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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...

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Solutions to the sock dilemma

 Socks are lost in the washing machine or dryer, resulting in "orphan" (or more accurately, "twinless") socks.  We need to come up with some solutions. 

1. Buy 30 pairs of identical socks.  Some socks will be lost, but your socks will always match.  At a certain point, buy more socks identical to the first set of 30, or begin again with a different color or pattern. This solution is expensive but irrefutable.   

2. Wear socks that do not match. Make that your personal style. "Life is too short to make your socks match." If your socks do happen to match on any given day, that is fine too. Nobody will complain, in my experience.    

3. Wear no socks. 

4.  Continue your current pattern of losing socks, but decide not to care about loss of socks. Discard twinless socks, or keep them as dishrags. Whatever...   

5. Continue your pattern of losing socks, but continue, also, your laments for the loss of socks. Realize that your complaints about the loss of socks fulfills a psychological need, scratches an itch otherwise unscratchable.   

6. Worry about other stuff.  The problem will disappear because it is not very important. 

7. Place socks in a laundry bag with zipper before doing laundry. An elegant but dull solution. This is the one I have ultimately chosen, despite being tempted at times by solutions 2 and 3.     

I had more hands then

 Keith Jarrett had a stroke (or two), and cannot play piano with his left hand. There is a nice interview with him by YouTuber Rick Beato. At one point, Keith says, after they listen to a brilliant performance by Keith from many years ago "I had more hands then." Then: "But only one more." He can still play cool improvised lines with just his right hand, and comp at the same time with the same hand. 


I realized at one point I had many, many CDS of Jarrett's trios with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock. Your favorite musician is not the one you say is your favorite, but the one that is objectively your favorite, based on your actual listening history.  


When I play piano, it's fine. I am within my modest abilities. When I listen to someone really good, I could despair.  But that is a dumb attitude to take. Being able to play at all is a miracle. 


My dad gave me Amphigorey for Christmas one year. I think I was 14 or 15. I had no idea about what it was really about, but I liked it.  I recently repurchased it, along with Amphigorey Too. I don't remember much about it from then. I do remember The Curious Sofa, a pornographic but very innocent book, in its own way.  "To beguile the the tedium of the journey, Albert read aloud from Volume Eleven of "The Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs." Or "The party split into two and threes before retiring." 

Now I have seen pictures of Gorey, I know that he depicts himself in his books in regular fashion. I probably didn't wonder if he was gay, at that age. I've since learned that he attended virtual every ballet there was in NYC.  

The Doubtful Guest is brilliant.  

Giovanni interviews Baldwin

I wish people were as smart now as back then.   


 My fb friend Bob Archambeau has some notes on how to give a conference paper. It boils down to "don't waste time" and treat the audience well, and ends with the gem: "Work the room, not the text."  

Sunday, February 26, 2023


 Most people are in favor of cancelling.  For example, I am in favor of newspapers canceling Scott Adams' Dilbert strip, if they want too. I am in favor of having Kanye West face the consequences of being anti-Semitic in an open way. Practically nobody is against it, as a matter of principle. People just differ on what kind of cancelation is legit, what specific offenses count. 

Adams has been semi-loco for a while, with Trumpism and other kinds of weird things. His strip is funny, I guess, if you work in an office, though he cannot draw. I don't believe in saying he is not funny, simply because he is also racist. In the past I have enjoyed his strip, and I find most comics today not particularly good, but it is not in the same class as Calvin and Hobbes

The first amendment is about the government. A newspaper can cancel a comic strip that it publishes, and it is not censorship.  On the other hand, I can put a Dilbert panel on the door of my office, and the University cannot tell me to take it down. I'm not going to do it, because I don't have things on my door, and if I did it wouldn't be someone who just came out explicitly as a racist.  

Private universities can censor, since they are not governmental, but many of them claim to follow 1st amendment principles, and in that case they can be called out on that. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

You can't make this up...

 A daughter of the infamous Koch family, as profiled in New York Times, in relatively sympathetic way:  

As she worked to untangle her knots, she did a lot of searching. She was an editor for a literary humor magazine called Opium. She tried to write a novel. (She’s still trying. “It’s about 1,400 pages with 24 major characters and 30 plot lines.”) She went to Peru to experience ayahuasca, the vomit-inducing hallucinogenic tea. Another time, she found herself at a nudist colony. In 2015, she started a book imprint called Catapult. “Cries for Help, Various” was its first title. (This month, Catapult shut down its online magazine and writing program to “ensure a successful future” for its core book business.)

