Love is a rock

Love is an answer to everything. When you are touched, whether in animosity or endearment, you can answer with love. Love is a small simple rock that stops an entire river in its tracks. It will work everywhere, every time.

But love is a mysterious rock that dissolves when used untruthfully. It disintegrates itself instantly, and the angry river rushes onward as if nothing happened. Love is keenly aware of truth and is willing to sacrifice its very existence for the sake of truth.

Love feels no pain and revels only in joy, yet it exists for living things. Living things of course do feel pain and do not revel only in joy. This is love’s great hypocrisy.

Love is the loud, strong, proud hypocrisy of living things, and it is indeed an answer to everything.

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Scars and scabs and scars

Time does not heal old wounds. Time only reopens them. You are left with scars, scabs, scars that turn to scabs that turn to scars that turn to scabs. You are nothing but a scab and scar and time is the ecstatic affirmation of your identity.

Each new touch, however loving or hateful, is a laceration upon you—trauma. And each new touch points to an over-sensitive-you, to a self-infliction.

Sharing is your own damn fault. When your heart is on the line your heart is hurt often, and you know this damn well. When you share your truth, your truths are often shaken. When you try to be good, that good is challenged. When you try to do anything, that anything is consumed and spit out into your face in all its venomous, saliva-mucous rage. That rage is your rage and that meal is your meal. It’s your own damn fault.

Sharing is the answer to nothing and that nothing is what sustains you. Your soul doesn’t mind that nothing is nothing, only that there is indeed an answer. Your sustenance is a rage that creates and receives itself, lacerating and scabbing and scarring all the way to the grave.

But death perhaps is more than nothing. It may be something. It’s also not the answer. But the somethingness of death is what pushes us to constantly share our painful nothings with each other, to live.

This is something I’ve shared with you, and I think I feel better after sharing it. It depends partially on how I feel after you consume and spit it back into my face. But the onus is on me—it is the burden of my own infliction. The unending healing rawness of the scar and the scab will be all that defines me in the end: my identity, an amorphous, cyclical pain.

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Back home

Back in the place
that once home was
Is a momentous occasion
for anything but,

For the home that once was
Is erased from memory
and replaced in time
With anything but.

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The Medium Signifies Nothing

[see title]

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I Need To Float, an undelivered speech

The following is a speech I wrote for an event that was not able to provide a piano. I chose not to deliver the speech after learning that the presenter wanted something more theatrical, and that political statements were discouraged for this particular event. It is entitled “I Need To Float.”

 

I have so much to tell you.

Only 15 minutes though.

15 minutes is all we have.

So let’s not waste any time.

 

I could create a poem for you.

I could create a monologue for you.

I could create nothing for you.

I could create something.

I could create a monodrama.

I could create a percussion piece.

I could create a short form mini-opera.

 

I could create an essay for you.

I could create a stump speech for you.

I could write a story for you.

I could play chance operations with you.

I could invite audience participation.

I could say no words at all, and simply act through gestures only.

I could say only words, and simply express through words and words alone.

I could decorate my body to express what I need to express, and simply stand in front of you for 15 minutes.

I could eat fruit on stage.

I could throw tomatoes at you.

I could sleep for 15 minutes.

I could strip naked, and masturbate in front of you while drinking a diet coke.

I could say and do nothing.

I could say and do everything.

Or, I could say and do some things.

I could waste 15 minutes with a list of 4,342 things that I could conceivably do with fifteen minutes of your time.

 

I could list the tragic loss of non-white lives in this country, dating back to the first Europeans to purge Native American people, and the first slaves kidnapped from the continent of Africa.

I could tell you how tired I am of white, male privilege. How much it angers me.

How much it saddens me.

I could tell you how much.

 

I could tell you about the things I love.

I could tell you about how much I love music.

I could tell you why I love music.

I could tell you about my family.

I could tell you about my friends.

I could tell you these things. I could give to you these things. These things I could create for you.

 

[turn page]

 

All of these performative ideas–whether musical or not–are essentially diversions, artistic and sometimes artful refusals to engage in the literal, in the exact. It floats in the clouds of ideas, rather than the Earth of immutability. My ideas are more playful than they are courageous, more riddled than they are solvent, they don’t lay upon the ground, they float above it.

 

I grapple with this often. I feel worried at times that I won’t land upon the ground in time. Or at all. I’m afraid that I won’t portray my life as an artist clearly enough amidst my cloudy thoughts. I’m afraid of having said too much while saying too little. I feel afraid the way a kite without a string must feel afraid. I feel afraid the way a swing without a seat must feel afraid. I feel afraid the way a bee with too many wings must feel afraid. Or too many stingers. Or too many hives.

