Saturday, November 29, 2008

Quaint Questions 11/30/08

Nothing can be pleasing which is not also becoming.


What has become of me? What have I become? What am I becoming? These are hard questions to consider as I duck the stones that life keeps throwing at me.

Someone once asked John Wayne what he thought of himself and he replied "I try not to." It's very difficult. We are reminded of ourselves every waking minute. And we have to take ourselves under consideration when we are about to make any personal choices. But then we have to ask ourselves, who is this self with whom I am consulting?

Jean Paul Sartre wrote "We only become what we are by radical and deep-seeded refusal of that which others have made of us." But maybe that goes for what we think we have made of ourselves. I refuse to accept myself as the bumbling lout I have convinced myself that I am, just as I refuse to accept myself as the irresponsible villain that others have tried to make of me.

I have been stung by my own ignorance therefore I have become wiser. I have been stuck with my own lies hence I have become more honest. I have witnessed cruelty and so I have become more humane. I have shamed myself by my harsh criticism of those who were wrong therefore I have become more understanding. I have in the past been unconcerned about the suffering of those around me and now I have become more compassionate.

I strongly urge my friends to reject, refuse and deny the two dimensional puppets that others may try to make of you and with the same vigor refute the foolish fictions you have made up about yourselves.

The road to self-discovery is a fascinating journey. Every time I think I know what I am, I became something else or something more. That's what makes life so comical and so frustratingly interesting.


Principle Point 11/29/08

Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.

Boris Pasternak

I used to say that I was waiting for my life to start. I said that because I always had my eye on something bigger, different, something more, and I felt that everything I was doing was just a step to get me there. Some steps were better than others and a few of them were steps back. Meanwhile I was basically ignoring the importance to me of where I was and what I was doing. I thought there must be more to it and I was missing it somehow and that therefore I needed to arrange my life to experience more. John Lennon once said "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

So at about the age of 50 I began to wake up and realize that I was living my life, that the life I was living was in fact my life. That's when I could say "Don't wonder what your next step in life is, it's the one right in front of you."

This mistake of preparing to live is an insidious trick we play on ourselves to get us to stop concentrating on and hence stop appreciating the life we have. The happiest people are those who have not packed their lives away in a time capsule to be opened at some future date, those who have settled with the past and let it gather dust in some forgotten attic and who know how to "seize the day" as Horace wrote.

I am more alive today than I am at any future day. And if I remain alive to each day as it comes I will be as much alive on any future day as I am now. That's life, and that's the best kind of preparation there is.

DB Vagabond Journeys

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ocular Offering 11/28/08

There is no more difficult art to acquire than the art of observation.

William Osler

A good actor will tell you that one of the most important activities on the stage is listening. Parallel to that is observing. It is important to pay careful attention to everything that is going on in order to be completely involved in the character and the play. There are exercises and tests in the various arts to improve one's ability to observe.

When I was learning how to draw, my teacher would sometimes work us to distraction with his fiendish observation exercise. He would have the model take a pose and hold it for one minute, then relax, and we had to draw the pose from memory. I finally began to do it by observing, not the details of the arm, but in what direction the arm was going. From shoulder to elbow it is pointing to the edge of the model stand, the forearm is pointing toward the window and if the fingers are spread out, each one has a specific part of the room they are pointing to. It sounds dreadfully complicated but it isn't if you develop a good sense of observation.

Observation comes in two similar forms, or results. One is description and the other is reconstruction. In a classroom of acting students there are exercises for both.

The student looks at a photograph or a painting for one minute. Then the picture is removed and the student has to describe it: the subjects, where they are placed, the dimensions of each compared to the others and the colors employed. I thought I was fairly good at observing things until the first few times I tried this test.

Reconstruction exercises can be even more difficult. The student looks at a table top with a bunch of objects on it, Then the actor turns his back and the objects are rearranged or removed. The actor turns around and has to put the objects back in their original positions. This exercise is also done by having other actors sitting in a row, in various poses. After a minute the student turns his back. The actors then rearrange themselves and change their poses. Then the student has to put them back the way they were. If the actor has his feet crossed it isn't enough to say "cross your feet." If he originally had the left one over the right one and then changed them, that's something the student has to notice.

A good, well trained actor can walk into a restaurant, take a seat and tell you, if you ask him, how many tables are behind him, how many people are sitting at them and where they are.

I was doing a show in Virginia and on the day of the technical rehearsal, which comes the day before dress rehearsal, which comes the day before opening night. the scenery was finally in place. It was a complicated set with doors and stairs. I walked all over that set looking at everything. Some people thought I was crazy and wasting my time. At another theatre in Virginia I was in a show with a complicate set and the director asked us to walk all over it and set aside rehearsal time for us to do it. In both cases I had a firm knowledge of the environment of that play.

What if you were suddenly called upon as an eye witness of an event? How well could you describe it?


Thursday, November 27, 2008

A good laugh

Ima Lafalot

Some people don't seem to understand my sense of humor. I love the absurdities and ironies of life.

Fortunately I wasn't planning to entertain any guests this Thanksgiving Day. My stove and oven don't work. This being a holiday weekend, they probably won't be fixed until Monday. So I went out and bought food I didn't have to cook. Cans. Cans of vegetables, cans of beans, cans of tuna. That sort of thing.

Last night I thought I would have a bowl of beans for dinner. While opening the can, my faithful, dependable can opener, which has served me well of 25 years, at least, broke.

Now if you think I'm moaning and grieving and telling a tale of woe, you're wrong. I'm laughing. What could be sillier than a man with a shelf full of cans and no can opener on Thanksgiving Day. If you don't think that's funny you've got no sense of humor. DB

Nice Notice - 11/27/08

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.


It's Thanksgiving day
In the USA.
The wood is stacked,
The livestock shacked,
The harvest stored
Thank the Lord.
The family is here,
A time for cheer.
Tra la la.