Advice columns

 I like some advice columns and read one regularly now.  (Ask a Manager.) My theory is that I'm using them as "equipment for living." In other words, I run them the questions through my mind in order to process my own life. I especially enjoy it when the commenters adopt funny pseudonyms and overthink the questions being asked. 


There was something else that I also use in this way, that I was thinking of the other day, and that I actually prefer to the advice columns, but now I can't think of what it is! That is ironic, since I supposedly think that this is a better thing than what I am actually doing. 


Lynda Barry (cartoonist) suggests that when we write an obituary, we talk about the external life (was born a certain place, etc...). When we write in a journal, we write about "feelings." But to write a story (she suggests), begin with an image. 

Imagine your teenage room: what posters do have on the wall?  

I know I had a full length Bogart with fedora on the inside of my door.  Dalí's persistence of memory, Picasso, 3 musicians, and a very large Brueghel of people ice skating outside. I had probably been reading Pictures from Brueghel by WCW. There, that already is more interesting than either "feelings" or external life.      

Mayhew gets confused

I am confused by the "butterfly effect." I mean, I get the concept.  A butterfly flapping its wings causes something else of more amplified dimensions, which in turn causes other things, leading up to a giant storm of some kind.  

What I don't get is this: there are many other tiny things, microclimate-wise, that also happen along the way. A woman slams her car door.  I breathe too heavily for a while after a jog. A small child frightens a wren, which then flies off. You can't have such a linear account of the pitiful butterfly causing something else, since that something else is going to have other causes and effects quite apart from the butterfly. The model only works if you posit perfect laboratory conditions with no other interference--which is kind of contrary to what the butterfly effect is supposed to be. 

And, generally speaking, bigger events are going to have bigger consequences than small ones, so the idea of something small having such an outsized effect would be the exception, not the way things normally worked. What makes that one butterfly so special?  

[Curtain closes while Mayhew continues to rant about the butterfly effect, to no effect.]


 Although I disagree with conservatives and would never vote for a Republican, my instinctual reaction to so-called "wokeness" is attuned to what a conservative would react to.  The constant linguistic and performative posturing, etc... 

Put in another way, it is what would bother an old style liberal too: the lack of nuance, the dogmatism, the denial of basic reality.  I'm noticing this too in others of my age or older. Our bullshit detectors are just stronger, maybe. 

I don't believe in organized politics--I'm a Democrat (attributed to Will Rogers) 

A liberal is someone who can't take his (or her) own side in an argument.  (Robert Frost?). 

[A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


 I loved the work of Edward Gorey, after I got Amphigorey as a present when I was young. I didn't think about him very much in the years since. Reading a biography of Frank O'Hara, I discovered he was a friend of Gorey's. That seemed appropriate. He also was active in doing cover art of books, including the comic poems by T.S. Eliot that later became the musical "Cats." 

He is a skilled draftsman, and possesses a gift for writing as well, with a mordant and macabre sense of humor, multi-layered intelligence. His visual style is the perfect vehicle for his somewhat twisted sense of humor. His characters often meet unpleasant fates, but we sense there is nothing truly mean about him.  I like the fact that he never condescends to his audience. He is not a children's author; if a young person likes his work, it is because that young person enjoys being spoken to as an adult. The Curious Sofa, for example, is a work of pornographic sensibility, though without anything explicit. It is all pure innuendo.    

While he seems to be eccentric, many people like his work, which shows that his aesthetic is not one that deliberately narrows its audience. Not everyone will like him, but quite a few of us do.     

What is an interesting person.

 What is an interesting person?  

I guess when I start to think about that, I think of things that I like to do. I actually don't think I am interesting, although some of what I find interesting about others also applies to me. What is not so interesting about me is that I don't have a lot of varied work experience outside of academia.     

  An interesting person will know languages, music styles, will have traveled a bit. Have a wide range of interests, exploring some of them with some degree of depth. They will have interesting minds and varied life experiences. They will have read a lot and thought about what they've read.  

