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Road Journal

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Road Trip

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Western Lands
Road Trip part 1



Spiral Dance

Three Essays
Towards a

Towards an


RuralGay Artistry


podcast archives

420. 19 May 2006, Pinole, CA

There’s an awareness of online poetry brewing in the print media, thanks to some folks who are writing about it, talking about it, spreading the word, and so forth. There’s no indication anything will change, in terms of visibility or recognition; but an awareness of the explosion of writing, good and bad, that is out there, can’t hurt. It might just be a ripple in the pond, which is fine. The world is too big and diverse to really worry about it. It just is what it is. People will go on writing, online and in print, till they can’t anymore. If a writer is going to write, they’re going to write, even if they are trapped on a desert island and have to make their own paper and ink from palm fibers and captured octopus ink. Writing in the sand. It doesn’t matter. If the urge to write is there, it can’t be stopped. The real difference between print and web is accessibility to publication, marketing, and distribution. The web takes care of a great deal of dissemination quasi-automatically, via search engines. The writer and publisher don’t have to have a big marketing budget, buy ads in all the journals, or distribute physical copes of the journal. Print-on-demand via PDF is a feasible way of distributing copies of books now. It’s the next wave after the Xerox ‘zines of the 1980s, most of which were samizdat publications, hand-made, with scrounged materials, distributed by hand or cheap postage, cheaply produced and usually quite badly printed, often on “borrowed” office materials from where the producer worked. The web reproduces information, potentially infinitely, without physicality. without accrued costs and necessary distribution organizations, that print journals require. Once something is on a website, it’s Published: it now exists for all (who have web access) to peruse. This eliminates a lot of middle-man marketing, although it also means that most publications are free to the browser. Since most of the print poetry journals are subsidized by various universities at this point, the plus side of free net publishing is more accessibility to the masses; the downside is, no one’s going to make a living at it, not even the editors. Not that the grant-funded or university-subsidized print journals are profitable; mostly they arrive at zero-sum, or take a loss.

A successful day, in all. Yesterday I went down to San Leandro and printed up the mockup of the brochure for the second-round interview presentation I made today for a possible graphic design job. The presentation went well. I wrote up some talking points I wanted to hit on a sheet of paper, and while they looked at the mockup, I ran through the points; this was a good tactic, for me, as trying to keep them all in my head, a feat I have accomplished in the past, seemed to be too much extra work this time round. Possibly I’m getting older. I have twenty minutes in which to do the presentation: I did it in eight. Then, when they started repeating back to me the points I had been making, I knew I was on track. Of course, this means nothing, in the long run, as you can never tell what they’re thinking, and if you’ll get the job. But I wanted to congratulate myself on a very effective, well-done presentation—regardless of final outcome, I did a good presentation. They were surely impressed with the time put into the mockup, which was good to hear.

Later, nightwatch:

I just got home from playing a gig of music for silent avant-garde films of the 20s and 30s at 21 Grand in Oakland. I’m pretty wiped out. Joe was at the gig, and we went out for Thai food afterwards, and to chat; that was real good, to reconnect that way. I’m enjoying the late-night silence, after a night of rain, and after playing over two hours of high-energy techno-pulsed music. It’s a strain to play that long, and keep coming up with new ideas, and also to just be listening that hard that long. My ears are enjoying the silence and peace. A heavy fog is out there now, too, muffling the night traffic sounds. It’s peaceful. I got through a hard, exhausting, stressful week, and, well, I got through it. Now I need some downtime, after getting it all done. I’m going to take tomorrow off, and do as little as possible except lie around and read. Maybe see Joe again, got out for dinner, or something. Nothing too busy. I might have plans to go into the City and do some photos on Sunday, but I’m leaving it open for now. The silence is peace enough, for this present moment.

419. 18 May 2006, Pinole, CA

Disturbing dreams: There is some sort of bony growth inside the muscles of my chest, above my heart; no one seems worried about it but me, although doctors and healers both look at it; also, I am preparing for a long journey, packing things, organizing things, and people keep pulling me away from what I need to get in the next day or two before departing.

418. 13 May 2006, Pinole, CA

I joined the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus earlier this year mostly because I wanted to make some contacts within the gay community in SF. I know you’re supposed to wait and see, but so far, by comparison with my initial experience with the gay chorus in Minneapolis, my experience has been, well, hmn. There is accrued politics and history here that comes from two sources: 1. their Fifth Section, which is all those members who have died of AIDS, leaving a pall of sadness and depression and inertia over the Chorus at times; and 2. resting on their laurels from having been the first gay men’s Chorus, a ceratin smugness that maybe it’s time to shed. There is still a lot of good work to be done, in the community, and a lot of fun to be had, as performers. But there is a lot of inertia, and it’s hard for an organization this large, this unwieldy, to make significant course corrections quickly. I could tell people what I think, but it would only create a ripple, and people would fall back into their habits of momentum, and no real change would happen; that’s the predictable outcome. But if it were otherwise, I’d be pleased and surprised.

Of course, what saves it all, every time, is the music. Always the music. The music we do, even the stuff I’m personally not that fond of, reaches out and touches people, and I do believe the cliché that it changes lives. Changes for the better. I have to figure out the balance, here, and see where it lies, and if it’s worth it, in the end.

At this point in time, I feel no real personal connection to any segment of the gay community, not even the Radical Faeries. Everybody tells me I shouldn’t feel that way—but, you know, I’m pretty grown up now, and I feel what I feel, and people telling me what to feel tells me a lot about what they want me to be like, but nothing about what I want to be like. It’s all for their own comfort levels, that I should do this or shouldn’t do that. “Should” is a word people use to manipulate and control one another.

I feel that this is like the purges I've gone through a few times before, when people who I thought were friends, and who I’d come to rely on, suddenly disappeared from my life. It was painful and wrenching, but in the end, the eagle had to get pushed out of the nest, to fly. There was a sweeping away of many existing relations, while others got closer and more intimate, and became more like partnerships. I can be intense, I know; maybe I just burn people out, and they can’t keep up with me. Sometimes we get back in touch later on; sometimes it’s over. Maybe it’s time to do that again. I know this is a year for Big Changes in my life, and not just my life. Maybe it’s time to burn some bridges, to light a few brushfires in the social landscape, to clear out the old overgrowth, and start afresh. I’m tempted, I’m very tempted.

417. 12 May 2006, Pinole, CA

Reminders of what matters: the ephemerality of life, so each moment, each action, is full of life and presence and meaning, even if only momentary meaning themselves; waste nothing; this is bushido; even in the midst of chaos and ugliness, there is beauty. Cherry blossoms fall equally on the graves of ancestors, and on the newly dead, on the battlefield. Everything dies. A reminder that the way of the spiritual warrior is both life and death; no separation. Today is always a good day to die. Sometimes the things you’ve seen make you long for death; but you fight on, anyway. Falling on your sword is the last act allowed a dying man. Nine hundred bows: from every hillside, respect.

Under the tree of life, shadows cast on the branches by other branches, the air falling cool and fragrant, the wind stilled except in the high distance.

even dogwood
petals fall, this warm day—
snow-laden graves

416. 11 May 2006, on the train to San Francisco, CA

Yesterday afternoon, I drove up into the canyons and hills behind the UC-Berkeley campus, up Centennial Ave., to the Botanical Gardens. I was only there for an hour, but it was amazing. The garden is organized into zones by continent and climate. I wandered into the Asia section, and found a small Japanese garden pond, with flowering irises and every kind of rhododendron imaginable, most of them in full bloom. It was truly amazing. I wandered all through the Asian area for an hour, up and down the stream falling from the pond towards the valley below, filled with water laughing over stones, lined with flowering trees and exotic blooms and gardens. I have never seen so many varieties of rhododendron before; true riches.

As the gardens closed for the day, I got in the truck and decided to drive home along the ridgeline roads, rather than go downhill and fight the commuter traffic. There was hardly any other traffic up there, but many houses with their gardens brim-full with flowers and plants of all kinds. This is one thing I love about California: there is always something bursting into full flower. alive with the greening, the ecstasy of living.

