Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The color of the squirrel

The color of the squirrel is not an adaptation to the color of the tree.
Rather, the squirrel is adapted to the eyes of potential predators.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Trick yourself into exercising!

I just tricked myself into riding down to Brooklyn, which via my route takes about 30 miles. Wanna know how? It's easy, and works with any form of exercise. If you "really don't feel like exercising", then tell yourself you'll just "run around the block", or do a "very short ride", and then without thinking just throw yourself at your exercise and start going. Once you get close to finishing that little piece, then just "forget" you were only going to do a very short run/ride/swim/workout, and then add another piece, or another lap or (in my case), just aim your bike down to Brooklyn after you've ridden your small piece. The trick here is to not tell yourself "OK, now I'm doing a big ride". No. Let yourself think that you could turn back at any moment.

Once you get this far, if you have any kind of longer routine, you'll probably just do it rather than break the routine to go back. And before you know it, you've tricked yourself into riding 30+ miles pretty early in the season.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


At the north end of Central Park today, the AIDS walk had the west side of the "big loop" closed, so I exited and cycled east at 110th street. Up by 5th, a black kid, maybe 16 or so, was cycling towards me, on the wrong side of the road. As with all wrong-wayers, it's hard to figure out whether they're going to make you move to the left or right, and the black kid was no different: I tried drifting left and right but he kept adjusting so it was impossible to determine which wrong way he was planning on going. So I said:

"Loogout, Dimwit".

The kid's mouth dropped agape, shocked that a fully-geared bicyling White Dude had snapped on him in a way that was appropriately condescending.

"YOU'RE a Dimwit, Niggah"...

I laughed, happy and proud that the kid experienced a nonracially-motivated snap due to his wrongwayness. Being called a "Niggah" felt kinda good, as if in that moment of stunned spontaneity he felt like I was part of his community, which in a way I am.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The role of singular experiences

When I was much younger, I used to think that unique and powerful experiences are what drive personal transformation. As a result, I would sometimes succumb to "experience tourism": I'd try to accumulate lots of weird experiences in the hopes that these would change me in profound ways. Chemicals, travel, work, religious experiences and putting oneself into a variety of unusual situations all can fall into this category of experience tourism. And don't get me wrong, there's a lot of insight one can gain from exposing oneself to a variety of things.

But deeper change, of course, occurs as a result of prolonged and disciplined exertion towards a goal or perceived goal. It helps if the disciplined exertion is in an area where experienced, accomplished people are on hand to guide and who are themselves inheritors of a tradition. Martial arts is a good example, or certain religious disciplines. Music, too. As one struggles to progress one has to reach into ones full set of resources in order to bring the necessary capabilities on line to master the next exercise or task. This basically forces you to gain control of you and all of the resources in your mind and/or body. This alone is of value, and then of course as the discipline is slowly mastered, the discipline changes the way you live too. This long-term self-discipline is, of course, the only true way to change.

Ah but singular experiences have a role to play here too. In particular, singular experiences can serve to test and possibly affirm what one has been struggling to master until that point, and as a result can demark one's progress at that point. At least. Certain very special experiences can do more than that and force one to utilize what one has learned or become in such a way that it all comes together and now you truly "understand" what you've been learning. In one fell swoop one finds one has new capabilities and in that special experience one realizes that one has changed permanently. It all coalesces. In that sense, the special experience can "trigger" those accumulated capabilities and disciplines and in that moment one experiences a sort of change.

As a younger person, perhaps those special experiences are special precisely because they are having this effect as a result of "triggering" what one has learned while growing up and struggling through (say) one's teen years. In other words, the special experience only appears to be responsible for the life-change. Perhaps this is why teenage acid trips seem so profound.

As one gets older, however, "experience tourism" won't do too much if it isn't tied to some longer-term discipline or goal one has been moving towards. Those powerful new experiences probably need to be tied to some longer-term interest or activity, so that perhaps something can be triggered. And I guess one important aspect of that powerful experience is that it causes one to forgot what one has been learning but instead focus outward, on the experience itself, and then perhaps one's reaction or interaction with the experience just happens to be infused by the discipline one has accumulated. In other words, one's reactions are now tuned by the discipline and are not what they would have been prior to undertaking the long-term effort.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Guerilla Performance!

Today we hit our local coffee shop with a brief 15 minute set of the unusual Guitar Craft/Circle songs. We had, of course, arranged it beforehand with the Coffee shop folks, but none of the customers (except for a couple of friends) knew we were coming. In the photo above we were tuning up prior to cramming ourselves into the relatively small space. We started with a circulation and then did a couple of the filagree songs, ending with THRAK, which is always a bit of a shock. Folks came and went and got coffee around us as we played. It was not a raving success, but it also wasn't a failure either, and in any even it was just a unique experience, I'd say, for all present.