I guess, too, being interested in other people.  Narcissists are not interesting, nor pontificators.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Master class

 I love masterclasses on youtube.  It doesn't have to be an instrument I play, even. The interaction between the student and the teacher can be priceless. The teacher is rarely trying to put the student down, in any way. The mutual respect is palpable. The master pulls something out of the student that was already there.   

[Hank Jones / Ray Brown / Pablo Casals / Barry Harris, Schiff.]. 

I wish there was something similar I could do.  Writing doesn't seem to lend itself to this treatment. 

An exchange

 In a theory course in grad school, 1981.  

Other student:  In a capitalist society, scientific fact are produced like products of the capitalist economy.  

Me:  Example? 

Other student: racist science about IQ...

Me:  [shuts down]. 

I could not go on and point out that this was a total misdirection.  Of course, racist science is deplorable, but it has nothing to do with "capitalism" to the way science is actually done. The example given had nothing to do with the assertion.  I learned then that I could not debate with people like that. 



 The censoring of Dahl is particularly insidious, because it will be invisible to readers of the new text. There is a certain meanness to his writing, and that's what gives it its particular flavor.  A sanitized version takes away some of that.  The company hired by the Dahl estate to advise them specializes in "inclusion." People doing evil often use nice words to describe what they are doing. Dahl's refusal to euphemize is one of the things that make him valuable in the first place.  

Sunday, February 19, 2023


 Vanderbilt's DEI office used the AI Chat to send out a message of reassurance about the Michigan State shootings, thus touching on the trifecta of modern ailments:  DEI bureaucracy, mass shootings, and Chat GPT.  

I can just imagine the next generation of advice columns: help, I just discovered my boyfriend's marriage proposal was written by AI!  

Saturday, February 18, 2023


 A great Gershwin program here.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

From the Grey Lady

"Newspaper coverage of the incident, though, had focused only on the dog feces, he said, whereas he wanted to start a debate about what should be allowed in arts criticism."

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

How Auto-Tune DESTROYED Popular Music

Dylan vs. Autotune

 I watched two Bob Dylan documentaries done by Scorsese. I'm not a Dylan super-fan, so in a way that made it more enjoyable, because I don't have anything invested in liking or disliking anything associated with him. Both movies are long and have delightful footage. The genuineness of the singers who inspired Dylan in the beginning, and his contemporaries, like Joan Baez, is wonderful to see. Allen Ginsberg appears in both films.  (I also watched a Leonard Cohen documentary that was not quite as good.) 

I watched the Grammys and the Super Bowl half time show. The excessive spectacle, the lack of emphasis on the music itself, the autotune and lip syncing, the sheer narcissism, the mutual admiration among mediocrities, etc... was very off-putting. It was nice to have Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, and some of the historic rappers, but the best part of the Grammys was, in, fact, the more nostalgic part.  (Showing my generational bias here.) 

Rick Beato has a good video on autotune. We can compare it to the AI program infecting writing. Beato says that when AI writes all the songs, we won't even notice, since we are already so used to mechanized music production. My objection to autotune is not that it makes people more in tune than they otherwise would be (so that anyone can be a pop star without even singing in tune), but that it flattens out the music, robs it of vibrancy.  

The beginning of the end

 From The Bride and the Bachelor (Tomkins).  

Some disciples of Merce Cunningham "arrived at a sort of non-dance aesthetic that could dispense with such rudimentary requirements as dance training and physical technique. Cunningham himself has never been willing to dispense with technique, and as a result he is looked upon by some of his former disciples with a respect that is slightly tinged with condescension."  

Here the logical consequence (reductio ad absurdum) of an avant-garde practice is to condescend to the founder of such a practice. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2023



We thought putting wisdom in short, memorable chunks was a good idea

We called them "proverbs" and found them satisfying to repeat 

All cultures have them, many of us have had this same good idea in different times and places

Some of transparent and obvious, others are mysterious, opaque to an outsider 

If space aliens had proverbs, we wouldn't understand them 

Or maybe we would, the way we understand this one from Spain:

"If the jug hits the rock, it's bad for the jug

And if the rock hits the jug, it's bad for the jug."  


