Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter Question

(This is not a contest.)

Given the resources and opportunity, what one thing do you want to do in 2010 that you've never done before.

You have all Winter to answer. Answers will be posted on the first day of Spring.
3 responses so far.

DB - The Vagabond

Tally Up

Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.

We call it New Year's Eve instead of Old Year's End because it's a time for looking forward, of beginnings and of nativity, a gate way into our future. As of this writing it is almost January, named for Janus the two faced god, who could see both forward and back, who could look into the past and into the future, the god of gates and doorways.

As I look back over the past month I see that I have made an entry into this journal every day. And I know I would not have been able to do that without the kindness and generosity of some wonderful people who supplied me with a new computer, many of whom are still anonymous to me. I am reminded of that every time I turn the computer on and my heart is "replete with thsnkfulness."

For 70 years "these vagabond shoes" have taken me into many places, they have hitchhiked across the country, climbed the mountains of New Hampshire and walked the streets of New York, they have taken me into danger and out of it, into romance and out of it. And now, as an old warrior with uncertain steps, with no buddy down the street, with no companion, no partner, no soul mate, I am deeply thankful for the comradeship of my fellow journalists, this society of invisible friends, this band of bloggers and emailers. Today I think that if I was a millionaire I would travel gracefully, by rail and sail, to visit each and every one of you I feel close to. To spend a day with you , see how you live, share a jar and have some good fun and conversation. That's a future to be longed for. For now I'm looking back.

I'm going over the whole month of December to see what I've done and, like a good English professor and literary critic, grade every entry, with one to five stars, for interest, importance, style and content. You may take a break and talk among yourselves while I do this.

* = okay ** = better *** = good
**** = very good ***** = you better read this

1 Absolute Answers **
2 Thunderous Thinking ***
3 Mangled Morality *****
4 Consider The Lilies *****
5 Give It Up ****
6 Violent Virtue ****
7 The End Of The Tether *****
8 Hello **
9 Grateful Gatheringg ***
10 Alchemical Advantage *****
11 The Beginning - again ***
12 Moral Manifesto *****
13 Search For The Invisible *
14 Thinking Outside The T-shirt *****
15 Chords Of Character ***
16 Look Unto The Hills ****
17 Damn The Torpedoes - Full Speed Ahead ****
18 Knocking On The Noggin ****
19 Sold On Solo ***
20 Loose Ends *****
21 Winter's Quest ****
22 Doer Doing Deed *****
23 Philosopher's Stone *****
24 Basic Blessedness *****
25 Greetings *
26 False Forts *****
27 Let The Artist Loose ***
28 Mind's Halftime *****
29 Pennies From Heaven *
30 Water, Water Everywhere ***
31 Tally Up ****


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Water, water everywhere

You either gotta have it or you don't have it.

Anonymous dowser
The Day I Hired A Dowser
It was mid November. I was living in a house in northern New Hampshire. Winter was on its way. In that part of the world Winter tends to come all at once, overnight. The ground freezes up and stays that way. If the farmers don't have their crops in by then they're worthless.

Next to my house was my garage. I had an early morning job as the announcer at the local radio station. On this day, when I came out to get in my car, I noticed water on the floor of the garage. The spigot in the garage was tightly turned off which meant that something was leaking somewhere.

Later that morning I called the plumber. He said it was a broken pipe and to get the specifications from the town clerk which would tell me where the connection was to the town water supply and when he saw that, he would be able to put a valve on the pipe to keep the water from flowing into the garage.

I finished work at noon and went to the town clerk's office. There I found that there were no specifications filed with the town, that the company that built the house many years before was no longer in business and the individuals had all moved away and left no forwarding addressee.

I drove back home and called the plumber to tell him what I had discovered. He then said that I would have to hire the dowser. At first I didn't believe him. That plumber was not a religious fanatic or a believer in superstitions. He was a top, first rate modern technician. "Really?" I said. "Yup. I'll give you his name."

I don't remember his name now, but I called him up, told him where I lived and what my situation was. He said "I'll be right over."

There was nothing mystical about this man. He came down the driveway in a pick up truck. He was wearing boots, dungarees, a plaid shirt, a brown leather jacket and a Boston Red Sox cap. He reached into the truck and took out a muslin apron which he tied around him. In the pocket of the apron there were some small wooden slats. Then he reached into the truck and took out a forked stick.