Today, I started my day at the Regional Park Botanical Gardens in Tilden Park, where I wandered around for an hour. They have a lovely fern and redwood section, shaded and cool under the day’s high heat, and the clear blue sky. I wandered through the cactuses, too; they have several beautiful cholla cacti, which I remember from New Mexico.

Then I drove along the ridgetop road towards Oakland, stopping to take pictures every so often, and just enjoying the day, the clear sky, the cool breeze coming up the sides of the hills from the Bay, the last touch of cool ocean air before the Valley heats up to the east.

I got to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens earlier today, and was able to get into the little building where they keep orchids, carnivorous plants, and exotic ferns. Many beautiful flowers in there, many in cases because of their fragility. Not really to photograph these flowers, as all the backgrounds are bad; but they were beautiful to look at.

Then I wandered up to the bamboo grove, and down towards the crop garden. Zillions of orange pumpkin and squash flowers were in bloom in the shade to the trees.

The Chinese herb garden seemed calming and peaceful today.

I took many, many new flower photos, yesterday and today; enough to make the next DVD project, will is to be about flowers, in all their exuberant, vibrant, vivid color. I have enough material, now , to get started.

But the magical moment, today, was when I passed by the area that has species from the eastern woodlands—and I started to feel at home, because these are plants I know. My home biome, my history, my past.

And then I found the dogwood tree. It was sitting there, most of its blooms past their prime, only one in ten still looking fresh and full, the rest starting to fade and fall. But it was the dogwood, the spectral white clouds of petals in the eastern Kentucky forests at dusk, that I remembered. I stopped under this dogwood tree, and just stood for awhile and breathed, listening to the quiet. Cool, friendly air fell off the dogwood’s branches all around me, welcoming me, soothing and relaxing.

This is why I had come here today: to make a friend, and this dogwood tree is magical, and sacred, still lambent with blooms, welcoming and loving: a new friend, a fellow transplant from the Midwestern climes.

415. 9 May 2006, Pinole, CA

I went and got an overdue oil change and some other minor things done for the sake of the health of the truck, preparatory to taking long drives again, later this summer and fall. Afterwards, I drove up the winding roads of the Berkeley hills

I went up to the Berkeley Rose Garden, in the hills above the Bay, with my camera yesterday. I am going to be making the "Flowers" DVD next, and I'm still gathering photos for it. 200 or so cultivars of various types of roses, in all sizes shapes and colors. The overwhelming scent of the massed flowers, more intoxicating than any illicit drug, at least that's my opinion. The garden a bowl of rows of flowers, shaped like an amphitheater cut into the hillside. A city park above it on the hill, with a community baseball diamond tucked in one corner, and tennis courts next to the garden itself. Foursomes playing tennis in the cool sunny afternoon light as i wander through the garden. A broad trellis of roses trained along its wooden girders. In the cool shade of the arbor, a man with a laptop sits and works, headphones on. A nice afternoon's office. A wild stream, now tamed, flows down the hill, its creekbed now a concrete channel at the focus of the amphitheater, were there is another white rose trellis suitable for wedding photos. The creek flows under a small arched bridge, then into the private lands downhill. This is a place of many exquisite, expensive homes, built over the decades, desirable to live in, for the University and wealthy elite of the East Bay.

At the crest of the hill, Tilden Park sprawls along the hilltops, trails and copses under the sun. A hidden swimming pond tucked in a valley. Views of the Bay and of Mt. Diablo and the Central Valley. I spent an hour and more in the Rose Garden, then decided not to visit Tilden today, but drove back down the precipitous streets to head home and rest.

414. 8 May 2006, on the train

Why this agony of impatience today? Why this deep restless anxiety? I do not feel as if it were all of my own creation. Some of it just seems to be hanging in the air. It’s alienating and frustrating and disheartening, all at once.

Hui Neng once said:

The ordinary man is the Buddha.
One foolish passing thought
Makes one an ordinary man,
While one enlightened thought
Makes one a Buddha.

I’ve been bouncing between those poles all day.

I found a copy of Frederick Franck’s classic book The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as meditation at Goodwill today, on the way to the train station. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book, but it’s all still true and relevant. Seeing/Drawing is for me seeing/writing or seeing/photography.

I’m doing my best to let go of it all, today, but it’s a struggle. It clings. There seems some urgency—which in the scheme of things can only be illusion. Still, it clings.

Later, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco:

I took the bus up here on impulse. Without even thinking about it, I found myself walking towards the bus stop, once I got off the train, and came up the hill to the Cathedral.

It breaks my heart open, the things we do to ourselves and to each other. Standing in the AIDS Memorial Chapel, looking up at panels of the AIDS Quilt that are always on display there; the panels change over time, but the memorial is always the same. (We still are living through a Holocaust, but we have become numb to the continuous pain, and can’t think about it every day, anymore. We have to go on, even though we don’t know how. “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” —Beckett) One panel this time out had a stylized, abstract Christ figure on a square cross, black on white, hanging over the background of a stylized American flag. And a name, of course; always more names. A very layered, complex symbol.

Now I’m sitting out by the outdoor Labyrinth by the cathedral’s eastern doors, sitting in the shade of trees with new leaves, flowers in the beds at their bases, while the late afternoon sun blasts everywhere around me, blinding glare of the tall buildings across the park. Another layered, complex symbol.

Inside the Cathedral, I walked through the darkness under the blazing stained-glass windows over to the baptistery. I lit candles under the icon of John Donne, since none were burning at the moment. That seemed important, that there should be lights present for the Dean of St. Paul’s.

I lit two more candles under the icon of Martin Luther King, although there were already several candles burning there.

Inside, a suited businessman took off his shoes and suit jacket and walked the Labyrinth, alone. I wasn’t certain I had come here, today, to walk the Labyrinth. I sat and watched. His solitude seemed important to respect.

Now, sitting outside by the outdoors Labyrinth, still uncertain if I want to Walk today; a man, and an older Chinese women in a red quilted jacket, are walking. He moves slowly, self-contained, hands in pockets. She rushes through on short, active legs, arms swinging at her sides.

Everybody has there own way of walking; their own style; suited to temperament and personality, a mirror of the rest of life.

I always find myself going ever more slowly through the Labyrinth walk. Slowing down. Shedding life’s weight. Striding in measured, rhythmic steps, a monk’s cadence, walking in the Garden of Destiny. Slowing to monastic meditation speed: utter stillness, utter quiet. Walking through life by not moving at all.

Just being near this Labyrinth is a balm to my spirit, very much as if I were walking it for myself.

Now a third man enters, denim coat and blue backpack, as the others are walking back out, all three going at different paces.

It’s time to start walking down the hill, back towards the world. I feel vulnerable, open to the world. I don’t feel safe to go back down in this state, so close, so open and vulnerable that I must read as an easy target to some would-be panhandler or mugger. So, I’ll sit here a minute or two longer.

Two blackbirds, one after the other, land on the bench-top at my shoulder, and walk towards me and past me. I do not move. We eye each other, unafraid; probably the birds are as hungry as I am. Sentiment and totem. No taboos.

I must pull together the strength to walk down the hill, now, and raise shields, before I can face people again. Tempting to just stay here. Such emotional clamor and vitality these recent days. More than this Sacred Heart can bear. (I feel the Sacred Heart within me as wide open and easily bruised, weeping fire even as it heals everything around me.) The horrible things we do to each other. Sometimes I think it’s only the Warrior and the Dragon that keep me safe and alive.


Walking down the hill on Powell Street, I stopped in at a Japanese restaurant and ordered take-out. While I waited for it to be made, I sat in the front window and stared out at the street, just watching, thinking nothing, mind empty of everything but watching people come out of the buildings across the street, walk down or up the hill, chat on the steps for awhile, do people things that friends do when they’ve finished their day and are heading off to home. It was a space of empty mind, which was peaceful and healing just by being Nothing for a few minutes. Then I walked a few more blocks towards Market Street, and sat on a bench in Union Square and ate my delicious yakatori with chopsticks. Perfect food for this moment.


