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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


I took a trip to Lafayette LA to give a talk about Lorca at the University of Louisiana. It went well, though I wish I had been smoother in presenting the musical examples. I got interviewed on the radio by a very expert radio interviewer who made it easy for me to be (relatively) articulate. She was like a smarter version of Terri Gross. The talk itself was in a cool art museum space, and was attended by the dean and provost, who introduced me.

Presenting material to different audiences is always revealing. Each situation requires a different approach, a subtle (or sometimes not subtle) shift in rhetorical address. The radio interview actually taught me the most about how to frame things for a non-specialist audience.


I'm learning Beethoven's sonata 20 in G major. It has only two movements (unusually) and is relatively easy. I started with the minuet, memorized it, and now I am learning the first movement, an allegro ma non troppo.  I found a very good version of it by Alfred Brendel. The way he plays the minuet is exactly how I hear the piece in my mind, though I myself cannot execute what I hear.  I alternate between practicing this and improvising over "Bemsha Swing."

This particular Beethoven is in a very Mozartian style. The difficulty is its transparency: anything wrong or not tasteful stands out very starkly. Harmonically, most of it alternates between G and D major, with some incursions into other related keys. Most versions of the first movement I've heard are too fast. Brendel gets it right, unsurprisingly.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome

I buy drumsticks at the drum store
I don’t play drums though

I buy ink for a fountain pen
I will never use

I have a saddle but no horse
in fact I have no saddle either

I make reservations at a restaurant
but I have no digestive system 

I drive to the gas station to get gas 
but I have no car and have no place to go

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Two Dreams

In one dream someone had given us the unwelcome gift of a pet rodent of some type. The same person had put the cage on the ground, moving it from a counter, and the rodent had been released. I called out to the giver of the gift to remedy the situation: "Hey, Scott...."  but he didn't return to the room. (I assume this was my cousin Scott, who I haven't seen in decades.) At one point the animal looked like a kitten rather than a hamster, or whatever it was supposed to be. I picked the animal up and tried to put it back in, but the cage was now a plastic bag barely bigger than the animal itself. I remember thinking to myself that I didn't like rodents. I awoke and was relieved that I didn't have to complete this task.


I was some kind of bartender at an outdoor event, but sitting down. My last drink I had to sell was a small, airplane size shot of tequila.  I gave it away since it did not seem to be filled to the top. Then I had to take down all my equipment, of various types, like small tables and umbrellas. I was unsure of what belonged to me and what I could just leave there. A Brazilian band was playing a Jobim number elsewhere on the grass, and I wanted to go listen to it, but I was also a bit disappointed that it was a kind of cliché song like "Girl from Ipanema." Once again, I was relieved of my task of cleaning up by waking up out of the dream. The problem had disappeared.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Six Lectures

I am going to try to finish these this year, then spend the sabbatical on the Lorca and music book:  

Six Lectures: 

Lorca and me*
Lorca par lui-même
The Death of the Subject
"Like Buckets of an Endless Waterwheel": Serial Selves in the Suites
[Something on Lorca's theater] 
What Lorca Knew: Teaching Receptivity*

Five of the six have a lot written on them already. Two of them are virtually complete (asterisk). The only exception is the chapter on Lorca's theater, which I have not really begun.  I guess to make the book a coherent argument, it would have to talk about subject positions in Lorca's theater. 

Friday, September 27, 2019


If you treat people unequally, or differently, based on certain characteristics, then you will produce differences in their experiences and capabilities. For example, if you taught all the boys, and none of the girls, Latin, then men would be the Latinate sex. This difference would purely the product of inequality in treatment. This is why I believe that "difference" feminism is anti-feminism by another name. You cannot base feminism on the positive value of discriminatory treatments. It is inequality that produces "difference" in the first place, after all.  

By the same token, the ideology of difference takes any real difference, and makes it into a metaphysical principle rather than a simple variation between populations. If you measured and tested men and women on certain axes, then you might come up with the tall sex, the musical sex, the verbal sex, the mathematical sex. Banal and sometimes minor differences, then, could be justify further acts of discrimination, acts that made these differences even greater.

 Suppose the average girl showed slightly more aptitude for Latin than the average boy; then we could reverse ourselves and offer Latin to all the girls and none of the boys.  Brilliant!  Girls are "better at Latin," so wouldn't that be logical? Only following an ideology that takes trivial differences between populations as absolutes, rather than overlapping bell curves they really are. 

Note that for my argument it doesn't matter if there are actual differences. Take height: we can establish that the bell curve for height does differ by gender. It's a difference, but it doesn't really have an effect on issues unrelated to height. Being a woman taller than the average man has no relevance to gender identity at all. 

It is quite striking how many people get this wrong. They either have to prove that the bell curves are non-overlapping, when they clearly are, or denounce any hint of difference as heresy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


I should not be too attached to particular views about my chosen object of study. In other words, I should let others have their "Lorcas" in peace. This has been hard for me to accept, but a kind of "clinging" to particular conclusions can be damaging to me. Releasing my views rather than clinging to them can be wonderfully liberating.

That is not the same thing as not having views. I just don't have to feel threatened by other perspectives, even ones that are frustrating to me like a certain literal mindedness in interpretation.


There are moments in many other poets that make me think: "That's as great as Lorca."

Quedo de nuevo grabado en la memoria
de mi madre. El sol se mueve, mas no sé para qué sirven
las llaves del vientre, todo lo que fue mi casa
al amanecer...

(José Barroeta)

There are moments of poetic explosion. Not every poem by Lorca has that explosive quality, either. In a way, the canonization of a poet is arbitrary, not because the canonized poet is not great, on many levels, but because it distorts things. A bad dish made on an off day by a great chef still tastes bad, but a hypercanonical poet is under the microscope for every detail. I guess I benefit from this is a Lorca specialist, but I recognize that as a distortion.

I've often said that people claim to be interested in non-canonical things but don't really commit to that. The debate is always to get other things into that category.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Walking bass lines

Nothing has helped me improvise as much as learning to write (and improvise) walking bass lines. When you think about it, these lines have everything you need:

*They outline the chord tones of the chords in any particular set of chord changes. 

*They are melodic. They can go up and down the scale, hitting the chord tones, or can be arpeggiated.  So they are scales + arpeggios. 

*They have chromatic (non-scale) tones as leading tones to the scale tones. They can have "enclosures" (a word I learned today!), in other words, approaches to the target notes from chromatic leading tones above and below in the same phrase.  

If you can improvise a bass line on a set of chord changes, you can improvise a melodic line as well, because you are already doing it. The differences:

*The walking bass line is almost all quarter notes. The improvised melodic line will be mostly eighth notes and triplets, with a much more irregular rhythm, and including pauses between phrases. 

*The bass line tends to hit the chord root on the first beat of the measure, or beat 3 if the chord changes there. You can begin a chord on a note other than the root, but while learning I tend to just use the root every time. The treble melodic line emphasizes all the other chord tones except for the root

I'm developing the technique of playing a bass line and then improvising above it with a melodic line. It isn't easy for me. The treble lines come out very stiff sounding, stiffer than if I am simply playing block chords in the left hand. My ideas sound more limited than when I have other kinds of accompaniments.   

I learned bass lines for the first section of "Autumn Leaves" in all twelve keys this summer. This meant learning 2-5-1 progressions in both major and minor in every key, cycling downward through the circle of fifths. I have also improvised many hours over "Bemsha Swing," but just in one key. I can't get a good bass line for this song, since the movement of the chords is already so chromatic it doesn't seem to leave much space.  I guess I'll have to look at one from a record to see some of the possibilities here.  

