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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...

Monday, April 30, 2018

Gang of 15

Your Choice

Suppose you can't draw, or play the piano.  That, essentially, is your own choice.  If you would like to draw, or play, you can choose do to that, and at the level you want. This does not mean that you will be Leonardo or Art Tatum, or be able to win a game against Federer. What it means is that you get to decide what you want to commit to.

We are told that so much is beyond our choice, and that is true. But everything that is our choice, is the source of enormous power.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Book

If I wanted to publish a book of poems, I would / could do it. It would involve putting effort into that, on a regular basis, and not giving up. The reason I have not done this is that I have not put effort into it consistently enough, and the reason for this is that I have given priority to academic projects. It doesn't have much to do with not being a good poet, because actually I am, or of not writing poems, which I do. I'm assuming that most poets are bad anyway, and that most books of poems are crap, so that this is not the issue at all. In other words, even if I were among the crappiest poets alive, that should not be an obstacle.  When I have tried, I have not been successful, but that is because I tried to do it rather than actually doing it. We only use the verb try when we make insufficient effort.  

The book of poems assumes different shapes at different times in my life, and there may be more than one book that I could publish.

The significant thing here is to take responsibility for the fact that I haven't published. If I directed attention in that direction, it would happen.  

Past selves

Imagine we could go back and tell our past selves something. So we could go back and avoid some mistake we were going to make. We think this is impossible because of the nature of time, only flowing in one direction and all that, but is that the real problem? We cannot listen now to our past selves either, very well. There are certain things we knew as children that we can no longer hear very well. For example, we know as adults that we have lost something, but we can easily attribute that to our superior wisdom as adults, and discount what that child-self knew. If we could really retain that knowledge we would be irritating Peter Pans, always insisting on not losing the magical view of the child. What could be more tiresome and grotesque than that?

The real problem, though, is that we cannot even listen to what our present self is telling us. This present self that could go back and tell the past self what to do, cannot even do this in the present.  

Saturday, April 28, 2018

100 rejections

I've had some rejections, including one very discouraging one, but then some things that worked out to, to the tune of $16,000 dollars so far. I've had many poems rejected, to the point that I don't even feel those as rejections at all. (Applied for some internal things in the university that will give me some extra cash for the next three years.).

 I applied to be Associate Dean for Research. I might not get that, but I can just count it toward my 100 rejections. I applied for a conference, got accepted, and then decided I shouldn't go because it seemed slightly off in the way it was being organized.

The rejection therapy project is a kind of dumb thing, but I am modifying it to make it work for me. The way it was proposed was to ask strangers for dumb things, like asking them whether you can photograph yourself playing soccer in their back yards.  I'm not doing to do that.

The 3 musicalities

The first musicality is simply to see the poem as a song lyric.  There is nothing simple about it, but just consider that, functionally, that is what the text is, in this particular case, that it doesn't have much existence out of that context.  We could print the lyric and appreciate its craft, but we never forget that it is a song lyric.

The second musicality is the poem's prosody. This might be a secondary effect of the fact that it was written to be sung, or that it is written in a poetic form identical to that of song lyrics. Here, though, we see that text as musical in its own right, not simply because it happens to be a lyric.  With this case, paradoxically, singing the text might override the subtle effects of the versification, running roughshod over the poet's art. Or, a good setting might respond to that prosody, bringing it out in subtle ways.  

The third musicality is musicality as metaphor for poetics. Here we could distinguish between a merely conventional use of the metaphor, and a deeper poetics. The merely conventional reference to a poem as song-like, or the poet as singer, is simply a nod of the head to that musical connection, but may not involve anything deeper than that.

Update on blind rhythm changes

I've added two elements to blindfolded rhythm changes. One, to do the same thing with my own composition, improvising on it until I can improvise on it successfully, and secondly, to do the same thing on "Don't Blame Me." The idea is not to get stale, and not to learn improvisation in only one key. At some point there will be a breakthrough, in which the improv in these other tunes will be as good as in rhythm changes.