To spend a holiday alone, particularly on a cold gray day, can be a slightly scary thing. But it does give me a chance to quietly think about the things I am grateful for.

As I slowly approach my 70th birthday I am thankful that I am still alive.

I'm thankful for having had the opportunity to spend my life in the arts, which has given me a constantly changing perspective on the scenery of life.

I am thankful for the great composers, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and others who have given me the unending blessing of their music.

I am thankful for the great writers, Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoyevsky, Sandburg and others who have given me such great literature to accompany me on my journey.

I am thankful for the great artists, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and others who have inspired me with their paintings over the years.

I am thankful for the great philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Nietzsche and others who have challenged my thinking and kept me alert.

I am thankful for my few but fascinating friends around the country who are people to remember and think about every day.

I am thankful for my great, interesting, loving journal buddies in Google Land. none of whom I have ever met.

May you all have a rich, blessed and happy day.

DB - Vagabond

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Managed Morality 11/26/08

It is great to be able to ask myself, what do I really like, and not what am I told I should like.

Elle Macpherson

Isn't it odd how we grow up with a set of likes, dislikes, behavior traits, opinions and perceptions of reality and what the world is, only to have to realize that most of it was simply given to us to accept without question and we, in fact, may have a different set that is wholly our very own. If by good fortune your parents, teachers and any other influncers of your life were consistent in their morals and minds, you have a fairly clear ethic to live by.. But what if you find out it isn't your ethic? What if you realize that the way you think is just a reflection of the way you have been told you should think? What do you do?

Some young folks become rebellious and throw out the family values with the bath water. Others begin the long, treacherous journey to understand themselves.

I was a thinking kid. (I grew up to be a thinking actor, the bane of many directors, particularly the less than brilliant ones.) As a thinking kid I had to process certain thoughts that were handed to me by my family. For one thing there was often a negative suffix added to observations about me, as in "You don't like squash? What's the matter with you?" Which taught me that there was something the matter with me and I didn't know what it was. Then there was "You have got to learn how to make something out of yourself." That meant that I wasn't anything and I didn't know how to become anything. And then there was the blue ribbon, solid gold, Oscar winner, "Well, I hope something comes along some day, hits you in the head and knocks some sense into you." That one told me I had no sense and I'd better watch out because something might hit me in the head any day. That last remark continued for about 35 years during which time life had already hit me in the head plenty of times, thank you.

Out of all that experience came that wonderful but slightly scary moment when something inside me said "Wait a minute! There's nothing the matter with me. If I don't like squash I don't have to like it. Period. If I don't behave the way you want me to, I don't have to. I behave the way I want to and I know why. And I don't need anything else to hit me in the head, I have enough sense already." In other words, out of the confusing mish mash of other people's opinions I was developing my own ethic. It wasn't great and it needed development and adaptations, but it was MINE.

It is a difficult problem to separate what you really think from what you still carry around from the influence of others. It's easy if you know, for certain, that you disagree. It gets harder when you finally realize that Mom was right. Maybe she wasn't right about everything, but there are a few that you know are true and you can go ahead and accept them as your own thinking,without having to accept the squash.

DB - The Vagabond

Monday, November 24, 2008

Legal Lunacy 11/25/08

Part of being sane, is being a little bit crazy.

Janet Long

And so I went "a little bit crazy" this afternoon and wrote Bleak and Barren. I'm glad I got it off my mind. Any musician will tell you that every now and then you have to clean the spittle out of the horn.

I'm too old to go disco dancing. Oh no, don't say that, I am. Besides I never liked disco dancing that much anyway. I think I'm more of the minuette type. But I know a guy, Yale graduate, PhD, successful, who just loves to go to the disco. hear the ear splitting music and gyrate his middle age body into a frenzy. He considers it a work of art.

That's okay. We all have our ways of going mad. As Mick Jagger once said "It's OK to let yourself go as long as you can get yourself back." The day I can't get myself back is the day I will check myself in to the special care unit.

Some people think I'm crazy now. "He was an actor. He listens to classical music. He's a freak." I don't care. Here I am ,with my head in the clouds, feet planted firmly in the slush, staring at rainbows.

I give you, gratis, my philosophy of life, culled from poetical Asians, mystical Europeans, practical Africans, empirical Latins, homey Americans and a lifetime experience on the stage, because I want to. And there's nothing crazy about that.

I really am Napoleon, you know.

DB - Vagabond Jouneys

Kinetic Knack 11/24/08

Life is a great big canvas, throw all the paint on it you can.

Danny Kaye

About 20 years ago a friend decided to make a master resume of my professional life. I still have it. It is many pages long because I did so many different things. I went to kitchens, gardens, stages, studios, pools, band shells, offices, lecture halls, class rooms, street corners, prisons, auditoriums, orchestra pits, ball rooms, church basements, book stores, bell towers, subway stations, senior centers, insane asylums, playgrounds, press rooms and others: the twisting trail of a vagabond trying to make a buck. My paint box was very complex.

The artist Robert Motherwell created many interesting paintings for many years using only black on white. And I have seen other artists create amazing, magical things with nothing but a piece of paper and a pencil. It just goes to prove the old rusty adage that says it doesn't matter what you use it's what you do with it that counts.

Life is an opportunity as well as everything else it is. Or rather, it's a vast, inexhaustible string of opportunities to do amazing things. But those things require vigor and enthusiasm no matter what's in your paint box. Notice that Kaye says "throw" not dab or fiddle. After the throw comes the time to shape, form and carefully arrange

I think the secret is love. If you love what you're doing you will throw it at the canvas, at life. Most of all I was a performer. That's what I loved, and whether it was music, broadcasting or theatre I would do it anytime, anywhere, even on a street corner or in a band shell. And I always knew when I was with my kind of people because when they weren't on stage they were standing in the wings watching the show.

DB - The Vagabond

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joyful Journey 11/23/08

Let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before.

