost during the first twenty years of chewing on the tough and the raw.

“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” Carl Jung

I recently came out with a new CD of piano and bass duets entitled Mystery Inventions on which I play piano and Kijé Izquierda plays bass. Each of our ten tunes explores variations on a basic melodic expression underscored by an intriguing bass pattern. Because my piano playing is spacious (some would say spare), the tunes on my previous piano albums 43 short Piano Improvisations and Ceremonies are melody-driven, whereas the bass drives the Mystery Inventions, even when the tempo is slow. I was tempted to bring in a drummer, but the interplay of bass and piano sounded so groovy, I opted for duet.

The most mysterious thing to me about my piano playing is that my left hand operates with no conscious direction from me, whereas my right hand learns through my conscious intentions. Because I do not read music or play music composed by other people, my compositions and improvisations are the result of hours of daily keyboard explorations during which I discover note patterns and interrelationships that captivate me sufficiently so I will repeat those patterns until my fingers remember them. The more thoroughly my fingers memorize these patterns, the freer I am to improvise on those patterns. I have been practicing this way for forty-five years, my right hand learning through my conscious inquiries, my left hand figuring things out on its own.

 “The final mystery is oneself.” Oscar Wilde

I don’t read music because when I was seven-years-old I took piano lessons from a very unhappy man who did not like me. After a few traumatic lessons wherein he berated me for not sufficiently practicing the assigned pieces, there came a horrific moment when he struck my right hand with a heavy metal pen because I was not, in his estimation, holding my hands correctly. I screamed bloody murder and ran out of the room. I can feel the ache in my knuckles to this day.

Thereafter I not only refused to play the piano, I could not look at our piano without feeling sick. Singing became my main mode of musical expression, and at sixteen I was a singer in a very loud rock band. The leader of the band was my close friend, and a talented guitarist. He used to come to my house and noodle around on his guitar while I accompanied him on bongos. One evening he pointed at our old upright piano and said, “Can you play that?”

“No,” I said, reluctant to even look at the piano.

“Oh, go on,” he said, reaching over and plunking a few notes. “Just play anything and I’ll play along.”

“No,” I said, furiously. “I don’t play the fucking piano, okay?”

“Please?” he insisted. “Just a few notes so I can play some harmonies.”

And because I wanted to please my friend, I went to the piano and played a simple pattern of notes; and six weeks later we opened for a rock band at a teen nightclub in the basement of a church in Woodside, California. I played simple patterns of notes and chords while my friend improvised on his electric twelve-string guitar. Two beautiful hippie chicks wearing dresses made of diaphanous scarves danced to our pubescent ragas, and afterwards a big black guy with a shaved head came up to me and said, “Busted hip, kid. You know Monk? Miles? Hubbard? Hancock? Evans? Cannonball? Check’em out.” So I did; and I was a goner.

And now, listening to Mystery Inventions, I bless that very sad man who smacked my knuckles fifty-five years ago, because if not for his striking me so cruelly, I might never have left the well-trod path and gotten lost in the wild jungle of possibilities.

Whoopsie Doopsie

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Drawing by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2011)

“The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough is love.” Henry Miller

A couple years ago I created a catchy blues tune entitled Whoopsie Doopsie, and after I performed the song to the apparent delight of my wife Marcia, I thought I might make a recording of the tune and see how the world liked it. I wrote a note to myself—Whoopsie Doopsie Project—and put the note in the center of my just-cleaned desk, thereby establishing a new bottom layer for the accumulation of papers and books and drawings and letters and bills that would inevitably grow into a high plateau of dysfunction until, in a fit of frustration, I abstained from eating and drinking for several hours until the mess was properly expelled.

Thus time and again over these many months, I worked my way down to a little yellow square of paper on which was writ Whoopsie Doopsie Project, a trio of words that sent me to the piano to bang out the latest rendition, after which I would say to myself, “Yes, I really should record that and see what the world thinks of it.” Then the tides of time and paper would rush in again and submerge the note, and the project would largely vanish from my consciousness, except on rainy mornings when I was practicing the piano, at which times I might essay a version or two of the pleasing apparition.