On the classical front, I played one of the Mompou "Música callada" series for my teacher, and she said it was very good, in very specific ways that she could tell me. She is not one for empty praise so I knew that she meant it, and of course she still had suggestions. It feels very good to master a piece at this level. It is not difficult, but I couldn't have played any piece that well last fall.  

I've thought about my goal on the piano as getting to 80%.  But 80% of what?  If I can be at 10% but play well, within that limit, then that is like being at 100%.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oscar Peterson

I had handed out copies of Oscar Peterson's Jazz exercises to my class, but then couldn't justify why I had done so, since it was not a music class I was teaching.


When people don't study literature any more, a funny thing happens to theory.  It is still theory, but not literary theory per se. Theory becomes simply a synonym for "prestigious intellectual whom I am citing associated with some recent trend in the field."  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


I was at my cousins' / aunt and uncle's house. I was lucid-dreaming there, absorbing every detail and reacquainting myself with them. Of course, they didn't look like anything like my cousins and aunt and uncle do in real life, and the house was not their house.  

Nothing to do with literature

We have an annual lecture in the department.  The last four years the lectures have been excellent, and none of them have had anything to do with literature at all. The topics have been entirely sociological, or about some other cultural expression not defined as literary per se. We choose the speakers by consensus in the department, and always nominate good people, and then give them the option about what to talk about. I am not complaining here, since the talks were good, and I'm interest in many things that aren't literature, but I'd like to know whether anyone is still interested in literature out there?

(I'm talking not about a talk in which a novel is used to address a historical or sociological point, but where no novel, poem, or play, or even film, enters the picture at all.).

Or, if you are interested, where do you go to study it?

Monday, April 23, 2018


The new job trend is to adjunct for free (hat tip to Clarissa). Let's hope this doesn't catch on.  The positions are described as "zero time."  Nice euphemism! The University will try to recruit alumni for this, presumably grads of Southern Illinois University who are still in the area.  A zero time appointment, for zero money, is one you should spend zero time on.  People should sign up for it and then not show up. Then, when asked, should say that they are spending zero time, just as advertised.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

By the Swimming Pool

I was going to write a play called "By the Swimming Pool." It would feature characters talking next to a pool, in several acts, perhaps the same characters talking by the pool at different points in time. I'm not sure if this was really a dream at all, or simply an idea I had lying in bed before I got up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Real Estate

By real estate I mean the amount of available attention. It could be conceived of as time, space, or energy, too, but for now let's use the idea of attention, what the mind can attend to at any given time, or on any given day.  

A big project you are working on occupies a lot of it, and it does so even if you are not working on it very much. A course you are teaching occupies a certain amount of real estate, even during the hours one is not teaching it or preparing it. We talk about a teaching "load" as though we are trucks and have a burden to carry on our backs.

Other parts of life occupy real estate as well, relationships, hobbies...  If you imagine a 13-year old boy and 80% of the real estate is give over to sexual desire. A seriously ill person will have most of their real estate occupied by their illness.

With meditation, which I am getting more serious about, you realize you have more real estate than you thought: the mind frees up space by sorting out things that aren't quite as significant and assigning them their proper amount of weight and attention. It doesn't resolve problems, in itself, but shrinks them to their proper size. It is wonderfully freeing.  

We don't want to have a lot of extra real estate unassigned to things. It might make us feel lazy or uncommitted. That is why we might want to take extra things on, even when we don't need to. It is fine to have the attention occupied by something meaningful, and freeing the mind from unnecessary shit helps us to refocus on things we actually might care about.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


I found this nice translation of one of my favorite haiku by Basho, by the Portuguese poet Herberto Helder:

Ervas do estío:
lugar onde os guerreiros


I've probably already written this post in the past, but here goes:

What reading in a foreign language does is to cement the basics. You will see the 5,000 most frequent words over and over again. You need to read long 19th century realist novels that have a lot of words, both in terms of the number of words in the novel (300,000 say) and in terms of the number of lexical items. You will also be memorizing frequently found clusters and combinations of words.