 

I am very smart. I am very brave. I am very loyal.

This is the first time I’ve ever spoken those words in my life to another human being. Others have spoken them for me, but I have never before produced them with my own mouth.

 

I am a musician. I am an artist. I am a writer. I am a performer. I am a composer.

 

These are all things I mean to say, and know how to say. I am very smart. I am very brave. I am very loyal. I am a musician. I am an artist. I am a writer. I am a performer. I am a composer. You see? I’m trying to ground myself. I’m trying to be exact. I’m trying to be the string to that kite, the seat to that swing, the one-wing-less, the one-stinger-less, the one-hive-less to that bee.

 

To be in the world is to be many things: complicated, angry, personal, passionate, cruel, sweet, murky, radiant, fast, slow, easy, telling, spacious, patient, and beautiful.

 

I’ve spent  all of our time thus far floating about.

I would love to share a neatly packaged story that makes you like me, relate to me, connect with me, so that you can go home and say to your spouse, friend, cat, dog or journal, “hey, that guy’s not half bad.”

 

But that neatly packaged story that makes you like me does not exist. I wish it did.

It feels wrong (perhaps impossible) to bring me down to your earth.

 

I’m a kite that doesn’t reach the ground; I’m a swing that doesn’t reach the ground.

No matter which way I hang, no matter which way I swing, I do not reach the ground.

But I do reach the ground sometimes, just not for you, right now. When I’m on the ground, I’m a broken swing, a useless kite, a bee with clipped wings, a bee with a lost his stinger. You don’t want to see that side of me.

 

I’d like to think of music as in-the-air. Sound travels out of our instruments, through the air, and into our ears. I’m sort of preoccupied with the through-the-air part of the experience, the voyage rather than the origin or aim.

 

This has become a long speech.

[pause]

I turn the page [turn page]

 

As a day passes. I think of leaves when I think of pages — in many languages, a piece of paper and a leaf from a tree are the same word. Feuille in French. Foglio or foglia in Italian. Hoja in Spanish…

 

When I was a little kid, I told a story to my dad that if I was a leaf, my dad would catch me before I hit the ground in the Fall, take me inside and keep me warm and give me water during the Winter, and in the Spring, glue my leaf body right back onto the tree again. My dad asked me what would happen when he dies, and I told him then I would die too, and that would be okay, because then we can die together.

 

To this day I’ve kept the superstition that you can’t take a leaf from a tree unless you catch it in the air as it falls from the tree. Perhaps this is what t.s. eliot saw in the leaf. There is a rare, tragic, lovely beauty in a falling leaf.

 

But I don’t mean to get too tragic here, with you here and all. A falling leaf can be caught. A fallen leaf can become ground cover and fertilizer for future plants, a fallen leaf can be what you use to wipe dogshit off the bottom of your nice shoes. Think about it.

 

Now, to talk a bit about music.

I particularly like the mid-to-high register–the top part of the alto register, through the meat of the soprano register. When Norwegian composer Kristin Bolstad asked me to “think of the most beautiful sound you know of” and ” transfer this sound from your mind to your body, and to your instrument”, I came up with two notes: C5 and E5. I think my particular love of Nina Simone’s version of Little Girl Blue is because of the simple melody she uses, introduced in the heart of this register I love.

[play melody]

The melody is in Ab major.

I have a special love for Ab major. I have a special love for the feel of Ab major at the piano. The first big, serious piece I ever played was Beethoven’s Op. 110 in Ab major. I was also learning Liszt’s Liebestraume at the same time, so the comfort and warmth of Ab major really made an impression on me. The cozy comfort of consistency (the 2 groups of 2 black notes) softly imposed against the piano keyboard’s architectural inconsistency of 7 white notes to only 5 black. The G happily slides off the Ab and the C does the same from Db. The step from Bb to C is cautious yet distict, as is the Eb to F.

The relationships within Ab major are balanced, kind and smooth—all things I aspire to be and become for myself and acknowledge and celebrate in those around me.

 

My least favorite key is G major. I think it is a product of working on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I’m an obsessive person, but Bach finds a way to out-obsess obsession itself. Bach maintained a rare formula that rendered him incapable of burnout. Bach is probably my favorite musician and composer of all time.

 

My second favorite is not a person but rather an assortment of pieces:

 

Luciano Berio’s “Wasserklavier” from Six Encores

Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina”

Frederic Rzewski’s De Profundis, for narrating pianist

Johannes Brahms’s Haydn Variations for orchestra

Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies, for solo piano

Nina Simone’s version of Little Girl Blue

Robert Schumann’s “Wehmut” from Liederkreis, Op. 39

Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet

 

But they are all just words and names…Music doesn’t exist in the naming of things. Music is a symbol behind the eyes and under the ears of the heard naming of a thing. With words alone I am simply naming things—it is you who must symbolize the music.