I felt better for awhile during Chorus rehearsal, when I was engaged in talking with people. Then the energy shifted, and I stood against the wall, quiet again, waiting and watching. I still don’t know where all this surge of feeling is coming from.

Glenn Gould once said, I can be lonely in the midst of a crowd. I understand that; I can do that, too. I’ve done it before.

I find, at these times, when I’m left alone like this, when I’m purposeless like this, that my childhood shyness comes forth; I lean against the wall, here, and observe, content to let my mind empty out and become still, content to wait for people to come to me. Of course, some of all this, I create. I know that. But I also create this stillness. I’m content with that.

Now, I’m in the BART station at Civic Center, waiting for the train to take me back to the East Bay. When I first came down the escalator into this man-made cave, a few minutes ago, everyone around me was on their cell phones. Every single one. At the moment, it’s around half. A maintenance crew is doing some cleaning along the platform tonight, so there’s a big machine being pushed across the floor. It’s four times louder than usual down here tonight.

413. 7 May 2006, Pinole, CA

I finished another DVD project first pass yesterday, the Desert Light video, and I need to take a few days off, to give myself some mental distance, and recharge. I’ve been too close to this project for the past few weeks.

After feeling claustrophobically deprived of life for months now, trapped here by lack of funds and also by being sick for long weeks, nowhere to go and nothing to do, I gave myself permission to give myself some gifts, now that my tax refund has arrived. Nothing exorbitant, but meaningful small things. Some luxurious meals, prepared by myself for myself, out of top-notch fresh ingredients. Two or three DVDs I’ve been wanting to buy for over a year, including Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live, which I honestly wanted mostly because it’s a great Tony Levin movie; Tony’s very prominent in the mix and the images, and it’s always fun to watch him play Stick live, with Gabriel, or King Crimson, or with his own band. I own two Crimson DVDs for the same reason: watching Tony Levin. I mean, the rest of the band is great—but my priorities are with my influences, and I’ve been feeling a lot of Tony-like bass work come forward in my own playing, lately. Tonight my lingering existential anger and annoyance finds a release in Digging in the Dirt, on this DVD—one of the truly great "fuck you" songs of all time. I like “fuck you” songs—they’re healthy for catharsis, and it’s good to keep a few of them in memory, for those times when the rest of the world is acting slow and stupid.

And the concert DVD moves eventually to the textured solace of Don’t Give Up, a song with lyrics and sentiments I really need to hear tonight. Not saying I completely believe it, for myself, just yet; but the door’s open to it.

412. Beltane 2006, on the train to San Francisco, CA

Poets reading only poetry, gay writers reading only gay writing, feminist thinkers reading only feminist thinking—all of those lead only to insularity, and the very ghettoization of literature, especially poetry, that so many poets and writers are complaining about these days. The complainers don’t seem to see how they contribute to their own dilemma, by spending most of their energy in their own literary circles, and not reading outside their main interests. Ultimately they end up preaching to the choir, because of the very insularity they have created for themselves. It’s even worse for writers whose financial careers are made at universities and other academic institutions: because, too often, the culture within the Academy fosters insularity via the publish-or-perish pressure on professors to write contributions to basic knowledge within their fields, and also by containing the dialogue within their own walls and couching it in hermetic language few outside can comprehend. If you’re not of the high priesthood, you can’t get in. Hence, the accusations of the elitism of academic discourse and thinking. The danger is losing touch with real life, with people different from yourself, and ultimately, losing touch with yourself in the end. Perhaps every English professor should be required to take a sabbatical tending bar in a rougher part of town. Exposure to different kinds of people, different kinds of discourse, and different worldviews, if one is open to it, is inevitably broadening and enriching.

And it’s the exact same way online, on the online writer’s boards. Of course, it’s easier to connect with a community of people who share one’s own specialized interests online: far easier than in realspace. But that very democratizing of the level playing field on the internet also leads to a different kind of insularity: anti-intellectual mob-rule being the extreme example of the lowest-common-denominator impulse. In the opposite direction from the English teacher tending bar, it’s the barflies going to visit the English department, and moving in. Smart people are frequently shouted down online.

I can’t imagine living my life in so insular a way. I read too much, and too eclectically, to ever be accused of insularity—on the other hand, people more comfortable in insular settings, such as professors I have known, have criticized me precisely for reading outside my discipline or field. Some people end up in insular settings because their minds are fundamentally geared towards insular thinking; such are the zealots among us.

I think its a great idea to totally absorb oneself in an area of study—do a seminar, as it were, of self-study and total immersion in one’s current research. You find a writer who moves you or turns you on, or makes lightbulbs go off in your head with every line. But then, later on, you go back to eclectic reading. The seminar over, the priests must return to the bazaar, or be lost in their own insular universes, and lose touch. I love a good seminar. I love total immersion in reading something I’m interested in. I love doing research, and discovering new thoughts, angles, and ideas. And I also like a good hike in the forest, mind turned off, feet leading me forward wherever the path leads, destinationless and inanalytical.

411. Beltane 2006, Pinole, CA

In that vulnerable frame of mind, in the first hours of waking, I usually meditate, or write, or do self-Reiki, or some combination of the above. It takes me awhile to wake up. Till I do, I can be quite vulnerable, emotionally; so I avoid business emails, or talking about the day’s plans, or talking at all, till I feel more awake, have showered, maybe have had a cup of tea. I do a lot of my writing in those hours; not just as here in the Road Journal, but poems, essays, meditations, and other thoughts.

Last night, after midnight, I wrote a haibun on the Green Man, the transformation. This is the time of year for eros rising, when the sap is flowing, and everything becomes sensual and erotic; it is a time for embodiment and bodily love, the joy and pleasure of new life, of sexuality of all kinds, of pan-sexuality, of Pan, god of Panic, the Green Man, the forest lords, the connection of everything that is alive into one living pulsing organism. The flowers and flowering trees scatter pollen and petals everywhere in vegetable sexual frenzy. The sight of young lovers on the street being openly affectionate. Reconnection to everything and everyone you love. The eros of everyday life. The sexiness of breathing.

410. 30 April 2006, Pinole, CA

Green Man

Finally the evening wore down to nothing. The day's heat faded into blue, and I began the postponed yardwork. I found my old lungs in the tall grasses, where I'd thrown them that bitter morning last winter. They still had a few coughs in them. I left my lemonade nearby, to desiccate and water vivid lemon thoughts. I electrified the grass in that part of the lawn with the new twirly-bladed whacker; it stood to attention before fainting dead away. I covered myself with flung tailings from that green mind, lacing seed-fronds into my long hair, a dandelion pair for earrings, and coal-black eyes made from fallen walnuts. Gradually I left myself behind; gradually I felt the greening rise, bursting through my feet as the shoe-soles wore away, climbing vine-like shins and calves and under loose jean-shorts, up under shirt, clothes gone, vine skin, green skin green muscle turn to follow sun, sex sprung vine dry nut shrivel copse, twist, turn, morning-glory rising through breast, turn, tendrils awhirl, cup behind corn-ear, shoots, wheat-teeth, grass-stem eyelash, peat-eye, green brow, vegetable gaze, all, mind knoll tree slow thought growing slow stone-slow sun turn sun follow mind gone all green white husk.

druids cursed to stone
burst forth spring life-force issue—
bloom of summer skin

Near sunset, yardwork till my arms went numb. We got a new electric weed-whacker today, on sale, which means I can finally get at the overgrown jungle of a front yard. I scythed it back and forth through the tall grass and the weeds till my arms couldn’t hold the machine anymore. I have to just do some at a time. I feel really out of shape. Suddenly it’s summer, and spring lasted maybe an hour, last week. There really wasn’t spring at all this year; direct from winter rains to summer clear skies. All the trees in bloom. Orange poppies dotting the roadside grasses, and the top of our driveway, growing wild, vivid, blazing. I’ve tried to get at this outdoor work for literally months, but it was always raining, always too wet to get anything done. And I didn’t have any usable tools, either. Now both of those things were addressed today, and I got to work.