Like last time I didn't play that great. The adrenaline had me missing notes occasionally.

Oh, and if you don't know New York, you've probably heard of CBGB's, the old 1970s club which was the epicenter of the Punk and New Wave music scene. Well, CBGB's used to be across the street there, right at Bleecker and Bowery (now it's a John Varvatos clothing joint).

In the fall we'll begin a new project which we cause us to play in Williamsburg, and I hope to be a far better player by then.

Oh, and in case you operate under the belief that, "Em plays guitar so hearing about him playing in a coffee shop isn't interesting", let me dissuade you of that idea. Imagine YOU, oh reader, playing an instrument in a public performance, albeit a small one. Wouldn't you get nervous? Wouldn't you think it was a big deal? Your damned right you would. And the same is true for me: I'm a middle-aged guy who took up guitar less than 2 years ago who has already played publicly a few times. In other words, I've been thrust into a situation completely different from what I've experienced my whole life.  It's something completely and entirely outside my comfort zone: That's what, I think, makes it interesting. I hope that you, oh reader, will undertake something completely outside your natural bent or acknowledged talent.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More about the silent point

Another thing about Sunday's reading of One Million Years, is that I've recently been re-discovering something I had kind of compartmentalized. For lack of a better word, imagine a tiny ball at one's core that is ultimately silent and into which one can retreat in order to really digest something. Your thoughts and emotions and all of that reactive machinery is more in your peripheral mind: Those are tools, at best, and a cacophony at worst. But the real "you" is down in that little sphere, underneath all that stuff. When you (well, I) need to really understand something, I can't understand it "out there": I have to pull it back into the quiet and then work with it deep down "in there".

Back in college I remember studying quantum mechanics and, often, while studying, my brother would be practicing the drums on the floor below. That house in Brooklyn was small, and my brother would convincingly play along with recordings of Bill Bruford or Omar Hakim. So it was quite a racket. But for me to have any chance of absorbing Dirac Bracket theory, for instance, I needed to tune out all of that drumming and just retreat into that tiny space. That tiny space or small ball was where I understood things or where I could really hear something. That space was for me.

But in the Guitar Circle sitting exercises, I've come to realize that one can act out of that space: That space doesn't need to be merely a place of retreat, but it can direct actions outward and seize some of that stray machinery in the mind in order to affect actions "out there". It is a stillness and a silence that can infuse all of the clutter of the outside world. THAT is what I tried to do on Sunday: Speak mere numbers while remaining attached to that tiny space inside.

And here is a key life lesson I am learning: All that machinery, all of that STUFF....no matter how spectacular or how much of it there is, it doesn't in itself mean anything unless it is "owned" by the true owner, which is you and that silent piece on side. In other words, if we don't bring the deepest, truest aspect of our humanity into our activities, then those activities are ultimately empty and meaningless, no matter how great or impressive they seem on the surface. Of course, the range over which one might infuse meaning into the very complex human realm can be greatly expanded by a wider variety of tools, but once again even a vast arsenal of tools will be void unless the silence you have and are can be brought to bear.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

I did something really strange and read year numbers for an hour

I just now got back from publicly reading year numbers for an hour at the Guggenhein Museum. This was a tiny slice of a very large work of performance art by the late and uber-odd On Kuwara, who over the course of 50 years or more basically turned his life into one giant art machine. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The piece I read from is called One Million Years (Past), and it is a public reading of a million years starting from approximately 1,000,000 BC and ending at around 1965 or so, when he created the piece. Basically, two readers, one male and one female, sit side-by-side, the male reading odd numbers and the female reading even. At the Guggenheim we read into microphones which were amplified both inside the museum as well as outside. The two folks before us looked like this while doing it:

As one reads, one has to cross out the numbers already read so that you can make sure you know what number is next. Here's one of the sheets I read from:

And here's me and the little Japanese lady I read with:

A couple of times she'd read the first digit wrong for a few numbers and then, in very Asian fashion, hit herself in the head in self-punishment.

And now, O Magic Lantern Blog Reader, you might be asking me: Just why, oh Em, would you bother doing something like this? And wasn't it difficult sitting there for an hour just reading numbers?

To answer the second question first, I found it remarkably easy and it went by quickly. Between crossing out the numbers already read, preparing for the next number and reading it, there was actually a lot to do and you had to stay in the flow. While reading I also tried to look around a bit and connect with the space and the people in it. But I found that time slipped by in a way that is hard to describe.