 

Symbols are powerful objects.

Objects are powerful symbols.

Symbols are objects,

Objects are symbols.

A kite with no string is an object and symbol

A bee, with 3 wings,

A swing, with no seat,

These are objects and symbols.

(But symbols are not that important. What is truly important are subjects and people.)

Objects and symbols are what we deal with in words – subjects and people are what we deal with in real life.

 

Is the rope to a swing what a string is to a kite?

Or are they opposites?

[pause]

Is a bee with 3 wings and two stingers more reckless than one with 2 wings and one stinger?

 

[pause]

 

One of my favorite pieces of music ever written is Erik Satie’s “La Balancoire” (The Swing) from Sports et Divertissements. The words in the score read:

C’est mon coeur qui se balance ainsi, It is my heart that swings

Il n’a pas le vertige, It does not have vertigo

Comme il a des petits pieds, What small feet it has

Voudra-t-il revenir dans ma poitrine? Will it want to return to my chest?

It is my heart that swings

It does not have vertigo

What small feet it has

Will it want to return to my chest?

 

A swing needs a rope to float

A kite needs a string to fly

A bee, and all things in the air, still must land sometime.

 

Floating is part of my identity

But I need the Earth and all of you on it, in order to float.

 

My fifteen minutes could have been spent

explaining

explaining

explaining

promoting

promoting

promoting

performing

performing

performing.

 

But instead I floated around. I floated around, all around. Because I need this. I need this for me.

I need to float.

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How Art and Economy Intersect (notes for an essay)

This short entry comes from overflow notes from an essay I wrote for FOCI Arts in November.

I am an artist, through economic use-value in society. I am a performer, composer, writer, accompanist, teacher, discussion moderator, engraver, and perhaps others that I am forgetting. It is in all of these ways that my musical commodity is rendered economically useful, through exchange with others for their commodities.

As an artist, I feel a tinge of embarrassment when defining myself through “use-value.” And when thinking of economy, I have a tinge of embarrassment in having emotion, generally. These embarrassments are due to shortcomings in these two different ways of viewing life–mutually shared shortcomings that compromise their ability to meet. One shortcoming of the pure field of economics is that it does not value creativity in its analytical processes; One shortcoming of art is that it ignores the commodification of itself, and fails to learn from it. Perhaps a dialogic equilibrium can be achieved between artists and economists here in a transaction that benefits both equally.[1] Where artists fall short, economists can pick up slack, and vice versa. Cherry-picking thoughts from both art and economy, I will attempt to manufacture a dialogue between the two fields of study that is mutually beneficial.

Economics is a massive field of study that studies relationships of people and the objects between them, and the very meaning of value and worth. Art, surprisingly, strives to do the same. The only difference is approach: Economics takes a cultured reading–the further cultured the better–of the human experience, while art strives to be comparatively un-cultured, pure, direct, visceral.[2] Economics acts to define relationships between people and things, while art, explores the undefined, and sometimes even actively un-defines the previously defined. Economics makes definitions while art reacts to definitions. In this sense, economics is a more innovative field than art.

Despite direct commonalities and a constellation of complementary differences, economics and art still suffer from an uneven relationship, and as a result, hold some antipathy towards one another. This is because art is subjected to economic influence. Economy flexes its muscles in order assert its domination over art, through a highly criticized Wells Fargo ad and a highly criticized Old Navy T-Shirt design. Equally, artists fight back constantly to this prejudicial treatment, through such anti-currency statements such as “all money is dirty” (Nikki Giovanni, from Gemini) and “money is stupid and cowardly.” (Werner Herzog) Violence begets violence.

Perhaps a truce needs to be struck, in order to be mutually productive. Neither art nor economy, as we know it, can exist without society, so perhaps society itself can act as a common denominator. Perhaps the final recommendation is for both art and economy to be more socially engaged.

[2] I am thinking of Smith’s definition of “equilibrium.”
[1] I am thinking of Veblen’s use of the word “savage.”

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016 10:40 PM

So. I was just at the rally in downtown Chicago. I went out of a desire to better understand, which is simply put, how and why I end up going to any rally, even ones for causes I walk into supporting.

So. This one was definitely, so so. I was there 2 hours late, arriving at 7 for a 5PM start time. But for the hour I was there, I witnessed a sea of mostly young, mostly white people.