Feeling especially sad one such rainy morning, I played a very slow Whoopsie Doopsie, and the sweet little love song became dark and plaintive; and I appreciated the song in my bones rather than with my sense of humor. And that very night we went to a dinner party at which the hostess asked me to play, and Marcia suggested I premiere Whoopsie Doopsie for the public, as it were. So I performed a rather timid version of the tune, the piano unfamiliar to me, and everyone in the audience said I must bring out a recording of the song—everyone being four people.

Here are the lyrics, in their entirety, of Whoopsie Doopsie.

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Whoopsie daisy, I’m in love with you

Whoopsie doopsie, doopsie do

Tell me how you like it,

Tell me what to do

Wanna make you happy

When we’re making whoopsie do

The last line is a not-so-subtle tribute to Ray Charles. As you can see, we’re not talking about great art here. However, we are talking about the artistic process, which I find fascinating and difficult to write about. The difficulty in writing about creative processes, for me, lies in the non-verbal nature of those processes through which original art and original concepts emerge and evolve and are ultimately captured so others may experience those creations. Since there are no words for that which is wordless, the best one can hope for in describing such wordless processes are faint approximations. And the other large challenge for me in writing about making art is to ignore the nagging feeling that I am describing a process that almost always results in mediocrity or crap, otherwise known as failure.

“There are only two dangers for a writer: success and failure, and you have to be able to survive both.” Edward Albee

On the other hand, many great teachers, Buckminster Fuller among them, espouse the idea that there are no failures in the inventive process, that everything we do is a valuable part of the continuum of experience. Failure, these wise ones suggest, might more usefully be understood as a necessary step along the way to discovery and fruition. Two of my favorite quotes about this idea, referring specifically to musical improvisation and composition, are from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. Miles said, “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note, it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” And Bill said, “There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions. I think of all harmony as an expansion and return to the tonic.”

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein

My favorite composer of classical music is Felix Mendelssohn. Why? Hard to say, for love is as ineffable as creativity. Maybe his use of complex harmonies resonates especially well with my chakras. Maybe the brilliant confluences of his polyrhythms synch perfectly with my inner groove. I don’t know. In any case, I dig the cat. So a few years ago our very own Symphony of the Redwoods performed Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and after hearing Marcia practice the cello parts for several weeks, and then being enthralled by the marvelous local rendition, I got out my Mendelssohn books to read about the Italian Symphony.

In Conrad Wilson’s Notes on Mendelssohn, to my great interest, I found that though the Italian Symphony was an instant and enormous success (the composer conducted the world premiere in London in 1833 at the ripe old age of twenty-three), Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with the composition and immediately after its premiere set about “changing the coloring of the andante, adding fresh touches of poetry to the third movement, and considerably extending the finale.” Yet despite Mendelssohn’s great fame, “his revision remained unperformed for a century and a half, and has only recently been issued in a performing version upon which most conductors are turning deaf ears.” I rushed to get one of the few extant recordings of the revised symphony (not readily available in the United States, but gettable from England) and to my ears the revised version is vastly superior to the original.

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” Oscar Wilde

With the help of Peter Temple, I have made two solo piano CDs in these last year two years: Ceremonies and 43 short Piano Improvisations. While working on those albums I was forever being seduced by a particularly alluring chord pattern I would improvise on for hours at a time; yet only one diminutive piece born of that pattern was strong enough to include on 43 short Piano Improvisations. However, I continued to be enamored of that pattern and felt that one day I might succeed in recording a few longer takes of what I call Mystery Inventions.

Meanwhile, the Whoopsie Doopsie Project was bubbling away on a back burner; and verily it came to pass (driving to town one day, singing nonsense songs to the clickety-clack of our old truck on a country road) that a new and very different version of Whoopsie Doopsie escaped my lips and catalyzed an epiphany: why not make an album composed of several different interpretations of Whoopsie Doopsie, and throw in a Mystery Invention or two, too?