And now, the interesting part: Why. My reasons were, on some levels, very simple: I wanted to practice being fully present while performing something publicly. And reading One Million Years had the special feature of, without any doubt, being something that won't lead anywhere for me personally. It was not a career move. It did not make me money. It did not get me laid. It was not a stepping stone to some imagined career in performance art. Moreover, as it consists of simply reading numbers (I was reading around 763,095BC), there was little room for dramatic interpretation or "me". (At least, my goal was to read the numbers as straight as possible while practicing being present.) I guess this sounds crazy, no? But if you think about it, almost everything we do in our modern society is also in part an advertisement for our capabilities and services. I wanted to perform an action that was utterly free of these things, and I basically did.

Of course, during the piece I would occasionally glimpse cute women, but in order to maintain my internal presence, I really couldn't follow any of them with my mind or try to appeal to them in any way. Likewise, sometimes people would take photos or be talking and I had to hunker down and focus. So remaining present wasn't so easy at times. I also tried very hard not to 'interpret' the numbers, saying them as if they were the voice over for a movie about our distant cavemen ancestors. (And indeed, I have no idea whether our ancestors from that time were more human-like or monkey-like.) So when I spoke into the microphone I was just trying to say each number clearly and with as much presence as I could muster. Interestingly, I think during the entire hour I made perhaps just one minor mistake (and no one notices when you make a mistake because they don't really know what you were supposed to have said instead).

Of course, all of this is related to my work with the New York Guitar Circle, and indeed next week we shall perform again. So it was, actually, a sort of personal practice in maintaining presence (so I guess I lied above when I said this wasn't leading to anything!).

Will this change my life? Well, maybe. I think I have passed an interesting point in my life: Just once I did something publicly which had zero of "me" invested in it. That's unusual, no?

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Little Sculpture that Could

Look: That protest sculpture put together by a group of anonymous artists made it through this entire rough winter with nary a scratch, except the little decorative heart has been taken:

Hey, given the fate of the Snowden sculpture I'm amazed this one lasted so long. So I don't mind that someone took the heart and has placed it in a special place. Actually, I find this touching.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ron English on the Houston wall

For whatever reason, there hasn't been a mural up on the Houston Wall for a while, but a couple of days ago Ron English put up this tremendous piece:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Camille Rose Garcia: Mirror, Black Mirror

Hey...check out my Kickstarter loot: A signed, slipcased edition of the fresh-off-the-press of Camille Rose Garcia's Mirror Black Mirror. Paging through this is startling: page after page of shockingly detailed, beautiful images that are spooky and yet, no matter how dark, just a bit humorous and even kinda cute as well. And the publisher is Last Gasp, the San Fransisco-based company that has been printing alternative stuff since the late 60s.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Glass: Words Without Music!


...is great. There's a lot of ways a review of this book could go, but the thing you don't see written is just how frikkin' ENTERTAINING it is. Yeah, it's an autobiography, covering Glass's earliest years up to the present. And yeah, plenty of personal anecdotes, many of them profound. But the anecdotes and the stories also focus on Glass's development as a human being and, coincidentally, a composer. And there's lots of stuff I never knew about Glass, like how long he had studied yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, really receiving some serious training in remote parts of India. And lots and lots of stories about other artists, often at the beginnings of their careers. And you also come away with an appreciation for just how down-to-earth the dude was on some levels: He drove a cab until he was 41, and only after the opera Satyagraha was commissioned! He also did a lot of plumbing for a bunch of years, this latter work helping him in showing Richard Serra how to prepare molten lead for his "splash" pieces, wherein Serra would fling molten lead into the corners of Jasper John's studio. You come away really liking Phillip Glass and seeing a guy who worked his ass off and didn't take anything for granted. It's great: You'll love it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Edward Snowden Statue Saga

 Illicit tribute: A group of anonymous artists erected a 4-foot-tall plaster bust of Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor famous for leaking classified information, in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park early Monday morning
Here in New York there's been an interesting little artsy saga with respect to Edward Snowden. A week or two ago some unknown art-pranksters installed a bronze sculpture bust of Edward Snowden atop an empty plinth down in Brooklyn's Forte Green park. (Actually, this little piece states that the material wasn't actually bronze, but some sort of plaster-like material treated to look bronze and that weighed 100 pounds.)

Police, of course, removed the thing within a very short time. I guess they felt it was somehow anti-patriotic or something. As you can see, probably no one would have noticed had they just left it alone.