I’ve also finished a couple more new pieces of music, new tracks heavily laden with Stick layers, lots of Infinite Sustain and tape-deck-style delay looping. I keep adding to the pile at the virtual CD online here; at some point, I’ll weed through the available tracks and sort them into an actual CD. Only the best tracks will survive, the rest will get recycled to various other projects.

A few days ago I was unexpectedly gifted with a bottle of some of the best whiskey on the planet: 1608 Black Bush. This is like triple-reserve Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey. That same day, J. had been losing her voice, because of strain from overuse, and general exhaustion. We both had a sip of the 1608—and her voice came right back. A true testament to the miraculous healing powers of Irish whiskey. If I liked coffee, this would make the best Irish coffee in the world, too. As it is, I just have to settle for an occasional glass of this amazing, restorative whiskey; and very pleased I was to be gifted a bottle of this, too, something I love but can rarely afford.

It’s been a long, hard day, and I’m very tired, but my mind continues to whirl around on the day’s events. So, a small sip before bedtime: another kind of healing.

409. 28 April 2006, Pinole, CA

In my dreams last night, I was sitting in a room with four other people, watching TV, and I kept asking them to turn it up, as I couldn’t hear it over their talking; one of them turned to me and said, I gave you all that material for building your own hearing aid, why don’t you use it?; I left the room, upset and angry, slamming doors and banging on things. Maybe it was that a bunch of emails about hearing and deafness came through yesterday from an acquaintance, maybe it’s that I know I have some high-frequency loss in my left ear, after all those years of driving, telephones, and loud music; but many of my dreams last night were about hearing loss and deafness, and I woke up disturbed and upset.

Haiku and Shared Associations

One the things that allow haiku to work are shared associations, shared cultural contexts, and shared assumptions. Some of the conflict about what a haiku is, especially when written in English, comes from these unspoken assumptions. It's why lots of haiku-writers assume a learning curve on how to write "real haiku," beyond the form itself, and into the spiritual and poetical content and style of haiku. As has often been said, haiku is more than just the syllable count. This holds true even if you argue, as many contemporary writers of English haiku do, for a reduced syllable count in English. It cycles back to the use of other elements of a haiku like kigo, season-word, wabi and sabi, the sense of imperfection in nature and the impermanence of all things—which are critical for giving haiku their "tone"—and the internal structure of two images, the long phrase and short phrase, and the turn (or hinge). All of these factors obviously go beyond the issue of syllable count, and have more to do with making a poem a haiku than strict adherence to the form of 5/7/5. (The arguments about what is "correct" syllable count in any given language, based on internal grammar and other linguistic issues, is all about form and not about content.) In other words, it is as much the content of a haiku that makes it a haiku, beyond all questions of form.

This is why we get into discussions about whether a poem is a haiku or not, or a senryu (adding elements of human interaction, humor, and playful irony) or not; and so forth. I note that these arguments tend to be based mostly on content. (Including the pedantic argument about whether humor, joking, and/or puns are allowable in haiku.)

But there is a deeper level to this, for sometimes what one haijin labels as a non-haiku is labeled so simply out of a lack of comprehension of the poem's contents. For many traditionalists, the content of haiku must be limited to, or emphasize, certain settings, subject matters, and tones and styles; anything outside that zone tends to get labeled a senryu, or non-haiku. This reflects the assumption that there is a shared, historical, even fixed-in-time tradition: an assumption that we must imitate the Founders, or the Masters, at all times. (Whenever this comes up, I seem to find myself quoting Basho himself on this issue; he explicitly said do not imitate: "Do not imitate the masters. Seek what they sought." Anyway.) On another front, we are told to imitate a different group of masters, for example, the contemporary haiku journals, and ignore the founders of the poetic form; the argument here is that, in a new language, the form must change, so don't confuse yourself by reading that old stuff—but this is a highly debatable stance, as it can tend to swing to the opposite extreme from imitating-the-masters, and completely lose the spirit and content of haiku.

An example of a poem that is an extreme case of this ultra-compressionist trend is a poem consisting of the word "tundra" centered on a blank page of white space. Now, I view that as an interesting poem, even perhaps a good piece of conceptual or concrete poetry—but is it a haiku? No, in my opinion it is no longer a haiku, even though it was originally published in the contemporary haiku press. There are other aspects of aesthetic elegance in haiku that "tundra" completely lacks, such as wabi-sabi.

The contemporary trend for ultra-compression haiku, to write a poem with as few words as possible, is debatable because it assumes first that such compression is a positive aesthetic choice, which it may not always be, and secondly because when a poem crosses a certain formal threshold, what you may be left with is a good short-form poem that might be a good poem, but is no longer a haiku. Arguing that one-word poems are haiku relies on the argument that haiku are more about content than form, yes, but then the ultra-compressionist camp contradicts itself because it then argues against content being the determinant by ignoring the other elements that make up haiku, listed above: season-word, tone, two images, turn. I find the ultra-compression argument facile and unconvincing because it is inconsistent in that it picks and chooses which of the rules for content in haiku that it wants to use, and which it wants to ignore. A one-word poem is not a haiku.

This can all be very confusing to the novice haijin. So, let's look at why.

The situation is thus: To understand a haiku, you have to have a shared cultural context in which to understand the poem (which is why so many haiku translations need footnotes), a shared sense of associations of words to images and meanings (the season-word is often an animal or plant associated with that season, that symbolizes the imagery and air of that time of year, and stands in for the emotions associated with that time of year), and shared assumptions about the poem's intentions, message, content and form. Haiku are thus highly signifying, and even symbolic, and, because of the very brevity of the form, must a great deal of expression in a very small amount of words.

Yet I can write a haiku, for example, in English, that "requires translation." For example, I posted this on Stickwire this morning:

in the dark café
the Stickist taps, LEDS glow—
wind in reeds, in reeds

To understand this haiku, you have to know: that the Chapman Stick is the shared musical instrument played by everyone on Stickwire (a subscription emsil-list), myself included; that the Stick is a multi-stringed instrument played by two-handed tapping rather than plucking or strumming, as with a guitar; that LEDs refer to musical amplification and processing gear that every Stickist, and almost every contemporary amplified musician, has to deal with when playing a gig; that many of play music gigs in cafés, coffehouses, and bars; and additionally, perhaps that the repetition in the last line of the poem refers to a particular style of musical playing called looping, in which the Stick player uses an electronic device called a looper which is basically a sampler that you play short melodic and rhythmic fragments into, then the device keeps repeating them while you play new musical layers over the top. It's a whole style of playing music, actually, that many Stick players, myself included, are into.

So, did you get all that from this poem? No? Oops!

So, anyway, I can post this haiku on an email-list for Stick players, and most everyone will get it; but if I post it on a poetry website, it will no doubt be vilified as a non-haiku at worst, and a head-scratcher at best. You see? Shared context matters. To further complicate matters, most poets of my acquaintance are shockingly ignorant of other artforms and other media.

For another example: There are whole websites devoted to science fiction content haiku—scifiku—in which the writers and readers all share a wide knowledge of general science, the literary tropes and styles of science fiction prose, and the concerns of the SF genre as a literary genre, both in terms of content and form. A haiku that deals with first contact with alien life-forms will be comprehensible on those scifiku sites, because the extreme telegraphy and signifying required in haiku, but such a haiku will be incomprehensible on other haiku sites that have no other SF context.

Bluntly put, haiku, like other poetry, has to be comprehensible to the reader. But because the haiku is such a compressed, short form, which relies on telegraphing content and image with as few words as possible, there is a threshold of confusion and obfuscation that lies very close to the surface. One has to have a set of shared associations with one's audience. One has to assume that one's audience should be able to understand the poem, all other literary considerations aside.

