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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...

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 

Thursday, June 6, 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.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Trick

The trick of being good is to set your own internal standard and measure yourself against that. You can set that far higher than the standard of your field. If you try to meet an external standard, then you will be aiming fairly low.  For example, an article could be publishable, in the sense that someone might publish it, but it might not be up to your own standard. Someone could still reject your article, but it is unlikely you will get mostly rejections if you are meeting your own, high, self-imposed standard.

My minimum is to have something well written, that makes an intelligent, non-trivial point, that engages with a genuine critical problem of interest at least to me.  I don't allow myself to use sign-posting.

This does not mean that what I write will be flawless.

Crisp Immediacy

In this dream there was someone using words and phrases of crisp directness, naming things as they really are rather than being abstract or roundabout. I can't remember any of the language itself, but I was struck by its unstuffy, outdoor feel. It was not obscene or taboo language, but we felt that a barrier had been broken down. They were ordinary English words, but the effect was extraordinary.

I came up with the phrase "crisp immediacy" after I was awake, just to be able to remember the dream. But this phrase doesn't really convey the concreteness of the language.  

Saturday, June 1, 2019


Bemsha Swing has a simple structure.  A single phrase that repeats four times (the third time in another key), in a shortened AABA form. It is in C.  Yet it has 10 separate chords, including 6 of the  12 dominant-seven chords. Autumn Leaves has about 9 or 10 ten chords too, including the 7 chords related to its key, E minor. I Got rhythm has numerous chords as well, and is in B flat.  So overall, I can play just about any chord, theoretically, just by learning these three songs, plus a few of my own in D flat and other odd keys.  Let's say there are 48 basic chords (major, minor, dominant 7, and half-diminished). It sounds like a lot, but I feel the need to know every note on the piano in relation to every key.


Lorca's main impact on Flamenco before the late 1970s is attributed to a work that

1) is not by Lorca, in the conventional sense, and

2) has nothing at all to do with flamenco.

I think that is what I love about scholarship. Finding something anomalous and then having to explain it. Of course, once you investigate it, it makes perfect sense. The popularity of the folk songs that Lorca collected, arranged, and recorded persists to this day. They are not flamenco music in their origins, and Lorca is not the composer or author of the verbal texts. But you can simply make them "aflamencadas" by singing them in that style. They are folkloric; they have that existential connection to Lorca; you don't have to write new tunes for them, or approach the dense symbolism of Lorca's own poetry. This is Apocryphal Lorca all over again and I'm loving it.