Saturday, September 21, 2019


I ran 5 miles yesterday at 7:10 a kilometer. Today I ran 3 miles at the exact same rate.  I think I'm settling in to that as my basic rate for tempo runs. Both runs I did without looking at the app while running see how fast I as going, so I wasn't aiming for any particular speed.

If I can run 5 miles (8 k), then I can probably run 10 kilometers. This makes me think I could run the ten k in 70 minutes. Those are 11 minute miles, I guess.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

I found this in my files while looking for something else

Theory of Timbre: Wittgenstein, Barthes, Lorca 

"Timbre, of all the parameters of music, is the one least considered.  It lacks not only an adequate theory, but even an inadequate one."  (Robert Cogan)  

"The grain of the voice is not—or is not merely—its 'timbre.'''  (Barthes 185)   

Timbre is a qualitative judgment about the properties of the tonal shadings of a given sound.  In fact, it is one the best examples I know of what the word "qualitative" might mean.  Timbre has an objective counterpart, as defined by the specific harmonic components of the sound in question.  But that is not really timbre, is it?   The qualitative experience of seeing bricks of that particular shade of red out the window right now is not defined by the length of the waves of light that produce the experience. There's something irreducibleabout the qualitative, so that if you attempt to translate it into other non-qualitative terms, you've essentially missed the point.  
All sounds have timbre, but the term is most often applied to music and to the human voice, whether singing or merely speaking.  (The relation between music and the human voice is, in fact, a crux of my argument in what follows.)  The difference between various vowel sounds is almost entirely a function of timbre, so the ability to perceive quite subtle differences of timbre is fundamental to phonological perception, to the aural processing of language.  There's also a material or environmental aspect:  just as you can hear a glass crashing to the floor and hear it as glass, you can hear the woodsiness or metallicness of a musical instrument. You can hear friction and smoothness, hardness and liquidity, aurally perceiving the material textures of the lived environment.       
Various elements go into the production of timbre. A musical sound is composed of a fundamentalpitch and a series of harmonic overtones based on certain ratios:  1:2, 1:3, 1:4, etc...  This is called the "overtone series."  A second element is articulation, or the relation betweenattackand sustain.  Think of a piano note, which has a strong percussive onset, followed by a relatively quick decay:  it begins to fade away immediately after that percussive attack. Now think of an organ note:  it lacks the percussive onset, and continues to sound at the same volume as long as the note is held.  A third factor is vibrato, or the vacillation of the fundamental pitch.  In evaluating timbre we would have to describe presence or absence of vibrato, its speed and "wideness" or "narrowness." Yet another possible element to be considered is the presence of "noise," or sound that does not seem to be an inherent part of the pitch:  the raspiness of a voice or the breathiness of a saxophone.      
How is timbre relevant to "Philosophy and Literature"?  My purpose here to use it as an example of aesthetic phenomena that are not discussed very often because they lack an adequate theoretical or descriptive metalanguage.  Much of literary theory is concerned with questions of hermeneutics:  what is a valid interpretation?  Is the meaning of the text in the author's intention, the text itself, or the reader?  Theoretical questions that are not related in some way to hermeneutics, or that cannot be placed in the service of hermeneutics, tend to be seen as marginal. Susan Sontag, in her well-known essay "Against Intepretation," proposed that "in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art."  For me thepoint is not really to be against interpretation, because interpretation is close to inescapable, but to turn our attention to elements that aren’t easily recuperable for hermeneutics.    
In my own view, such nonrecuperable elements are actually (among) the more important features of a literary work, although they are the hardest to talk about in a meaningful way—precisely because they seem to escape the tyranny of meaning. From one perspective, it might seem that "meaning" of the song is in the words themselves.  Yet this is only part of the story:  what makes the song "meaningful" for a listener is, typically, the overall gestalt, including the texture of the singer's voice, his or particular interpretation of the lyric, the phrasing, pacing, and rhythm, and the evocation of particular cultural and musical traditions.  Timbre is the quality that makes something recognizable as itself. How do you recognize someone's voice on the phone?  (My mother, wife, or daughter, not just a generic female voice.)  The recognition of a voice is similar to the recognition of a face, for which humans have a highly developed capacity.  Voices and faces are charged with social and personal meanings, and the average human being is an expert in reading and interpreting this information.  
The timbre of the voice is analogous to that of a musical instrument.  Let's listen to the difference in timbre among three major tenor saxophone players:  John Coltrane, Stan Getz, and Coleman Hawkins.  Trane is metallic and saturated, with a very tight, controlled vibrato that only becomes perceptible on longer notes.   Getz's tenor sax sounds almost like a bassoon.  He favors the upper register of the tenor so that it sounds almost like an alto.    Note, also, the softness of his "attack":  the onset of the note is extremely smooth.  Hawkins is rougher, raspy, with a vibrantly warm vibrato and an assertive attack more typical of jazz articulation.        
From Coltrane, Getz, and Hawkins it is somewhat of a leap to the figures promised by my title: Wittgenstein, Lorca, and Barthes. None of these three authors proposes a theory of timbre, per se, but each has contributed something to my thinking about the set of theoretical problems I naming "timbre." From Ludwig Wittgenstein I take a few key ideas.  In the first place, aesthetic perception is rooted in particular cultures or "ways of life"; it cannot be reduced to a universal definition of the "beautiful," which for Wittgenstein is a fairly useless concept:  "You might think Aesthetics is a science telling us what's beautiful—almost too ridiculous for words.  I suppose it also ought to include what sort of coffee tastes well" (Lectures and Conversations11).  Wittgenstein is interested in the "click" or "fit" that leads to aesthetic perception.  What makes us say, for example, that a particular tempo is the right one?  It is the one that "fits," but, as he points out:  "We are again and again using this simile of something clicking or fitting, when there is really nothing that clicks or fits anything" (Ibid. 19).  In other words, there is no pre-existing measure by which we can say that a particular tempo is the right one.  Wittgenstein can lead us to a consideration of aesthetic judgments that seem to rely on indefinable criteria, judged in ad hoc situation and lacking universalizable justifications.      
 Roland Barthes's short essay "The Grain of the Voice," originally published in 1972, is one striking example of an aesthetic criterion that seems entirely idiosyncratic, that it would be difficult to apply outside of the particular cultural context in which Barthes was moving. He begins the essay by complaining about the tyranny of the adjective in music criticism:  the dominance of this part of speech seems reductive to him, and he proposes the concept of the "grain" in order to enact a "displacement" of a certain standard rhetoric that labels music by deploying a series of predictable predicate adjectives.        
Barthes borrows a binary opposition from Julia Kristevathegeno-text and pheno-text, in order to contrast two dimensions of vocal art and two distinct approaches. The pheno-song is identified with everything conventional:    
The pheno-song[...] covers all the phenomena, all the features which belong to the language being sung, the rules of the genre, the coded form of the melisma, the composer's idiolect, the style of the interpretation: in short, everything in the performance that is in the service of communication, representation, expression, everything that is customary to talk about, which forms the tissue of cultural values.  (Barthes 182)    
The "geno-song," in contrast, is 
the volume of the singing and speaking voice, the space where significations germinate 'from within language and its very materiality'; it forms a signifying play having nothing to do with communication, representation, (of feelings) expression. (Ibid.)  
Barthes identifies it, more particularly, with the encounter between musical expression and phonology:  "It is, in a very simple word that must be taken seriously, the dictionof the language" (183; original emphasis).     