To return briefly to the trend towards ultra-compression in haiku, at what point does a poem cease being a haiku, and become some other short-form kind of poetry? There is no question of the good quality of some ultra-short-form poems, such as many written by Cid Corman and his followers; their quality is not in contention here. (Even that "tundra" poem is arguably good conceptual poetry, if not haiku.) The issue is, at what point does it lose all trace of being a haiku? To elaborate on what I said above about the content of the poems, in haiku one is traditionally invited to show two contrasting images, linked by a turn or hinge, that give two takes on a momentary experience—the famous "haiku moment.” The images are often drawn from nature, with a seasonal indicator word, and quite resonant emotionally but without stating emotions explicitly and openly. Refinement, elegance, and indirect appreciation, are words often associated with haiku aesthetics, along with wabi-sabi, the (post-Buddhist) appreciation of impermanance and imperfection found as well in many Japanese artforms, not limited to literary practice alone. So, these elements are also what make a haiku, not only brevity and compression.

Another reason I question the validity of the ultra-compressionist fad is that, all too often, poems written from that stance cross the threshold of comprehensibility, and become hermetic, obscure, precious, and pretentious—comprehensible only to insiders, but not to the uneducated reader. Frankly, this often strikes me as a parallel problem to the increasing insularity and hermeticism of the poetic field overall since it has become dominated by academia and the MFA workshops and various other -isms—poets writing only for other poets.

Before I am accused of lowest-common-denominator populism, let me just say: I am not arguing, in fact, for keeping haiku within the thresholds of the known, the safe, and the familiar—although many traditionalist purists tend to choose that route. "If it ain't about nature scenes with no human content, it ain't a haiku!" No. Here, I disagree because "nature" is so much more than pretty scenes in the wilderness, or sentimental and lyric imagery copied from the Chinese and Japanese poetic traditions. (Fond as I personally am of such images and tropes, I do not think they are the be-all and end-all of haiku content.) And humans are also part of nature, not separate from it—a fact that the old Japanese haiku masters took for granted, but that we in the West must constantly be reminded of, thus highlighting some fundamental cultural differences. Just because haiku has often been a lyrical and elegiac form does not mean that it must always be so. One can still follow the use of season-word, two images, and turn, and write about, say, pollution, for example. Not all haiku have to be uplifting and spiritually-exalted and happiness; the Japanese masters frequently wrote about loss, longing, suffering, pain, and despair; so there is precedent. I only mention this because I do notice a trend among many English-language haijin towards Hallmark-style sentimentality and uplifting emotion in the face of impermanence in their work; it can all get very mannered and precious.

Just to be clear about compression: I am generally in favor of compression in poetry.

Poetry is not merely grammatical prose rearranged in lines on the page. Poetry can pack a lot of evocation, and multiple layers of meaning, into a very small space. Poetry can break the rules of syntax and grammar, and still make deep sense, partly because one purpose of poetry is to make us perceive an experience in new ways. I frequently experiment with the creation of a cinematic poetry, that is all description with interpretation, image without commentary, that can be threaded into a narrative in reader’s mind, or at least strung together in ways both evocative and sensual. I also thoroughly agree with the sentiment, "If you want to communicate, use the phone." Poetry is not merely communication, either; it can and does communicate, but is not limited to any usual speech-based or prosaic manner of communication. It can do MORE. The issue at hand is not about compression in poetry, but, again, when does it cease being a haiku, and become something else?

What I am in fact arguing against is lazy (or willful) ignorance on the part of the reader or audience. The poet is not required to make easy and simple sense all the time to the audience—as the saying goes, if you want to communicate, use a telephone—and the audience sometimes needs to do a little more work than it wants to. I am arguing for stretching the boundaries by continuing to include new content into the haiku tradition. I usually argue FOR compression of expression, especially in haiku—my argument against ultra-compressionism is an argument against fads and fashionable excesses and obfuscating hermeticism, and an argument FOR finding a balance between compression and comprehension.

So, a shared context and shared knowledge of content is required for haiku to connect with the reader—but sometimes, the haiku reader needs to do a little work, too, and do a little research, and a little self-education, in order to "catch up to" the haiku writer. Traditionally, in fact, the reader is said by the haiku masters to “complete the poem,” by bringing his or her own experience to the poem, and fulfilling its meaning out of their own memory and those share cultural associations. To always make a poem easy on the reader IS pandering, and that, rather than anything I have said, is what exemplifies lowest-common-denominator populism. "If Homer Simpson can't understand it, it must be bad!" Ehhhhh ..... no.

People who know me know that I generally think that explaining a poem kills it—but we all seem to spend a lot of time explaining and justifying our haiku. Think about that, for a minute. Why is it okay to have to explain haiku, but we don't like to have to explain our other kinds of poetry? Could it be that there is a double-standard in play? Is that because a lot of us are still new to haiku, and there are several learning curves going on? But could perhaps the urge to explain become necessary because of some of the reasons discussed above? Could it not also be a sign of growing ideology? Might it not also be a symptom of growing hermeticism and academic obfuscation based on various -isms? One wonders, some days, reading certain poems.

Anyway. I think it's good to get these unspoken assumptions out into the open, where they can be discussed.

408. 26 April 2006, Pinole, CA

It's just too beautiful today to bear: it's sunny, finally, today, and warm. I went and laid out naked in the sunlight in the private backyard here—not much of a yard, but completely private and open to the sky. Feeling that sunlight all over my body was the most healing touch I've felt in a long time. Cough-inducing crap, exit lungs, now! Clearing sinuses! Exit colds and flus and all sinus and pneumo-viruses! Begone! Thus went my meditation on healing.

Then I came inside and spent half the afternoon digitally re-recording from a friend's ancient reel-to-reel tape of the concert that the SF Gay Men's Chorus gave in SF on Pride Weekend in 1981, the last weekend in June, just after they returned from their first national tour. He brought his audiophile reel deck over, and I plugged it into the studio computer via USB, and we sat and listened to it while streaming it in, and chatted periodically. That tour marked the beginning of the LGBT choral movement; everywhere the Chorus toured that summer, new Choruses sprang up inn their wake, and locals took up the idea, organized, and got musical. There are now some 400 choruses worldwide. It was thrilling to listen to. It was an old radiobroadcast on KPFA, live from Davies Hall in SF—the hall itself was only a year old at that point. The radio station itself no longer has a tape of this concert; this friend was in the Chorus for this concert, and taped the show when it was rebroadcast a week later. The good things that community radio used to do!

The encore they sang, with orchestra, was the Pilgrim's Chorus from Tannheuser (Wagner), a magnificent piece of music, and very symbolic in context. I felt tears come to my eyes, who is one of the least sentimental people on the planet.

So, spring is in the air, the sap is flowing, things are finally waking up, and feeling the surge of eros and life-force, within.

407. 24 April 2006, Pinole, CA

Golden food: the chicken is golden, after being cooked in curry and garlic and red peppers, and the red potatoes with their golden flesh are now more golden, too. Everything blends together in a gold and brown mash, as I eat. A half-glass of golden wine to go with it.

Some people are clamoring for my attention, today. I’ll think I’ll ignore them, for now, as I want to get into what I need to get done. Everyone is always demanding attention, and that their needs and time are more important than anyone else’s. That’s only because their needs are in front of their noses, where they can’t see past them to anything else. I can’t blame them; and I also don’t feel like letting their needs and desires run over my own. I need to be inward today, and address my own needs, and not lose them under everyone else’s. I’m going to focus on writing, and flowers, for the next few hours.