Samuel Johnson

Whenever she came across something new, whether she liked it or not, my grandmother would declare with a loud voice "Well, now I've seen everything." As if there was nothing left in the world to experience, she would make that definitive judgement. But she said it so often that we knew she still had "everything" to see. And so did she. She never stopped looking into things, no doubt to discover something she hadn't seen.

One thing she knew, that I didn't at the time, was how easy it is for us to take the new things for granted. We know we are probably going to see something tomorrow which we have never seen before but we have an automatic "so what" attitude about it. If we stop to observe and consider it, it merely slows us down on our rush to get somewhere else where we may not see anything new, or anything at all.

It has been said that it is not good to allow oneself to be distracted from one's purpose by dallying with things that don't concern one. My answer to that is that I live in the world among human beings and therefore the world and humans are my concern. As Jacob Marley says in Dickens; Christmas Carol "Mankind was my business."

I once heard a homily from a priest who advised his congregation to meddle in other people's lives when they felt they should. I disagree with that. Mind your own business is a tried and true moral with teeth. But being a careful observer of the human scene and putting a hand in to help when help is obviously needed should be an obligation, like the New Yorker who jumped onto the subway tracks to keep a fallen man from being run over by the train, or the injured Greek athlete who dove into the sea to save men from a sinking car. But bustling around unasked in other people's affairs deserves a good slap on the mouth.

Somewhere in my files is a quote from some wise one who says that the purpose of every object is to be observed. Lessons can be learned form everything we come across in life if we are willing to take the time to consider them.

Sometimes the new thing we come to see and consider is right in front of us. I talked with a violinist one day who said that even if you have played the same Beethoven quartet 200 times there is still something to be discovered in it. I found that to be true as an actor. A great play has discoveries to be made no matter how well you know it or how good you are at playing it.

If you go to work tomorrow, or even if you don't, why not look for something you've never seen before? I will also. But i won't say "Well, now I've seen everything," because I will know I haven't, and that's a joyful thing.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indesctructible Inspiration 11/22/08

Of all of our possessions, wisdom alone is immortal.


Well my monitor problem has been graciously solved I'm happy to say. But now there is no heat in my apartment and the range and oven have completely stopped working. There's always something. But then, if there weren't, there'd be nothing.

I have written in this journal about those who mistake the messenger for the message. Who think the actor must be like the character he plays. Who look at results and call them causes. Who make assumptions and then act on them as if they were truths.

People with wealth often want to be remembered by endowing an organization, building a wing on a hospital, setting up a scholarship or erecting a tall building all with their names on them,so that they will be remembered. Portraits are painted, statues carved, biographies and autobiographies are written. And all of it is to point a finger of immortality at a mortal.

But, like the person who loves the actor because he loves the character he plays, it's a useless look in the wrong direction.

When I was in high school I was a runner and I would run relay races. Like the Pony Express, where the riders would change horses at certain places by literally jumping off one horse and onto a fresh one, in a relay race the baton is passed from one runner to another. The classic reason for the relay race was to deliver a document over a space of many miles by passing it from one runner to another. The third runner in that message delivery never met the first one, yet he benefited from that first runner's speed.

It seems to me that wisdom comes in three styles. There's the wisdom that knows why things are the way they are, the wisdom that knows how to create and make things and the wisdom that knows how to fix things and keep them running properly (like my stove, one of these day, hopefully, so I can bake my potato and won't have to make my morning coffee from hot tap water).

But does the portrait of Bach, the statue of Balzac or the newly reconstructed face of Galileo tell us anything about what those men knew? No more than the endowment, the chair in Economics at the local college or the new wing on the hospital tell us about what the rich people knew who put them there.

We have inherited wisdom from the thinkers, the scientists, the artists, the designers, the craftsmen, the engineers, the mechanics and the peasants of the past. And whether it comes into the hands of the wealthy, the geniuses or the ordinary everyday vagabonds like me, we shape it, hone it, polish it, color it, add to it and pass it to the next runner to carry on into the human race, and that is our true spiritual immortality.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Friday, November 21, 2008

Healthy Handling 11/21/08

The art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of energy in our great men.

Captain J. A. Hadfield

If you want to be a worrier there a great many things to worry about If you don't have enough write me, I'll send you a list.

Indeed, worrying, fretting, fearing are some of the most energy wasting things the poor human can do who is afflicted by them. To be sure there is a time to worry. But as Tom Ainsley, the horseplayer, says "The time to worry is before you place the bet, not after." Worrying about things over which you have no control is a foolish activity.

Things can go wrong. So what? Worry won't prevent them from happening. But, "the thing I greatly feared has come upon me." We can manufacture trouble for ourselves by fretting and fearing, because if and when it does occur we won't be in the right frame of mind to deal with it.

My mother was a prime worrier. If my brother wasn't home when he was expected, she would immediately start pacing the floor and saying that she knew something terrible must have happened to him. When he finally did arrive, maybe 15 minutes later she would start scolding him for making her worry. If one pointed out to her that she made herself worry, she wouldn't understand it.

If he was going to be very late he would always call, and when the phone rang she would pick it up with a feeling of dread.

Watching her suffer so much from this malady, I tried to grow up as a non-worrier. I don't pass myself off as a "great" man but I can certainly understand what Capt. Hadfield is talking about. It isn't what happens, it's how you deal with it that matters. And you have to be in a calm, restful frame of mind to deal.

As an actor I learned, thanks to my teacher, to be relaxed on the stage. I was at home there. One evening trouble occurred during a performance. There were two similar scenes in the play, one in the first act and one in the second. And, you guessed it, we accidentally skipped into the wrong act. One by one panic began to appear on the faces of the other actors as they gradually realized it. I saw and heard what was happening and was able to make up a short speech that returned us to the proper cue to resume the right scene. It wasn't a brilliant, purple prose speech but it did the job.

There's an event the jazz pianist Herbie Hancock tells about Miles Davis. They were playing a set together and Hancock accidentally played a chord which had nothing to do with the piece or the key they were in. Davis calmly played notes around it that brought it into the piece.

