Posts Tagged ‘resolutions’

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.

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.

All Or Nothing

Friday, January 7th, 2011

“Every day: meditation, chocolate, a glass of port wine, and flirting with young men.” Beatrice Wood at age 98 on her secret to longevity

“I’m never drinking coffee again,” said my friend, reciting his New Year’s resolutions. “And no more alcohol. And I’m off all sugar. And I’m joining a health club and I’m gonna work out for at least an hour a day, every day. Without fail.”

“Wow,” I said, having heard similar declarations from this fellow before. “Sounds draconian.”

“Look,” he said, piqued by my hint of sarcasm, “it’s all or nothing with me. One cup of coffee, I’m hooked again. One piece of chocolate, I’m a goner.” He glared at his big round tummy. “Moderation doesn’t work for me.”

“There can only be one winner, but isn’t that the American way?” Gig Young

I’ve often thought ALL OR NOTHING could be our national motto, for the concept infects virtually every aspect of our political, economic, social, and emotional lives.

“The only way I can figure out what I really think about anything is to write about it.” Norman Mailer

Throughout the 1990’s I worked with hundreds of writers to help them improve their writing. Some were beginners, some were advanced, and several were published authors, but they all began their time with me by confiding that they felt like failures because they did not write for at least two hours every day and produce piles of inspired prose as prescribed by those iconic books about how to be a writer. I will not name these bestsellers, for you may own one or two of them and believe they possess some value. I will only testify that these tomes have dampened the spirits and aspirations of countless writers rather than helping them in any meaningful way.

To those who have been wounded by such knuckleheaded all-or-nothing strategies, I offer the following insight. The most straightforward way I know of to establish a writing practice is to make writing your habit. There are many ways to become habituated to writing, but the underlying mechanism for developing any habit is to do the thing, the would-be habit, on a regular basis. For instance, I have a habit of making a cup of herb tea every morning after I get the fire going, and then I drink the tea whilst considering what lies ahead. This making and having a cup of tea every morning became my habit because I did it almost every day until the making and drinking became routine. The same holds true for establishing a writing practice.

“The most beautiful words in the English language are “You’ve lost weight.” Christopher Buckley

My father helped establish a clinic at Stanford Children’s Hospital for psychosomatically ill children and adolescents. These kids are so ill they have to be hospitalized or they might die. The vast majority of the patients in this clinic are starving themselves to death for fear of being fat; or as one psychotherapist put it, for fear of not being skinny enough.

What I found most interesting in learning about these anorexics was that nearly all of them quickly improved once they got away from their families and schools and television, and many of them just as quickly relapsed when they returned to the outside world. What could be going on in our society to make so many young people feel they cannot be skinny enough, while so many other people are eating themselves into morbid obesity? I see the twin epidemics of anorexia and obesity as symptoms of the all or nothing nature of our society.

“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” George Bernard Shaw

There is a movie by Cameron Crowe called Singles. I haven’t watched the film since it came out in 1992, but the scene I remember most vividly (and my memory may have rewritten the scene somewhat) involves a character played by Bridget Fonda who wants to have her breasts enlarged because she believes her boyfriend played by Matt Dillon will love her more and not be interested in other women if she, Bridget’s character, has much larger breasts.

So she goes to a doctor who specializes in breast enhancement and the doctor falls in love with her at first sight and thinks she’s perfect just as she is. Oblivious to the doctor’s romantic interest in her, Bridget and the doctor stand shoulder-to-shoulder staring into a computer screen where a drawing of a woman’s torso and head can be manipulated with a dial to make the breasts grow larger or smaller. At first the drawing displays girlish breasts the size of Bridget’s breasts, and Bridget turns the knob to make the breasts grow larger and larger until each breast is nearly as big as the head of the woman in the drawing. Then the doctor spins the knob the other way and the breasts shrink to the size of Bridget’s breasts, and then Bridget commandeers the knob and makes the breasts bigger. Back and forth. All or nothing.

“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Bellow

“Todd is a writer,” said a hostess introducing me to a well-heeled couple at her party. And then, winking ironically, our hostess fled.

“Written any bestsellers?” smirked the man.

“Honey,” said his wife, nudging him. “Don’t be rude.”

“What’s rude? Maybe he has. Have you?”

“No,” I said, feeling a strange admixture of shame and a desire to punch the guy in the nose. “Not yet.”

“Get on Oprah,” said the man, nodding authoritatively. “That’s the way to do it. She tells the world she loves your stuff, you’re a made man.”

“I’ll give her a call,” I said, looking for the nearest exit.

“You wish,” said the man, snorting.

A silence fell and the chasm of all or nothing opened between us.

“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” John Emerich Dalberg-Acton

I will never forget a long ago conversation I had with two writers, a woman from France and a man from Germany. This was in 1982, but the scene is still vivid in my mind. We were sitting in a modest café in Santa Monica, sipping wine and discussing our shared passion: movies. The next thing I knew, these charming people were sincerely trying to convince me to move to Europe because, as the woman put it, “Your government is doomed to fascism, and as your government goes, so goes your culture. Can’t you see? If you have only these two identical parties, there can be no voice for socialism. This is why the big corporations are buying the movie studios. To promote their agenda.”

“Besides,” said the man, who admired my stories and plays, “there is no place for your writing here. You will have an audience in Europe. Your work is character-driven, as the agents like to call anything even slightly nuanced, which is the kiss of death in Hollywood. But in Germany we love stories about real people. Everything here is a cartoon now. You should come to Europe.”

“Your work is too subtle,” said the woman, sighing. “And your characters are not predictable. They hate us to be unpredictable here.”

“You will be ignored. Come to Germany.”

“Or France,” said the woman, smiling assuredly. “We will sponsor you, and within a year you will have a play produced, I’m sure.”

“You can make a living as a writer in Europe,” said the man, nodding. “You might not get rich, but you can make a living with your craft. Isn’t that what you want?”

But I was too enamored of the vision of rising from nothing and getting it all—uncompromising art and riches; so I stayed in America and rode the rollercoaster of my career up and down, mostly down, to this roughly level ground where I stand today, a habitué of these hinterlands, writing because it is my habit and my passion, sharing these words with you through the auspices of our instantaneously reactive Universe that loves everything from the tiniest Nothing to the grandest of Alls. Or so I like to think.

“It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice—there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” Frank Zappa