He walked up and down the property from the garage to the town road, about an eight of an acre. Every now and then the forked stick would wobble and he took out one of the slats and stuck in the ground. It took him about 40 minutes and when he was finished there was a line of those slats from the road to the garage. He put the forked stick and the apron back into the truck and said "You're pipe runs right along there. That'll be fifteen dollars." I paid him, thanked him and he drove off.

I got the pick and shovel and started to dig. Three feet down there was a wooden plank. I kept digging and under the plank was the pipe, exactly where he said it was. I informed the plumber who came over and attached a shut off valve onto it which stopped the leak.

By this time it was getting dark so I decided to leave the mound of dirt I had dug up for the next day.

Overnight the big freeze came. When i got back from work that day I had to take a pick and sledge hammer to break up the pile in order to get it back into the hole. That's how close it came to being a major disaster. If it hadn't been for that fellow in the pick up truck it would have meant tearing up the property with a back hoe.

Moral: Don't doubt the dowser.

DB - The Vagabond
(This is not a contest.)

Given the resources and opportunity, what one thing do you want to do in 2010 that you've never done before.

You have all Winter to answer. Answers will be posted on the first day of Spring.

2 responses so far.

DB - The Vagabond

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pennies From Heaven

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Abe Lincoln
I have nothing to say. Almost.

We all got together to go someplace and then decided not to go there. So we went someplace else.

Trombones and trumpets playing with a pipe organ. Everything is tubes.

I have a large bowl of coins sitting on my desk.

Don't display relics.

Air vibrates through the tubes and makes sound.

I lost my watch. Almost.

When I accidentally knock over the bowl, the coins spill on the floor and then I have to pick them all up and put them back into the bowl, one by one.

Don't display ruins.

Our blood vibrates through our tubes.

Where did we all go, I wonder?

A pipe organ is all tubes. Think of that.

I don't collect pennies.

Why didn't Elsa keep her mouth shut? "Just like a woman" he said.

When something costs $9.98 it's easier to give her a $10 bill than to count out 98 cents with people in line behind you.

Maybe we went dancing. I don't remember.

I pick them all up, all the thoughts, ideas, facts, figures, hopes, dreams, fears, regrets and put them back into the bowl, one by one.

Don't display errors.

At the bottom of the ocean there are creatures who live in tubes.

Most of the coins are pennies.

No, I think we all went home.

I found my watch. It was also on the floor.

Yes. I think we all came home, one by one.

Display love.

The Vagabond

(This is not a contest.)

Given the resources and opportunity, what one thing do you want to do in 2010 that you've never done before.

You have all Winter to answer. Answers will be posted on the first day of Spring.

1 response so far.

DB - The Vagabond

Monday, December 28, 2009

Mind's Halftime

There is an unlimited universe of mentality about which most of us know almost nothing.

DB - The Vagabond
One day, years ago, I was talking with a commercial airline pilot. He spoke of the difficulties of piloting a plane, particularly a large commercial jet. He said that the taking off and landing procedures were tricky maneuvers, especially landing. I asked him why landing was more difficult than taking off or flying. He explained that the aircraft was designed to fly. Flying is something it does very well. When you land it you are coaxing it to do something it wasn't necessarily designed to do.

It was in the 40's here today. For the first time in many days I could open the window and let some fresh air into my apartment. Relieving my stuffy apartment reminded me at how stuffed up my mind can get sometimes. My mind was designed to think, not to stop thinking. But sometimes I want to blow the whistle and say "Time out. Halftime. Stop!"

In the intellectual race between the tortoise and the hare I am definitely the tortoise. I admire people who can quickly grasp a concept and start applying it. That's not me. I plod through books as if they were written in a language I only vaguely understand. I don't read books. I eat them.

But while digesting the morsels of information contained in the wide variety of literature I read I now and then come across something that could be called knowledge. "Ay, there's the rub." Whenever that happens my own mind kicks in and I start thinking (heaven forbid).

Knowledge comes to us in two ways. Most of us know what we know because it was passed along to us by those who received it from someone else, and so on. And the further back that passing comes from the more venerated that knowledge is. It is known as "wisdom." But is it? Every once in a while someone will kick that "received wisdom" in the butt and come up with a more enlightened understanding of the information, and thus obtain more information, more knowledge.

In the case of music, for example, Mozart and Beethoven both bit their thumbs at the conventional modes of composing, and thank goodness they did. That same irreverence has happened in all areas of life and on all continents. But then it becomes received wisdom which then must be passed along in it's turn. We study harmony and counterpoint not to learn how to write music but to learn how music has been written up to the moment.

