Meditation #861

Is the tendency to jump up and do something,
to mail a package or buy some eggs,
sheer momentum,
or the need to run away
from what I do not know?

It comes only when I sit and stay and wait.

breathe. . . .

Though even that is cliche these days and probably trademarked
just as are words like "evident"
which when searched
comes up first,
a tech company
and next,
a thing that is obvious.

Have you noticed how we are branded?

Ever consider how brands have taken over our conversations?

At a friend's party in Minneapolis,
a very hip dude, points out
how he is wearing Kitty's
"the most unhip shoe"

that he got on-line for $35
shaking his head for being
so uncool with his 70's tennis shoes.

Painter by night, marketing creative by day,
Kitty's, I later find out
is one of his clients.

brand:  an identifying mark burned on livestock or slaves with a branding iron


dear marigold,

why so tired
why can't you stand
for so long
without a thought to hold your hand
oh marigold!
growing old

marigold wings!
used to rely on you
thought you could get me through
oh marigold
so old



More Unmentionables

People ask, "What have you been doing this summer?"

And when I respond, "Working on a manuscript," no one says a thing, and we immediately move on to other topics and later I wonder if I actually mentioned it or just imagined it.

Is it the rather awkward way I say it or is there something inherently embarrassing about working on a manuscript?  Is it something about Wisconsin, or more universal?

Is it something about the act of expression or something about commenting on your own creative endeavors that is off-putting?

Why in a culture that celebrates artists who aggressively promote their work, is it seen as unseemly and self-indulgent to do so?

Or is it just me?

Is it that no one knows what to say?  I might ask:

What kind of manuscript?
Is it your first?
Tell me about it.

Perhaps knowing my work, they feel embarrassed for me, like the people who walked by while I was playing banjo to one sleeping bum in the parklet.

Why will a blog post get zero likes, but a photo of a cat get dozens?

So when people ask about what I've been up to this summer, rather than mention the manuscript, I answer, "Painting the house," which is much easier to talk about.

What color?
The whole thing?
By yourself? 
Ever done that before?
Ever consider siding?


Summer Reading: Lawrence Weschler's Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

while painting the house
i am thinking about Robert Irwin
who dedicated his life

to asking questions
about perception

there is an art to perceiving
at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago
 where Robert Irwin laid down a line of black tape

in an empty gallery he otherwise did not change
four out of the five guards who worked there
asked if he had installed the column in the center of the room

a column that has been there since 
the building housed a bakery
how to see what we do not and not what we to see


Dreaming of Marigold Wings

dreaming of marigold wings
where the pelicans soar into the clouds

where the fox river drops
over the dam
spilling an ancient truth

about what i can not grasp
where the marigolds bloom
along the avenue

about what i can not grasp
as the owl
hoots to the moon

dreaming of marigold wings
where the pelicans soar into the clouds

where the fox river drops 
over the dam
spilling its ancient truth


towards the end of mile four

playing banjo in the empty parklet
as the end of the festival grew near,
people walking by averting their eyes

three kids gave thumbs up
a friend of my son said hi
a thin man stumbled in

laid down to sleep 
with his pack
between me and his head

a young hobo screeched to a halt
with a blanket, a lunch box, a washboard
and something dripping from his bag

he asked me to watch his stuff
while he went to pee
i said sure enough and kept on playing

two clean cut guys set their chairs real close
mind if we listen? they asked with a smile
and i kept on playing


$20 Art: Coming Soon to The 602 Club


you expect me to write
something that relates to the image.

But what if what is written
is complete happenstance

and the only connection the words have
with the image is in your imagination?

What then?


In Search of Another Ending

banjo doppelganger

How can I know what I am going to write, until I sit down to write it?

How can I know what I am going to play, until I sit down to play it?

I am not on a train, but Joe Brainard is.

At the bar, I look out my banjo warning that I approach it as an experiment, that I played for two years before even trying to tune it properly.

My family bought it for my 41st birthday.  Now I am 45.

After I played, a woman with mountain girl eyes told me how she loves my story, how she saw me play at Marcie’s two weeks ago.

That wasn’t me, I said.

Oh.  She didn’t seem that surprised.

You mean there’s another woman who looks like me, plays the banjo like me, and has my same story?

She nodded, smiling.  “Yes, but now that I think about it, she has glasses.”

Nothing is new but the path we choose.

Zuihitsu is a literary style of the late tenth century Japan, the practice of following the whim of the pen.

Boundaries dissolve.

The neighbor is cleaning his grill.

The boys are due back soon.

I remember thinking I was done.

I remember thinking there is no end.

banjo moon


A Case for Improvisation

Maybe we’ve got it wrong.  Maybe it’s the other way around.  Maybe it’s improvisation that should be the basis for all musical study.  Why not let music evolve the way language does, allowing the young student to babble and experiment, encouraging the forming of original sentences?  Why not teach young musicians to play by feel before learning to play by sheet music?  Why not widen the possibilities before narrowing the road? 


I remember reading Joe Brainard

I remember being out in the forest.

I remember my mom cutting my hair.

I remember being told I should play oboe.

I remember the music teacher saying I had to start with flute.