The restful mind is the best.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My monitor - part 2

My faulty monitor problem has been solved. Thank you.

Gacious Gaffs 11/20/08

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.


Alas, with senior citizenship come regrets. In youth all of our errors we tend to take little notice of, quickly forgive ourselves for and pass them over for the next adventure But they turn out to have done nothing more than stack up under the proverbial carpet. Then comes the house cleaning time when we lift up the carpet and have to clean up the mess.

Isn't it a shame that we can't go back and undo all the dumb things we did? Why weren't we perfect at the time? Why did I forget to do this, failed to do that and did the other thing wrong? Maybe I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.

The fact is that there has never been a human who didn't make mistakes. How do they get by without taking a hatchet to their heads?

"To err is human, to forgive, divine," goes the old saying. Sure, we have to learn to forgive those who have done us wrong, either intentionally or by accident. That's a divine thing to do. But what about forgiving ourselves?

Some of my past mistakes still haunt me, and they will attack me unexpectedly, like mosquitos. I mentally dig a hole and bury them and some of them stay buried, some don't. Others are too big to bury. What to do, what to do?!

Gandhi is telling us that we have the freedom to make mistakes. Well, it seems to me that if we have the freedom to do that then we also have the right and freedom to forgive ourselves for those mistakes. Most of us don't exercise that right often enough. And so we live with the memory of errors that should have been discarded into the trash heap and left to rot somewhere long ago.

You will be surprised at what other people think of you when you realize how often they don't. So when the next regret pops into your head, look it right in the eye and say "I forgive you."


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My monitor

My sweet monitor took 2 hours to turn on this evening. I can't afford to replace her, even with an inexpensive model. If, one of these days, she dies, I will be off line for as long as it takes. I hope it doesn't happen for Brian's sake. But if it does, you all take care of each other. D

Frivolous Findings - If you're a drama critic don't read this

The artist doesn't have time to listen to critics.

William Faulkner

One of the worst reviews I ever got said "As an actor D__ B__ continues to disappoint me." A week after it was published I found out that the critic was only 18 years old. Obviously, I had been disappointing him for a long time.

Some wise man once remarked that no one ever constructed a statue to a critic. The problem with drama critics is that they rarely know what they are seeing and hearing. They will praise a poorly written play without realizing that it was saved by the actors. or praise an actor for a great script. They will find fault with the director when it's the actors' fault. And so on.

Unfortunately they seem to have a lot of power. People will read a review and go see something because the critic said it was good, only to be disappointed. Or, what's even worse, stay away from a great show because the critic didn't like it. That is tragically true in New York City. Critics for the New York Times have praised a play or musical that was really not worth much and, as a result, kept it running and it eventually found it's way into regional theatres and maybe even a movie. But they have also destroyed a perfectly good play.

I heard one of them in conversation one day describing his job, He said that he had no responsibility to the American theatre or even to his readers. His only responsibility was to his editor.

In community theatre one playa for the audience, in regional theatre one plays for the producers, in New York theatre one plays for the critics. It's a sad fact.

But no one should pay any attention to them. I used to know a woman who directed a play and got a bad review from a New York paper. So she went back into rehearsal. Then she invited the critic to come back and review it again. She got an even worse review the second time and closed the show.

I have seen other productions come to New York from out of town where they had some success and get into a rage because they were castigated by the ignorant NY critics.

I received a review once which said that I "bellowed" my way through the role. My first impulse was to let it pass. But just for the critic's information I copied every place in the script where it said to "bellow" or "in a bellowing manner" or "with a laud voice," and sent them to her with a copy of her review.

Another time I received a great review from a critic who didn't read the program carefully. She got the name of the role correctly but used a different actor's name. He was very upset about it, but I said to take the review and run with it. He had been given a gift by a numb skull critic. Take advantage of it.

So are there any good drama critics? Of course there are. They are in the minority, but they're there.

One of the best and most famous was Elliot Norton in Boston. He used to say that his job was to be a reporter, to report on what he saw. But he went further than that and made positive suggestions to the writers and directors. Since many of the shows he reviewed, "reported" on, were out of town openings, headed for Broadway, he helped to protect them from the New York critics' sabers.

Norton never got to review me, alas.

The Vagabond

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eveyone Enjoy! 11/18/08

It is a happy talent to know how to play.


It's Holiday Hopping Time

For y'all in the South it's "Ho hum, another Winter." But for us'ns in the North, Winter is a challenge. And the way we get through is by making a big deal out of every chance we get to kick up and have some fun.

Halloween is over, with it's ghosts and fairies, the Walpurgisnacht for kids. That was fun. Now comes Thanksgiving, the turkey's dreaded day, but a smash hit for humans ever since the pilgrims.

Now there's a long stretch of time during which Winter begins, as if we didn't know already. Nothing to do now but go out with red noses and do our holiday shopping, if we have any money left. Sit on Santa's lap and ask him if he could take care of our debts.

Then the big one hits: Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and whatever else folks can find to celebrate. Much congregating in churches and otherwise. Much getting together with people you may, in fact, like but only see once a year. Much unwrapping of gifts and throwing away of wrapping paper. Much eating of food, some of it no good for you. Much standing under the mistletoe. For my Canadian friends there's a Boxing Day in there somewhere (watch out for that left jab).

Now somehow we've go to make it to New Years Eve when we either drink too much or we go to Times Square (not recommended) or both, or we spend a quiet evening at home and hope for a better year.

Now comes the hard one. It's cold. The only things we get to celebrate are snow, ice, freezing rain, slippery side walks and icy streets. If you're lucky enough to go skiing, that's fun. But don't kid yourself. It's still cold.

When we finally reach into February, the dead of Winter, those of us in Pennsylvania can go and watch Punxutawney Phil come out of the ground, look around, see all the gawkers taking his picture and dive back down into his hole.

My Chinese friends get a New Years celebration next. Out come the dragons and the fire crackers. They help brighten up the drear.

