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I was going to go twice as fast and learn a new key every half month, since I already have a good grasp of the key for January, B. But I am ...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


I was going to go twice as fast and learn a new key every half month, since I already have a good grasp of the key for January, B. But I am resisting that temptation. Instead, I will use the rest of the month just to reinforce what I've learned and dwell a while comfortably in this new territory. February will be E major. Ultimately, what I want is a very good grasp of 12 keys, so I will force myself to play a lot even in ones I already know well. At least I can already say that B is not one of my weakest one.  Now those would be F#/Gb and E. A, D, and G are not hard, but I haven't written songs in those keys yet. I am more comfortable in C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Some French serials

I am watching some French Netflix serials to practice French comprehension, and to give myself some things non-work related to do before classes start tomorrow.  I put the subtitles on in French. and I understand everything that way. A couple things I noticed:

They don't do the questions the way I was taught:  Où est-il.  They say: Il est où?  They never use the thing I was taught:  "Est-ce que..." to introduce a question.

You can get mileage out of "ça va" as question, answer to its own question, or "ça va mal," and "Je suis desolx".  

They don't use ne... all the time. I only notice when it's not there so maybe that's not consistent. They way "Je sais pas" not "Je ne sais pas."

They write out oui as ouai when they want to emphasize that pronunciation.  

A flic is a cop. All these shows have lots of flics.

I don't care for the plots much. The shows bear the outward trappings of quality tv, with pretty but also edgy camera angles, like the shot with background moving in and out of focus, generic backgroundy tv music, but well executed [the subtitles will tell you what the music conveys, like "anxious music" because they are designed for people who can't hear], and plots that make you uncomfortable: gruesome serial killers, ruthless kidnappers, grave robbers. But behind this veneer of quality are some hoary tropes: flic with questionable past in search of redemption... I get a bit squeamish when I think the gruesome plot premise is there because it is the easiest thing to do, not because someone had a good idea.  

Some Ideas about rejection

Rejection leaves things as they were. Suppose you ask for something and the answer is no. Then you have exactly what you had before you asked.

The fear of rejection is much worse than rejection itself. Someone who hasn't been rejected a lot hasn't tried very much, has played it safe most of the time.  

Rejection is not a stain on you. If you read poems in a literary journal you will read what is there, not what isn't, so nobody is thinking about your rejected poems.

You can think of rejection as a percentage. If you had to sell 10 tickets to an event you might have to ask 500 people. Then you've met your goal.  I'm going to submit poems every day of the year that I can.   I just have to have a few acceptances out of all of those. If I want 10 poems in print I might have to send out 500.  

Rejection isn't personal (except when it is!). There is such a thing as personal rejection: someone is rejecting you, as a person, does not want to be your friend or romantic partner, or even to do something with you. That is a topic for another post. But a lot of rejection has nothing to do with one's self.  Say you send in an article and it is read as a blind submission. Even when there is some personal element, it is helpful to realize that it might be less of a factor than you assume.

There are people who have been rejected in traumatic ways, or for whom rejection is the dominant experience in their life. Those people won't be able to view rejection in the way that I am recommending.  

Friday, January 12, 2018


The rejection project and the bad poetry project are natural twins (for obvious reasons!). I am sending my bad poems to very good journals. If I send out poems every day I am certain to be rejected a lot. And possibly even accepted a few times. What is brilliant about this is that you aren't even expecting acceptance, so any of those are just added rewards that don't even effect the overall success of the project.  It is greatly empowering, even for someone like me who is not particularly bothered by being rejected.

On the radio once I heard a book being read aloud. I don't know what the book was, but the theory was that if you asked out 100 women...  (You get the idea. I'm probably not remembering it correctly either; this was more than 20 years ago.) I'm in a relationship so this is not applicable, and I didn't have to ask out 100 women to get a girlfriend either, or even close to that.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

100 rejections

I'm doing this thing where I am trying to get rejected 100 times. I don't agree with the original premise of the 100 rejections idea, where you ask random people for trivial and annoying favors. I don't believe in annoying people or being creepy. I am doing it by submitting poems and the like. I've applied to grade AP exams in the summer, etc...

