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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 30, 2019


Neoliberalism used be the enemy, twenty years or so again. Now it is neonationalism. And the progressives who used to be concerned about neoliberalism are now neoliberal themselves, since it turns out that neonationalism is worse. Even when it is neoliberalism, in part, that created the nationalist reaction.

It is like when we used to think that the enemy was a conservative view of the literary canon, when the true enemy are people who despise literature in the first place.

Lumpers and splitters

Wittgenstein [quoted on 153 of Perloff's The Edge of Irony], says he wouldn't get along with Hegel. Hegel was interested in showing that "things that look different are really the same," whereas W. interest "is in showing that things which look the same are really different." He says he could have two mottos:  "I'll teach you differences" [King Lear] or "you'd be surprised."

Lumpers are like Hegel, splitters like W.  But don't some problems call for lumping, and others splitting?  In other words, a splitter, like me, might come across something that seems to demand lumping. Or perhaps this suggests a change in me, since I am now drawn to these "lumping" tasks as much as to my previous splitting.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Things that are dull or interesting are not so in themselves, but because of the one making that judgment.  So dance, for example, is not something I've ever considered (until very recently), but that is simply a statement about myself, not about the inherent interest (or lack of) in dance as an object of attention in itself.

Morton Feldman's "Triadic Memories" might seem like a dull piece. A series of slow piano chords going on forever.  I am very interested in it, but that is not a recommendation that it should interest you, necessarily.

Boredom should not exist.  In other words, there should be always an object of attention. Even boredom itself could be an object of attention.  What does it feel like?  Is it frustration? The sense of being disconnected from something more interesting occurring elsewhere. Is it a sense of time passing at an uncomfortable rate? Is it dissatisfaction with something that doesn't fulfill expectations? A sense of over familiarity?  What combination of these factors is involved? How does boredom feel in the body?

Could you recreate the sensation of traveling, that unboredom one feels, but staying at home?  In travel time passes at another rate, experiences are new by definition. Places, people, climates, one's own feelings about them. Even jet lag or long travel delays creates an oddness with relation to one's own experience. Coming back home makes for an interesting experience too.  Home presents itself in a new light, and things seem easier and more possible. But if you could do that without traveling, it might be nice. I don't necessarily like tourism, but what I do like is the dissociation and subsequent homecoming.  

Default to bum

When I am not looking at my cv or directly engaged with writing something, I tend to default to bum. If I have a bad day or week or month or season, with less than ideal productivity, I tend to think of myself a lazy. But, even though I might appear lazy if you followed me around for a few days, I believe I am not. I have the Lorca and Me book almost finished, am well along the way with the Things to Do to Poems book, and with Lorca: The Musical Imagination.  I did abandon some other projects, it is true. But my five published books is more than respectable, even apart from the contents of my files of unpublished things. I have three books of poetry I could publish, if I had a publisher, and I have taught myself to write music.

It is curious, though, that I have to get out my cv in order to convince myself of this. My default state is to consider myself to be somewhat of a bum. I wonder why that is so. I do hate arrogance, in myself and others, so perhaps it is out of mistaken fear of that. Perhaps it is because people are not constantly heaping praise on me. Of course, that would be pretty ridiculous too. We aren't supposed to need constant approbation. We are supposed to be content with extremely sporadic or perhaps nonexistent positive reinforcement for our efforts, and it seems childish to want more than this. Perhaps I am extrapolating from my low salary about my status in the university, or exaggerating my own numerous failings, which are far more visible to me than to anyone else, I'm sure.

In any case, through meditation I've learned to be curious about emotions. If you are feeling an emotion you have to examine what it feels like in the actual body. What is it like? Also, you become aware of an emotion almost before it arises. This does not prevent the emotion from manifesting itself, but it helps.

Intellectual Curiosity

Intellectual curiosity is probably the most powerful of the scholarly superpowers. It is elusive to define, in some sense. We can't be infinitely curious about every possible thing, because we need to pursue some interests more intensely than others.

Two anecdotes:  I very early read Frank O'Hara's essay in Morton Feldman.  But for many years I did not go out and investigate his music, which I now view as essential to me. When I began to be interested in Feldman, it was as though I was discovering something that I should have known from the start. I could accuse myself of a lack of curiosity, but I eventually did go out and find Feldman's music.

A similar thing happened just this past week or so.  Thomas asked me who a good dance writer was.  I answered "Edwin Denby" off the top of my head. Now I had known of Denby for many years, as a poet of the New York School, like O'Hara. I had read some of his poems, but never his dance writing. So I went out and did it. Denby is a great writer about dance, and I once again felt that something had come full circle for me. He should have been within my radar, but was not, despite my devotion to NY school poetry. I am going to use his prose style as a model for my own writing.