Then we get to Hallmark's Day. Sorry, I mean Valentine's Day. You didn't know you had so many sweet hearts, did you? Or so few? Never mind, if you're Irish, you get another chance.

So now we inch along to Washington's Birthday where every thing goes on sale and everyone goes mad. Stay out of Macy's basement if you know what's good for you.

I get to have a birthday somewhere in this mix of holidays and celebrations. And though I'm hitting the big seven oh, I have no close friends or family around me, so who cares? I'll have a beer and congratulate myself.

Speaking of beer, I think it's one of Ireland's national beverages and one day a year it turns green. In New York there's a big parade up Fifth Avenue right past Saint Patrick's Cathedral and right into the bars. They've already been to church, those that go to church, and then it's time to "get acquainted." The Irish know how to have fun, "Kiss Me I'm Irish." It's better than the mistletoe.

Whoops! The calendar says it's Spring. You wanna bet?

May Day. Mom's Day. And before you know it it's hot, sweaty, scorching Summer again.

Happy hopping everyone.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Designated Dabbling 11/17/08

The smallest good deed is better than the greatest good intention.

Emmanuel Duguet

What is your next step in life? It's the one right in front of you.

I was living on the upper West Side in Manhattan. I was in rehearsal for a play on the upper East Side. The rehearsals began at 10 a.m. It was summer. On days when it wasn't raining I would walk to work across Central Park. I allowed myself plenty of time so that I didn't have to rush and could enjoy a leisurely stroll.

Every morning I would pass a woman, who was well but comfortably dressed and who carried a plastic bag. Every now and then she would bend over, pick up a piece of litter and put it in the bag.

Since we saw each other every morning we soon got to nodding and then greeting. One morning I stopped to chat with her. I noticed that she wasn't picking up all the litter, just some. now and then. I asked her about that and she explained that she was out for her morning walk in the park and not to clean it up, so she only dealt with the trash that was in front of her as she walked.

I have thought about that woman and her remark often over the years. It is a great life lesson. We can't change the world, but we can improve it, one step at a time.

Wherever we go in life we leave a trail behind us. Is it a clean one?

"Let there be peace in the world and let it begin with me."

Vagabond Journeys

Careful Calculation 11/16/08

Never was good work done without much trouble.

Chinese proverb

This is a Chinese version of Murphy's Law "If anything can go wrong. it will."

Too many people think expecting the worst and planning for it is dark and pessimistic. My mother was not known for having much wisdom, but one of the wisest things I ever heard was from her when she told me that when I was driving to always expect the other driver was going to do something foolish. That advice has saved me a lot of trouble and maybe even my life. If more people practiced that caution there would be a lot less road rage, I bet.

One of the most important work ever done in the history of the world was the establishment of the United States of America. From standing up to and defying our government, to finally beating them and throwing them out, was ablaze with troubles.

We didn't have the manpower to fight the well trained, well disciplined British Army. The money was not coming from the colonies to pay the troops or supply them properly. The politicians were all arguing with each other over what to do. Some of them wanted to stay in the British Empire. Others were putting their lives on the line to be independent. There were so many times we almost lost; so many times we almost gave up. There was nothing easy about it and no lack of trouble.

George Washington knew what serious trouble was first hand, starving troops, men dying of wounds, or abandoning him. And yet he went ahead and won. If he had lost he would probably have been taken back to London and died a traitor's death, being tortured to death in a public square.

Even after we won some of the conservative colonists wanted to make him king. And that would have put us right back where we started from. Fortunately Washington refused. He was a smart man.

We have our country today because he and others were willing to put up with the trouble and to get the job done. Thank you.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Basic Baloney 11/15/08

If you had to identify in one word the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

David Barry

I can't think of any thing more boring and more wasting of time than sitting in a committee meeting. They are usually sessions where people disagree with each other and so get nothing accomplished. Even if the meeting is well chaired and with a solid agenda it still ends up being a rag tag collection of opinions which are stacked up against the problem trying to be solved ad the meeting is adjourned until next time when compromises are made and no one is satisfied with the results.

You know the definition of a camel? A horse designed by a committee.

Now don't get me wrong, there are some excellent committees that provide great services to the world. But very often the same problems can be solved by a single individual working alone and taking a lot less time.

In the 16th Century there was a group of men in Florence, Italy, musicians, scholars and others who decided that the society was being corrupted by the popular music of the day (rock and roll?) no, polyphony, the singing of two or more melodic lines at the same time. So they joined together in a committee called The Camarata to try to reconstruct the music of ancient Greek drama. They knew that it was sung, but no one had any idea what it sounded like. Eventually they came up with a system of approaching musical composition, a sort of rule book. Composers rook it and tried to write works that would follow the rules and solve the problem, to moderate success.

Meanwhile, other composers were working on their own to bring about the kind of music that would appeal to the listeners of the day. One of those independent composers was a genius named Claudio Monteverdi (1567 - 1643). He went back to the ancient stories, had them rewritten and set all the words to music, inserting some songs and what he did was to invent the art form known today as opera.

There is some doubt about which was his first opera, but I believe it was Orfeo.
Monteverdi had many followers and has influenced opera composers through the years. Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner and Strauss, to name a few, are all indebted to Monteverdi. Some of his operas are still performed today, after all these years. Every major opera company has a Monteverdi opera in stock and they bring it out and performa it every now and then.

Monteverdi had no dealings with the Camarata.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Afternoon Adventure 11/14/08

You will become as small as your controlling desire,
or as great as your dominant aspiration.

James Allen

Somber sky, the patter of rain on the window off and on all day, miraculous imaginings, quiet longings, solitude.

I should have brushed the leaves from the front steps yesterday as I thought to do, but I was tired from the days walk. Maybe one of my housemates will do it on the next clear day. Not likely. One good thing about the rain is that the leaf blowers aren't out filling the neighborhood with their ugly noise.

I have no exoteric duties today. The apartment is cold, not enough heat comes up. I have to call the landlord. It can wait.