Thoughts from last night’s gig:

Playing at Brainwash Café last night, where we play for silent films once a month, is all about volume and distraction. While the movie plays, projected on a pull-down screen across the long room from us, everything happens between us and the movie. There’s the people coming in and out of the venue’s front door. Brainwash is a WiFi café, a laundromat, a coffeehouse, and a bar all in one; well, they sell beer, anyway, at the food counter. There’s noise, there’s people talking, there’s the occasional hissing scream of the espresso machine. There’s the line of people ordering food, or sitting at the counter and eating, all between us and the movie. There are the big open windows right next to us, where we sit in the bandstand area, overlooking Folsom St., with more café tables on the sidewalk. People standing around outside, talking, smoking, drinking. Traffic going by. It’s all very loud, very distracting, very busy. It’s amazing that anyone watches the movies or listens to us play, although some do. The venue likes what we do, though, so we keep doing it.

Last night, there were courting scenes in the silent Western film we were doing, Tumbleweeds. I played flute during those quieter scenes, mostly shakuhachi. I can only play this particular shakuhachi from my hara, my one-point, center, taw, moonheart, rootededness, whatever you want to name it. If I do not move into my center, and breathe from my hara, and place my consciousness there, this particular shaku will not even sound: I just get wind. It was a challenge in the venue; it was okay at first, but got tougher as the night went on. Also, the shaku is such a quiet instrument in that venue, I almost gave up several times, trying to be heard. I suppose if I were a better, more grounded, more practiced shakuhachi player, it wouldn’t be an issue. But the venue pulls you right out of center, a lot of time. I know: it’s easy to be centered on the mountaintop, it’s harder to be centered in the midst of the marketplace.

The Stick, by contrast, is facile and easy. I just touch it and things happen. It requires less concentrated effort, less inwardness, and less attention to mind-body unity. I guess that means it really has become my principal instrument: not just the one I play most often, but the one I’m best at, now. Does that very facility mean that what I play on it is more shallow, less heartfelt? I don’t really know. I hope not.


I’m going through a bunch of my CD archives of my past artwork, looking for specific images for current projects, and I’m realizing, with some surprise, how much of a body of work I had just abandoned, work in progress, when I became officially nomadic in August of 2004. There were a lot of unfinished projects. There were collages I had forgotten about. There were bodies of work I haven’t looked at in almost two years now, that still want to have something done with them, when I can find time.

I gave up a lot, when I hit the road. I sacrificed a lot, and abandoned some more. I left many things undone, on a lot of fronts. I can’t afford to regret any of that, so I don’t; yet, I can’t help but wonder about it. It was a major disruption in my life; a major change. A change so big I am still coming to terms with it. A life-change. A new direction. Maybe not the best direction, or the wisest, maybe not the safest of smartest decision I’ve ever made. But it was a strong choice, a strong decision; a brave one. I don’t regret it, even if on occasion I might still grieve that lost life, that passed existence. I’m traveling lighter now, even if I still carry some of these memories with me. But look, too, how much I had forgotten, in the intervening time.

Some of these are threads I can pick up again, if I choose, down the road. Some others are vanished for good. I can’t afford to regret them, or the choices that led me to where I am now. But oh, the grieving; the occasional, unavoidable choked throat and brief tears.

406. 21 April 2006, Pinole, CA

Late last night, in an insomniac and agitated mood, I wrote and sent off a spiritual coming out letter to my family. I feel emotionally bruised this morning, and my last dreams before waking were of someone I care about leaving my life, and I was devastated and upset in the dream; like a young man I stood in the corner and cried while everyone else pretended to be cheery and supportive. Some know the necessity of change, and of choice. I slept in today, though, also trying to get over this persistent, lingering cold, and I still feel the emotional traces of that deep weeping.

I knew this was going to be a year of Big Changes in my life, most of them for the positive, in the long run if not the short, and that there will be changes I can do nothing about, and that some changes are ones I make myself. Things I myself set in motion, or have chosen to change. I did not plan to write that coming-out letter last night; I wasn’t expecting it, it sort of just evolved that way. Nonetheless, it’s done, and I cannot find any regret in myself about doing it. Some fear of future consequences, perhaps, but nothing more than that, and that great grieving that came forward in my dreams.


After a breakfast of grilled flour tortillas with extra-sharp cheddar (I only burned one of them), and a cup of strong Earl Grey, I checked my email. My sister has already gotten back to me, and was understanding and supportive. A flood of relief, and a clear head, thanks more to the tea than anything else, and I’m back at work on my DVD projects. I need to take some flower photographs today; I have some roses I want to set up and light and photograph. I think I’ll do that now, before they fade. Wabi-sabi, the awareness of impermanence and imperfection.

Later still, nightwatch:

I set up the black backcloth, got out the tripod, set up the camera, and shot several excellent pictures of my roses. Clusters of blooms together, than pics of single blooms, all with varying lighting and zoom. Should give me at least a few good shots to work with. These roses were a gift from the Chorus, for being a newbie: a gesture of welcome and inclusion, before the concert last Monday. It was a nice little ritual.

I spent a lot of time on the phone to Chicago this week, planning and working out details. Tonight I also revised the Flying Trailer Publishing logo that I had made a month ago, on a dare from Al; making this logo has been cathartic, actually. I added tiny little wings to the trailer, with not enough aerodynamic lift to get the thing to actually fly. Just plummet gracefully. I also checked the Scamp website today, on impulse, since I had been thinking about the trailer, only to discover that they had had a huge fire that gutted their plant in Minnesota—almost one year to the day that my own Scamp trailer had gone over the cliff. Freaky. Well, they’re rebuilding now—and so am I.

405. 20 April 2006, Pinole, CA

Political and Social Thoughts

Has anyone else noticed how exactly parallel all these “reality TV” shows are to gladiatorial battles in Nero’s era? “Bread and circuses while Rome burns.” The parallel is exact, because of the rules of elimination in many of these shows, where someone gets “voted off the island,” or otherwise removed from competition by elimination. “Till the last man left standing.” The vicious competition is as fierce, albeit it’s largely psychological violence rather than physical, and the prize far less meaningful—at least many of the gladiators were struggling for their lives, not for money or fame. That “American Idol” has become a more highly-rated TV show than the annual Grammy Awards show tells you exactly what’s wrong with the music industry: none of it is about the quality or originality of the musical performance. It’s all about pre-packaged reproduction and duplicating existing styles. Bob Dylan or Neil Young would never get anywhere on those shows. Neither would anyone else who was a true original. Bread and circuses, indeed: it’s all a complete waste of time. Kill your television, and get a life. We who are opposed to this bread and circuses are also against the reproduction of death: and “American Idol” and its ilk are entirely about the reproduction of death.


I’m listening to a two-part BBC documentary on suicide, and thinking about the issue, again. (Now that it's no longer an option for me, this lifetime.) What are the motives? It goes beyond simple depression, or despair. In Japan, the pressure to not be a burden on others, in that heavily conformist society, is one motive; also, neither Buddhism nor Shinto place a burden of moral judgment on the act itself, the way the Abrahamic religions do. The current psychological fad to attribute everything to brain chemistry, and solve it all with drugs, is just plain wrong. (Wrong-headed, if you'll forgive then pun.) It does not account for actual rises and falls in the suicide and depression rates that are tied to social and cultural factors. It puts too much faith in the medical system: if you send someone away to a hospital because they have a mental health problem, you just are hiding them away, and not doing anything to prevent mental illness. Because there ARE social causes, and personal causes: it is not all brain chemistry. The environment is crucial for the onset of clinical depression; and some societies are better than others at relieving the emotional pain involved. Medicine alone is useless to prevent suicide if it doesn’t account for the environment, and doesn’t address prevention. The tunnel vision aspect to this viewpoint is obvious: thinking there’s no way out, and if the means are easily at hand, then people act. One feels completely isolated, cut off, and useless. It’s interesting that in wartime, suicide rates do way down: people have a purpose, a cause, they get pulled out of themselves, out of their personal problems, and focus on something larger. In peacetime, suicide rates go back up–a seeming paradox, since after all peacetime is supposed to be less stressful overall than wartime. Here’s two interesting related facts: once England changed away from coal gas as a technology for lighting and heat, the suicide rate went down, and stayed down, which is an argument for prevention by removing popular and easy means. And, secondly, there are interviews with those who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, and lived, and in every single case they said that they suddenly realized on the way down that their problems weren’t so bad, weren’t so unsolvable, and they wanted to live. Without exception, those interviewed all said that same thing.