 "Jonathan Mayhew is a contemporary literary scholar who has written about Federico Garcia Lorca's concept of "duende" in his essay "Lorca's Theory of the Duende." In this essay, Mayhew explores Lorca's idea of duende as a force of artistic inspiration that exists outside of human control or reason.

Mayhew argues that Lorca's concept of duende represents a rejection of rationalism and a celebration of the irrational, instinctual, and emotional aspects of human experience. Mayhew sees duende as a powerful, unpredictable force that can be channeled by artists to create works of great emotional depth and intensity.

Mayhew also discusses the relationship between duende and flamenco music, which Lorca saw as a prime example of the power of duende. Mayhew suggests that Lorca's ideas about duende have influenced a wide range of artistic practices, from poetry and music to painting and theater.

Overall, Mayhew's essay provides a valuable analysis of Lorca's concept of duende and its significance for the arts."

Pretty much a mishmash of misinformation and cliché.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Two February Poems


I found this poem by Creeley today by accident, literally pulling a book off the shelf and opening it at random, and it made me remember I had a February poem too.  There is no comparison possible (genius vs. amateur poet), but there is a poetry too in juxtaposition.  In mine I don't like the Yeats echo and the cliché in the last line (biting wind!). The rest of it is good, insofar as I can judge my own work. If I changed "lacked all conviction" to something else or took out the word "biting,"or stale language like "openly confess," it might upset the balance of the poem in another way. There is also a lack of syntactic continuity between the first and second line, but that I think makes the poem better. 

I invented the "friend" in order to give voice to my own feelings about this month, if I remember right.  

Creeley's has that endearing "humanity" to it, and the lightness of touch.  "small month's meagerness" is wonderful. He isn't afraid of the set phrase either (against all odds, bitter cold). 

February (Mayhew)

It was your hatred for February that first endeared you to me, old friend
What you called its impertinent brevity, its indecisiveness and squalor
Though the heart of winter, it lacked all conviction  

Now it is February again and I wonder if you were speaking in earnest 
Perhaps there was something else under your skin that you couldn't openly confess 
Something colder even than the biting wind of that month you despised 

Hearts (Robert Creeley)

No end to it if
"heart to heart" 
is all there is

to buffer, put against
harshness of weather,
small month's meagerness--

"Hearts are trumps,"
win out again
against all odds,

beat this 
drab season of bitter cold
to save a world

Murky dreams

 This was rather murky. In one part, I had found a copy on vinyl of Kind of Blue for my mother. I left it in the car, and had to retrieve it, but the backyard of her house was flooded and water came up to my ankles once I got to the carport. I had placed one turntable over another and was trying to play the record.   

There was a part of the same night's dreaming that took place in a bar.  I had a girlfriend named Julie, younger than me, and when she left a man said he was her brother. I said I hadn't met her family, and he said there was a good reason for that.  Then eventually I realized that maybe I hadn't been dating her after all. I moved discreetly to the other part of the bar. The woman had an indistinct presence and my visual imagination failed to provide her with any definite features. 

I was explaining this dream to someone (in a metadream).  Later in the the same bar, I wondered if I was dreaming or not. It seemed that I wasn't, because I tried my telekinesis trick and it didn't work. I tried to make people levitate but nothing happened. I looked out the window to see if reality had that detailed "reality look" to it, and it seemed to have it. Since I thought things were real, I didn't do anything daring. 

Obviously, though, it was a dream because I woke up in bed and it was 8:30 a.m.    

Greatness in clusters

 What do you think is really great? For me it comes in clusters.  I like all the historical avant-garde, and the ideas of Duchamp.  I like modernism in many flavors, like Pessoa or Proust, Cavafy, Borges.   

There is a cluster of things around the time I was born, say from Miles's early cool phase until the death of Coltrane. It was a highpoint in jazz, when old-timers were still around, as well as be-boppers and avant-garde jazz. Rock and roll is about to take off, too. Soul music was a vibrant trend.  Ray Charles recording an album of country music. That's the kind of period it was. Hitchcock... 

Everything New York school in poetry (and painting). Other branches of "New American Poetry," like Creeley, Spicer... 

I think Keats, and the best poetry of that time was great. 

French symbolism if very great, especially Baudelaire.  