You will be seeing all the words in the closed category of lexical items: prepositions, articles, pronouns, over and over again.  In the open category, verbs, nouns, etc... you will see the most common ones over and over.

You obviously can't start until you have some grasp of some very common words, because the idea is to read fast without looking up words in the dictionary.

Then you will also acquire numerous words that aren't in the first thousand most common. You will be building vocabulary. Reading is much more effective than memorizing words off lists, because reading reinforces the vocabulary as you go along.

You will get an intuitive sense of other things: grammatical structures, rhythms, etc...

I remember as a student reading a lot trying to figure out grammatical structure that hadn't been explained to me.  For example:  "lo buenas que son esas tortas."  The word lo, invariant, plus the declined form of the adjective. It is strange and advanced, but I learned if from reading.

How about conversing? That is very good to, in order to converse better.  A few things, though: it is hard to get those millions of words of input as fast from conversing as it is from reading.

Millions of words is not an exaggeration. Works like Fortunata y Jacinta are 1,500 pages. I read almost all of Galdós's novels of the 1880s as an undergraduate, and he wrote one almost every year.

The rather extravagant idea is to be a literate person in another language. Literate at a fairly high level, like that of a college student.

There is another benefit, perhaps, is that the brain is creating new pathways, it is working hard at creating new pathways, conscious and unconscious inferences.

Monday, April 16, 2018


Usually, the person I will coach or mentor is not doing something that I would do. Often, the ideology or critical method is different, or it is not my own field. Mentoring is not the creation of disciples, but allowing the person to do his or her own work in the best possible way. Having someone who is too close to one's own interest is not ideal, because then one's personal opinions interfere.

At the local Italian restaurant

As you can see, the idea here is that Italian plurals follow the Spanish model of adding ess to the end. But that is not the case. The plural of signora is signore, and the plural of signor is signori.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


I've decided to put more effort into mentoring and helping others. My goal is to be in the acknowledgments of everyone's book, if that makes sense. I am very good at being a mentor, editor, and academic coach. Part of what I've realized is that the excessive emphasis on self-development, however necessary, is not the answer. You can be perfectly put together, but if you can't help other people, then you will always be limited. People who are generous to others are beloved figures, and rightfully so. People who aren't generous, well, they aren't beloved.

I can't say I haven't been helpful to others in the past in a kind of routine way, saying yes to people who ask mostly, and I *am* in several acknowledgments. There are people I can point to and say that I've had a role in their professional development. The point, of course, is not to be on that page, but what your name there represents.

Generosity is also the best way to network. It is beneficial from a selfish point of view as well.  It will make you happier precisely because it will bring you out of your self a bit.  What I'm advocating is also a way around resentment at others doing well, or better than you. A better approach is to want people to do well in general.

[Also, I have been a gatekeeper, saying no to bad articles and yes to better ones, with revise and resubmits.  Unfortunately, not letting bad articles get published is also a useful function. The best thing, though, is the pride I can take when an article gets published and is better because of my input.  Here, your name is not known, since the process is anonymous.]

It depends, too, on a highly developed sense of knowing how to do it yourself.  I wouldn't trust a mentor who hadn't cultivated her own garden as well. So if all your work is for other people, and your own work is languishing, then that would be unfortunate.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What if?

What if the only obstacle were the work itself? If there were no external barriers, even internalized external barriers like self-doubt?  Then whatever difficulties that were there, would be difficulties inherent to the work itself. It still might be very hard work, but all problems of time, money, energy, access to materials, disappeared.

If you could get yourself to that state, then you could probably do the work and have a good time doing it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A white-washed lyric?