What is it that allows, prompts someone to turn away from this hand-me-down knowledge and find a newer understanding of things? It's inspiration. Inspiration doesn't come from books or teaching. Those things can inspire us to seek out what has been uncovered in our own thoughts. But it isn't until those things are articulated by us that they have any reality or existence except as microchips of the brain, a nice gift tucked away on the shelf. When they are articulated a channel begins to open up for more understanding, more inspiration, more wisdom. When you get to the point where you are wondering where all this "good stuff" is coming from you are on the door step of realizing the infinity of mentality. The middle men of books, teachers, Internet search programs and received knowledge are dispensed with or take an appropriate seat at the back. When you reach that state of enlightenment do what the sages do. Take a break. But not a long one. Halftime only. Absorb what you've done, what's happened to you, what it means, and then go back to work.

DB -The Vagabond

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Let the artist loose.

Art does not reproduce the visible, rather, it makes visible.

Paul Klee

Watch out now, I'm going to do some more meanderings about art. Why do I do that? Because I'm an artist. Because I'm proud and humbled to have among my friends and acquaintances those with whom I share a sacred experience, though some artists may not think of it that way, and it's a sacred experience I share with the rest of the world, though most of humanity would not see it that way.

I know a guy who's a mechanic. His hobby is taking photographs. His pictures are excellent. They are beautiful, often with humor, sometimes with pathos. I've shared some of them with a few artist friends. I keep telling him he's an artist, He keeps insisting he's not. But the proof is in the picture.

There's a well known painting my Rene Magritte of a man standing in a suit and hat with an apple covering his face. It's a curious picture as most of his works are. But someone suggested that what if it was a photograph and at the exact mini second the photographer took the picture of the man an apple had fallen from the tree between them. Think about that.

When I was an actor I enjoyed talking with other actors about the processes and results of acting various roles. One day a stage manager, a sweet woman whose friendship I cherish, said "Why do you talk about it? Why don't you just do it?"
I enjoyed talking about it, that's why. I discussed it because I was fascinated by the processes and wanted to understand them on a philosophical level. But she was correct in a certain way because the doing of it was the best way of articulating it. That's why it's called "show business."

I once knew an actor who was obese. He wasn't overweight, he was obese. He had a lifelong issue with weight. He used to say that when he came near the exhaust of a bakery he gained five pounds. But, despite that, he was in excellent physical shape. He was a dancer as well as being an actor. And he was a happy, jovial fellow with a good sense of humor. He had a girl friend, Louise. One day I was visiting them for a party. He had a statue on his bookcase of Bacchus, a naked fat man sitting on a keg of wine with a laurel wreath on his head and a big happy smile on his face. Louise showed it to me and said that she almost left him because of his weight, but when she saw that statue she changed her mind. She stopped looking at the fat man and started seeing the Bacchus he really was.

There's that famous line by Archibald MacLeish, "A poem should not mean, but be."

We make things visible, we crazy artists, and that is a sacred trust.

DB - The Vagabond

Friday, December 25, 2009

False Forts

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shell never die.

Edward Kennedy
I think the average American is a better politician than the average politician. These days Congress, the so-called representative of the people, seems to consist of two opposing gangs facing each other across an open field trying to determine who has the larger snow balls and how far they can throw them. Decisions are not made based on pragmatic values but on ideologies. An ideology is as worthless as a teaspoon when there's a mountain to be moved. The Liberals have their backyard and the Conservatives have their backyard and don't you dare cross over the fence or your neighbors will throw rocks at you.

Most of the politicking that goes on, the threats, the compromises, the concessions, the promises, is invisible to us, the People, and yet this desperate split between the Left and the Right is somehow supposed to represent how the people think.

I don't know about that. There are stone heads on both sides, even as there apparently are in Congress, but, as a Liberal I have been able often to discuss many issues with my Conservative friends, including politics and religion, without being made to feel that I was a poor, miserable, misinformed wretch who needed to be enlightened and saved, and vice versa. Maybe I'm an exception to the rule, but I don't think so.

But Congress seems to me to be a lot of grandstanding and saber rattling and it would be amusing if there weren't desperately important issues at stake. When they're in session they talk about building bipartisan support, which rarely ever happens, and when they're running for election they say that it's time for a change. The country doesn't need a change. What it needs is a conscious, intelligent, pragmatic development forward toward the goal of making the country a better place for everyone who lives here.