I'm never jaded. I never take it for granted.  Someone on facebook was saying Saura's movies have aged badly. I disagree, but even if an opinion changes, I still respect my older self's enthusiasm.  

I spent a lot of time studying Valente, who my Spanish friends think is the great ever. He is genuinely good, at his best, but I think people like him for the positions he takes in the poetry wars. Even though I study Lorca, he is not even my favorite poet.  (That would be Frank O'Hara.). 

Anyway, I think people recognize that these clusters exist, and that consequently there are relatively barren periods. I don't have problem if your cluster is different than mine.  For example, if realism is your thing, then the 19th century is your cluster.  I don't get the idea of not being impressed with greatness, though, whatever that greatness looks like for you.  

Saturday, February 11, 2023

More "Sold a Story"

 Kristof follows up on the reading wars in the NYT.  New York Times commenters will often say, "But Trump likes phonics!"  "But DeSantis!" The litany of "but children learn to read in different ways," etc... Some say phonics is cheap, so it is promoted for that reason.  Others say it promoted to make money for those selling it. Anecdotal evidence abounds. People will say "all you need to do is read to children." "Poor readers move their lips." "Poor readers sound words out."  Well, yes, if a student in advanced grades is sounding easy words out, then the student is not a good reader, but the alternative would be what, guessing what the word is without using the letters?  

Teaching dream

 I was teaching a novel by Soledad Puértolas.  I was having difficulty controlling the class, but I heard some student discuss some relevant points in their small groups, so I tried to get them to tell me what social critique the novel was making. I had in mind something like this: a male character with long hair who thought of himself as progressive but an arrogant prick, dismissing the views of the female characters. The students couldn't come up with much, and one said they all were afraid to speak because others might criticize them for their views. I tried to dismiss their concerns by giving some examples from the book, like the example of this character.  (There is no character exactly like this in her novels; this was just what I could come up with in my dream.)  

Friday, February 10, 2023

Lynda Barry! The View From Here: Emily Dickinson, Poetry and Survival

I used to read Lynda Barry's work in an alternative newspaper, such as The Ithaca Voice. I'm not sure anymore, but I loved her cartoons, but then forgot about her for many years.  Here she is on memorizing poetry and setting it to music, two of my favorite things to "do" to a poem.  "A pen you can write anything with."  

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Dream of university life

 I was overhearing a colleague tell a student that his idea for a project on short stories was incoherent, because, Kafka, Borges, Faulkner, etc...  were too dissimilar.  There was no common thread. The student's idea did seem bad to me in that context. Then I had to go to another professor's office (not in my department.) She (second colleague) filled me in about the incoherence of this student's work. I noticed she didn't have a computer in her office, but when I told her this she pushed a button and a computer unfolded itself from the wall on its own little platform. I thought that was too much work, but now, in waking life, it would be a pretty cool design to have.  

Still asleep, in a metadream, I was telling someone about my dream of this short story project and consulting with other colleagues.  

Then I had to go to a third colleague's office, on another floor of the building. I took an elevator and found myself in a large open floor plan office; I asked someone where Annie's office was. It was there, I was told, and Annie herself soon appeared. Then we saw a large, whitish bison that had wandered into the building. I was wondering how it had climbed the stairs.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

luMpInG sPlitTiNg

 Language lumps and splits.  Lumping is making a big category.  Splitting is dividing categories up into smaller ones. These operations are arbitrary, in the sense that the size of the categories is arbitrary.  

Even concrete language is abstract. Even a "concrete" noun like cat is a word for a category, usually. 

Language characterizes, casts an attitude over something. It carries baggage, implications.  

The Bride and the Bachelors

 I've been reading this book, The Bride and the Bachelors, by C. Tomkins, that I picked up a few years ago in a used book store and found again in my office where many random books have taken up residence. It was published in the 60s, and devoted to figures of the avant-garde. It makes me realize what a wonderful period this was. Duchamp, Cage, Tinguely, Rauschsenberg, and Cunningham. There are many connections among theses figures, admirations and mutual admirations. Kenneth Koch makes a brief appearance.  