To illustrate this dichotomy Barthes contrasts the styles of two singers, the German baritone Dieter Fischer-Dieskau, who represents the pheno-song, and the Swiss-born French baritone Charles Panzéra, who sings at the level of the geno-songand thus exemplifies the "grain of the voice."  What Barthes values in Panzéra's singing is a particular relation to the phonetics and prosody of the French language.  [Musical example].  Barthes felt that the French were losing a certain relation to their own language: "the French are abandoning their language, not assuredly, as a normative set of noble values [...] but as a source of pleasure, of thrill, a site where language works for nothing, that is, in perversion [...]" (187; emphasis in original).  It is interesting that Barthes locates a certain libidinal relation to language in the past, employing a decidedly nostalgic tone. There is also an admittedly "hallucinated" quality in Barthes's description of Panzéra's voice: 
This phonetics—am I alone in perceiving it?  am I hearing voices within the voice?  but isn't it the truth of the voice to be hallucinated?  isn't the entire space of the voice an infinite one?  [...] does not exhaust signifiance(which is inexhaustible), but it does at least hold in check the attempts at expressive reductionoperated by the whole culture against the poem and its melody. 
(184; original emphasis).         
Fischer-Dieskau, who represents the conventionality of the pheno-song, gets to be the straw man in Barthes's argument.  [Musical example].  The contrast between the two singers is also a contrast between two national cultures—French and German—with their two genres:  mélodieand lied, and between two epochs:  Panzéra was born in 1896 and "FD," as Barthes calls him, in 1925.  This use of a German singer as straw man is significant, I think, because Barthes is making an argument specific to the French language and to French culture rather than proposing a universal aesthetic principle.  Because he is proposing an aesthetic criterion wrapped up, clearly, in his own libidinal relation to the French language, the concept of the grain is untranslatable.  Of course, Barthes must also rely a bit on the romantic heritage of national essences: if Panzéra is prototypically French, then, to what extent does it make sense that his voice transcends culture itself, as Barthes seems to be claiming?  If Panzéra wrote treatises on vocal art, as he did, does not this lead to a new sort of codification or pheno-text?            
I do not mean to propose Federico García Lorca's duendeas another name for Barthes's grainde la voix.  The two concepts are conceptually and qualitatively distinct, and each is linked to a separate variety of cultural nationalism and to a particular genre of song:  the Spanish cante jondoand the French mélodie, respectively.  At the same time, however, there are some suggestive similarities that justify my linkage.  The primary reason for juxtaposing these two essays is that they are two of the most significant essays that I know of that address the performative dimension of poetry through the medium of song, and argue for the virtues of a particular vernacular tradition.  Both, in fact, contrast their own national traditions to German ones.  It is perhaps no coincidence that both Lorca and Barthes were piano players.  [Musical example.]       
Lorca contrasts skill, technique, mastery (las facultades ... la técnica ... la maestría) to the duende.  It is tempting, then, to identify Lorca's musewith Barthes's pheno-text.  It is not that these concepts are, in any strict sense, synonymous, but rather that they occupy parallel functions in the two essays:  they are structurally and rhetorically equivalent.  Barthes says that the grainis not in the lungs ("a stupid organ") but in the throat and the speech organs.  Lorca, on the other hand, maintains that the duendedoes not come from the throat but from the soles of the feet.  Both, however, are speaking of a corporeal force that breaks through a conventional system of performance in order to present a bodily force that is, in some sense, prior to cultural codification. The museis mere intelligence, in contrast to the telluric force of the duende:[i]   
Todas las artes son capaces del duende, pero donde encuentra más campo, como es natural, es en la música, en la danza, y en la poesía hablada, ya que éstas necesitan un cuerpo vivo que interprete, porque son formas que nacen y mueren de modo perpetuo y alzan sus contornos sobre un presente exacto.  
[Every art form is capable of duende, but where it finds more terrain, naturally, is in music, dance, and spoken poetry, since these require a live body to interpret, being forms that are born and die perpetually and erect their shape onto an exact present.]   
For Barthes, similarly the grain of the voice is linked to the present of performance:  it is "the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue" (182) or "the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs" (188).   
The subjective perception of the presence of absence of the duende is related to the certain "grain of the voice," even if this grain might not be exactly what Barthes meant.  In other words, the same kind of artists said to have duende will also have a certain granularquality.  This might be a kind of parlor game:  who has duende?  Who has the grain? Will the same artists end up having both?  (Perhaps not...) For me, for example, Pau Casals' cello has that itwhich is lacking in Yo-Yo Ma.  Ma is a magnificent player, of course, but, to use Barthes's terminology, he remains a little too much at the level of the phenotext.  Here they are playing the Bach cello suites [musical examples].                
There are very few concepts in literary theory that have address the materiality of performance.  Materiality and corporality are tricky concepts, since they lend themselves easily to metaphorical appropriations that, in essence, dematerialize them once again by reducing them to certain ideological positions.  These concepts are also subject to excessively romantic readings, in that the body is meant to stand for a kind of authenticity that stands apart from culture.  In reality, conceptions of the body are themselves culturally contingent, in other words, unimaginable outside of the particular cultural frames in which they are inscribed, as Wittgenstein might argue, and the examples of Barthes and Lorca demonstrate.  As I completed my forthcoming book on the influence of Lorca on poetry of the U.S., I become convinced that Lorca's duendecould not be applied as a theoretical concept to any other cultural context:  the new context (in this case the United States) alters the meaning of the original concept so as to make it unrecognizable.  There is no American duende, then, that is meaningfully Lorquian.  Yet theoretical coinages like the grain de la voixand the duendehave a certain suggestive elasticity that makes people want to apply them somewhat recklessly across cultural boundaries.    
Where is this line of research headed?  In the first place, toward a theory of the performance of poetry.   We tend to think of any potential performance of a poem as an after-thought, and therefore of aspects like timbre and rhythm as inessential or ornamental.   The articles collected in Charles Bernstein's edited volume Close Listeningproposes an alternative or supplement to the traditional concept of close reading, so I am building on foundation already established by other poets and critics. One example from my own research is a forthcoming article on Claudio Rodríguez, where I look seriously at rhythm.  If I were to apply Barthes concepts to Rodríguez I would be looking at  the pronunciation of certain consonants, like the intervocalic in words like vida, along with the use of a particular intonational melody, and the granular character of his voice.  These elements do not help me, necessarily, to better interpret his poems.  At the same time, they point us toward something that might be even more important than this hermeneutic task (audio example).   
The performance of poetry is bound up with musical concepts, or, more precisely, in concepts that have their other most significant manifestations in music. We can talk about other things having rhythm, but we still think of poetry and music as the paradigmatic cases of rhythm. So too with tone quality or timbre. Language (speech) and music are where we look for these things, and so writing that seems to be about music (as in Wittgenstein, Barthes, and Lorca) might actually at least as much about poetry than about music itself.  
A final point I would like to leave you with is that Cultural Studies needs to be pay closer attention to the material and formal aspects of cultural texts, rather than seeing poems and songs primarily as documents of issues defined mostly in political terms.  Barthes and Lorca suggest a way to begin to think about the "aesthetics of cultural studies" (Bérubé) in relation to cultural practices situated within particular cultural contexts.           


Works Cited
Barthes, Roland. Image -  Music - Text.  Trans. Stephen Heath.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.  
Bérubé, Michael, ed.  The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies.  Malden, Mass.:  Blackwell, 2005.  
Bernstein, Charles, ed.  Close Listening:  Poetry and the Performed Word.  New York: Oxford UP, 1998.     
Cogan, Robert.  "Toward a Theory of Timbre: Verbal Timbre and Musical Line in Purcell, Sessions, and Stravinsky." Perspectives of New Music8: 1 (Autumn - Winter, 1969):  75-8.  
García Lorca, Federico.  Conferencias.  Granada: Huerta de San Vicente, 2001.   
Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation.   New York: FSG, 1966.  
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief.  Ed. Cyril Barrett.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1967.        