I went because the social media invite I had was structured around race, specifically, a rejection of racism promulgated by Donald Trump. I am firmly in support of anti-racism, and had never really supported Donald Trump’s campaign, so I thought, “Okay, this might be for me.”

What I witnessed was stupid and empty. There was nothing particularly productive or informative about anti-racism, and in particular, how this struggle can manifest under Donald Trump’s future presidency.

Then, I went to talk to a police officer. I asked her how long she’d been out here, if the protest location has moved over the course of the night, whether or not they had a permit to be there, and who the organizing parties were. Really, just basic-ass questions.

She told me that there were no permits for this event, and there was no clear organizer other than just “social media in general.” She also mentioned, either intentionally or accidentally to garner some sympathy, how the whole police force had been working double shifts for the past few weeks for the Cubs World Series events.

I believed every word she said.

I get that it’s frustrating when things don’t go your way, people. But this is a democratic society. If you are an intelligent human being, fully functioning as an adult in a democratic society, it is your essential responsibility to understand how and why a democratic election in your country became won, either by the movement you supported or another. Then, after that, it is your secondary responsibility to apply yourself in a politically productive way, to whatever you support.

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To remember, to imagine, and to stop believing

EDIT: This text has since been published at Riksha Magazine, under the title “Remember Heritage, Imagine Identity, and Stop Believing.” Here is a link to that piece.

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Axioms redefined

I borrowed popular sayings for the first half of each sentence—the second halves are new thoughts that enrich the preceding dictum that we often take for granted.

It takes money to make money—but it also takes no money to not think about it.

There are no shortcuts to the finish line—unless you started at the finish line.

To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…—…is to assume they have shoes at all.

Go for the gusto—before the gusto gets you.

You can’t teach an old dog a new trick—unless that old dog is young.

What goes up must come down—what goes down must come up.

Don’t judge a book by its cover—don’t judge a book.

There’s no business like show business—and nobody should business themselves in it.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush—better still is three in the bush.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—unless there is a way to discover brokenness through the act of fixing.

It’s all uphill from here—it’s all downhill from here.

It’s all downhill from here—it’s all uphill from here.

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life—if the man is hungry, don’t teach him how to fish; give the hungry man food so that he has the time, energy and resources to learn how to fish.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—yes it is.

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Eleven Months – Violence

When I was younger, I remember writing in my journal, that I would not like to participate in any organized sports henceforth. The reason was that sports mimicked war, and as a pacifist, I could no longer support such an activity.

Then, I found sports again, in the form of the most brutal, overtly violent sport on the planet, boxing. Tracking the when, the where and the why I found passion for boxing, I point to the following interview with Angela Davis.

To suggest that there is an option between violence and non-violence in a racialized United States of America is to suggest that an animal can fly without wings. (Just to be clear, no animal can. Without wings, the best you can do is glide). Davis articulates this beautifully to the northern European interviewer.

My self-imposed pacifism as a privileged half-White man was a reflection of my naïve understanding of violence in this country. By the time of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement of our times, that White myth of pacifism has been thoroughly debunked: Our society experienced violent injustice regularly, and so no revolutionary change can exist with the complete absence of violence. Violence is not encouraged, yet is cannot be denied.

Violence is not encouraged, yet it cannot be denied. Which brings us back to sports, in particular, boxing. Boxing cannot  be denied, and the astounding talent and passion and skill that creates champions in the sport also cannot be denied.

I read an astounding book quite recently. It is called Embodying Black Experience: Stillness, Critical Memory and the Black Body, by Harvey Young. One section of the book brings Muhammad Ali into focus in a very powerful way, through the lens of performance studies. As I work on an essay about John Cage, Muhammad Ali, and Stillness/Silence as a transgression, I realize more and more what a profound artist Ali was. I also have understood more profoundly John Cage’s historical context in the U.S., and the country’s replete history of intolerance and persecution of minorities of any ilk. This book helped me understand the black side of things, at least a little better.

So here I am, as a purebred competitive athlete, turned pacifist artist, (re-)turned lover of sport. And here we also have a thing called violence. Violence is the spectre of sport. The Greeks invented our western understanding of sport as a means to train its citizens for war. War existed as a means to violence, and sport existed as a means to violence. The common goal was bloodshed.

But for the oppressed, violence was to the environment what oxygen is to water. The vitality of simply living, at all, breathes into the chemical compound, one for every two.

Elements aside, I would like to conclude with something less basic, more complex. My deeper understanding of violence has reawakened my love for sport. My love for sport, which perhaps initially converted me into an artist, also now profoundly sways my artistic practice. Taking violence out of an artist is like taking the wings out of a flying creature—it’s just not going to happen.

Let us alight, that essential airborne paradise.

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