Congress seems to be a big family that can't get along with itself. Maybe if its way of life was threatened, as many American's lives are, the members of the family would sit up, stop being childish, lose weight (those who need to), stop fooling around and start considering ideas by their value to America and the world instead of where they came from.

The dream is still alive, the hope is still alive, the cause is still as crucial as ever and the work will always need to be done. But it won't be done by throwing snow balls.

DB - The Vagabond


There's some damn horse or something with bells on it stomping around on my roof.


May you be

happy happy

glad glad

joyful joyful

merry merry



From DB - The Vagabond

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Basic Blessedness

May holy angels dip their fingers in your soup.

DB - The Vagabond
I once read a play written by a Catholic priest turned playwright. In it was a conversation between two priests who had gone out for a drink together one evening. One of them says that with all the robes and other paraphernalia that they wear when they are up there in front of the congregation his favorite garment is his ordinary t-shirt because it shows that underneath he's just a regular slob like everybody else.

I knew an Episcopal priest who one Sunday morning took off all the various vestments he was wearing and threw them on the floor. Some of the people got up and left but the ones who remained he invited downstairs to sit around and share communion. Every Sunday after that a loyal congregation joined him for bread and wine at the table downstairs and they talked about things.

I have and I read from books on many different religious topics. I have three Bibles, also the Koran, the Zohar, Oahspe (what's that?), Lao Tzu, books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Martinism, (what's that?), Shintoism, Christian Science, New Age, Wicca, I've read Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Dalai Lama. and Moses Maimonides, studied Tarot and the I Ching, I have a Daily Missal, The Book of Mormon and The Book Of Common Prayer and I could go on.

So what do I think of religion? Two very important and related things.

First: give me religion that is willing to get its hands and face dirty, to turn over the rocks, to plow the fields, to peer into the corners and walk down the dark alleys. Prayer for those who need it, like sex, is never safe. Compassion in a vigorous, effective practice has a boomerang attached to it. Cowards may go to church but they don't belong in religion. The healing of the multiplying ills of the world is the task of religion and anything less is hypocrisy.

Second: I think, as do many of those I've read, that the destiny of mankind is to ultimately go beyond what it seems capable of. To achieve perfection. And the only road leading to that end is through spirituality, holiness and the overcoming of all binding limitations of the mortal world.

I think you can see how these two thoughts are related. The classic chalice of the Eucharistic sacrifice has a base, a stem and a cup. Starting from the lowest level of human life, right down to the t-shirt, benevolent energies must spread out to embrace the world in every place. and in every condition. No lines can be drawn. No exclusions can be made. From there the feeding and the healing must proceed, Healing not preaching. There may be time enough to talk after the soup is poured and drunk. If not, then not. Leave the doctrine behind, the work is not done.

With every spoonful of soup, with every bandaging of a wound, with every nail hammered into a dwelling place the religionist must never lose sight of the supreme goal: freedom from the bondage of limitation. loss, despair and ignorance, the attainment of celestial realities, the true perfection of spiritual life. No self-congratulations are in order. He must be brought, and bring all, up through the stem to the place where they are ready to receive the wine of wisdom, the gracious soup of peace and liberation from all harm, hazard, danger and mortality.

Am I ready for that kind of religion? I don't know. But I know I wouldn't settle for anything less. The proof is in the soup.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Philosopher's Stone

There is always something to write about. If there's not then you need to live life more aggressively.

Min Kim

I was speaking with someone recently who asked if I categorized myself as a philosopher. I responded that I am one who tries to figure things out and understand them. If that is what a philosopher does then I guess I qualify.

I think too many people have a vision of a philosopher as someone who sits secure in an ivory tower of university tenure spending hours contemplating a comma, instead of someone who grapples daily with himself and his ideas in a gladiatorial arena, striking all opinions that come his way against the touchstone of reason before accepting or rejecting them. A philosopher is both architect and builder in a world in which mentality has a direct effect on reality. He is also a traveler on a road where other philosophers before him have marked out mile stones.

Life is an energetic and aggressive thing if properly lived. It's energetic because it requires a moment by moment commitment to preserve itself and it's aggressive because it means not giving in to the things that would cause it to become dormant. I'm for a two fisted approach to gravity, that which both keeps my feet on the ground and wants me to sink into it. I want to grasp important and complicated concepts and not let go until I understand them. Does that make me a philosopher?