“One must bear in mind one thing. It isn’t necessary to know what that thing is.” John Ashberry

As of this writing (early October 2011) the Whoopsie Doopsie recording project has been seriously (or at least continuously) underway for a month, and save for a slightly menacing a cappella version of Whoopsie Doopsie that came to me in the absence of a piano, nothing is turning out as I imagined anything would. Indeed, I would say the Whoopsie Doopsie Project is currently in creative free fall, and I am not surprised. The song that inspired this undertaking becomes less and less significant with every new Mystery Invention we capture, and new tunes audition daily as I chop wood and plant garlic and pick apples and make spaghetti sauce. Old tunes, too, long neglected, saunter out of the woods, tap me on the shoulder, and sing, “Hey, what about a revised version of me?”

The floodgates have opened. Mazel tov! So long as I don’t panic and attempt to control the flow too soon or too restrictively, there’s no telling what might come pouring out of that mystery reservoir I am convinced was once a river free of dams.

Psychic Leeches

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

“The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

The other night I caught the last twenty minutes of a spiritual talk show. My initial positive reaction to the guest speaker morphed into disaffection when I realized he was one of those guru types who believes he knows everything and nobody else has a clue. He also had zero detectable sense of humor, which always makes me wary, even when someone is talking about the collapse of the global ecosystem, which is what he was talking about, among other things. Then he said something about alien abductions and aliens invading earth disguised as humans in order to take over the planet and wipe out all the Homo sapiens because we’re destroying the earth and these beings from other planets want Earth intact because she’s such a rare and groovy planet in the vastness of space.

Alien takeovers are not my cup of tea, so I turned off the radio. I wanted to dismiss the guy as a wacko, but instead recalled a passage from Carlos Castaneda’s posthumously published book The Active Side of Infinity, which I recommend as a novel if you can’t buy it as a memoir, and who knows, maybe it is the truth. No matter. The passage I recalled was of Don Juan giving Castaneda a glimpse of a huge slug-like alien that had, indeed, invaded the earth and feeds on stress-induced human emotions, notably fear and sorrow and rage and anxiety.

And that reminded me of the Mayan shaman Martín Prechtel’s fabulous talk on Grief and Praise in which he says, and I paraphrase, that the spirits of the dead are nourished and vitalized by our tears. He means this in a positive way, for in the Mayan view we are in reciprocating relationships with the spirits, which is how multi-dimensional reality maintains its balance. Don Juan, on the other hand, assured Castaneda that these alien psychic leeches are definitely malo.

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” Oscar Wilde

I used to think a psychic leech drew energy from us and gave nothing good back. I thought psychic leeches were typically hysterics or dead beats or drama queens, depressed, selfish, greedy, and exhausting to be with. Little did I know.

Some twenty years ago I was invited to join a small meditation group. There were six others in the group when I became a member. We met every other week in our host’s commodious living room, a fire burning in the hearth. We sat on the floor in a circle and meditated for an hour, after which we shared thoughts that had arisen during the communal silence. And then we would have supper and socialize.

The group became extremely important to me; these twice-monthly meetings providing me with a rare few hours of sanity and calm in my otherwise insanely unsettled life. Occasionally someone would invite a guest for a time or two, and if this guest then wished to join the group as a permanent member we had to be approve them unanimously. Within six months of my joining, two members left us and two new members were added.

One of the original members, I will call him R, only attended every second or third gathering. I found when R was not present my experience in meditation was always noticeably deeper. Indeed, in his absence, I felt the group often shared a remarkably deep communion. By contrast, when R was there, though our experiences were not unpleasant, we plumbed no great depths.

On a cold November evening, I arrived to find that R was in attendance and had brought a guest. A friendly woman of fifty, D was, by her own admission, overjoyed to be with us. Eager to please, she had brought a lavish feast of sushi and teriyaki salmon to thank us for allowing her to attend.