So it seems that I am lacking in intellectual curiosity, always getting there late, wherever there is. There are probably other things awaiting my discovery, things that are there under my nose, virtually. I only discovered Mompou last year!  Some element of serendipity must be involved, since many other undiscovered things might possibly just be not that interesting. You can't just indiscriminately go and look at everything in existence, but have to follow particular cues from your own self.  So maybe the idea is to be able to listen to those cues when they come up. To be attentive to them.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


I know of fancy words

I do not use them in my poems, though

Poem written early in the morning

Our dreams are poorly furnished--a concrete floor at best

They are our own, we might be more opulent, at no extra expense!

Even in our deepest imagination, though, what we desire is ugly and brutal

Friday, October 25, 2019

Arrogance (ii)

What we call arrogance is not an overestimation of one's abilities, but rather an attitude of puffing-out-the-chest. For example, I might overestimate the quality of my musical compositions. I might think of them as B+ level when they really deserve a C-.  But arrogance is not a simply overestimation, but the attitude that follows from it.  I know people who overestimate their own scholarship without being arrogant about it. We might simply say that they are making a mistake in one direction or the other. Excessive modesty about one's musical compositions would be a mistake in the other direction, but wouldn't be an attitude of "humility" per se. In other words, it might not be accompanied by any particular attitude of self-abasement. Suppose my compositions are "really" at the B+ level, but I rate myself as a C- composer.

What defines arrogance or humility, then, is not one's self-estimation in relation to the truth, but rather an egotistical attitude in one direction or another: arrogance or self-abasement. I also think that humility is as much of a matter or the ego as arrogance. Both are ways of putting the self in the middle where it doesn't belong. The question is not how much talent I have, but how good the actual song turns out to be.  

Also, of course, arrogance is a perceived quality. One can feel that ego in another person, as in one's self. It is almost palpable.

Also, you want to project some degree of ego, or the thing itself will not work, in many cases. Think of a way a conductor projects mastery and confidence. Or a boxer or baseball pitcher, or someone in a position to take control of the  classroom.  You wouldn't welcome a false humility in the surgeon about to cut you open. Part of psychological health is to project a modicum of arrogance, then.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Breaking down the moonlight

The "Moonlight Sonata" looks difficult on the page, but its difficulty has more to do with its musical notation than with its execution on the keyboard. In other words, it presents a problem of information rather than one of playing. My approach to learning it, then, is to decipher the score step by step, beginning with the left hand part. This part consists almost entirely of octaves, so perceiving this fact simplifies the process almost immediately: there is only one note to learn for each chord, not two. The next simplification comes in realizing that Beethoven uses only certain notes, mostly C#, G#, and F#, the I, V, and IV of the key of the piece. Another apparent difficulty is with enharmonics: instead of writing C natural, he writes B#; there are also some double sharps. These are difficult to sight-read, but not difficult to decipher more slowly. A similar process will work for the treble part, which is almost entirely ascending arpeggiated chords of three notes. The process will consist of systematically figuring out what the chords are.


The above paragraph is an exercise: I wanted to write a paragraph about something that I know, in a limited time frame, in the way suggested by Thomas Basbøll.  This took me 13 minutes. Of course, I could edit it for style: the repetition of difficult is not very elegant, but it is not at all a "shitty first draft."

You ought to be able to write clearly and basically about something you know. That is basic competence. To get to the next level, of stylistic elegance, you can simply revise your first, competent draft.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Music Therapy

I don't play music for therapy, but there are certain effects. When I play Mompou's Música Callada, it is a meditative feeling. When I improvise over Bemsha Swing, I can explore seemingly endless possibilities. Beethoven feels a certain way different from all of these.


I am playing some Beethoven sonatas. One is #20 in G major. Relatively simple, and with only two movements. The other is #14 in C# minor, known as the "Moonlight." It is more difficult, and the final movement, the presto, is way beyond me. I have learned about half a page of the first, most famous movement. The second movement does not look like it will be beyond my reach.

Anyway, I've found that my relation to the classical style has changed when I can play it myself. I've never really had a personal relationship with this music before. My previous interest was mostly in string quartets by Haydn and Mozart, but I don't play those instruments so it was a listening interest, which is quite different. The sonata 20 is more Mozart like than like Beethoven's other music. I find I can express that lightness and grace and it is a wonderful feeling. I love the parts that are "just" scales going up and down, or repeated arpeggios. They are deeply calming. There are turbulent moments, but turbulence is temporary. The therapeutic effect is a different one than I have with Mompou, given the difference in their styles.  

*[I am thinking here of classical music as music of the period from Haydn to Beethoven, as opposed to baroque or romantic musics coming before or after.]

Fake bad poetry

My bad poetry is not really, bad, but a carefully modulated variety of parody. It is impossible to write bad poetry on purpose, because the result will be a parody, not a genuinely bad poem. Because the parody can be modulated, I can also sneak in things that are deliberately "good."

Today, I thought up the beginning of a poem:

I went to live among stupid and humorless people
In a place far from mountains and sea

I was an arrogant stranger among them
They brought me fruit...  