It makes me realize that the 60s is an avant-garde period. Aside from these five men, there was Ornette and Coltrane. I wondered why there is music, visual art, and dance in this book, but not literature. Well, maybe John Cage as a writer... What poet of that period would you put in this exalted company?  I would say Frank O'Hara, who is my favorite poet. Some would say Charles Olson.  Curiously, Tomkins speaks of him as "Olsen." It is a male dominated period, to be sure, and many of them were gay (a fact not mentioned by Calvin Tomkins.). Of course, the whole group of poet born around '26, with Ginsberg, Spicer, Creeley...  

I am starting now the last chapter, on Merce Cunningham. His central idea is to have music and dance going on at the same time, but not coordinated. They are not dancing to the music. Cage and Cunningham would go away from each other, and work on the music and choreography separately. This is brilliant. I think it is a great thing that I know next to nothing about dance, not because I am proud of my ignorance, but that it represents an area for growth for me.  

Anyway, reading this is like removing an obstacle to my creativity.  Rauschenberg, for example, is indifferent to criticism, and if someone says what he does is not "art," he doesn't care. What does it matter what you call it? He just wants to do it, whatever it is.  


 The guy Dick Cheney shot by accident while he was vice-president has died. (At 95, unrelated to the accident, I'm thinking.). Anyway, that reminds me of a joke.

Cheney and the president (Bush) were out hunting, and Cheney accidentally shoots Bush. He calls 911 frantically as says "I've shot the president!  I killed him!"  The 911 operator tries to calm him and says, "First, make he's really dead..."  "Ok," says Cheney... 


Monday, February 6, 2023


 I was taught to read with this in first grade, in 1966 or thereabouts. Then, in second grade, we made the transition to standard English orthography. All I remember was a book by Milne, like Now we are six, or maybe, When We Were Very Young. It wasn't hard to switch to normal spelling, since I already knew the principle of correspondence between sounds and letters. I wasn't a great student, and was "slow" at doing the stupid worksheets we had to do.  It wasn't until 3rd grade that something clicked in my brain and I became relatively smart. 

This fell out of favor with phonics falling out of favor. I think the best reading is with books that give children something of the materiality of language. That is why nursery rhymes, or Dr. Seuss, are very good. I remember too A Child's Garden of Verses.  

Aside from an ignorance of neuroscience, there is also an indifference to linguistics in the devaluing of phonics.  

We did new math, too, when we were learning. It was very abstract, and did not help me learn math.  It was trying to make simple arithmetic principles into graduate level number theory.  

Sold a story

 I read an article in the NYRB about a podcast about reading instruction.  Then, I listened to the podcast all in one day. That's the kind of rabbit hole I fall into on some weekends.  

It is about how certain ideas about reading derived from so-called "progressive" education lead children to fail to learn to read. The idea is that you should teach children to guess about what a word is rather than to decipher it phonetically.  But this ends up being a strategy used by people who don't know how to read very well. There is a whole industry devoted to promoting these guessing, or "cueing" strategies.  

The rhetoric of the kind of progressive approach is cloaked in "holistic" language that makes it seem nice. Whole word and whole language, etc... But the key take-away is that this approach ignores the brain science itself. Professors of education are not neuro-scientists, but perhaps they should be. 

The whole podcast is quite devastating.  The response by those who continue to promote this approach as been extremely lame.   

Phonics is associated with conservatives, and whole language with more "progressive" approaches. It made me think, too, of composition studies. A lot of the stuff in that discipline seems motivated by ideological considerations. 

Also, I'm thinking that language acquisition begins with prosody, and so little children are very good already at sound.  

Sunday, February 5, 2023

1st poem of 2023


Poet, do you wash your clothes by hand?

Poet, do you hang them up to dry?

Poet, have your poems seen the wind?

Poet, have your poems seen the light of day?

Where did you learn that you weren't a poet

and what do you do to become one after all?

There's a guy on twitter posting semi-pretentious [or wholly pretentious] questions to poets, like how do your poems venerate the earth, so he inspired this poem from me.  

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Reversal of expectations

 Some jokes work through reversal of expectations. 

I've been counting calories, in and out, for a week, trying to be more mindful of what I'm eating and how much I'm exercising.   

So far I've gained two pounds.  [I'm not sure it's funny, but it has the structure of that kind of joke at least.] 

Seinfeld says: Pop tarts can't go stale because they were never fresh in the first place.  