[i]I am simplifying Lorca's argument, which brings in a third term, the ángel, alongside the musa, and the duende.    


I just read my book Pristine again. It is excellent.  I wish someone would publish it but for that I would have to submit it. It is a book of false Latin American poets.  I made them all heterosexual men, I realize. I guess that would be even worse from the cultural appropriation standpoint, if I had tried to write in a woman's voice as well!

Although the voices are supposed to be different, they really aren't. They are all me in my bad poetry mode.

Superpowers for non-adults

Children have some awesome powers too. Curiosity, enthusiasm. In some cases, concentration for long periods of time. Some have generosity or equanimity, or an unwillingness to accept unsatisfactory answers. For some things, an adult with enormous skill had to have begun as a child.

When I read the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" when I was a kid, I knew there was something there. Poems like that, or Blake's "Ah Sunflower." If responding to something with enthusiasm is a superpower, I had that. Also with Beethoven's Pastorale symphony when I was twelve, or Art Tatum. The beauty of nature at my grandfather's horse ranch.

When I say adult superpowers, then, I don't mean that they have to wait for a mature age. A full appreciation of them, though, might be a mature attitude.

Superpowers for adults

A childlike imagination is attracted to superpowers like bullet-proof skin or invisibility. Adult superpowers are generosity, sobriety, persistence, or attention--or anything else in this category that you might want to add. These are qualities that can be cultivated deliberately. The real superpower is the belief that one can cultivate these skills, along with a little bit of commitment to actually doing so. For example, I have learned that being happy for other people's successes is a great thing to aspire to. Some people do this naturally, and that is wonderful, but some people seem to think that others' achievements take away from theirs. I have been like that in the past to some degree but that is something that can be changed.

I would say meditation itself is not a superpower, but a way of enabling other powers to come into being. Playing or composing music on the piano is not a superpower, but the belief that one could do this might be.  I am not thinking here of particular skills, but of a generally skillful approach to thinking about life. I am attracted by what I have read about meditation and the concept of skillful thinking. There is real pleasure in having an unskillful thought and then letting it go rather than dwelling on it.

Today, while running, I thought to myself that I wasn't a very good runner. I quickly saw that it was unskilled because it wasn't based on anything useful and wasn't beneficial in any way. I was running 6 minute kilometers which is very good, for me. I could imagine a faster runner coming from behind and leaving me in the dust, but that inner conversation sounds pointless to me.

I call my inner critic "Boris," after the villain in the old Bullwinkle cartoons...

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Dream of "Instructions for Living"

In this dream I was with the Friday night dinner group. We were at some kind of park or campground. Someone asked me to write a text similar to what I had done the week before, something like "Instructions of Living."  Apparently it had contributed to the success of someone's political campaign and had been a huge hit. Someone gave me instructions about including well wishes for a particular football team as well. I was handed a small piece of paper. I tried to find someplace to sit, but everyone was smoking and I had to go to the edge of the park. My daughter had written some notes on the paper like "do the right thing" and "prefer peace to war," but I couldn't remember how to write the particular kind of text that I was being asked to write.  


Earlier in the night I was with Ray Charles, and he was explaining his vocal technique, saying that in whatever he sang there was a "buzz." My daughter had had a traumatic incident that had shaken her confidence to the core. I was trying to figure out what it was in order to help her recover he otherwise unshakable resilience. It came out that there had been an incident of gender discrimination against her. I worked hard to bolster her confidence again.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dream of Cummings Rebus

In this dream I carefully deciphered a rebus-poem by E.E. Cummings. The message was written in the form of a clock, so to say, for example, hate you would put an h in front of a clock hand pointing to 8:00. The message was "I hate Miami, I love New Orleans." I wanted to show a friend of mine what I had done but he had just gotten out of the shower and wasn't interested. I was surprised that I had been reading this poem all my life, but had never bothered to look at it closely enough to see what it meant.

Friday, September 6, 2019

No magic number

How many miles should you run every day?  Probably the answer will be "it depends." Who are you, why are you running, what do you hope to get out of the run? What are you training for? For me, it will be not running at all (a recovery day) or 3 miles, or 1-2 miles. Or a longer run / walk of 4 miles. Each of these runs has its particular purpose, but the larger purpose is to be a runner, in other words, to establish that as a habit.

In the same way, the idea of every day writing the same number of words is a bit arbitrary. If you asked me how many words you should write a day, I would first ask what your project is, when you want to finish it, what research you've already done, and what you want to do in a particular session of writing. For me, it will be between 0 and 700 words. If I really sit down to write for an hour and a half (not revise something already written), I will do about 500 words.  But there is no magic number here. What is important is the continuity of effort over a long stretch of time in pursuit of a tangible goal.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Self Improvement

Fairly soon after I started running, I ran in a 5k and recorded a decent time for a guy my age. Yesterday I came up with a chord progression of some sophistication, but I realized I was using similar ideas shortly after I started writing songs in the first place. Once I started doing these things, I was simply doing them and haven't necessarily improved much since. So, too, with meditation: I probably won't be all that much "better" at it in five years than I am now. That's ok, though. Establishing the habit is the thing, not necessarily improving it every year.

There are improvements too. For example, I can now play piano a bit better, even if my songs are basically of the same quality. I'll take those, but I think the main thing is just doing it in the first place.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

4 years

All my running and piano playing, choral singing, has been since 2015. I guess I didn't have as many hobbies before. I've made good progress, running a 5k charity event this morning on my birthday in 31:27. I was faster in 2015 but I've only restarted running this summer, and I've only lost a minute and a half since I was 55, so that's not too bad. I would probably have to train just to keep under 35 minutes looking ahead to my sixties.

All my scholarly interest in music dates only to 2018. I've only played classical since fall of 2017. I'm thinking late 50s, early 60s can be a good age with good physical and mental health.

I've only meditated daily starting this summer, too. Once a habit becomes permanent, it seems like it has been in place longer than it really has. There was a time four years ago I didn't run, meditate, play piano, or sing in the choir.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


I had a moment of happiness yesterday, which is not common for me. Not that I am unhappy, but this was almost euphoria. I had done my running and meditation in the morning, after returning at midnight the night before on the train from Chicago. I had some good ideas about the preface to the Lorca and music book, and started in on that in an extremely good mood. The combination of having had a good visit with my daughter in Chicago, the runner's high, and a clear mind from meditating made me approach my work with enthusiasm.

Today, of course, I am not euphoric, but I still feel pretty good.


I have an ivy-league tenure case to do.  They gave the candidate until last week to turn in materials, but expect me to get my letter in at the beginning of October. They ask for a comparison with three specific individuals at other places, so I have to look those people up too. Luckily I have already read this person's book, but I would have preferred to get this out of the way before the semester started.  I have three trips coming up soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Some meditation lessons

It is important to know when you are not enjoying yourself and to ask yourself why. Something you generally enjoy can be unpleasant in certain circumstances. It could be the voice of the inner critic, or something that causes frustration or physical discomfort. Yesterday I felt frustrated running uphill, because I have mostly been training on the flat. Running is something that is generally nice to do, for me, but it also has a whole slew of potentially unpleasant aspects to it. So the inner critic was saying "you aren't much of a runner" while the legs were saying, "that hurts." A "mindful" approach to this, if I am understanding this right, would be just to say "Oh, that's inner critic again" and move on. Or to say, yes, "running uphill does hurt a bit."  


