Last Week's Song


tad neuhaus, organ
joanna dane, vocals

i just want to sit in the sun and wonder
what i've done with this life i've been given
thank you for encouraging me not to get discouraged
by those compelling twins jaded and bitter
thank you for giving me permission
to keep going no matter folly nor foe
thank you for looking me in the eyes
and urging me to keep going
just keep being who you are

just keep being who you are
without waver or doubt
without worry that there is no capital I
only small i's and smaller
until we disappear into a star

la de de la de do

how much for a tow to the other side of the galaxy
where no one knows you my friend
where everyone's a stranger
with the hope of starting out new

if i had to do it all over again
i'd be braver sooner
i'd linger longer
at times both beautiful and depraved

la de de la de do

someday we'll all be
over done kaput bye-bye c'est fini
the last box to check on the to do list
my dear

la de de la de do

sitting in the sun
wondering about this life
we've been given



Strathmore Pass the Journal: A Tiny Selection from an Appleton Edition

drew a birdman in a grave
with fancy boots
a snake winding up his leg
standing on a corpse 
as he holds up the smiling moon,
while the corpse
forever shopkeeper
tick tock
tick tock

drawing by Elyse Mische

questions by Joanna Dane

What are you thinking as you turn through these pages?
What are the stories you bear?
Does Birdman visit in the night?
Can we hear him over our judgments?
How long until I must go?
Do you think you could do better?
Why are we so concerned with good and bad?
How many ways to the moon?
Are you wondering why this and not that?
Do you believe in magic?

How many times a day do you wonder what time is it?
Why am I always hurrying from one thing to the next? 
What am I running from?
How long do we need to study a picture before we can truly understand it?
Why do we so often rely on our initial reaction 
when so often it is clouded by
 jealousy, greed, contempt?

When Birdman calls, do you run and hide? 
Do you curl up in a ball?
Do you slide down into a hole?
Do you scream and cry?
Does your heart shatter?
Do you walk for miles and miles on dear trails
that lead to the middle of nowhere?


Tranquility and the Revolution: Zeno Effect

What we thought was a podcast, turned out to be a silent film.

photo by Len Borruso

film by Len Borruso
music by Tad Neuhaus and Joanna Dane


Art School Teacher: Mindfulness Class

I asked the students what they thought we should do in mindfulness class and one suggested we plant something.  So today she brought in dirt and another student brought in seeds and I scrounged some containers from the art room.

One girl didn't want to touch the dirt because she thought it was gross so I encouraged her to stick her arm in and pull out a handful though she only managed to pinch a small bit between the fingers.

We played with the dirt and smelled it and studied the seeds and planted them and accidentally sprayed them with rubbing alcohol.

The girl who didn't want to touch the dirt, the same one who said she hates meditation because of her ADHD, was unusually lively and kept apologizing that she forgot to take her meds this morning.

When I asked them to draw the dirt, she said she can't draw anything, but then she drew the dirt and said she could draw it because it's all lines, shapes, dots.

I've never seen her smile so easy like she did today talking about how she hates dirt and can't draw anything.


Bowie's Cut Ups


Now that everyone is talking about David Bowie, I realize that I knew almost nothing about him.  Yes, certain of his songs were highly influential but most I couldn’t have told you were David Bowie until I heard them playing on the radio this week. 
Now there's a constellation named after him. 

From a biography on display at the library, I learned that he predicted before anyone knew about him that he would soon be a millionaire, though he did fail so hard after saying it that he almost quit music to join a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

But the most interesting thing I've learned about Bowie is from Len who's in mourning, who told me about Bowie’s cut up method of writing lyrics, where he would cut words and phrases from magazines and newspapers and rearrange them.  

Why haven't I heard anyone but Len talking about this?  

Once, long ago I heard an interview with Bowie where he said that he hates the repetition of a tour, that the excitement for him is in the creating of a show, but once accomplished, to repeat over and over is torture.   



And the Clouds Turned to Birds

Along the trail where the trees open up to reveal the Fox River
I ran into the student from Hong Kong
who plays improvisational bass

He had made a box camera with slow exposure film and had just posed for a portrait, 
standing still for 20 minutes (or was it two hours?) 
I was so amazed.  He said it wasn't that big of a deal.