Anyway, hours after the physical Snowden bust was removed, a different group of art pranksters ("The Illuminator") projected a holographic image of Snowden back onto the now-empty-again plinth:

I don't remember how long it took for the police to find the projector and take it down (though these guys have done a lot of interesting projections around town and have contested that what they're doing is even illegal, which it does not appear to be).

And now, the original bust-makers have demanded that the NYPD return their bust, and they even have the famous Ron Kuby working for them, who has contested whether the NYPD even had the right to remove it. If you're not from the US, you might be interested to know that "Kuby" has taken on justice issues for decades here, and he usually wins. That's why The Dude demands Ron Kuby when he gets busted in a hoity-toity section of LA:

(Long time readers of this blog might remember that I ended up touring The Vatican with the Big Lebowski himself, plus his real-life sons.)
It's a strange world we are coming to live in: The real and virtual intertwine in ways that can not be pulled apart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your turn!

Here: Check this out:

Yeah, you too can attend a Guitar Circle course. Robert Fripp himself will occasionally sweep into visibility, but that's actually just kind of a nice-to-have if you've never studied guitar before. There will also be plenty of "Guitar Buddies" on hand to guide you through the basics of the Guitar Circle approach. And you will almost certainly be asked to put together a set of small pieces for all the other attendees (including Fripp) to, most likely, heckle and poke fun at. They might even cheer if you just fuckin' relax and enjoy yourself. But you WILL experience something unique and cool you'll remember for most of your life.

Don't fuck around: Go.

On the other hand, if you like instant fixes for things and if you are extremely impatient or expecting resort-class accommodations, then this just may not be the thing for you. But it was the right thing for me so I can't think of a better thing to do than become a guitar monk for a week or so.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Learning guitar is kicking my ass

That's the thing they never tell you about learning guitar: On a regular basis you are forced to encounter yourself, and then pretty much prevent yourself from doing what it has so helpfully and erroneously learned. In other words, to a large extent you're battling yourself.

There are countless examples. But if you have no idea of what I'm talking about, let me first of all point out that there's a large amount of human firmware that appears to be devoted to learning new things, and learning them as efficiently as possible. So if you learn to play a new song on your guitar, your hands "memorize" how to move in order to play that one song. Play something else similar and your hands will try to play that older one song. "Muscle memory" they call it: It becomes reflex, but now it's holding you back from learning the new song.

In Guitar Circle you are constantly forced to confront habits and shortcuts you might have built up in order to play something difficult, or to be able to play faster. For the last bunch of months I've been trying to play a song called Hope, and the problem is that I if I try to play it faster than so-many-beats-per-minute, I completely fall apart. My hands go from getting most of the notes at a slower speed to getting practically none at a higher speed. And for the last month or two I've been trying to play it faster, but to no avail.

But then I start remembering what some of the other Circlers said: The right hand shouldn't be aware of which string it's playing. It's your forearm that is supposed to move that right hand, while the right hand just does a simple up-and-down motion to pluck the strings. So what I realized was that I've been reaching the strings by turning my hand, and my hand has memorized this particular set of motions. But try to go fast and the motions the right hand learned are no longer valid. The solution, therefore, lies in not turning my hand, but moving my forearm faster to get the right hand positioned above the string it needs to pluck. In other words, I need to "unlearn" what my right hand had learned and now learn proper form at a slower speed. Only then will I be able to speed up.

Does this make sense? In other words, I'm regularly encountering the very efficient, but very mindless way in which my body learns something and I must now try to force it to do something else. In other words, I have to unlearn, and with guitar I find I'm unlearning a lot.

In Tepoztlan Mexico back in early March Robert Fripp was talking to us "Intros", and I opined about how, even though I've never played guitar before, I'm spending about "one third of my time" unlearning all the helpful things my hands were doing on my behalf. I asked him if there was a general technique for navigating issues of this sort and his reply was interesting.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Adinkra symbols

I didn't know these existed, until a few days ago. They are west African Adinkra symbols, and represent all sorts of social/conceptual life-pivoting loci. How they are used, I don't know, but I suspect they show up on clothing, gifts, and so on.
Well, here's a cloth decorated with 'em:

Wild, no? Perhaps you've even seen such a cloth before, but your brain didn't stop for even a second to consider that the designs therein were anything more than commonly-used motifs. But they all have a meaning, and I'd bet any amount of money are cousins or even the ancestors of some written west African language that either doesn't exist today, or that isn't widely known outside of that area.