The famous joke about the restaurant.  Two women are complaining: "The food there is inedible, it tastes like garbage; it makes me sick, etc... " and the other one adds, ",,, and the portions are small!"

A famous musician says: If I don't practice for a week, I know it.  If I don't practice for a month, my audience knows it. If I don't practice for six months, the critics know it.  [Usually found in a less funny version, with the critics second and the audience last.]. 

A pianist friend of my father's had a whole list of things to say to a colleague after a not-so-great performance, like "I've never heard the piece played that way before!" "That was a performance I won't forget any time soon!""I have no words."  I cannot remember what the quips were now, but they all could be said for either a great or godawful concert.  

Lester Young had a joke: "What Lester plays, Stan Getz."  Puns are usually bad, but this one is a zinger. 

Compelled Speech

 Compelled speech is even worse than censorship.  Saying you have to say something, sign a loyalty oath, etc... compels hypocrisy, given that some will sign just to go along [social pressure], some will sign out of fear, or simply because they don't even think about it very long. So it becomes impossible to tell who really believes in the content of the utterance. The point is to compel unanimity, social conformity.  

It's easier to object to this when the compelled speech is on the other political spectrum, but you also have to object to it when it is coming from your own side.  

My experience was in a Boy Scout trip; we were sponsored by the church and so the scouting was an extension of that. We had a testimony meeting, and I refused to say anything. It was just an awkward silence for however many seconds it took them to realize I wasn't going to say I believed in something if I didn't. I am not a particularly brave person, but as a kid I somehow knew I had to stick to my guns on this one.  Some of the other kids were saying their testimony was not too strong, but they wanted to believe in it, which was at least honest to some degree. Some actually did believe in it, to varying degrees.  

It is worse than censorship because, if you censor, you assume that people want to say it, but can't. It presumes the possible existence of the censored opinion.  

That reminds me another joke:

How are things in Spain under Franco?  

We can't complain! That is to say, we can't complain.  [no nos podemos quejar]


 There were some thick, complex chords made of "top" and "bottom" parts, but mismatched or condensed or accelerated somehow. 


We were vacationing with other people; somehow I had paid $3,500 toward a school for one of these other people's kid. I was somewhat unhappy with this, but had somehow committed to paying this, as part of the price of the vacation.  


Real life: had been thinking about a lecture by Herbie Hancock. He said Miles had told him not to play the "butter notes." HH interprets that as the 3rd and the 7th.  I was thinking, yes, but I want to play the butter notes, because they sound good. I can't be only playing 9th and sharp 11!  Avoiding the obvious, the butter notes, is fine for someone of Herbie Hancock's talent, but not for me. Most jazz is kind of abstract for most listeners anyway, and many solos are pointless technical exercises in going up and down a scale, rather than "telling a story," in the Lester Young mode.  

Then, at night, I see a post on facebook talking about this very remark by Hancock.  I compose a response to it, then I notice that the original post is from 2014 so I don't post my comment after all.  

Friday, February 3, 2023

Dr Seuss and Bernstein

 A candidate we were interviewing, when I asked her about how she would teach rhyme and other technical issues about poetry, said she would leave that until a graduate course.  I was thinking, well, that is Dr. Seuss level information. Let's not leave the C major scale for advanced music theory.  Sure, things can get complicated, but how much is lost just from not knowing the basics? Rhyme comes before literacy and helps it along, since the child can use the phonetic recurrence to learn how to sound out words. The parent would have already taught them "one, two, buckle my shoe, three four, open the door, five six, pick up sticks, seven, eight, lay them straight, nine ten, begin again" and things like that.   

Then, before I got up this morning, I was thinking about Leonard Bernstein's educational concerts for young people.  He is aiming his pedagogy at little kids (apparently) but actually everything you really need to know about music as an adult is also there. I mean an adult who listens with some understanding, not a professional composer or musicologist, etc...  Someone like me. The kids in the audience, you can see, are responding to Bernstein's charisma and might retain something of this, but it is the parents who dragged them there who are getting what they need to know. I recommend these concerts, which you can stream on your favorite video streaming platform.   