So you see everything depends on keeping the tone at the exactly correct temperature. The poem can go anywhere from there. Each line has to follow the previous one and be both surprising and inevitable, in some way.

The speaker refracts some of my experience but is never me, exactly. In genuinely bad poetry the speaker is always just the poet. The poet has never learned to imagine someone else speaking, which I think is fundamental. To write parody the speaker must be a bit naive, or self-involved, or clueless about how he or she might sound to someone else. Here, for example, the speaker accuses others of being humorless, but is over invested in himself.


A new classification of arrogance came out. The authors say that arrogance can be individual (thinking oneself superior), comparative (thinking oneself superior to others), or antagonistic (voicing this belief about others' inferiority). My question, probably an arrogant one, has to do with the way they define arrogance as an exaggerated opinion of oneself in relation to the truth. Actually, the arrogant person might actually be superior. In other words, arrogant behavior is the same whether the person is justified or not in the belief of superiority. I am not excusing arrogance, but just the opposite.  I'm saying that being superior on some given dimension does not justify the attitude we call arrogant.  For example, suppose there are four physicists.

1) A brilliant physicist, and arrogant about it.
2) A brilliant physicist, who has no doubts about ability but is not arrogant in showing it.
3) A physicist of barely average ability, but an arrogant person.
4) A brilliant physicist, but who suffers from impostor syndrome.
5 A physicist of barely average ability, who is well about of averageness.

1 and 3 are arrogant. 3 and 4 misperceive their own abilities. 2 and 5 have an accurate reading of their own abilities, and neither is arrogant.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


A student was arguing over an A-.  I gave him justfication, etc..., but then later realized that he had written in English rather than in Spanish. I told him then that he had to do the paper over again. He came back at me again and said that the instructions had not specified a language, even though it was a Spanish composition class. He referred to Spanish as a "Ghetto language" that was not worth his time. I realized that is was improper, but I began swearing at him violently and then beating him up.

Friday, October 18, 2019


My clock radio is set to KJHK.  Since I have taught at KU, they have had the same program in the morning, "jazz in the morning," but now the DJs have been born approximately 23 years later than the first ones that I heard in 1996. This morning, I woke up and they were playing Herbie Hancock, then they had Nat King Cole, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday. Of course I recognized everything they played. What I like is the idea that nobody in the past five cohorts of student DJs or managers has successfully questioned the idea that jazz must be played in the morning. Every new person spinning records in the morning just steps into that format, taking it as a given.

The Death of Bloom

Bloom's death, coinciding with my own meditation practice, has freed me from my clinging to my dislike of certain irritating things about Bloom.  There are many. I could could list them too.

But this quote struck me because it was exactly the same for me:

 "Why is it you can have that extraordinary experience (preadolescent in my case, as in so many other cases) of falling violently in love with great poetry . . . where you are moved by its power before you comprehend it? "

More reactivity

Other things I could have reacted to yesterday...

There was a speaker, someone I had had a complicated relation to in the past. I could have been irritated by some of her talk, or else jealous of it, since it turned out to be a good one. I was also nervous about my personal relation to her. But as I monitored my own reactions I became aware of all of it as it came up.  I still felt these emotions, but they didn't have that kind of weight they might have had in the past for me.

My conversations with her afterwords were very normal, too. I asked a question that was not hostile or condescending, and we talked a bit.

Mindfulness doesn't kill the emotions, but just puts them in their proper place. Probably one of the most painful moments I had in the profession was when two of my colleagues decided to give an NEH seminar, in my own field, without including me. I just found out one day that it was happening and it felt like being punched in the gut. I still feel that this was not the best behavior on their part, and I still remember the emotion itself with a degree of vividness. The difference is that now I can also look at it with a degree of curiosity, examining my own reactions and learning something from them and not merely feeling the pain in all its rawness.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Tonight we had a gala celebration of our department, "100 years of Hispanism." In meditation I am learning not to react as much to things. So tonight was a good test for me. I found myself irritated by one speaker who went on and on with no organization, and taking much more than the allotted time.  Another person made remarks that brought up painful memories. I had to wait a long time before my own intervention, a brief tribute to an emeritus colleague. In another case, someone I don't like very much gave a good talk, so I had to refrain myself from finding something wrong with it, when it was actually very fine. I was frustrated the the event lasted until after 10 p.m., when we had finished eating by 7:45.

It's not that I didn't have reactions, but I was able to become aware of them as they arose and greet them with more equanimity. Instead of it being a wholly unpleasant evening it became an occasion for curiosity about my own reactions. For example, impatience is a sign of not appreciating the present moment. Not wanting one's not favorite person to do well is an unnecessary thought that does one no good, in the end. Being frustrated at someone bad presentation is natural, but not really all that bad in the larger scheme. My own intervention was fine, and having to wait a bit more to give it was ok.  The painful memory is still painful, but not worth dwelling on now, etc...

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.