It's good to be in. I have books to read and music to hear. Right now it's a Mahler symphony. (Who's he?) I have enough food, plenty of coffee and cigarettes and the young woman in the computer who tells me when I have email, who always surprises me because I rarely get any. The phone is turned off because the only calls I get are from the credit card companies wanting their money, which they will all get eventually.

I do have duties. I have to work on my Brian story. I like to stay ahead. I think some of the readers have gotten bored with it lately. I don't get anywhere near the comments I used to get. Maybe they gave up and stopped reading it, which is too bad because it is about to get very frightening and they won't know why.

And I also have my thoughts. I learned how to deal with regrets. I just don't think about them. I think ahead. I think about my writing and my painting, and I plan for them. Amazing things can be done on a rainy afternoon.

I live a solitary life, no romance, no one to care for, no one to listen to and to tell that she doesn't look fat in that dress. I wouldn't mind a little romance, but I guess it isn't a necessity.

There are things missing from this afternoon. I wish I was a better man. I wish I was a better artist. I wish I could astonish myself.

I have no friends here to visit with and bounce ideas with. I know a few answers, but I know a lot more questions. My ideas bounce back at me like a rubber ball.

There is a desperately important need to mine the mentality of the universe. Every moment spent not doing that is discarded treasure.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zany Zone - 11/13/08

Try for a goal that's reasonable, then gradually raise it.

Emil Zatopek

I knew a kid in high school who was very smart. His family was poor but he was a good student with a particular interest in science. He was a shy kid, had no girl friend and most people thought he was, what would be called today, a nerd.

He was also no good at sports. But we all had to play sports because it was "good for us." He played basketball poorly and hated it. He was a bit better at baseball because he could hit the ball when no one else could. When we asked him about it he said it was a matter of mathematics, which we didn't understand.

But one year the school decided to include track and field events as part of it's athletic curriculum. So he ran, slowly. He jumped, clumsily. The shot was too heavy for him and he threw his arm out trying to fling the javelin. But one day, out of curiosity, he picked up the discus and tossed it. He decided he liked it and started practicing. The coach encouraged him.

The following year the school joined a league and we competed. He watched carefully at how the other boys threw it. Soon he kept winning because he continually threw it further than anyone else. When we asked him what the secret was he said it was a matter of physics, which we also didn't understand.

He explain it to me once. He said that when you throw the discus you pivot, as you do with the shot or the hammer. But he said he held his discus arm back behind him for as long as he could while he was pivoting, until the very last moment, so that when he threw it he had the force of the pivot, plus a whipping action with his arm.

I started using his system and did very well myself.

Well, he got a full scholarship to a Midwestern college as a discus thrower and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, naturally.

I've lost touch with him but I'll bet he's discovering new things, inventing better systems and, who knows, breaking records someplace.

Vagabond Journeys

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yesterday's Yield 11/12/08

To a historian there is never an end to the past.

A. B. Yehoshua

Historians are psychologists.

I am in awe of some of the discoveries that have gone on and are still going on as people uncover things from the past that nobody knew were there. Men dig up the ground to build a new tunnel for a subway and find an ancient village. A strange artifact is found in a remote desert area, archeologists arrive and dig around it finding the tomb of some forgetter potentate. In today's news is such a discovery in Egypt of a buried pyramid.

Somewhere else a grave is opened to exhume the body of some important figure of the past only to find that there was no one buried there.

Think of the mysteries that lie hidden in the ground you may be walking on, the roots of our civilization that haven't been discovered, and when they are will rewrite and redefine the movements, forces and connections that made that history.

Think of the mysteries that still lie on the bottoms of the oceans and lakes. People are always finding ships that were long forgotten, containing treasures of things that past humans made and used. It's estimated that what has been brought up from the ocean floor is a small fraction of what is still down there and may never be found.

Each new discovery either affirms or casts doubt on what historians have accepted as the facts. And often those discoveries explain other seemingly unrelated events as they have played out over the years.

A psychologist or psychiatrist will dig around in your own past to find the thoughts or connections of one thought with another that produced the conditions of which you are painfully aware, but will find that those thoughts and connection are buried in an unconscious place of which you are unaware.

The older we get the more we may look back on our lives, but what we see is generally the results and not the causes of our behavior and circumstances. The real thoughts and connections are still buried, waiting to be discovered.

DB - The Vagabond

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Xenophilic Xylograph 11/11/08

Music is a fantastic peace keeper of the world.

Xun Zi
# # # # # # # # #

Everywhere you go in the world there is music. It is almost as ubiquitous as water and just as necessary. Symphony Orchestras play everywhere, even in the Arctic, there are opera companies all over the world, string quartets are playing somewhere right now. There are jazz bands, rock bands, club singers, country singers, folk singers. There's a kid somewhere right now learning to play his violin, his trumpet or his guitar. There's an Indian playing his sitar, and African playing his flute, a Scotsman playing his pipes, a church organist learning a new piece.

Even if two people can't understand each other's languages or enjoy each other's food they can make music together. There is a large but finite number of tones that the human ear can hear. There is a constantly evolving amount of sounds that can be made from those tones. And there's an endless number of ways that compositions can be made and played. I would wager my tuba (if I had one) that if we ever do discover a planer with a civilization of "alien" creatures on it, they will have music.

The daft thing is that there is so much music in the world we tend to take it for granted. As a music lover I have always been astonished at it. Even if I can't hear the tones, just siting and reading a musical score is an adventure,

There are many ways to declare peace in the world. Music is not the only one. But it is definitely one of them if governments would start giving it the respect it deserves.


Monday, November 10, 2008

It's no sin

Dear Beings: Spotters, LiveJournalists, emailers and others.
The remark in my latest entry about writing being a sin because I enjoyed it too much, was meant as a joke. I don't think my writing is a sin. I've been a creative person from as far back as I can remember. At 5 and 6 I was making up stories to tell my friends and building miniature villages out of twigs and leaves. I've done drawings and paintings, composed music, designed radio programs and spent most of my life as an actor. I'm an artist. And that's no joke. DB

Wayfaring Wisdom 11/10/08

We want to know who we are.
To know who we are,
we have to know who we used to be.

