Character Study: Biffy

When I asked Biffy to bring me an ice cream scoop, she brought a tablespoon.

I described the scoop and which drawer it was in and she brought back a ladle.

"No," I said.  "The ice cream scoop," louder this time, with emphasis, to be perfectly clear.

She came back with a measuring cup.

"What are you, some kind of fool?!" I barked.

Biffy laughed and laughed.


Are You Ready for the Improv 2020's? Guideline #6 - Give Permission

Dear friend who is considering buying a banjo,

Buy it, bring it home, take it out, and play around with it.

Don't go searching for how to properly play it, or even how to properly tune it.

Pluck it, strum it, thump it, make as many different sounds as you can.

Howl right along with it.

Do that for a while.

Don't put it away in its case, but keep it out, in a room you frequent.

When you see it, pick it up.

Play with the strings while turning the tuning pegs.

Hold it one way, and then hold it another.  Play with it lying down, standing up, as well as while you are sitting.

Set your goal to explore rather than achieve.

I know you know all this already and even taught me some of these things.

It's not as easy as it sounds, and yet it's the easiest thing there is.

I give you permission, just like my kids gave me, to take that banjo and play it however it makes you happy, wherever this path may lead.

And if that's not working for you, try something else until you find something that does.


*Works the same for accordions, violas, pianos, harps, trombones, shakers, castanets, harmonicas, violins, tubas, basses, flutes, drums, cellos, trumpets, sitars, glockenspiels, vibraphones, recorders, bagpipes, kazoos, symbols, clarinets, bassoons, french horns, organs, berimbaus, marimbas, saxophones, cajons, didgeridoos, guitars, ukuleles, zithers, ___________.


A 602 Club Pick of the Week

Frank Rippl accompanies Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush on the pipe organ


The History Museum, Drew and College, Appleton

Monday, February 23, 6:30pm


Listen to Frank talk about The Gold Rush, the Wurlitzer factory 
and why Vince Lombardi stopped going to Appleton's finest restaurant, Alex's Crown.


"You Had to Be the Oddball and Mess Things Up"

When I was thirteen I was annoyed at how tidy and predicable (i.e. dull) our home life was.  My parents called it "stability" and bragged that I could have my flights of fancy precisely because they offered such a stable home life.

When John F. took me to Dan S.'s house, I was awed by the chaos.  His mom was a potter and there were pots and fabrics and boxes and papers everywhere and all kinds of interesting people in and out of the house spouting all kinds of ludicrous ideas and plans and I thought, this is the kind of house I'm going to have when I grow up!

I have fulfilled that dream, but, as it so often turns out, my 13 year old has an altogether different dream.



What if Andy Goldsworthy?

If it had been that Andy Goldsworthy never became known for his ephemeral sculptures made from natural objects, would he still have spent long afternoons out by the tree working intuitively trying to build a web of sticks that wouldn't collapse while his wife was back at home cooking for their gaggle of kids?  

Would his wife have been charmed that he was out the whole day plucking iron rocks from the river bed and grinding them into powder just so he could turn a waterfall red for a few brief seconds?  

What would the towns' people have thought of Andy collecting dandelions and floating them in chains down the creek if no one had ever paid him a dime for these strange behaviors, if no one considered him a world renowned artist?


Best Vest

My poor husband

having to see me


wearing the vest

his own mothers bought,

a very nice vest,

he admits,

(made of sacrificed teddy bears)

a cozy vest,


but a vest

he reminds me,

that loses its freshness

when worn too often.

I accept.

But at 5 degrees

what is better than

the best vest?


Upon Visiting Alice Neel

These are the strange things we encounter.  Worlds we didn’t know were there.  Moods that turn.  We are encouraged to share what we create, yet when we promote our work we are labeled self-serving.

My friend is a painter in the old-fashioned sense, painting portraits, and so will never be recognized for her work because it is too old-fashioned, all the real painters abstractionists.  But she does it anyway, filling her small apartment with these portraits, searching for freedom but never finding it, in her words, the only work there is. 

Art is the search, she says, and it lightens my mood which has been dark for days.  How is it that an idea, a flash of words, changes the chemistry and suddenly, we can write again or breathe or whatever, when any number of platitudes offered by friends could not break through, but I sat, heavy. 

Or is it that at that time of night, after so many days of gray and a cup of wine and a note, that an eruption of molecules just happened to coincide with the utterance from Alice, and suddenly I am back to work again and what seemed impossible is now possible, what seemed ravaged now appears whole, what was so thin, now again full?

There is only one way to deal with this thicket of greedy thought that wants only to compare and lambast and pout and that is to turn away from it and to keep up the search, as Alice says, the only work there is. 


Old Shakuhachi Woman, at The Trout Museum's Biennial Members' Show: Opening this Friday, February 6th, 5-7:30pm, Appleton, Wisconsin

I woke up nervous even though I was the only one home.  I had the entire morning to get ready for the trip, no one to walk to school.  I was irritated at the radio.  The milk was sour.  I was nervous about everything I needed to get done.  I was nervous about getting lost.

I cleaned up the house and stood at the sink, washing yesterday's dishes.  At first it was pleasant, but then I got frustrated that it was taking so long.  The printer jammed.  I broke a bottle.  And I couldn't find my warm mittens.

I was worried about the weather and worried about my boots.  I was worried about my hands and worried about lunch.  I was worried about class and worried I was forgetting something important.  I was worried about the neighborhood vaudeville show and about Old Shakuhachi Woman.

She travels for 3 days and nights 
with the little girl 
who has only one good eye 
and who likes to stand on her tip-toes.


joanna dane, shakuhachi
tad neuhaus, mbira