The idea is to get over the fear of rejection by seeking it out deliberately.  Of course, the added benefit is that you could get published more, or have other opportunities.

30 years

My PhD is from 1988. (I started taking Spanish 11 years before that.) I was already an established scholar in my field in the early 1990s, publishing in MLN in 1990 and PMLA in 1991. Aside from maybe a brief lull in the early 2000s,* I've kept it up. Yesterday I had the opportunity to write another one of those career narratives for something I am being nominated for. This morning I woke up wondering why I feel so like I've never accomplished quite enough. I don't really have that much more to prove.

The answer, though, is simple: it's not that I feel inadequate despite the length of my cv. Rather, the c.v. is something external to me that can never do the work of making me feeling adequate within. In fact, it is evidence of someone who still has something to prove. Obviously, a long cv is not the road to self-acceptance.  Yet it does provide satisfaction.  There is no way to write this kind of career narrative without realizing that I am a heavy weight.  

*Looking over my cv, though, it is hard to see even a break. I think I didn't publish anything in 2004, but that's about it. The leanest years are preceded by the 1990s, when I was on fire, and I published two books in 2009, one of which was being developed in the early 2000s.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018


I am probably not neurologically typical. By this I don't mean that I am on the autism spectrum: I do not have problems with social interactions, eye contact, and the like. I am not the most socially smooth person, of course, but I can read people's emotions and don't have any of those particular characteristics.
I don't score high for Aspergers on the typical internet tests for it (not that those have any scientific value!).  

I am not obsessive-compulsive, either, in the clinical sense. (Hand washing, turning off lights, etc..) What I do have, though, is a kind of obsessive compulsion to do certain things. This can be memorizing poetry, learning all 12 keys on the piano, or studying the quasi-mathematical patterns of prosody. If I am interested in an author I want to read every damn word that the person wrote. I feel that I must compose music, that I have no choice to do so, and that only by doing so can I scratch a particular itch that I feel in my brain.

I enjoy reading books in languages I barely know.  I am prone to very severe "ear worm."

I don't have ADHD. My attention span is extraordinarily good.

I may be highly intelligent as well. That is not "typical." There are, however, people who are smarter than I am but without my particular set of characteristics. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that my ideas are more original and interesting than most other smart academics. I also believe that I am more self-aware about my confirmation biases and of my "professional deformation." I was arrogant in youth but now infused with a deep humility about the extreme limits of my erudition.

Very strong in me is a sense of religious awe, combined with a complete skepticism about any religious explanation of that awe. I feel that awe just by being alive and looking out the window at an oak tree. The conduit to it is music. I will never again mock anyone's religious faith, because that seems to be the way that many people channel this particular feeling. Many, of course, are religious but not spiritual, to reverse the personal ad cliché, and those deserve all the mockery in the world (though not by me).  

I think what I am saying here is that the way we think of our neurological "wiring" needs to be more nuanced. We tend to think along a set of axes, from normal or typical to pathological or disordered. Many of us in academia are just not wired the same way as a normal person (whoever that is!), but there are many ways of not being typical. I often feel out of touch even in academia, among scholars of poetry or poets.


Among those who comment frequently on the blog, though, I feel completely attuned. I am not saying this because I will agree with every opinion they might hold. (Agreement might be overrated.)  Or because they like me personally (though they may). What I am saying is that people who read the blog and comment are those who get me, through a process of self-selection.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

PC hits the choir

I don't know what to think of this. The choir director decided our program would be a celebration of gospel music and spirituals. Our choir is basically white folks, with the average age being somewhere over 60, I'd say. There are a lot of churchgoers. (I feel I'm on the younger end of things at 57, though there are a few younger people as well, but very few under 40.) There is one hispanic guy, but zero African Americans. We live in a predominately white city, but there are a few black churches.  

The choir director is a white guy, also nearing retirement age, with a strong record of involvement in some of this music, like knowing personally some of the arrangers and composers, etc... He is our artistic director but he is employed by us. (We are his boss and pay his salary.)  