Life is a vital thing. Even in the midst of grime and ugliness it enables me, it gives me permission, to make and appreciate beauty. I'm glad to join the treacherous intellectual dance of being wrong, being corrected and being right. I enjoy peering with curiosity and wonder around any corner, under any stone and into any book. Does that make me a philosopher?

I'm a former street bum who grew up in poverty. I've been an actor, a broadcaster and a musician. I've had more love affairs than I want to think about. Along the way I'v developed a keen appreciation of the ironic and paradoxical which has given me a sense of humor. Now I write and paint. I don't know who I am or what I am and I don't know enough about the world around me, but I am on an adventurous and seemingly destnationless journey to find out. Does that make me a philosopher? If not it doesn't matter.

DB - The Vagabond

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Doer Doing Deed

I was in a cave and I needed to draw some pictures on the wall about what my journey was, and that drive, that need, led me to acting.

Harvey Keitel
Someone recently asked me what my religion is and I answered that I am a student of religion, I might even say a scholar of religion. And being that gives me a form of free floating objectivity, a way of weeding my garden and not allowing everything to grow there that wants to grow. Theologians, prophets and spiritual thinkers have written a massive amount on the subject of divinity. As far as I can see there is no human language adequate enough to express truly spiritual ideas. It is easy to get walled in by terminology. But there is an attempt to describe the cosmic common to all monotheistic religions which is a three part idea, a triumvirate: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: God and Man: Creator and Creation. It's in that little word "and" that the Spirit can be found. It's the invisible spark between the fingers of God and Adam in the famous Michelangelo painting. It's the magical moment when an idea comes to life, the unbreakable relationship between the creator and the act of creation, the thing that ties the doer to the deed.

When I was studying art one of my drawing teachers frequently held an exercise in which the model would pose for one minute, then break the pose and we had to draw what we saw from memory. It is not as easy as it sounds.

One of things that fascinates me about cave paintings is that most of them are pictures of animals, large animals, animals too large to ever have been in the caves. Not only that but some of those animals are moving, a herd of them running. In order for those cave artists to paint those creatures as well as they did they must have been observing them very carefully and then remembering what they saw.

The cave artists were painting what they saw around them, things that were vital to their lives and to the understanding of those lives. As early man emerged from the caves they developed a more refined but still primitive language and with the language came stories, fables, parables and eventually dances and songs, all in the attempt, the need, to define the undefinable.

Many journal entries ago I wrote about the Van Gogh painting of his boots. Under his watchful eye the boots became living things, and I reasoned that it didn't matter what he painted because the painting itself was the object. It was the act of painting, the creation of the picture that was the meaning.

For the actor, it doesn't matter what the role is, it's the acting of it that's important. If done correctly it draws the issues of life itself on the walls of the theatre, it's the magic spark between the fingers, the defining of the invisible, the Sprit.

DB - The Vagabond

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter's Quest

Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed, but with what it is still possible for you to do.

Pope John XXIII
If you really want to make yourself miserable at this joyful holiday season take a pen and a pad of paper and make a list of all the times you failed. It'll pass the time, and the older you are the more time it will take.

On the other hand you can acknowledge the fact that "to err is human" as the old worn out saying goes and that you are not the only person around who has racked up a good history of flops.

To sit around remembering past failures or even past successes is a good time waster. It has been said that while young men have dreams, old men have memories. To that I say: Feh! Sure I have memories and sometimes I draw on them to think and write about something. But that's the reason, and I don't want to dwell on the memories of my failures. Those memories are useless. Lessons have been learned and life goes on. I want my remembering to be like a sun dial which indicates only sunny hours. And when I draw on them I want them to be accompanied by the sweet sounds and gentle aromas that pertain to my present life. Life is a forward thing. It isn't what I've done it's what I'm capable of doing that matters. So why should I waste my time and mental energies on the past when I could be designing, devising, determining. Today is today. Tomorrow is different. I want the difference to be according to me.

In keeping with that impetus I have put together the suggestions for the famous world renowned WINTER QUESTION and come up with the following.

(This is not a contest.)

Given the resources and opportunity, what one thing do you want to do in 2010 that you've never done before.

You have all Winter to answer. Answers will be posted on the first day of Spring.

DB - The Vagabond

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Loose Ends

Experience is never limited, and it is never complete.