In "Lulu's Back in Town" the original version of the lyrics says:

"You can tell all my pets / all my Harlem coquettes."

The White version of the song, though, meaning the one sung by Sinatra et al, changes the lyrics to "...all my blondes and brunettes."

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Non-sequitur of the day

"I’m the uncoolest artist in the world, and always will be. But that’s true of the vast majority of artists."


Here's a tip: start the index when you start writing the book. All you need is an alphabetical list.  Then you can do the index very quickly when it is time, simply by filling in the page numbers for each entry.

You can take your bibliography, copy and paste to another document, and then leave only the names and some titles of works. Then you have an outline of the index in alphabetical order.  You can add to the index at the same time as you compile the bibliography.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Humble brag of the day

"English is my fourth language..."  {Written to justify the fact that the person's English writing might need editing.

Monday, April 9, 2018

You are in the acknowledgements

All the regular commentators on the blog are in the acknowledgments of the new Lorca book that will come out soon: Olga, Leslie, Vance, Thomas, Bob... You know who you are.

Sand Bags

Although don't meditate enough, I keep trying. Yesterday I got an insight: that ruminative non-productive thought is both effortful and, well, non-productive.

The image that popped into mind as I was meditating was of the task of moving heavy bags full of sand from one room to another in a house. So say the kitchen needed a bag, and you had to move it from the bedroom, and then another two bags from the living room to the bathroom, and so forth throughout the day, without much purpose.

So many of my thoughts seem to be of that nature. You can work hard at thinking about your life but if it is just moving sandbags around, it is rather pointless, but also very tiring. Productive thought is simpler, without as much wasted effort, and also more productive in that it simplifies problems rather than complicating them.

Learn by doing it

The obvious bears repeating. We learn to do something by doing it. If I want to learn to speak Italian then I should speak Italian. If I want to learn to read it I should read it. Cross-training is good, but doesn't provide the skill that direct training does. For example, speaking Italian won't make me as good a reader as reading does.

I've been trying to learn improvisation, and the thing to do there is to improvise. Studying the theory behind is necessary, but you won't learn until you do it. My technique is called Blindfolded Rhythm Changes, and it involves just playing the chord changes of I Got Rhythm over and over again. I've learned some things about it. For example, the improvisational ideas tend to gel and become compositions, and hence on as improvisatory any more. It can get stale, but these stale bits can become vocabulary items or "licks" that make improvisation easier. Once I get too set in a pattern I have to play something else. At some point I will have to learn the changes in another key.

My idea often sound unhip or unjazzlike. This is fine for now, as long as they are intended, heard before they are played, and with some melodic and phrasal shape to them. I'm able to do some improv over my own left-hand walking base, but I feel my ideas are restricted that way, as opposed to having the right hand play what it wants and the left fill in rather than playing four quarter notes.  Still, a week or two ago I could play the bass line but couldn't do anything with the other hand.

We learn to write scholarly books and articles by writing them. It would stand to reason that someone who's done more will be better, more masterful.  I don't believe in the paradigm of someone who writes and publishes very little and all of it is brilliant.  The mass producer of mediocrity does exist, and is a mystery to me.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


I'm getting a handle on the number of emails a week. Here was yesterday, for example:

Tonight at the Hall center
Graduate research symposium 
Call for teaching award
Congratulations for someone who won something 
KU today
University governance

So let's say 7 a day, for 35 a week and 560 per semester. I'm not counting emails for department business or that are addressed to me personally, only mailing list emails that go to everyone in the university or the college, etc... The university does have a legitimate duty to communicate with us about a variety of things, and each unit of the university also has communication responsibilities. Perhaps we could have "no email Friday," though? 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Failure to accomplish

In my dream, I was with an ex.  The pattern of her criticizing me was showing again, and I called her on it.  Then she said: "Everyone is characterized one personality trait. Your's is an inability to accomplish anything." I was about to point out I had five books...