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Some dreams and real life


I am supposed to go to Oberlin next week, to give a paper on music, invited by Sebastiaan Faber. I don't have a plane ticket and haven't written anything. (Classical anxiety dream.) It is plausible enough to be real, but implausible enough to be a dream, so I lie in bed trying to figure it out, too lazy to wake myself up to check my email. In the morning, I dismiss it as a dream. 


I am in a thrift store, with some books and clothes I want to buy, and a small sewing machine. They say I have to use cash if it is over $45 dollars, so I give up the sewing machine, with some relief, since I don't know how to use it anyway. We have a hard time using the card in their machine, which is old. The person waiting with me, I feel, should probably just go away by herself, since she doesn't need to watch me try to pay. Ironically, the sewing machine is the only thing in the dream with concrete identity. The other stuff is just a pile of junk.  


A real life incident. In the morning, yesterday, they email us from apartment complex reminding us that they will replace all of our hot water heaters. A description of the process they will follow, etc... starting with buildings G and H. I think they won't get to me, and in fact, calculating the number of apartments times the number of buildings, I know they won't finish in one day. This is like a 40 hour job at least, even with two crews, one to remove old heaters and another to install new ones. Around 5:30 we get another email.  The plumbing company only got to a few units, not having brought enough "supplies," and will reschedule for another day, and will even have to re-enter the units they were already in to "modify" their work. 


Another real life thing: I am reading a Calvin Tomkins book from my office called The Bride and Bachelor. I'm wondering if he is the guy who wrote the racist poem about Chinese food. I have to look it up; no that is Calvin Trillin (they both write for New Yorker, have the same first name, and two syllable last names. The first chapter of the book is about Duchamp, and goes into his chess playing a bit. The second chapter is on Cage, and goes into his study of mushrooms. Duchamp is a top amateur chess player, and John Cage is the top amateur mycologist. I am wondering if the other figures studied in the book will have interesting side passions? Something reminds me of Weldon Kees, and I look him up, and find out he was jazz pianist and abstract painter! I try to remember who told me first about Kees, a poet who apparently jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.   

Someone on twitter, who I follow because we were once closer friends than we are now, asks a question about a Mallarmé quote he cannot find, something quoted by Blanchot. I find the quote for him with about 10 minute google exploration. The only true bomb is a book! My former friend has drifted away, I gave him some poems for a magazine [he had asked me] and heard nothing back, then I congratulated him for publishing a poem in the New Yorker (no answer). Then I didn't try again to keep in touch.      

There is nothing significant in any of this, but it is the texture of my everyday mental life.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Some of my favorite jokes

 Why did they coronate the king in a submarine?

Deep down, he's not so bad.  

I started a club for introverts, but nobody showed up for the meetings.

I wanted to start a club for procrastinators, but I haven't gotten around to scheduling the first meeting.  

The Rabbi got up and said, "you know, you might think I'm a great rabbi, but really I'm nothing special."

A prominent man from the congregation stood up and said, "you know, I've made a lot of money, and contribute a lot to the temple, but really, I'm nothing. I'm no better than anyone else."

A schmuck in the back stood up and said, "you know,  really, I'm nothing..."  Then people started to murmur: "Who does this guy think he is, to say he is nothing?"   

A guy put two glasses by his bed side, one full of water, the other empty.  

"Well, one is for if I'm thirsty, the other is for if I'm not."

How do you make 5 million in publishing? 

Start with 15 mil.  

So what do people like about language?

 People like language that's direct, honest, and concrete, not motivated by cowardice, even when it's ambiguous. 

Here's a poem by Weldon Kees I like:

(For H.V. 1910-1927) 

I remember the clumsy surgery: the face

Scarred out of recognition, ruined and not his own. 

Wax hands fattened among pink silks and pinker roses. 

The minister was in fine form that afternoon. 

I remember the ferns, the organ faintly out of tune,

The gray light, the two extended prayers, 

Rain falling on stained glass; the pallbearers, 

Selected by the family, and none of them his friends.   

The phrase "in fine form" is brilliant, because it is a cliché and the poet know it.  That alerts the reader to the sarcastic tone here. Fine is the only overtly positive word in the poem, so it has to be mean the opposite.  Imagine if he had written: "the minister droned on and on." The poem would be ruined if it used words like church, or funeral.  

Poetic analysis, my craft, makes me attuned to uses and misuses of language.