Caution: Drawings Ahead

This morning I've been doing a terrible job drawing David Bowie.  I need a drawing of him for a post and so I've been drawing but it's complete crap.  

So I made some tea and got a snack of nuts and chocolate and feeling chilled, am now sitting by the fire thinking about what terrible drawings I made of David Bowie.

And here continues my contribution to the Great American Monologue.  

Yesterday Len told us about being on the bus going from the Mission to the Marina where he was taking an art class, worrying because that day they were starting figure drawing with a nude model and though he had drawn houses and plants and shoes and streetscapes and boats (and was even a little pleased with some of them), he was so insecure about the idea of drawing a live nude that he bolted off the bus before his stop, leaving his portfolio behind.  

And he hasn't drawn since.  


The Insanity Manuscript

Some speculate that The Insanity Manuscript does not exist, that the author has only imagined it. 

Others argue that in imagining it, it exists.

Is existence a continuum or an absolute?

Is there anything that doesn't exist?


More on Pessoa

After as long of a walk as I can stand in this cold, it's time to sit by the fire and read Pessoa.  At random I open to section 152 of A Factless Autobiography where he begins, "I'm astounded whenever I finish something.  Astounded and distressed."

Lately, I've been noticing a growing desire to write, and sometimes being satisfied with what I have written, but never being satisfied that it is enough.

Here's what I wrote last week about my writing practice:  "It's an addiction, a habit. I don't feel complete if I don't write.  That's why I do it.  I never felt like I had something important I needed to share, but rather I've always been enchanted by the game of trying to distill experience into words."

And now I read Pessoa in section 152, writing in early 1900's Lisbon, "Writing is like the drug I abhor and keep taking, the addiction I despise and depend on."

Could it be that I open to a random page in a random book and read the author discuss the very thing I was writing last week?  Or, did I, during the several times I've thumbed though the book since buying it in San Francisco, catch that passage (or a similar one) and reiterate it without realizing its source, like humming a familiar song without noticing it was the one playing in the grocery store?  

Pessoa, I'm discovering, was always fretting about how he only writes fragments, how much he envies those who can complete things, though completing, it turns out, has its own set of anxieties.  

I suspect that Pessoa (like Sei Shonagon of late 900's Japan), would have thrived as a blogger where every post both stands alone and is part of a whole, an on-going scroll, without a true beginning or end.  


Top Ten Ways to Chase Fourteen Year Olds Out of the House

Ask them to babysit their little siblings.

Tell them your meditation group is coming over.

Play improvisational banjo in the living room.

Offer broccoli as a snack.

Get out the camera.

Offer $.

Cancel the internet.

Ask about their sex ed. class.

Put on a DVD of their latest piano recital.

Dance like a maniac to Gangnam Style.


On Using Office Paper and Naming Un-Namable Things

Instead of writing in blank journals, I am now writing on extra long office paper, which among artists is a grave faux pas.  Not the extra long part, but the office paper part, office paper being inferior, the lowliest class of paper; nonarchival, amateur.  

That's to say nothing about the Sharpie, that starts to fade the moment it hits the paper.  

How much time until it disappears altogether these words I'm writing today January 15, 2016?  

Is it fair to believe they need archival quality?   

My dad told me to save it all.  So for the most part I have.  

Mostly likely, my husband will throw it all in a dumpster behind Target once I've gone senile. 

Or maybe one brilliant night, I'll decide to make a bonfire of it.

For now, I'm adding stacks of extra long office paper to the archive.  

I like the length of this paper and the freedom to shuffle the pages, working on many small things while working on one big thing.  

The Insanity Manuscript, from how I understand it, is the manuscript Tranquility is working on, inspired by Pessoa, works that can not, by definition, ever be finished.  

I got an email from Judy, my friend from Tucson who I first approached years ago in the little park by our house, having overheard her talking about her novel-writing group. 

 Judy is a wonderfully sharp critic with a biting edge that always makes me laugh.  

This time, she went easy on me.  "We can go there, but don't name it that."

Frankly, it is beyond my control.