During meditation, I felt hungry. Once again, the approach to take is to ask what that is. Is it a physical sensation?  How intense or painful is it?  Is it a craving for food in general, a simple arousal of appetite? A feeling of weakness or loss of energy? What other emotions go along with the hunger? Irritation? Anger? Frustration? Or is it just a physical sensation with no strong emotion attached, like your nose itching.

The hunger doesn't go away by answering these questions, but it is less "I am hungry" than "Oh, that appetite is building," which can be a pleasurable sensation in a way, or a realization that the hunger pangs are of somewhat low intensity.  Just framing it in these ways is helpful.

I often get itches all over while meditating. It is natural because more attention is focused on the body. One itch will arise, be present, then subside. It is really no big deal. I learn to enjoy, not the itching itself, but the ability to see what it feels like and rise above it a bit.

My things

My main things (I can't quite call them "hobbies") now are these.

1. Piano playing, composing music, and singing in the choir.  This occupies about 1-2 hours a day, depending.  For example, if I have a two hour choir practice, or a piano lesson and also practice on the same day, then it will be two hours.

2.  Meditation.  This will be 15-30 minutes a day.

3.  Running, every other day, for 20-40 minutes.  Walking on the days I don't run, for an hour.

4. Various crossword puzzles, etc... This can be 30 minutes to an hour, if I have time.

All are important to me in various ways. I see puzzle solving as a "hobby" in the classic sense, but I think that I am a musician, fundamentally, and that the other two are necessary means of self-support.

Running, I have extended into a more social activity by running in various groups, a possibility that had not occurred to me as realistic before this past week or so.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Simic rage

I remember my rage at Simic for dissing Creeley in the NYRB.  See also here. And here, I guess I don't feel those sorts of rages any more with that kind of intensity. It seems now to me to be an unnecessary attachment or clinging (in the Buddhist sense). I am not a Buddhist but I do think I get this concept at a very basic level.  Of course I am right about Simic and Creeley.  But the level of passion I feel about being right?  The level of investment in the cause. No, just no.  I want no part of that any more.

Giving up that investment is very freeing. I don't have to be identified with certain positions, upon which nothing really depends. I feel the same way about my role in the García Montero controversies. Of course I am on the right side of things, from my own perspective. I don't disagree with myself, but not as much seems at stake. Worrying because people miss out on Creeley and respect someone like Simic is largely pointless. Of course a certain facile kind of poetry will be more popular even in somewhat intellectual circles.  How could that not be the case?

I also take misunderstandings of my own positions as occasions for humor rather than rage.  

So little depends

That would be a good start to a Creeley poem.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Literary Value of cante hondo

I will write for 30 minutes on this topic. Here goes.

When we talk about "literary value," we are talking about the kind of thing literary intellectuals place a premium on. So I don't have to define this value in absolute terms, just say that there is an aesthetic preference among some such literary folk to value what we might call the aesthetics of stark simplicity.

This has a history behind it. For example, a taste for the "popular" might be in contrast to the taste for the baroque, or for literary aesthetics which emphasize how poetic language is supposed to be elevated (associated with higher levels of society.) The symbolist aesthetic of Mallarmé is not a populist one.

The taste for the popular as such arises with romanticism. Specifically, in German romanticism and preromanticism Herder begins to translate Spanish ballads in the 18th century. So the aesthetic of the popular has always been bound up with interest in Spain.

The cante jondo is a sub-set of Spanish folklore.  We have a general sense of Spanish folklore as including romances and canciones, ballads and non-ballad songs, along with their music. Within this general set, there is a privilege accorded to Andalusian folklore, and the cante jondo is a subset of this Andalusian folklore It is important to remember that the general taste for the popular and for Spanish folklore includes other parts of Spain as well, even though Andalusia tends to stand in as a metonymy for the whole peninsula.

Machado y Álvarez mounts a solid argument in favor of the literary value of the lyrics of the cante jondo. He is the first Spanish folklorist and already by his epoch (the 1880s) the cante jondo had become a favored genre within folklore. The value of the cante is its extreme succinctness and directness and the absence of extraneous material, or ripio, filler. There are two kinds of work in folklore: the scientific gathering of material, and the anthology made simply for the delight of literary taste. His Cantes flamencos y cantares is in the latter category.

There are echoes of this aesthetic in the praise for the lírica de tipo tradicional found in Margit Frenk and other later scholars. The idea is a kind of pristine simplicity and directness.

Also, poets like Lorca and Hernández employ this aesthetic in some of their works. The popular has a value as such. I have to confess that I too place a premium on this style, so I cannot be objective. But the point is that this is something that quite a few people have learned to value immensely. My perspective is not some idiosyncrasy of mine, but something I have acquired from others. There is no wrong or right here, in the sense that positive aesthetic values don't ever have to be justified unless there are detractors.

Lorca's poetry exemplifies this tradition, but relates not just to the cante jondo, but to the larger universe of popular, anonymous poetry. In fact, I wouldn't give special priority to the lyrics of the cante jondo, since his view is more expansive than this. The cante jondo is tangential to his work. By this I mean that it touches at one point rather than overlapping substantially. He is writing about the cante jondo, not imitating it directly. (That's another way of putting it.) Yet overall, his contribution is to emphasize the literary value of these poems.

I could easily find examples that are excellent poems, from my perspective. They aren't very similar to Lorca poems:

Flamenca, cuando te mueras,  [when I die, Flamenca]
la lápida la retraten [let them decorate your tomb]
con sangresita e mis venas.  [with the blood of my veins]

Ok.  I have more to say, but the half hour is up...

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I've been meditating for the summer, and I have a few preliminary results.

The first is a feeling of sweet calmness during the meditation itself. This isn't constant, but intermittent, but it is palpable. This could be one of the main results of meditation, simply an ability to relax mind and body. It is not the only kind of feeling one has meditating, but it is something of valuable.

The second is a kind of "sorting out" process, where unimportant stuff gets to be seen as unimportant, not worth sweating over. It doesn't necessarily make important things less important, but gives a sense of priority and perspective. So minor annoyances get to be seen as minor. This helps in daily life, where you won't be bothered as much by a long stop light or a mosquito bite.

There is greater concentration when doing other, non-meditative kinds of things. Distractions are less distracting, because you can return more quickly to the primary object of attention, and less annoyed with yourself for being distracted.

In a short period of time, I've learned that the meanings we give to things are arbitrary ones. This is enormously freeing, because we realize that we don't have to think of things in certain ways or draw arbitrary conclusions. So thinking of myself as a slow runner I have not run in groups, but I realize now that the groups around town have slow and fast runners and everything in between. I've thought I couldn't join because they are early in the morning, but I am usually awake anyway at those times. You could think that I could have realized many these things without meditation, but in fact I didn't. I do certain things in certain ways because I think it is necessary, but it really is not.

In some ways, it is like knocking a piece of yourself loose, that should have been loose all along and not taut. There are many things I have not done because I didn't see myself as free to do them. I had an arbitrary rule book that I was following.