Hey...here's an on-line dictionary of Adinkra symbols.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Dalek Relaxation Tape

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Ant Watch

How 'bout an ant watch? I would definitely buy one...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

17 Guitars...

...and at least 16 guitarists. Here's a group shot after our performance a few weeks ago;

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bjork: Stonemilker @ PS1

At PS1 I snuck into the Bjrok virtual reality thing under the big white dome.
It was...interesting. Though it's perhaps hard to see above, projected onto the inner surface of the dome was a seashore scene, complete with sea sounds.
Putting on the headphones and VR eyegoggles, before you stands a singing Bjork on a barren beach, I'm assuming in Iceland. She's singing and moving her hands in Bjork-like fashion, while moving around "you". The fascinating thing is that you can move your head throughout the full 4-pi steradians (that's a full sphere's-worth of solid angle, for you less-than-hypersophisticated-mathematically). In other words, you can turn all the way around behind you and look straight up at the sky or down at the ground. In the headphones, Bjork's voice moves in conjunction with however you've turned your head: A pretty damned neat trick. And she's singing about "synchronizing your feelings" with hers, clearly in part a reference to marriage.
Sometimes she gets up pretty close to "you" (in VR-world) and looks you in the eyes, or flutters her little hands around your face and head. Those moments look and feel incredibly intimate. And she looked a little tired and a little sad.
My one criticism is that, with Bjork lip-synching to her song, it had some elements of one of her old song videos. I kept thinking that it would have been a lot more powerful had she not attempted to look like she was singing.
And on a personal note, I did feel her pain, a pain of a marriage that emanated far more pain than she had anticipated was possible or that she thought she could experience.  
Meanwhile, elsewhere in PS1 I was kidnapped by Escher and brought into his dungeon...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

How's this for a website? A site that lists words for really weird emotions, and there's often some odd little video discussing the word. For instance, here's opia:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Kowloon Walled City: City of Darkness Revisited

See that above? That's the now-defunct Kowloon Walled City. (Kowloon is the peninsular/"mainland" chunk of the territory of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong you normally see in pictures is Hong Kong Island.) Like Tangier, this was a veritable human hive, but even more anarchic. In the wonderful, incredible and awesome book, City of Darkness Revisited, you go deep inside this unique warren. Apparently, it was not precisely under the legal control of Hong Kong, and both Hong Kong as well as mainland China attempted to lay claim to it. But as both forces cancelled out, and as the Kowloon Walled City apparently predated Hong Kong as a British territory, it didn't really have a government. And as you can see above, building codes were largely ignored too.

Inside the city (I won't say inside the city's walls, because walls were no longer visible and no one was sure whether any portions of the ancient city walls actually remained anywhere), "streets" rarely opened into daylight, and there were of course schools, restaurants, small factories and pretty much everything you might need. So no doubt there were many people who never, ever left.

Of course, most people in Hong Kong and in the world at large, hearing about the Walled City viewed it as a terrifying, chaotic hellhole, which it probably kinda sorta was. But the Chinese have a strange flexibility that allows them to adapt to pretty severe conditions even while they pull along a local instance of Chinese culture and then pound it and shape it into whatever vessel it might find itself in. So I actually have little doubt that there are plenty of people who, in a weird way, loved their lives there or at least found a certain contentment. And indeed, the book has plenty of interviews with inhabitants there, as the original book was made while the City still existed.

Long time (and even not so long time) readers of this blog will know that, back in 2007, I returned to the country in which I had lived for a time in the late 80s, and took a lot of photos in this blog (look around August and September of 2007). And indeed, one hot summer night in Guilin, I escaped the tourist world for a while and came back to real China, if only for a few minutes. Here's the video I took and you can see a sort of diluted version of what the City must have been like: Open spaces that are nominally "public", people and vehicles harmoniously flowing in the comforting chaos of being Chinese, families performing daily tasks (such as eating and washing clothes) completely unselfconsciously and out in the open. (And if you've never seen this before, do turn on the sound.)

Hey...just read this morning that even the City's electrical grid was basically illicit, siphoned off of the greater Homg Kong power grid. This was permitted precisely because of the tension that existed between the British Colonial and Chinese communist authorities in the 1950s: Neither side felt they could touch the city's electrical grid without creating a big international controversy, so the city just kept on going. Is that wonderful or not? It amazes me the place didn't eventually just burn down.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Once again we did our little performance in the deep East Village. And as before, we literally surrounded the audience, standing against the walls in a giant circle around the audience seated in chairs, as you can see above. And all the songs were out of Guitar Craft repertoire, no "standards" played at all. Just surprising, intricate little pieces with a sometimes rocking component. Me, I made lots of mistakes. I missed notes here and there and even played the wrong part briefly. But I didn't feel too bad about it: I prepared almost as much as was literally possible for me, given the constraints of job and family (though even on work nights I'd practice 1 to 2 hours). In addition, I didn't see this little tiny performance as some stepping stone towards a career that will inevitably expand outward, to eventually embrace money, drugs and plenty of naked women in that order. Rather, this had been a sort of small life challenge, in addition to a prod to get me to prepare and practice as much as possible.
Here's me playing THRAK during our post-performance photography session:

Yeah, me. I'm proud of this photo because it looks like I'm actually playing guitar which, technically, I am. THRAK is unlike all the other pieces we play because it's hard and dissonant and jarring: Half of us play in 5 and half play in 7, so for part of the song it sounds like we're all falling apart but instead it's supposed to sound like that. So after we THRAKKED the first time the audience was silent! (A moment I really treasured.) After we played it the second time they cheered, realizing that the piece was actually supposed to sound like that.

Afterwards, beers of triumph over at a German beer bar on C. Winding our way back to the F train (which is a long walk from the subway-less expanse of the far East Village), we passed the countless little shops that grow like mushrooms in the fertile dung of gentrification:

And some pieces by The London Police and Buff Monster:

And these dudes in the 2nd Avenue Station playing old school countryish music sounded great:
Me and Jamie both had our guitars on our backs, so I guess we looked like a couple of musicians appreciating the work of other musicians.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

This Saturday!

OK, this Saturday I'll be performing with the New York Guitar Circle way out in the East Village. There will be 17 guitars plus their associated owners playing. When one adds up just the time spent in our Saturday practices over the last year or so, it's mind-boggling and yet the audience will have no idea. Although yes, we will play some traditional "songs", we'll also be doing some really interesting and challenging circulations, which I'm sure will be a new experience for most people present. It's really a new way of making music that doesn't exist elsewhere, and I'm glad to have been part of a group that has worked with such things for so long: No doubt that kind of music-making has already begun to seep into my unconscious, impacting how I function in groups. Indeed, sometimes what we were doing during our Saturday meetings was so unusual and wonderful, that I caught myself wondering about just what this would do to me, long term! (And I mean that in a good way.)

Is all of this guitarring building towards/into something in the future? Probably not. I maintain that I do not want a career in music, and indeed I'm too old to get good enough for such. Rather, the New York Guitar Circle is in itself something of significance for me, and being enmeshed with groovy, smart people along seems to be a sort of next-step or culmination of a long set of unique experiences I've had throughout my life. The musical aspects is almost icing on the cake, and the group context is forcing me to try to accelerate my musical skill just to keep up. And that, too, is probably going to restructure "me" somewhat.

A though I had when I embraced Marina Abramovich last year keep recurring: I'm very quickly becoming someone extremely different from what my "natural" arc might have been. If I don't fly apart or succumb to some sort of substance or other weakness, I'll become a reasonably groovy ole dude one day.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Past the point of no return for ISIS

Don't get me wrong, everything I've heard through the media about ISIS has been pretty rotten. And I have tended to believe much of it. But, until this point, it's been very difficult to be certain that what's been portrayed about ISIS in the media is real or not. Face it: If your government wanted to get you to support a military invasion, how hard would it be for news media to just broadcast lots of ugly images to get you whipped up into a fury? For instance, the on-video murder of various hostages, Americans included: Are we truly seeing actions condoned by ISIS leadership, or did those hostages just get grabbed by a small local group claiming the authority of greater ISIS in the midst of a very chaotic region? And it's not like there's a lot of people coming out of ISIS territory with detailed descriptions, names, dates and places of various atrocities. How do we really know they're as bad as we're told they are?

Well, with the video above we're getting pretty close. Though we see what appears to be individuals destroying priceless ancient artifacts, it's pretty clear they've been allowed to run wild in the museums over there, indicating no control by local authorities. ISIS has also reportedly blown up numerous Shia shrines and ancient mosques, which is a terrible shame.

And in terms of "destroying the past", it's interesting to note that ISIS seems to be acting out a narrative very similar to China's cultural revolution: During that time numerous items of China's ancient history were destroyed, including the home of Kung-Tze/Confucious. Countless people were killed or sent to prison (or worse, to work in horrific conditions), all in an attempt to destroy the baggage of the past. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia attempted the same thing. And why? I can only believe that they don't want any pesky culture hindering individuals (and society as a whole) from carrying out the instructions that might be perceived (by their leaders) as allowing for expansion and entrenchment of their power. Even those that have no direct influence or power might be swept along in a powerful interpersonal undercurrent/narrative that appears to flow away from hopelessness and towards some powerful, glorious future that justifies the extreme and terrible actions taken today.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

It's been snowing a lot in Mew York

A lot...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Punched a guy in the head

Damn. I’d tell you “something’s wrong with me”, but that’s not really true. Or at least, this morning I did something that was simply what my body and mind both knew I had to do: A punched a guy in the head on the E train.