To Do List: Submit Work to Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Triennial

Preparing for the Improv 2020’s

Words and Images by Joanna Dane (except where noted)
Sounds by Joanna Dane, Tad Neuhaus, and Matt Turner
Sound editing by Tad Neuhaus

Mrs. Watson’s Bango
A collection of banjo songs and fragments Tad and I made spontaneously on my porch during the summer of 2013.

The Diddley Bow Album: Until the Glass Breaks
Tad was hosting a diddley bow making workshop at The Wisdom of Wombats Pop-Up Gallery so we thought why not make an album to give away at the workshop.  But we only had a few days.  So we spent one evening playing around with the diddley bow until we broke the glass bottle that held the single string and Tad edited it into The Diddley Bow Album.

Old Shakuhachi Woman*
When listening back to our first improvisation with the shakuhachi (Japanese flute), I heard the soul of an old woman.  And so we improvised with the intention of channeling the voice of this old woman.  And listening back, I heard the story of her life. 

*exhibited as an interactive art and sound piece, Trout Museum Members Biennial 2015

Tiny Songs
During that year if we didn’t improvise more than five new tiny songs in an evening, we were disappointed.  I brought in lyrics I wrote during the week.  Tad played.  I sang.  We captured over a hundred songs in their infancy, many one minute long, still full of wonder and curiosity.  92 are on the album, about half of which are published in the Tiny Songs Chapbook accompanied by drawings from the blog A Terminal Case of Whimsy.

We wanted to make something for a Houdini themed exhibit.  So Tad bought some chains and I checked out some books from the Appleton Public Library, taking notes in the form of lyrics.  And then we improvised. Soon, we realized we could make an entire biography.  So we did some more research and filled in a few gaps and got lost tromping around by the Fox River looking for the historic Houdini plague.

**exhibited as an interactive art and sound piece “Escape from Death”, Feather and Bone Gallery, Mile of Music 2015


The Insanity Manuscript, A (excerpt from Tranquility and the Revolution)

The author's attitude towards the Insanity Manuscript wavers between boundless enthusiasm and hopeless doubt.

During bouts of uncertainty, she considers moving to an organic farm where she will pick berries barefooted, and converse with earnest young farmers, where she will have no need to write any of it down or take a picture or make an audio recording.

But for the time being, she clings to her tenuous hold on The Insanity Manuscript, desperate to not let it slip through her fingers.


Pinch Point

I lost my devise.  I looked in all the jacket pockets and I looked in various bags, and all around the house, though I suspected it dropped from my purse when I was tromping along deer trails by the river because when I got home, I gasped, seeing the purse's outside pocket hanging open.

I thought about going back, to retrace my steps, but it turned very cold.  I kept imagining going down there and seeing it, laying among leaves, so yesterday morning after walking my daughter to school, I headed for the river, fast because it was so cold.  

I couldn't remember exactly where I left the trail, but it didn't really matter.  It had snowed to the point where nothing could be found.

Today, after giving in entirely to the idea of never seeing it again, I found it at the bottom of a purse I rarely use. I jumped up and down, celebrating finding what it turns out I never really lost.  




More Music from Johanastan

A traditional Tuesday afternoon
celebration in Johanastan,
during the cold of winter,
sitting by the fire
eating walnuts and apples
playing banjo
waiting for the kids to get home.


on having a terminal case of whismy

here is what i do
here is what i say
here is how i like to greet the day

here is how do you do
here is wondering if you too
wonder why do you do what you do

here is how i laugh
here is how i cry
here is how i like to wonder why

here is how it sounds
here is letting flow
without holding onto something we don't know.

oo who
oo who
oo who
who who who
who who


A Trip to San Francisco: Selected Murals and Thoughts

There must be a lot of people in San Francisco writing in notebooks because around every corner is another high design store selling archival notebooks and pens. My husband keeps eyeing the fancy pencil holders.

That is a pencil holder, right? he asks.

Yes, I tell him.

But the only person I see this week writing in a journal is a woman in the boulangerie in the Hayes Valley across from the David Best temple.

Here, is the possibility of many digressions.