Just talking to someone, so you feel less alone, less isolated, can be a lifesaver. Active listening, as telephone crisis-line workers often know, can be all that anyone needs, in order to feel better about themselves and their situations. The problems don’t disappear: but you don’t feel like they’re only on your own shoulders, crushing you. Embracing life can mean as little as learning to enjoy solving life’s problems.

There is no Romance to suicidal behavior, although there's a post-Poe, post-Goth, morbid fascination with death that is fashionable in some quarters. Frankly, I find Goth to be childish, very much an adolescent fascination with death. The real suffering is put on those left behind, who have to try to figure it out. Suicide becomes a self-centered cop-out, a completely selfish act. The living blame themselves, beyond all reason.

There have been many times, in those dark dark nights, when I didn’t care if I lived or died. If the truck had failed, and I’d gone over that cliff with the trailer, there were times I wouldn’t have cared. But it was passive, never active: I always left it, in my exhausted and wrung out state, in the hands of the gods. So far, I’m still here.

404. 19 April 2006, Pinole, CA, nightwatch

I made another spacemusic piece tonight. I’m listening to it again one last time before going to bed. it’s mostly atmospheric, sort of dark-ambient, and largely beat-free. Maybe I’ll add another layer to the sound events, but maybe I’ll just let it ride, too. I am very interested in experimenting with non-traditional beats: pulses or rhythmic patterns that repeat, like metrical units, but that aren’t necessarily steady or regular pulses, or in duple-meter groupings. I get tired of the relentless beats of most pop and post-pop music. Granted, I never liked disco, even the first time around, much less that ABBA crap I’ve had to put up with this past Chorus concert (and without diminishing the fun of finally doing it at the concert itself); too much dance music has no subtlety, it’s all pound and slam, and most of it, post-disco, lost the backbeat and syncopation of funk, and pounds away with a bass-drum hit every quarter-note. That gets boring quickly. The piece I just made uses a rhythm loop generated, like others for the current group of pieces, in OhmForce’s MobilOhm, a cellular resonance/oscillator processor. The rhythm loop is present as a theme throughout, even though it continually, gradually changes and modulates. I always like surprises, in these sort of set-ups: that element of chance. Change is organic, alive; the basic Taoist principle that the Universe is nothing but change. If a beat-pattern is too stable, too similar, it sounds mechanical, programmed; but if it changes slightly, over time, it starts to sound organic. (I love these sorts of paradoxes. Another favorite paradox is how total-serial compositions such as Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata end up sounding completely like random pointillistic aimlessness, while a Cage piece involving chance and indeterminacy, such as Williams Mix, or Roaratorio, can end up sounding like a deliberately-organized piece of music.) I like this beat-pulse pattern enough that I’m recording a second version of it, slightly randomized from the first version, to maybe use for another piece. Similar, but different. Raw material for later projects, even if not usable at present.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately:

Loren Eiseley: The Man Who Saw Through Time (his book on Francis Bacon)

Ralph Abraham: Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A chaos pioneer uncovers the three great streams of history

Rob Brezsny: Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia

various authors, including Ian Stewart and Arthur C, Clarke: The Colours of Infinity: The Beauty and Power of Fractals

Jorge Luis Borges: Borges at Eighty: Conversations, edited by Willis Barnstone

James H. Schmitz: the Complete Federation of the Hub (collected stories), edited by Eric Flint. Schmitz, during a short 11-year career, wrote some of the most durable SF I’ve ever read; I keep coming back to it to re-read, and it holds up very well over time.

Thomas Merton: The Wisdom of the Desert

John Berger and Jean Mohr: Another Way of Telling (a quiet, brilliant book on the art of photography)

Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael’s Penance

Lucy R. Lippard: Overlay: Contemporary art and the art of prehistory

Maureen Korp: Sacred Art of the Earth: Ancient and contemporary earthworks

Matthew Fox: Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons for transforming evil in soul and society

Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife (re-reading as I found a paperback copy I'm eventually going to give to a friend)

Alan Dean Foster: re-reading the early Flinx novels

Isabel Allende: Zorro, a novel

Robinson Jeffers: selected poetry, and the Sierra Club book based on his work and the area around Big Sur where he lived, Not Man Apart

re-reading Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Ian Baker: The Heart of the World: A journey to the last secret place (looking for the entrance to Shambhala in Nepal and Tibet)

Jim Harrison: The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a roving gourmand (one of my favorite books of late; Harrison has always been a fave poet of mine, being a fellow Michigan boy, but this book is inspiring me to write about food, and stretch my own essays into new territory)

St.-John Perse: Exile, and other poems (bilingual edition)

Will Roscoe: Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love

The Ultimate Cyberpunk, SF anthology, ed. by Pat Cadigan

Stephen A. Hoeller: Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library

Jim Morrison: The Lords and the New Creatures (poems)

C.G. Jung: Psychological Reflections

Yellow Silk: Erotic arts and letters, ed. by Lily Pond and Richard Russo

Elliott Porter, In Wildness is the Preservation of the World (one of his many exquisite photography books, and a Sierra Club classic; Porter is a photographer I’m really into right now, and learning from him as a photographer myself)

I think it's a bad idea for poets to read only poetry, or mostly poetry. I think it's better to read eclectically, omnivorously, and let the writer within be fed from many conjoining streams.

I haven’t felt like writing poetry in over a week. If anything, it feels rather stale, after that big surge of poem-making in February and March. For now, I am concentrating, out of choice and necessity, on making music, and authoring DVD movies. All my creative push is into music and multimedia, at the moment. After some of the personal crap on the poetry site, anyway, I needed to take a break; step away for awhile; regain some detachment. I found myself checking in today, and feeling like none of the poems I read had any depth or interest; all seemed shallow and stale, or pretentious and insular and precious; even poems from people whose work I’d probably like at other times. I don’t like or feel attracted to anything I’m reading there now—and I’m not going to force myself to try to like something I don’t, just to please others. So, there’s no point or necessity in wallowing in where I have no attention or interest at the moment. I’ll get back to poetry, as I usually do, when the music needs less of my attention. (A lot of poet friends don’t understand this, or don’t seem to believe it’s real; but then, only one or two of them that I know do any other creativity activity but write. Their lack of understanding is not my problem.) If I can compose or assemble a piece a day for the next few days, I will feel back on schedule, after what feels like a serious if fun derailment that the past week of Chorus rehearsals and concerts has left in its wake.

I am always amused when poet friends insist their artform is the highest calling, the highest artform: I find that to be pretty much dust and bullshit. Music is far higher up the chain of sublimity, in principle and execution—at least for me. So much music can do and say that other artforms can’t touch. It’s the closest to the original language, the original sounds. The first sounds any of us hear are our mother’s heartbeat, when still in the womb. (The ear develops weeks before the eye.) Music is pure sound, without linguistic content or meaning. Poetry, with all its graces and strengths, remains bound by its requirement to communicate sense and meaning; a poetry devolved into pure sound for its own sake becomes indistinguishable from music, as it no longer carries linguistic meaning, and can’t be called poetry anymore. (I except so-called Language Poetry from this approach towards musicality, because it’s just crap.) Music is far more abstract, and can contain emotional content, emotional sense, but be totally devoid of linguistic sense. Which, then, is the more primal, more rooted, most universal art? Of course, there is a zone of transition there, between those realms, so it’s not cut and dried—there is, for example, text/sound poetry, which dwells right on that borderline; but until convinced otherwise, I will stick by my opinions.