I'm sure if I keep this up for a year, these results will seem naive or over-hasty, or other, deeper insights will prevail. For example, I might once have thought that the bodily relaxation was the main point of it all.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Career Narrative

Like many bookish kids with literary aspirations, I originally planned to be an English major. Since it was the 1970s, I also got caught up in the prevalent enthusiasm surrounding Spanish-language poetry the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other novelists of the Latin American “Boom.” After spending my junior year studying in Madrid, I completed a major in Comparative Literature with a concentration in Spanish. Graduating from the University of California at Davis, I enrolled in the PhD Program at Stanford, with the idea of being a specialist in modernist poetry. I ended up devoting my dissertation—and my entire career—to twentieth-century Spanish poetry, but I never abandoned my interest in English. 
            As an assistant professor I was able to publish in the most prestigious journals in my field. I also published my dissertation, on the contemporary Spanish poet Claudio Rodríguez, as a book, with minimal revisions. Before tenure I wrote a second book, The Poetics of Self-Consciousness: Twentieth Century Spanish Poetry, with the aid of my first NEH Fellowship. One of the secrets of my early success was that I had somewhat of a head start: I went into the field because of my interest in poetry, and began to study it in earnest during that year in Madrid. My single-minded focus on a relatively narrow field of study made me an expert at a relatively early stage in my career. I found extra time to write by teaching short summer sessions at Ohio State in exchange for quarters off during the regular academic year.
            My agenda during this first phase of my career was to use the insights of poststructuralist literary theory to elucidate the implicit theories of language in modern Spanish poetry. My particular generation of Hispanists was the first to see theoretical sophistication as the gold standard by which to judge scholarship. I found myself in an ideal position to take advantage of this development, since I had a rigorous training in theory through the Comparative Literature Program at Stanford. My particular contribution was unique, I felt, in that I saw the literary text itself as theoretical in its own right, rather than “applying” a theory to the text in a mechanical or arbitrary way. While my scholarship has changed in several ways over the decades, I continue in my attempts to understand poetry from the “inside,” as it were, rather than subjecting it to agendas imposed from the outside.    
            After being awarded tenure at the Ohio State University in 1994, I was offered a job at one of the premier Spanish and Portuguese departments in the US, at the University of Kansas, where I continue to work. It was not immediately clear what my next project would be, so I worked on articles on a variety of topics until I decided to focus on recent developments in Spanish poetry. In my third book, The Twilight of the Avant-Garde: Spanish Poetry 1980-2000(Liverpool, 2009), my focus shifted to the question of the cultural legitimation of poetry. The critical problem I was addressing was why the paradigm that had governed poetry from romanticism through modernism had fallen in disfavor among a younger generation of Spanish poets, who disdained the intellectual seriousness and ambition that had characterized Spanish poetry for most of the twentieth century.   
            The articles that I wrote leading up to The Twilight of the Avant-Gardemade me well known among poets in Spain, inserting me in a polemic between those who remained faithful to the avant-garde agenda and those that had broken with it. The result was that I was invited frequently to Spain to lecture about contemporary Spanish poetry, becoming friends with many of the most prominent poets in the avant-garde camp. Although I was not averse to polemics, at some point I began to feel that didn’t want to be known mostly for my position in this particular debate. I turned my attention to one of the figures who had first inspired me to go into the field: Federico García Lorca.         
            My fourth book, Apocryphal LorcaTranslation, Parody, Kitsch(Chicago, 2009) had a transformative effect on my career, while also obliging me to look at the period in which I first developed my interest in Spanish literature. My own decision to enter the field was the result of the interest in Spanish-language poetry in the US, but this episode in literary history had not received a rigorous scholarly treatment. Coincidentally enough, my first published poem, written thirty years earlier when I was an undergraduate, addressed the issue of “apocryphal translation” that I address in my book: It was a response to Kenneth Koch’s parody of translations from the Spanish, “Some South American Poets.” It began like this: “There is no need to invent imaginary / Latin American poets! Real poets exist, / Waiting to be translated!” I was interested in the multiple ways that Lorca had been translated into an American cultural context, but I was particularly interested in poems, like those of Koch, Robert Creeley, and Jack Spicer, that purport to be translations but are really not. This is a well-known trope in literary history: think of Cervantes’s conceit that Don Quijotehas been translated from the Arabic, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. A large number of American poets translated Lorca, but I was especially fascinated by the idea of creating new Lorca translations that had no original texts behind them. This seemed to be a way of accessing the cultural image of Spain in its purest form, without the interference of actual works of Spanish literature.                   
            Being known as a specialist on a very well-known writer brings certain advantages. Apocryphal Lorcawas published by a more prestigious press and was much more widely reviewed than any of my previous work. Because Twilight of the Avant-Gardetook a long time to write and suffered delays on the part of my publisher, both books appeared the same year, and I was promoted to the rank of professor that year. Once again, I searched for a new project. I didn’t intend to write another book on Lorca, and began working instead on a sequel to Twilight of the Avant-Garde. At some point, however, I decided I had many more things to say about Lorca. In 2018 I published a second book on Federico García Lorca: Lorca’s Legacy: Essays in Interpretation, in which I extended my insights of Apocryphal Lorcainto other areas and solidified my knowledge of Lorca himself.           
            In 2015, I began to teach myself jazz piano and to write songs, without any thought of connecting these interests with my scholarship. I have played drums for many years, and had always been an avid listener of music. I discovered that I had also, over the years, learned enough harmony to compose music, despite my lack of proficiency on the keyboard. A few years later, this avocation led to the birth of a third projected book on Lorca, focusing on musical adaptations of his work. The title will be Lorca: The Musical Imagination. I am not a musicologist and the focus of his book is not the technical analysis of music. My musical literacy, however, has given me the confidence to look at scores, to read the secondary literature on the composers I will be studying, and to write cogently about music for the general public. When I realized how much music Lorca had inspired, in both classical and vernacular genres, I realized that there was a book here and that I was the one to write it. I began to explore the field of “word and music studies” and found that there was a genre of books devoted to musical settings of poets like Baudelaire, Whitman, or Celan. A book about Lorca could be groundbreaking in this field, since his poetry has inspired both classical composers and performers in vernacular genres like folk, rock, and flamenco. (Almost all previous work in word and music studies, in contrast, has been restricted to the world of classical music.) 
            The intellectual interest of this material, for me, is analogous to the texts I considered in Apocryphal Lorca. Instead of using translations, adaptations, and parodies to study Lorca’s cultural influence, I am now looking at musical settings and homages from Spain, other European countries, and the Americas. A musical setting, ultimately, is a kind of translationthat provides a window on the cultural imagination. What turns out to be most compelling about this music is the way in which both classical and vernacular musicians use Lorca to convey their vision of the persistent cultural archetypes associated with Spanish culture.    
            When I reflect back on my career I can see that my agenda has remained constant in one fundamental respect: I have always attempted to understand the mystery of poetry itself. What has changed over the course of the years is an inevitable broadening and deepening of perspective. Like most young scholars, I had a relatively narrow range of expertise at the beginning of my career: I was a specialist on Claudio Rodríguez, a poet who was not particularly well known at the time, even in departments of Spanish. My work on Lorca has given me a far broader scholarly base, making my knowledgeable about translation theory and word and music studies. I am still, essentially, a specialist on a single author, but to be a competent Lorca scholar requires a vast amount of expertise. In fact, I did not consider myself a true specialist on Lorca until I finished my second book on him.   
            At the current stage of my career, I want my work to reflect four major values: depth of engagement, intellectual curiosity, humor, and accessibility. Depth is the product of sustained, focused attention over the course of several decades. Curiosity is the willingness to grow intellectually through exploring new ways of looking at familiar materials. Humor involves a sense of humility about the ultimate limits of understanding something as mysterious as poetry. As Kenneth Koch wrote, “The very existence of poetry should make us laugh. What is it all about? What is it for?” Finally, I now place higher premium on accessibility than I did at the beginning of my career. Whenever I have gone back to read something I wrote twenty-five years ago, I have concluded that I was not particularly focused on communicating my ideas to the reader. For the most part my prose was not unclear, but I can see now that I was more interested in mounting a display of my own intelligence. The audience for the kind of scholarly books I am interested in writing is inherently modest in size, but precisely for this reason no reader should be turned away by an off-putting style. Writing for a few hundred interested readers now seems preferable than addressing myself to a dozen scholars in my own field. To this end, I have devoted a lot effort into defining and putting into practice my ideas about accessible scholarly prose. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Non-Academic Goals

1. To be in good physical shape. I am running every other day, 2-3 miles, and doing a total of 10,000 steps a day. I also need to hit the weight room again. I am trying to get down to 160 (from 166 or so). In some sense I have already achieved this goal if I am actively working toward it, in the sense that being in good shape is not an absolute thing. Being in the gym makes me in better shape than the guy who isn't in the gym. I have a five K run coming up on my birthday later this month.