Vegetarians are hard to come by. The names of stores are not apparent. The longest line we see is for the bakery whose name I learn only by studying a city permit taped to the window. Pour-overs have replaced espressos. My husband's favorite bar smells like the inside of a barn.

Even though it doesn't dawn on me until days from now, the reason my brother is driving me crazy is because I am driving him crazy, trying to give him advice about his aching knee. 

Stretching will help. And new shoes. And elevating the knee. 

He tells me to stop acting like I'm his mom.  

There was a brief time when I was ten or eleven that we went to family therapy. Our appointments were at the same time as Cheers, our favorite show, bringing another level of gloom to the occasion. The therapist had bowls of candy that we weren't allowed to eat. While I sat, staring at the candy bowl, my brother told me, at the prompting of the therapist, that he hates it when I act like his mom. I was mortified and swore to myself I'd never do it again.

But sometimes I can't stop myself. "And you should also take some pain killers."

"You don't know, you're not a doctor!" my bother snaps.  And then he goes on and on about how stupid the Grateful Dead is.

I wake before everyone and sneak upstairs with the intention of reading The Book of Disquiet and writing in my journal which I haven't yet written in.  Instead I find myself regretting that I did not insist we take the Muni downtown to see the Grateful Dead last night.  I can't let it go, so frustrated with my lack of initiative, even though we didn't know about it until our friends texted a couple of hours before the show. They tried but couldn't get a babysitter. We dropped it. But now, the next morning, I feel terrible about missing it.  I am close to tears when I finally go back to the basement to wake up my husband.  

"I feel terrible that we didn't go to see the Grateful Dead."

"Don't worry about it," he says. "I didn't want to go anyway."

And all my regret dissolves.

One by one my friends tell me they are in therapy, spurred no doubt by my husband who has been trying to get me to go to therapy for years.  Laura G. likens it to untangling the roots.  Liam says he was afraid he'd know more than his therapist.  Jonathan, a therapist, advises to think of it like dating, shop around for the right one.  Paul tells me to just keep being me.  Laura P. says, in such a cute way, that in getting older, she feels like she can't rely on her cuteness the way she once did, even though she still totally can. Laura G. refuses to admit that we are middle aged.  

But why? In our middle age, we have lived enough to no longer be young. We understand the long term.  We see what decades of practice does.  We feel the cycles of life and the value of traditions. We have witnessed growth from infant to youth, from youth to middle age, from middle age to elder. We have lots to regret and realize we have a limited time remaining. We reflect deeply. We laugh, but we also cry.

When my friend who is 27 comments that she loves hanging out with people in their 40's, I tell her it's because we are defeated, yet still healthy.  

Oh yes, about The Book of Disquiet.  It was on the staff recommendations shelf at Green Apple Books in the Inner Sunset.  It contains the work of Fernando Pessoa: A Factless Autobiography and A Disquiet Anthology.  From what I gather, these are the writings that Pessoa did as a diary of Bernardo Soares who worked in an office on Rua dos Douradores where he also lived "in a humble rented room, writing in his spare time." 

(Richard Zenith in the introduction)

"In Bernardo Soares - a prose writer who poetizes, a dreamer who thinks, a mystic who doesn't believe, a decadent who doesn't indulge - Pessoa invented the best author possible (and who was just a mutilated copy of himself) to provide unity to a book which, by nature, couldn't have one."

Here is something to admire.

In every store is a sense of imminent importance, of supporting a righteous cause.  We are all very concerned. Things that were once considered in bad taste - taxidermy, manufacturing, eating meat - are now elevated to new levels of respect and art, the ideas themselves renewed by design and innovative marketing. 

In all the stores is a reverence for tradition.  

At the perfectly imperfect tile factory store, I buy Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers a book by Leonard Koren.

From the Introduction:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.

Back at home, two different friends tell me they're scared of going back to therapy because just the thought brings up a lot of difficult memories.  


Day of a King

Dear Husband,

I love experiencing the world with you.

I am so lucky to be your wife.

Thank you for supporting my whimsy.

Thank you for being a great father.

Thank you for bringing the 602 Club to the neighborhood.

Happy birthday to a very funny urban planner!