Half the choir is up in arms about it. Mostly people don't want to be a white choir culturally appropriating this music. That term wasn't used, but that's the basic idea. People don't want to sing in "dialect," etc... We've made no effort to reach out to the community, and the concert in the spring would be basically white people singing to a white audience of our friends and family. (There could be conservative people who don't want to sing black music, but nobody is going to say that. Most of the objections are from some of the relatively young people.  And I heard a new guy, attending his first rehearsal, deciding not to come back at all.) I suggested we keep one of the most musically satisfying pieces but not make the theme of our concert the black experience in the US.

By and large I think that cultural appropriation is a bogus concept. But here it is hard to argue that the situation is awkward. I've noticed before that the choir is white. That in itself is a problem to be addressed.    

Monday, January 8, 2018

B (2)

The key of the month club is going well. I've composed three songs in the key of B. Even if this experiment lasts only one month, it will have been worthwhile.  Even after only a week B is no longer one of my weakest keys.  Thinking in terms of sharps rather than flats reorients my vision, so that Eb - 7 becomes D#-7.  


A melodic "hook" has the shape of a hook, on the axes of pitch and time.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


This is not a dream, though it has a dream-like flavor in my memory. The Mormon church in the nineteenth century believed in socialism as a matter of principle, and there was a small town run as a communal experiment. Someone had written an opera or musical play of some kind about this town, and we were going to put it on. (Some people in the church, including my older sister.) I would have been 14, let's say, at the time, though I cannot place the date or my exact age with any accuracy. I auditioned for the main part, reading through the part for quite a while. It had notes that were at the top of my range and difficult to reach. Most of it was in a kind of recitative style. There weren't arias that I remember. I got the part, but the composer wanted to charge a certain sum of money for the rights to put it on, so it didn't happen. I was disappointed when my sister told me, but nobody ever mentioned it again. It wasn't that there was a reason for not talking about it, but simply that there was no reason to talk about it. I wasn't disappointed enough to brood about it, and probably nobody else cared more than I did.

What makes this memory peculiar is that it is the memory of something that did not happen. There have been entire decades when I simply did not think about it at all, and it is only recently that I remembered it again, when I was thinking about all the times I have sung or performed music. I think it is a genuine memory because the experiment with Mormon socialism is a historical fact, and too oddly specific to be a spurious product of my imagination. The only thing that would bring things full circle would be to find the opera, somehow, or to see if my mom remembers something about it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Copyediting / horseback riding

When I realize what one of my main fears is it sounds ridiculous:  copyediting. I am in fear that the book will have things I have to fix on the technical level of citations, etc... and that I will be bored and hence careless in doing this work.

From this I derive a new insight. If we can relabel fears with ridiculous labels, they will not be as frightening. You are afraid of copyediting?


In a dream last night I dreamt that someone was criticizing me for various things. One of them was my lack of skill at riding a horse. Apparently she had seen me try and noticed I was a bit awkward on the horse. I responded very logically: I rarely need to ride a horse, hence this lack of ability is largely beside the point. Moreover, because of this irrelevance, the only reason to bring up my clumsiness has to be deliberate cruelty on your part. I am perfectly aware that I am not an expert or experienced rider, and do not care. (In fact, I have only been on horse once as an adult.)  


Apart from the merit or lack of merit in my musical compositions, what amazes me is that I can do it at all. Just to be able to say: I wrote that.  At one point I wanted to take lessons in song-writing, but I have just realized that what I wanted was reassurance, someone saying: yes, that is indeed a song. This, too, is ridiculous, since I know that it is so already.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Cover art

Here are some cover options. What do you think?  I tend to undervalue my visual competence so I need more opinions.


The key of the month will be B.  I first make sure I know the scale itself. Then I make sure I have in hand the 9 chords associated with the key (7 plus the tritone substitution, and the dominant chords for the I and IV to play the blues). I then compose a piece in the key. (I have done this, but haven't written out the "B" section yet.)

I can do a key a month this way, always choosing as my next key the one I like or know the least.  So Feb will have to be E or Gb. By the end of the year, I can simply review the keys I already have a better grasp of.

Writing in B is not hard per se, but it led me to an idea I would not have had otherwise: iii IV7 iii ii / iii IV7 II7 V (tritone sub) / I vii I V I...  In other words, it is not just the completist urge to learn all the keys, but the ability to generate ideas out of new ways of thinking about familiar relationships.