It started at Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights as I remember. Some white dude approximately my age and weight parked himself next to me and held on to the pole near me in such a way that his arm passed between my arm and my body, with his elbow just touching my ribs. That is not acceptable subway etiquette in New York, even on a very crowded train. As the guy on the other side of me moved down (and as I moved to create more space between me and elbow-guy) this guy kept slowly moving too, so I couldn’t get away from his elbow parked right at my ribs.

And then, as my station approached and I pulled up my bag to put my book away, the guy held his arm solidly, refusing to budge it at all even though my arm and bag had to pass through his in order for me to get my book into it. So we traded words: I said something like, “You’ve had your elbow in my ribs and you keep coming down even though I’ve moved”. He said something like “Well where do you want me to go?” And I said, “I don’t know, but you can’t keep your elbow there”. From there he moved to insults and curses so I told him we’d get out at the next station and solve this like men.

When the train stopped I said: “We’re getting out here,” and he replied, “I’m not getting out.” So I turned to go, wondering if perhaps I should grab his hat and see if he’d follow me out to get it, but I changed my mind. But as I left that’s when he said, “Next time bring your wife to fight me” or something like that, so I just punched him in his giant meaty head. Since it was crowded some guy started shouting: “Woah! Woah! Stop that! Stop that!” But the guy kicked me in the thigh so I gave him a round kick to the ribs that landed pretty good. Actually, I was surprised he didn’t go down when I punched him in the head, but I guess his hat cushioned some of the blow.


When I was a younger man I’d worry about whether I did the right thing or not or could have avoided the incident somehow. But I know that, given the circumstance, this was a natural expression of who I am now, good or bad. To avoid such situations in the future I will need to change in such a way that I find a “natural” and honest way out of such situations (ie, as opposed to freezing up and doing nothing out of fear of doing something “wrong”).

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Still Processing

Yeah, I'm still processing the experience in Mexico.

Let me say that, in one way or another, you really need to have an experience like that. No, maybe not Guitar Circle per se. But some experience that draws you out of your comfort zone and into something you aren't in control of. And even better if it's in a different country. And then something that has a chance of generating memories you will retain for the rest of your life. Not exactly a vacation. And there are lots of organizations and companies that can provide that: Companies that do intense hiking or outdoors experience, companies that take you to Antarctica, companies that can take you on some sort of "pilgrimage". There's lots of stuff out there.

As for me in Tepoztlan, there are some many wondrous memories that will stay with me and, most likely, shape me. For instance...

1. House of guitars. With low lights and with Luciano giving each of us 50 guitarists a little riff to play, a trilling, roiling ambiance was built up. And shortly thereafter, we started moving and eventually breaking into little groups and then circling or reforming into one big circle and then charging into the center with our guitars and then back out: Divine and mysterious chaos in the middle of mountainous rural mexico.

2. Humming "One of a Thousand Regrets": About 6 of us played this in someone's room, and the Mexican Guitar Circlers introduced us to the tradition or humming the main melody while playing it for the second time. And this, perhaps at 10:00PM or 11:00PM at night.

3. "Santorina Globes": At least, that what I thought someone called the orange paper spheres lit by candle from within that were hoovering about the center of town and that we could see from our little Maronite compound. These were cast aloft to commemorate some sort of saint or other that I can no longer remember.

4. Putting together our little set. Us Intros were tasked by Fripp to come up with 7 pieces: 2 duets, 2 trios, 1 solo, 1 four piece and one piece with all of us. And we were only given a couple of days. And really, we didn't have more than a bunch of hours as we kept getting pulled into dishwashing and other cleaning duties. So by "the day of", I pretty much gave up worrying about it: If we had stuff to play then fine, we'd try, but if not then fuckit: I wasn't going to worry about pulling off the impossible. And yet the impossible occurred: By pulling together all the little musical pieces we had at the last moment, we played 7 wonderful little pieces. As we entered the ballroom, however, we were faced with disorganized chairs and a few people in silly costumes and with interrupting noisemakers and heckling. So, if we fucked up it was only natural. But we pulled off a great set and then everyone started demanded an encore, which we didn't have. So Anthony tried to get away with playing a single note as our encore, which we played and then exited (I saw Fripp throw up his hands in exasperation as we smiled and exited). Outside the ballroom again, however, we heard the clapping and whistling and then someone came out to tell us to play our whole set again, which we did. And during one song (in which our lively Mexicana sang), a bunch of us broke into tears and I swear I saw Robert wiping tears from his eyes too. THAT was a moment: I wasn't even playing that song, but I felt like I was and felt like I had contributed because I supported what everyone was trying to do and I got the fuck out of the way. It wasn't about ME: It was about making music, and being inside it, which I did and was.