2. To meditate every day.  I am doing this.  Once again, I have achieved this just by doing it! Everyone's meditation will be fairly mediocre, I have learned. It's almost supposed to be like that, and once you accept that you are a better meditator.

3. To play piano in a way that is enjoyable to me and perhaps to others. Once again, I have achieved this once I have a comfortable relation to my own playing, accepting its limitations. People seem to like what I play or at least are polite enough.

4. To have a satisfying relationship.  Once again, I am in a relationship and am happy.

So I have achieved my goals already. I could go on with other things. I have enough money to live on and travel. I suppose I could set other goals in fitness or finances or meditation, telling myself I won't be satisfied until I weight 150 lbs or can meditate for an hour, or have x dollars in TIAA-CREF account. Those aren't really goals though; they are more like ways of keeping score. Keeping score is convenient and can be motivating, but I have probably done too much score-keeping already in my life.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Here are four things I aspire to now:

1. Depth of engagement.

2. But... with a sense of humor, of not taking myself too seriously, and seeing the humor in things with some degree of humility.  

3. Intellectual curiosity, leading to continued intellectual growth.

4. Accessiblity; writing for hundreds of people rather than dozens.

Thirty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I might have said this:

1. Theoretical sophistication; being at the cutting edge.

2. Having brilliant interpretations of texts.

3. Checking off the boxes to construct a CV; publishing in PMLA, MLN, Diacritics... Getting the major fellowships.

4. Being top banana, or at least being in contention for being considered the best in my field.

Of course, I've already accomplished most of those things, so it's easy to dismiss those aspirations as excessively "careerist." Of course, (I now realize that there is no top banana. Not simply because it is a subjective judgment, but because comparisons with others are pointless.)  I still apply to major fellowships, but my career is complete without them.

What are your top values for yourself in your scholarship? These will vary between individuals, and also in one individual at different career stages. My current ones reflect where I'm at now. I realize I haven't reproduced myself, having PhD students in my own image (with one exception) or been particularly influential in the way other people do scholarship. Thanks god there's no Mayhew school.  

(Unfortunately, my scholarship will not create a more just world or alter the climate for the better. Those are valuable things, but I don't see how the kind of work I do will further those ends. Even politically engaged scholarship in the humanities doesn't really do very much. Yet if that is one of your core values, then you should be honest about that.)

BACKGROUND: I am writing one of those career narratives for an application. I actually like reflecting on what I have and haven't done.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What is your superpower?

It could be the ability to write very well. It could be intellectual brilliance or erudition. It could be an endless stream of energy and motivation, or the ability to focus strongly. It could be consistency of effort, the ability to work for months at a time. The ability to focus on intrinsic motivation and forget about external rewards for scholarship.

You probably won't have all of these things at once. For example, I am not particularly erudite and have a serious lazy streak. I am able to come up with interesting ideas and have a high internal standard for what I want to produce. I can sometimes write very quickly, even though I know that slowness is actually preferable. I think my writing is very good, verging on excellent at times.

So you want to develop two or three things at are your scholarly superpowers. Are you able to organize your research materials super well at all times? Then you have an advantage over me in that respect. It would be easy to be more self-disciplined than I am, or have a better grasp of theory. Maybe you have developed a very strong ability to construct perfectly organized 6,000 word articles with everything in place.

Everything you read is going to have strengths and weaknesses. I do about two tenure or promotion to full evaluation a year; I read articles for journals, and I read book manuscripts for presses. I see work of a wide range of quality. Intellectual brilliance is probably what I see the least of, in terms of these superpowers. I am rarely blown away by someone super smart, though that happens too. A recent book I read was very good, checked all the boxes in terms of erudition, novelty in the field, writing, and organization. I was left strangely dissatisfied, though, because the whole didn't add up to anything exciting to me. I feel that this is almost too much to ask at the point. The book does what it's supposed to do and that should be enough.

Harvest the Wind

There was a musical show called "Harvest the Wind." There was only one song, with the same title, and every time anyone had a problem they just listened to this song again. My attitude toward it was ambivalent: everyone else seemed to love it and expect me to as well. There is no actual music that I can remember after waking up, just the idea of a song called "Harvest the Wind" that in the musical was supposed to be a panacea.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Dream of German Studies

Somehow I had signed up for a study group in German and Central-European Studies. We were in some huge tent with about 50 people. I felt somewhat the impostor, as we moved into a large lecture hall. I was trying to figure out what I was doing there, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would become a Kafka scholar. I found a book on the seat I was to occupy; it was about the coup against Allende in Chile. The woman in the seat next to me asked my why I was lucky enough to find a book on my seat. We were both wearing jeans and it was not clear which leg was whose, as she scratched her leg but on what looked like my jeans. I began reading the book; it explained that the propaganda against Allende's government in the lead-up to the coup was all false, etc... I began to think skeptically about it: maybe Allende was in ineffective leader, bringing economic ruin on Chile? I would have to do further research.


Interpretation:  A dream about impostor syndrome. I was clearly reaching for something beyond my competence. Yet the book I was reading was about something in the Spanish-speaking world. The dream reflects my political positioning: I am against right-wing coups, but I also want to verify things for myself without simply accepting the left-wing line blindly. Logically, a right wing talking point can be factually correct. The facts themselves are not always convenient for one's own position.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Where did the day go? (iv)

8: Got up, did few crosswords and the like, wrote for an hour. Did some meditation and played piano.

Went to lunch at 11.

Read part of a book I need to read for a tenure review.  It was pretty good.

14:40-5: Gym / shower. Had some coffee.

5-- More reading.

Observation: since late afternoon tends to be dead time, I should go to gym then.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Dream of Memorization

I dreamed a few nights ago that I was explaining to someone my super power: being able memorize large numbers of lines of verse. I explained that I had developed this power through practice and that it was one of the keys to my success. My interlocutor was a little incredulous. This dream is true: I can memorize, and I must think of it as significant.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Where did the day go? (iii)

7-8:  Weighed myself: I am 165.6!  Blogged about my dream of Stephen King. Had coffee.  Did kenken puzzle from the NYT. Started the "Spelling Bee" and found about 20 words.

8-9: Wrote 500 words!

9-9:45: Breakfast / ran a load of dishes / meditation.

9:45-10:45:  Piano.

10:45-1: Gym / shower and shave...

13-14:  Lunch. Cleaning. Blogging.  Made a grocery list.

14:45-15:35 Physical therapy.

15:30-16:30: Shopping for food.

16:30-17 Made lentil soup and put it in crock pot. Cleaning.

17-18:  Went to help someone move a mattress.

18-19:  Cooking, cleaning.  Another shower!

19: Dinner.


Yesterday I made the mistake of skipping lunch. Hunger is not good when you trying to lose weight. There needs to be a balance: increasing exercise by so much, and reducing certain categories of food. I already don't consume sodas, desserts other than my daily scone, and most processed foods.

I am in a good rhythm with writing, meditation, piano, and exercise.  Not so much with cleaning, which I do in bursts.