We arranged ourselves in a circle, our host performed a brief welcoming ceremony as was his custom, and we settled into quiet. And I immediately felt as rotten as I have ever felt. I had never in my forty-some years had a headache, but now my head was throbbing, my bones were aching, and it was all I could do not to groan in despair. Was there a gas leak or something toxic burning in the fire? When neither proved to be the case, I reviewed my recent food intake for possible sources of food poisoning.

I opened my eyes. Everyone was sitting perfectly still. Was I the only one feeling so miserable? And though I had no logical reason for thinking D was the cause of my distress, I knew she was. Never mind that beatific smile on her face, I was certain she was making me violently ill. Yet despite this intuitive certainty, I insisted to myself that I must be experiencing what meditation teachers say every practitioner eventually experiences: the painful truth of egoistic suffering.

By the end of our meditation, I was a sweaty mess. During the sharing-our-thoughts phase I said nothing, nor did anyone else say much, save for D who gushed about this being the happiest night of her life, and R saying that D’s presence had decided him not to quit the group because he was finally happy with the group dynamic.

I found it impossible to stay for D’s feast and had to restrain myself from screaming bloody murder as I ran out the door. The cold air was a salve, and after a few minutes in the winter chill I laughed aloud at my stunning shift from misery to joy. Indeed, so enormous was my relief, I told myself my misery couldn’t have been caused by D and must have been caused by…me.

I went to bed that night a few hours earlier than was my habit and slept like a stone for fifteen hours. I woke in the early afternoon feeling totally discombobulated. Did I have the flu? That would explain why I felt so horrible during meditation. Yet I had no symptoms other than exhaustion. Oh, well, I told myself. These things happen, though they had never happened to me before.

D was at our next gathering, gushing about how happy she was to be in our circle, how this was her dream come true. And, yes, she’d brought another fabulous feast. We took our places in the circle. Within a few minutes my head began to throb and my bones to ache. So I jumped up, grabbed my coat, and ran out the door, murmuring, “Not feeling well.”

I was absolutely entirely totally freaked out. I was also sad, for now I would have to quit the group. I didn’t want to be the lone vote against D. The others seemed fine and chummy with her. Too bad for me. I’d had a good run. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe. Etc.

The next morning, as I was rehearsing my resignation spiel, the host of our group called and invited me to go for coffee. We settled down in a cozy café and I was about to announce I was leaving the group, when he asked, “What do you think of D?”

“Um…I…she…”

“Made you sick,” he said, completing my thought. “Made everybody sick, except R.”

I was so relieved to learn I was not alone in my suffering I could have kissed the guy, only he wasn’t my type. “How does she do it?”

“She’s a psychic black hole.”

“A psychic black hole? You mean…”

“I’ve encountered a few others,” said my host, a seasoned psychotherapist, “though none so extreme as D. Seems impossible until you experience it. Friend of mine holds group therapy sessions at Esalen, and he says these kind of people are drawn there like flies to honey.”

“But what’s actually going on? I didn’t just feel drained, I felt invaded and poisoned. My bones ached and I was half-dead the next day.”

“That’s what’s going on,” he said, nodding. “The poison renders you defenseless so she can suck your life force. Or something like that. Defies belief, but it happened to you, right?”

To our collective relief, R was the only person who voted for D to become a permanent member. Terribly offended by our rejection of his friend, R quit in a huff, after which a year of marvelous communion ensued.

Two times in my life since then I have experienced what Ross Perot famously declared of Clinton’s NAFTA, “that giant sucking sound” as my life force was guzzled by beings who appeared on their surfaces to be regular old human folk. Do I believe psychic leeches are aliens? Well, that depends on your definition of alien. From another planet? I resist that idea. Surely we have all the ingredients for growing emotional vampires right here at home. Tibetan Buddhism refers to these beings as hungry ghosts. No matter how much they consume, their hunger can never be appeased. But why was R immune to D? Perhaps he and she were fellow aliens, or at least vultures of the same feather.

(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, August 2010. Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com)