5. The dogs and roosters. The full moon would come up somewhere around 3:00AM and the dogs would go apeshit in unision and the roosters were all crowing. And there was a host of other birds and assorted animals making their sounds all night long.

6. T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Luciano would lead us twice a day in a series of Yang style exercises. Not the main form, mind you, but a bunch of traditional chi-building exercises that actually taxed even a reasonably in-shape person, due to the high altitude.

7. Alexander Technique. We had two Alexnader technique ladies, one of which was the very experienced Sandra Bain Cushman. If you are unfamiliar with Alexnader technique, it's basically the "science" of moving and holding your body in a way that's commensurate with the way it's joined all together and the way it "hangs". Society teaches us to hld our bodies (and guitars!) in a way that isn't optimal for our health and well-being, and Sandra teaches us to sit, stand, and even (AT) liedown in such a way that keeps us from cramping up or causing us pain.

8. Morning sitting with Robert. At 7:15 each morning we'd spend 45 minutes just sitting in the chapel, learning to do "nothing". Core to Guitar Circle is the notion that, if we can tell our bodies to do nothing for 45 minutes, perhaps after that we can tell our bodies to do something. This, of course, in contrast to the usual autonomic routines our body and mind default into.

So, quite a meditative and powerful experience. I would love to do it again some times. And who knows? Maybe I will.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In Tepoztlan

Last week I returned from a week-long Guitar Circle course down in Tepoztlan, Mexico, about 70 miles south of Mexico City. It was a wonderful, magical time with many stories that could be told. For instance, how can I describe being in the "House of Guitars" with 50 others in the "ballroom" with low lights, and all of us playing guitars and circulating notes, "whizzing", moving and breaking into groups and subgroups and general divinely inspired musical chaos? Or having interactions with Robert Fripp, the Yoda of Rock music? (Who speaks no less cryptically in real life.) Or putting together 7 small pieces (for our beginner's group) that, during one of the pieces, brought tears to people's eyes?

Here are a couple of us from the intro team taking the cab back out of the village:

And did I mention that there was no "staff"? Though a subset of the advanced group was responsible for preparing the food, we intros also regularly had to do dishes, sweep, mop and clean and so on. Oh, and there was T'ai Chi Chuan twice a day, and Alexander Technique sessions.

And while resting on my bed once one of my roommates said: "There's an animal on your pants". Looking down I saw that it was a scorpion, which I promptly shook off and which was then captured.

So lots of wonderful experiences, lots of memories, and even (for me) some Montezuma's revenge.

It was, in a word, fantastic.

Monday, February 02, 2015

I think I finally get Hip Hop

Maybe, now, I get it. My prejudices about what "music" is or isn't got in the way all this time, which is a shame I guess. But it boils down to this:

Music was never about "music". It was and always will be about the collective tribal response it brings out in a group of people. You know what I'm talking about: Those special moments in a concert or even just in a meal with friends or ever (who knows?) a sporting event. You can feel that the moment has arrived, a moment that transcends whatever activity is being performed, music or sports or food or otherwise. And when you feel it you know that everyone else feels it too. And that moment seeps down into your cracks, finding old deposits like oil and then floating it up to the top. You feel the healing, or else you feel that this moment is finding you, the real you, and calling it upward/outward. And it's calling everyone else as well.

And that's what Hip Hop is: Someone, these scruffy kids that had nothing, no access to specialized learning or lessons or instruments, they somehow figured out that they didn't really need all that stuff in order to invoke the collective tribal function. They didn't need notes, they didn't need instruments, they didn't even need melody. But they had words, they had rhymes, they had beats that could call everyone to the center, the well, from which they would collectively drink. And this would meet their deep needs.

This is what Hip Hop was and still is.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

(not so much) SNOW!

Eh. We only got about a foot or so, maybe a bit more here in Queens.
Of course, both midWesterners as well as Canadians are making fun of us New Yorkers for getting so riled up over mere snow. Come to think of it, we regularly have large snow storms, and a foot to 18 inches won't even be remembered. Local politicians including Mayor DeBlasio and Governor Cuomo clearly feel a little embarrassed for surrendering to direst warnings. Even the TV people clearly feel a little sheepish. But on the other hand, everyone always welcomes a guilt-free day huddling in the comfort of one's home.

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