Dream of Stephen King

I do not especially care about King. I am not a fan (particularly) or a detractor. I have seen movies and television series, but I haven't read his books. One day I heard an NPR interview with him and, without knowing his identity at first, I assumed he was a highbrow writer of a different type. In this night of particularly fertile dreams, though, Stephen King and I were having a conversation. I was with a friend who knew King, in a workshop where my friend was doing an arts and crafts project. King was not there, but was being Skyped in. I had to lie on my back to see him, projected on a screen above my face.

He challenged me to tell a story about my life in two sessions, like we had done before. I said I wasn't a good storyteller, that I didn't have the kind of experiences that leant themselves to being tied up in narrative bundles like that. He scoffed at me a bit, though not in an unfriendly way. Throughout the whole conversation he was a skeptical but benevolent figure. I also told him I was a schmuck, that I didn't do things well, and so that the story would end up being about my various failures. He said something to the effect that we are all schmucks. I didn't want to ask him how he came up with the ideas for his stories, but I said that I mostly wrote poetry, and that occasionally a plot for an entire novel would pop into my head, fully formed.

He said something that implied that that was the easy part. You had to have the self-discipline to write the book. The first example I gave him was of a man who gradually wasted away. He said that had been done already too many times. The second one was of a science fiction novel in which the aliens were taking over the world, but that the reader didn't know it. In other words, the transformation of reality was so subtle that it could be attributed to other causes. This is an idea I have actually had in waking life. Stephen King didn't quite get understand my plot, though it seemed as though gradually we were getting to some meeting of the minds.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Where did the day go? (ii)

7-8: Got up, puzzles and coffee.
8-9: Wrote 300 words on the article.
9-10: Some piano; meditation. Blogging.
10-11: Breakfast. Reading. Read an article I have to review for Romance Notes. Watched part of a movie.
12-14: Gym. Shower.
14-15: Some reading. Fell asleep for a bit.
15-17:  Reading. Finished and submitted article review for Romance Notes. (I rejected it; I am tired of these banal articles in my field.). Updated this blog post!
17-18: Chickens, dog, and cat have been fed.Wine purchased.
18: dinner time.


I got earlier and got my writing in quicker. Didn't need a shower early since I knew I was going to the gym.  I don't need to shave today.

An activity has to only occupy its own time. So if I meditate for 15 minutes, I do that and don't have to worry about that. I need 60 minutes of writing, 60 of exercising, 60 of piano playing, 15 of meditation. After that, the effort gets redundant. If I stop writing after an hour, then the next day will be fresh. I am not a serious enough pianist to need more than an hour, unfortunately.


I don't believe in dieting per se, but I need to lose 6 or 7 pounds. I am giving up very precise things until I am down to 160: fries, beer, processed meats. I will only have one hard liquor drink a week, a martini on Thursday, when our martini group meets.  I am adding 45 minutes on a stationary bike to burn 300 calories. I will reward myself with a beer when I hit 159.8 lbs.  I have wine with dinner, a scone or other pastry at mid afternoon to hold me over to dinner.  I am never hungry after dinner, never need a snack after that. If I can postpone breakfast to 10 or so then I don't need lunch.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Where Did the Day Go?

It might be useful to see where the day is going. How many academics' summers have simply faded away without anything to show for themselves?

8-9:  Got up, showered, coffee. Read a few pages of Norwegian Wood. A little piano. Kenko puzzle. Went to Beth's house to feed chickens and cat.

9-10: Re-joined the gym.  Meditation. Made breakfast; emptied and loaded dishwasher, ran it,

10-11: Writing. Wrote 420 words on an article!

11-12: Put a load of laundry in. Played piano.

12-14: Laundry in the drier. Gym. Second shower!  Sorted socks and put clothes away. Blogging.

14-15:30:  Reading at coffee shop. Finished Norwegian Wood.

4:30 : Picked up vegetables at store; other shopping.

19-20: Dinner. Watched a few movies.


Gym takes two hours.
10 is relatively late to start work, but I only needed an hour.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Serial Selves in the Suites

During my vacation I sang at Carnegie Hall (as a part of the choir to which I belong, which joined other choirs to form a large singing group, with representation from Hungary, Germany, and Switzerland), and visited my brother in DC. My partner got a debilitating joint and muscle pain disorder which made it difficult for her to walk, but we made it to many museums, Arlington cemetery to her grandfather's graven, and home on Tuesday. Yesterday was devoted to taking her to doctor appointments, etc...

Today I returned massive numbers of library books. I will have to re-check some out, but that's ok. I had to take three trips from my office to the library and pay $20 in fines, so it was clearly out of hand.  I couldn't renew them in time on my vacation so I guess I will consider that an added cost of the vacation.

[How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, as the joke says. In my case, it was join a choir that would eventually get invited there. We had to pay a registration fee individually to sing, so the singers from around the world were essentially subsidizing the concert itself. It is a kind of pay-to-play scheme that takes away some of the bragging rights, I guess. Maybe I will just leave that part out of it. I also had to fly to NY, stay in a hotel, and fly my partner there and buy here a ticket to the concert. But that was our vacation this year so it was worth it.]

Also, during my vacation, I figured out what would be the missing piece in my book of Lorca Lectures: "Serial Selves in Lorca's Suites." I deliberately didn't bring a computer on the trip, but I had a notebook and pen, and that's all I needed to sketch it out, even without a copy of the Suites on hand.  I have poems I can analyze like this one. I will translate it into French in case you don't know Spanish:

Tú tú tú tú
yo yo yo yo
¿Quién? . . .
¡ni tú
ni yo!

Toi toi toi toi
moi moi moi moi
Ni toi
ni moi 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


My daughter is visiting from Chicago.  She had an audition for the Kansas City Symphony on Monday. It is a highly codified process. You play the exposition to the first movement of the Haydn trumpet Concerto, then orchestral excerpts from Pictures at an Exposition, Petrushka... She didn't make it past the first round but it is her first audition with an orchestra.

She is 5' tall and weighs 105 lbs and can bench press 90 and do 10 pull-ups. She also does rock climbing in the gym.

She likes reading and listening to podcasts about top performers in sports. What she is trying to get into is a competitive profession with 20 jobs opening a year with many trumpet players trying for them. Really, though, the competition is not the hundreds of players auditioning, but the dozens that really have a chance at them. You audition behind a curtain playing the same excerpts as everyone else, so it as close to a merit-base system as exists. She is extremely analytical about her strengths and weaknesses.  I wonder where she gets that from?

We watched a cooking documentary on Netflix called SALT FAT ACID HEAT that was pretty good. We watched part of the NBA finals but got bored and so we finished the last episode of the documentary.


Tomorrow I am going to New York. My local choir in Lawrence is part of a larger group of choirs singing in Carnegie Hall on Sunday. Then we will visit my brother in DC.  I won't be blogging from now until mid June or so.


I read a short novel Las batallas en el desierto by the Mexican poet (and I guess novelist) José Emilio Pacheco.  A kid in post WW-II Mexico City falls in love with the mother of a classmate (Jim) who is the mistress of some politician. His family treats this perfectly normal infatuation, one that every heterosexually inclined adolescent boy has had for an older woman, as some great sin and psychiatric disorder.  He has to confess to a priest AND go to a shrink! The family takes him out of school, and later he finds out that the mother of his friend killed herself, but doesn't quite believe it. He end by saying that Mariana (his love) would be 80 years old now.  


I found this notebook where I write down every book I read.  For some reason I haven't been doing it since last December, so I made note there of the Pacheco book and resumed my record of my readings. I started in 2017 and have read 161 books, but that isn't counting the times I have forgotten to keep track.