I remember the doctor telling me my upper lip was too big to play the flute. 

I remember wanting to play the drums.

I remember some special friends boldly playing instruments they didn't know how to play. 

I remember being awed by the stars.  

I remember wondering who I'd be when I got older.

I remember thinking I was old when I wasn't.  

I remember dreaming that I was sitting at the piano playing a piece my brother often played, one I would never be good enough to.

I remember being astonished.

I remember every once in a while being moved by a small bit of music I was practicing.

I remember forgetting what I was supposed to be playing.

I remember crying.

I remember regretting that I hadn't become a musician.

I remember thinking, why not just pretend you are playing Chopin.

I remember the teacher saying, play the black keys. 

I remember playing for 3 hours.

I remember rejoicing.

I remember being ashamed.

I remember realizing I didn't need to be.  


It Takes Courage

My mother-in-law tells me about a friend

Who is off doing an amazing thing,

Overcoming fears,

Enduring pain,

Pushing harder, faster, further.

And there are many notes of congratulations,

And cheers of encouragement,

And proclamations of how brave she is.

Meanwhile, back at home,

The partner of the woman who is doing a most amazing thing,

Takes care of the house and the lawn and the bills and the pets.

And nobody's cheering, admiring, praising.

My mother-in-law asks,

"Which takes more courage?"


Preparing for the Improv 2020's: Make Your Practice a Priority

be determined to make your practice a priority

(you will always be able to find excuses not to practice)

so don't accept excuses

(sometimes you miss out)

but always you gain

respect your practice

(and everyone else will too)

sorry, i can't today

(clean or shop or wash or email or cook or organize or plan or meet)

because i must practice

(this thing whatever it is)

that which drives me

(maybe you don't even know

what your practice is)

still, by making it a priority

you will (someday) find

(with patience)

what you didn't know

(was there)


On Obsessing about the Ill Way I Behaved in Writers Group

I said a dumb thing and now I can't get over it.

Is it because I know better?

Is it because of my reputation of coming on too strong and later regretting it?

Only one arrow I tell myself and launch two dozen more.

The details really don't matter.

It's the general trend that is of concern.

I get all wound up by the energy in the room,

All these people, just like me, 

Suspended by this fragile thing.

Obviously, I'm still learning how to channel it.

Encourage and ask questions.
What's so hard about that?

The writer advised me: Stop making assumptions

and telling other people what to write.

And of course,

she is right,

a reflection of myself. 


"no reasaonable interpretation can entirely explain it away"*

And what about Marianne Moore,
Robert Pinsky?
Do you try to write like her?
Do you sometimes wear a tricorne hat?
Secreted away in your wife's walk-in closet?
Admiring how the angles of your strong jaw and sharp nose
Reflect against the angles of this poetic relic?

Searching always searching
Like those whiskered cats
Fishing for poems on lake bottoms.

Like my father used to say,
"A word to the wise is sufficient,"
Though we never knew what he meant.

Did he feel his words were wasted
On our dumb deaf ears?
Or was he open to wider interpretation?

It's hard to say, oh Robert Pinsky,
When Marianne Moore says it so well,
An idea full of tangles
A sensation thick with thorns.

*A quote by Robert Pinsky (Singing School) in the introduction to Marianne Moore's poem "Silence".
It is his response to her line "the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth".


In Search of the Unifying Principles of Composition

I ask my cousin:

Is there a unifying principle of composition that stretches across all arts?  Whether choreographer or filmmaker or painter or writer or musician etc., shouldn't it be that the principles of composition are the same?

He says:

It sounds intuitively correct, but you'd have to ask experts from all those fields in order to really know.

I thought that was a good idea.

But other things happened.

In Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit, she, a choreographer, suggests an exercise she likes to do to warm up.  She arranges coins on paper.

I tried it with a couple of classes, adding pebbles, push pins, rubber bands.

What art is not an arrangement of something, whether objects, sounds, ideas, experiences, movements, words?

What are we if not arrangers?

Why do I prefer making nonsymmetrical arrangements?

Why are symmetrical arrangements so pleasing?


A Few Things I Remember About Thomas Riedelsheimer's film Touch the Sound

When Evelyn Glennie was young, she lost her hearing.
Her doctor said she would have to give up piano.
 Evelyn's parents didn't agree.

I remember finding the movie at the library.

I remember thinking that a deaf person couldn't be a musician.

I remember thinking there was such a thing as silence.

I remember thinking, for a good ways into the documentary, that I must have misunderstood the blurb on the cover because clearly, this is a hearing person.

I remember trying very hard to understand.

How do you hear?

How do you?

With my ears.

I hear with my whole body, says Evelyn Glennie.

I remember being riveted by her snare drum solo in Grand Central Station.  She played with her whole body, her face, her hair.  When she was done and people clapped, she seemed suddenly embarrassed.  Out on the streets she is easily confused by the many sounds coming from everywhere, whereas in an empty warehouse, or a concert hall, or a quiet restaurant, she's a star.

I remember thinking Fred Frith seems like a great guy.

I have many favorite scenes, but one I especially like: Evelyn playing in a restaurant in Japan, with an impromptu drum set she assembled with cups and kitchen utensils.