Andrzej Wajda

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in his nurse's arm,
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannons mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
San teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


Can you find yourself on that list?

Things change, times change, people change, changes change. I don't like to think about some of the things I've been. But I know that my seven ages didn't particularly follow Shakespeare's plan. After infancy I became the soldier, fighting windmills and worried about my reputation. Then the judge, leveling my opinions right and left. In my 30s I was a crusty relic. One of my friends described me as sitting with a blanket around my shoulders, soaking my feet. That quickly changed in my mid 30' when I became the lover; passionate, jealous, suspicious and writing silly poems. I'm glad that age is over. Then I became the school boy, not unwillingly but zealously. Now I may be sans teeth, but I'm not sans everything. And one thing I know about myself is that I can no longer do some of the things old folks do. I'm not as old as I used to be.

I enjoy writing a lot these days. It must be a sin because I'm having too much fun.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veritable Vision 11/09/08

Look with favor upon a bold beginning.


In my life time I have known of black men being lynched or burned to death, of being denied housing, denied education, the right to vote or even register. I have seen the signs on public buildings reading "colored entrance." I have seen job, housing, social and cultural discrimination of the worst kind. I have seen the looks of despair and failure on the faces and in the eyes of black men and women in the cities.

But I have also witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, Selma, Alabama, Rosa Parks, the rise of the ACLU, the SPLC, CORE, The United Negro College Fund, The March on Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr. for whom there are now high schools named and a national holiday. Lyndon Johnson and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, school desegregation, bussing, a frightened but courageous young girl being led to school by federal marshals, the rise of respect for black people in sports, the arts and government. And now, at last, a black President of the U.S. All of it in my lifetime.

I know there are people who are dissatisfied with the results of this latest election for the wrong reasons. But the fact is that the change my country needs has already begun and I give it my meager but honest support.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Unburdening Utterance 11/08/08

It is our responsibilities not ourselves that we should take seriously.

Peter Ustinov

For the artist the creative life is a fascinating, all encompassing and magical existence. Sometimes the art seems to happen by itself, the painting paints itself, the poem writes itself and, in a play, the character plays itself. I've written about that.

I have also written about actors I have known who are so self centered and egotistical that they think they are superior not only to the other actors but also to the play, the production and everyone else involved.

It took me several years to learn to laugh at myself. But I learned that there is a measurable relationship between one's insecurity and one's need to be too serious about oneself. Those who call themselves "perfectionists" and put down those around them are generally the ones, ironically, who aren't doing all that well.

The better I became as an actor the more earnestly I treated it. It was no longer just playing around and having fun. It became, instead, a serious work that had important results. But even then I had to admit its relation to the world.

Those who are involved in the theatre should remember they are not in battle, performing life or death surgery on a patient or sitting in a space ship hoping to get safely back to earth. It is art and therefore to be taken very seriously. But the artist is the steward of talent and craft, not the inventor of it.

DB - The Vagabond

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tactical Text - 10/07/08

Don't write so that you can be understood, write so that you can't be misunderstood.

President William Howard Taft


Trying not to be misunderstood is tricky business. I know what I said. You think you know what I said. But what you think I said is not what I think I said. And if what you think I said is not what I think I said it's therefore not what I said, And if what I said is not what I think I said then what you think I said is what I said. Furthermore, if what you think I said is what I think I said then it doesn't matter what I said because what you think I said is what I said. And if what I said is not what you think I said and not what I think I said then it's not what I said. I hope that clarifies everything.

Dostoyevsky once remarked that if he is misunderstood he needs to go on his knees and beg our forgiveness. Maybe that's why he wrote such long novels, so that he wouldn't leave anything out.

All of you who have read a Dostoyevsky novel all the way through please raise your hands.

Uh-huh. I thought so.

From the few comments I get on my daily musings I can tell that some people miss my points. That's my fault. I'm obviously not writing so as not ot be misunderstood. I'm on my knees. Please forgive me?

Ah! Thank you.

DB - Vagabond

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spiritual Searching 1/06/08

The ultimate triumph of philosophy would be to cast light upon the mysterious ways in which Providence moves to achieve the designs it has for man.

Marquis de Sade

I have always liked mysteries. Not the Sherlock Holmes variety, but the sort of mysteries that scientists enjoy poking their noses into.

I took a philosophy course in college and found it dull, boring and tedious. The professor was an interesting, colorful fellow, but his lectures were not and I thought his examples were silly. But I waded though the literature: Kant, Nietzsche, Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Rousseau, etc. and retained just enough of it to get by.

Many years later, out of curiosity, I read a series of lectures by Martin Heidegger and discovered something. I was suddenly into the world of the known, almost known, unknown and unknowable. In short, I was in a mysterious land. Now I'm an avid reader of philosophy, both ancient and modern. It has become one of the most interesting and satisfying adventures on my vagabond journey.

I'm not a gardener and most of my life I have taken gardens for granted. But I have seen how people can turn a small patch of earth into something beautiful by care and determination. There is such a small patch in front of this apartment building and the young woman who lives on the first floor has filled it with flowers. I have seen her stand and look at it with concern and love as one might worry over a child.

I remember seeing a clarinetist stare at his instrument while it was still in its case with the same look of curiosity and fascination.

Now I understand those looks. There are mysteries to be seen. What may bloom in that garden, what music is that clarinet capable of.

Philosophers may disagree with each other about the best route to take, there are the empiricists, the Cartesians, the metaphysicians, the ethicists, the aestheticians, and so on, but the summit of the climb is the same . It is to know the unknown and the unknowable.

DB - The Vagabond

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Rigorous Reaching 11/05/08

Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool
or you go out in the ocean.