1906 Earthquake Centennial Commemoration. 18 April 2006, San Francisco, CA

403. 18 April 2006, Pinole, CA, nightwatch

Post SFGMC concert. I am wired and tired by the whole day spent on this. First the dress rehearsal in the afternoon, then a break, then the concert itself. I was pretty beat; of course, it hasn't helped that I've had a chest cold for weeks; at least I was cough-free for the weelend of the concert! My energy came way back up, after being flattened by exhaustion and (for me at least) over-rehearsal. Too much rehearsal for me, I was ready a month ago, and some of it had already gotten stale by dress rehearsal time. Not the good stuff, from Naked Man and Metamorphosis, but the ABBA and other disco music was definitely stale by now, for me; I was tired of rehearsing those. But even those pieces were fun to finally actually do onstage; I admit I got into it. (I also admit, I don’t need to do it again, either. Once is enough.) Parts of Naked Man are still singing in my head, on the BART ride home, and here at night, having a big glass of orange juice and some hummus before bed. There was a nice little welcome ritual for the newbies, myself included, in the dressing hall before the concert, and I was given some fresh roses. I’m sure they will look very beautiful in the sunlight tomorrow. I put them in water, but I don’t have the mental capacity for any more than that, tonight. I can handle maybe a little unwinding before going to bed, but that’s about it.

The TV in the kitchen seems to be dead; but honestly, I can live without it quite well. This morning, before showering and going into the City on the train, I made myself that promised meal of spicy grilled beef and asparagus; and I relished it with every bite when I finally got around toe eating it, sitting there is the dressing hall, during the break before the concert. It was delicious! That’s a recipe I’m going to repeat; I only used up half of the asparagus that I bought over the weekend, so there’s definitely enough for another meal’s worth. Yum!

I did at least three healings tonight, too; think they helped those who asked. People are starting to ask me for this, and that’s cool. It feels good to do what I can, which apparently is a lot more than I used to feel able to do; things just happen, smooth and effortless, and I’m not really doing anything. I notice and observe, as much as anything else.

402. 16 April 2006, Pinole, CA

Screw off-the-shelf software, or all those automated blogging websites. This website, this Road Journal, is hand-crafted! I do everything myself. So, I decided to change numbering systems for these Road Journal entires, big deal, get over it.

I read an interview from 2000 this morning with Steve Reich. As usual, I find what he has to say very interesting, and a few of his comments about music in general stick out as worth quoting here, as excerpts:

I think people suffer from a misconception, not only about me, but about music theory and its relation to music practice. Whatever music theory you encounter, certainly including the rules of four-part harmony, was written after a style had been worked out by ear, and by a good musical ear. Of course it’s good for a student to learn the rules of four-part harmony, but with the understanding that they’re just student exercises and that parallel fifths may be perfect in another context. All music theory refers to something that has already happened, but if it is taken as a prescription, or worse as a manifesto, heaven help you. It’s interesting that the music we treasure most of Schoenberg preceded the 12 tone theory. It’s no accident that Op. 11, and “Farben” of the Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 16 (my favorite piece) or Pierrot Lunaire, and other earlier works all keep getting played. They’re “difficult” and they’re dark, but they’re more successful, I believe, than those pieces that came later with the adoption of the 12 tone system. . . .

Nobody receives awards for technical expertise in music. We know that Bach was perhaps the best technician that ever lived, but he himself said das Affekt, and if Bach said das Affekt, I can only say it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing or that je ne sais quoi. That’s what matters. . . .

I think it’s very important for artists in general to be self-critical. Of course there’s a point where if you’re too self-critical, you’re in trouble. But I’ve known a couple of artists, who shall remain nameless, who were very talented and potentially first rate, but because they thought that anything they did was just fine, they ended up producing a lot of poor or mediocre work. I think that a judicious sprinkling of self-criticism is essential, to do really good work in any field.


I had every intention of spending this day, this one day in between endless Chorus rehearsals and the concert itself tomorrow, on recording my own music, or some other form of necessary creativity, since I feel the pressure of deadlines looming. But I spent the day in a more or less vegetative state, exhausted, cold, feeling half-sick and very tired. I had a migraine in the afternoon. I read a lot, and did nothing. Now it’s late at night, and I feel like I have too much to do and I’m too tired to do it, so I’ll have to go to bed now, and get up in the morning and do it all. It’s mostly done, in prep for the concert; just have to gather things together, and make my dinner, to take with me on the train. I’ll be spending all day and half the night in the City, for this concert; I’ll need to leave around noon, and doubt I’ll get home much before midnight. A long day, and a long night. More rehearsals, then the concert itself. I plan to cook my own food and take it with me, to avoid the expense and scramble of wasted time, on the nonce. And I will no doubt eat better than most. As Jim Harrison says, “Fast food is zoo food.”

401. 15 April 2006, Pinole, CA

At the Post Office this morning, I cheerfully mailed off my one piece of paperwork required by the IRS, having compiled and filed by tax returns electronically. The tax software actually served me well this year, the first year I’ve actually filed taxes in 3 or 4 years, since last year was the first real income I’d had since 2001; anyway, the software more than paid for itself by finding an area in which I needed to deduct my home business expenses: the driving miles for those photographic trips up and down the coast, and in the Southwest: many of those photos actually are getting used in the new DVDs, so the expenses of those trips are deductible business expenses.

When I stepped outside, though, there was some serious shouting going on in the parking lot between a woman in a car, and a family; I missed why the altercation began, but they were surely into the shouting. Another man exiting after me just said, “Life’s too short.” I have to agree. It seemed like a lot of drama when nothing really happened. Lots of yelling, and for little or no apparent reason—but then, many in this world are addicted to drama.

I got asked to help with this Chorus cast party tonight, in the Castro, and since I draw the line at going into the City and back at one time per day, I did not go to this morning’s joint rehearsal with the orchestra and visiting Stockholm Gay Chorus; I am feeling personally over-rehearsed at this time, anyway, and had a hard time generating any enthusiasm whatsoever at last night’s rehearsal, which I had to walk a mile through blustery conditions to get to, and later back to the train station. Took some photos last night, though, of the night City, and City Hall plaza, which is a neat place. Homeless sleeping in every sheltered corner and store entranceway. The community of the streets. Tonight, this party is a big cast party, two nights before the actual concert, but then, it’s Saturday today, so when else can you do a party? I am feeling like napping now, but more like trying to not waste a day on Chorus stuff when I really need to get DVD stuff done, more importantly. I’m going to spend a couple of hours, now, working in my work, before I have to head out the door again. I’ve decided not to try to drive in; I’ll take the train, even if it means a longer ride home afterwards; but then, I’ll probably leave the party early, anyway, and not try to stay till the bitter end.


Doing night photography and video on the sly, from the tram and the train. Photos of the night sky. The overcast glowering down in sodium-yellowed sheets hung sinisterly above the skyscrapers. Views from on high of the Bridge and the East Bay.

The party was fun, if tiring. I got into two or three very long conversations, which was good: find a quiet corner and talk. Too many people otherwise. I dislike such dense crowds, generally, but it’s okay in limited doses at events like these. I got there slightly early, after taking the train and walking up two last very steep hills—too late to help set up, and the person who wanted me to take photos, I never did see anywhere, but whatever—and it began to drizzle, then gently rain.

Sitting under the canopies stuffed with comfortable chairs out in the terraced backyard, one of the hosts came by, and said, Do something about the rain, will you? so I took that as a request and Did Something, and it stopped raining, the mists cleared, the view of the City returned, and the sky even showed stars before party’s end. (You can’t Do Something till directly asked, usually, and only then if it’s for the highest good of all concerned, or doesn’t matter otherwise.) Just a little weather-magick. This stuff is getting easier to do, and has more obvious and dramatic effects than it used to. (I try not to get caught up in the coolness factor, the gee-whiz factor, or spiritual materialism, and I have to really remind myself to keep quiet about it all. It’s a temptation, always, to try to get an ego-stroke out of this work, and that’s never what I need or, if I really think about it, want. Silence and invisibility are really key, not only to being effective, but to staying humble.) You don’t have to believe me, of course.





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