Christopher Reeves


Who has the courage to go out to where your feet don't touch the bottom? It takes effort to go there and stay there. It means letting go of some safety, some dependability. It's a risk.

I am thinking about my brother's story of the client he took out in his sailboat one day. The man was fine, having a good time sailing around Long Island Sound, until he realized he couldn't see the land. Then he got frightened. As long as he knew where the land was he was okay. But when he lost sight of it he panicked. My brother had to turn the boat around and head for shore.

Imagine an astronaut in outer space who's okay as long as he can see the earth. He wouldn't do very well on Star Trek.

As a swimmer I used to like swimming as far out as I could until I got tired and then turn and gradually make my way back until my feet touched the bottom. Once they did I knew I would make it back to shore.

Adventures lie on the high seas, in outer space, in the wilderness and at the deep end of a swimming pool.

I had friends in New Hampshire who liked to walk off into the forest, not knowing where they were going, and spend the day exploring things. They always made their way back even though they had lost all sight of civilization.

In a way I'm like my brother's friend. When I went hiking I had to have a map and a trail guide so that no matter how many miles I went into the forest I always knew I was on the trail. It was the only way I was sure to get back home.

I'm still looking for the trail guide to life.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Quality Quest 11/04/08

What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to.

Hansell Duckett


Election Day USA

What this country need is cleaner, more honest elections. We need a better informed electorate. We need more intelligent campaigns with no nasty name calling, mud slinging, finger pointing and conspiratorial nonsense. We need to insure that every American who has the right to vote can exercise that right without hindrance. We need voting machines that work properly and ballots that are clear and easy to read. We need to know that those votes are correctly and honestly counted by disinterested individuals who have no vested interest in the outcome. We need to know that the results will be determined by the electorate and not by some court. We need to improve the Electoral College so that it more appropriately represents the population. We need a Congress that is not made up of millionaires who are called upon toe speak and vote on issues about which they know little or nothing. We need a less bellicose nation. We need to be proud of everything our country does or tries to do in the world. We need to prove to ourselves and to show to the world that we can conduct our internal affairs in an intelligent, dignified and respectful manner.

The most honest election I ever saw was in a small town in New England. They were paper ballots and they were counted three times by three citizens up on the stage of the high school auditorium in front of everybody, and if the three results differed, they were counted again.

On Election Day of the Ford/Carter decision I stood in line for an hour and a half to enter the booth and pull the lever. Those were the good old days.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Monday, November 3, 2008

Perplexing Playground 11/03/08

We must never, ever be boring.

Chuck Palahniuk

The cure for boredom is curiosity.
There is no cure for curiosity.

Dorothy Parker

If curiosity leads to imagination,
imagination will lead to creativity.

DB - The Vagabond

Three quotations today. A special deal. Three for the price of one.

One day I was addressing a group of high school seniors somewhere in the south. Thye were drama students and very bright. They asked me a lot of intelligent questions about my career and,finally one boy asked the inevitable, generic question, the simple question with the complicated answer: "What is life like in the theatre?"

My response was something like this. "Life in the theatre is difficult, interesting, exciting, fulfilling, aggravating, frustrating, satisfying, joyous, infuriating, insecure, problematic, frightening, exhausting, exhilarating, confusing, uproarious, dangerous, debilitating, energizing, mysterious, educational, unpredictable, rewarding, maniacal, disturbing, fantastical, rude, unreasonable, insane, friendly, irrational, uncomfortable, vivifying, curious, laborious, enlightening, creative, consuming, remarkable, inspiring and hard.

But the one thing it never is, is boring.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Funny Foibles folloow up

Back on October 23 I asked you to send me exsamples of strange experiences with your computers. Almost no one did. Instead I got some entries saying that the writers were looking forward to reading the stories. But I did get one absolute winning entry. Since the writer sent it by email I won't reveal the name. But this person accidentally sent a worldly chatty email to the Pope.

Congratulations anonymous writer. You win!


Objective Orisons 11/02/08

Practical prayer
is harder on the soles of your shoes
than on the knees of your trousers.

Austin O'Malley


The patella, otherwise known as the knee cap, is a free moving bone; that is, it is not attached directly to any other bone and it moves with the leg to protect the knee. But it doesn't go all the way down. Even at its lowest point it still leaves some of the muscles and tendons exposed. Which means the human body was not designed to kneel. Thus many churches have prayer cushions so that worshipers won't hurt themselves while kneeling in prayer.

But that does not mean the human was not designed to pray. There are many ways of praying. In some areas of the world it's still done by animal sacrifice or self flagellation. Some write their prayers on paper and hang them on trees or stuff them into walls Some churches use incense "the prayers of the saints," Rev. 5:8. There's a fishing village somewhere in Italy that takes the statue of its patron saint down to the sea once a year and threatens to throw it in the water if the harvest isn't good. I don't think they ever carried out that threat, good harvest or bad. And Thomas Merton found that for him jazz was prayer.

I think what O'Malley is saying is that once you've prayed for what you need, kneeling, sitting, standing or lying down, then put on your shoes and go help the heavenly powers to get it done.

DB - Vagabond Journeys

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nice Nonentities 11/01/08

A part of us needs the occasional moment of solitude
as a plant needs water.

Anna Neagle


I hope you all had a pleasant Halloween . I had a delightful one. I went out and frightened as many children as I could. Just kidding.

I spent 2 1/2 hours in my friend's shop in the middle of town where, dressed as a fairy, she welcomed over a hundred sweet, cherubic ghosts, goblins, pirates and ballerinas during the afternoon. It was great. I haven't had such a fun Halloween since I left New York.

Now, all you Brian and Christine fans, I need a break. I've been at it for 23 days in a row. So I'm taking the weekend off. But don't go away, they'll be back in Buffalo Gap with Father Portera and a whole lot of new characters: Frank, Dr. Bite, Bridget, Peter and others and you'll find out that Brian's foot is....

Well, I'll tell you all about it when I resume in November.