Henry James
Life is unfinished business. I used to be one who liked to have things tidy up into nice neat bundles. Experiences I wanted curled up into simple rules for living. I wished to draw the line at what was useful to me and easily understood. I wanted life in a box, gift wrapped with a pretty ribbon around it. Then one day I saw the light.

It is curiously comforting to me to know that there is always something to do, something more to learn and something more to be made out of all the experiences I've had. People I've known for a long time intrigue me by occasionally revealing new facets of themselves. It takes me a long time to read a book because I keep going back over it to find the things that have a new meaning for me. It's the same with the music I find the most interesting and the poetry.

The corner one must be careful of is categorizing. While categories are useful for science and other things, when it comes to people it's a useless endeavor. I don't categorize myself and I don't want anyone else to do it. I call myself a vagabond which implies that I don't fit into any particular mold. Neither does my life. People, things and experiences can be identified without drawing lines around them.

People are sometimes surprised, shocked, appalled when they meet me. I am surprised on the rare occasions when I meet myself. Will I ever understand myself? I doubt it.

"Discover" is a better use of one's mind than "categorize" in my opinion. There are always new ways of doing things, new roads to find, new purposes to investigate, new experiences to enjoy, new facets of ourselves to uncover. As it says in my profile, no rituals, no rules, no summations. I prefer it that way.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sold On Solo

The wipers don't work and the horn don't blow,
But there ain't nothin' wrong with the radio.

Aaron Tippin

Years ago I became accustomed to the fact that I would probably be spending the holidays alone. I was out of town working, or in transit, or filling a radio shift for an announcer who took a vacation day to be with his family.

In my youth the holidays were obligatory affairs. The coming together of a family that didn't particularly want to be together. Those who drank got drunk. The others either gossiped or fought with each other about something. The children, myself included, were bored, It perked up one year when my brother's kids were youngsters, But that was only once.

Frankly I was glad not to have to be a part of the so-called festivities. I was more content to be by myself. And so it has been most of my life.

There were exceptions. A couple of years ago I spent Christmas with a four star family of friends in Vermont. And several years ago I spent a few days with another family in California that turned unfriendly. Earlier this week I went to the local artists organization Christmas party and met some very nice people. But on the days of celebration I am usually alone.

I don't have plenty, no big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, But I have enough. Sometimes not quite enough, but I make do with what I have. I don't have all the music I want or all the literature but what I have enables me to journey to great places where the joy of meeting and discovering new ideas happens. I can tuck myself into a corner of my small apartment, with a single lamp shining across my desk, a fresh cup of coffee and an open book. I am instantly with a friend, celebrating. It's a cozy way to spend New Years Eve or any other eve.

Some would say "But don't you miss the company of other people?" Of course I do. But I'm in the company of great thinkers and artists with the stimulating and inspiring conversations it brings me. And these friends never turn their backs on me. They may not always agree with each other, particularly about complex philosophical issues, but they are gracious and intelligent about it, They're my real family and I love them.

There's north country lore which says you can tell how much snow there's going to be in the winter by seeing how high the spiders are instinctively building their webs to prepare for it. I'm no spider (I am not!) but even before I knew what the weather forecast was I had the strong feeling I should stock up. So yesterday I went to the market and came back with enough groceries to take me into next week. Now I learn that beginning today we are going to have a major storm, the worst storm in 100 years according to the overly dramatic local meteorologists. Instinct is a wonderful thing.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Knocking On The Noggin

Ignorance is the root of all evil and misconception is its reflection.

Marty Brandel
(Thank you Marty)

"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy," Charles Dickens

Where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise. Thomas Gray
If you're looking for bliss, don't look for it in ignorance. While I don't want to fill my mind with the puss of evil thoughts, it is only wise to know that evil is out there and usually as a result of it being believed in and practiced by some ignorant people.

We have all seen the results of such ignorant behavior. A man will kill another man or do damage to his property because he ignorantly believes he has a right to revenge himself. A woman took a chain saw and cut down a neighbor's tree because it was blocking her view. I read about a man who humiliated his son in the ignorant belief it would teach his son humility. A woman caused a traffic jam because she stopped in an intersection to clean the snow off her windows. Men in blue suits and briefcases go through revolving doors and stop, oblivious of the people behind them. I've seen it happen many times. Other people get to the top or the bottom of an escalator and stop. One can only shake one's head in disbelief over what we humans do.

I made a major move one year to Washington DC. I arrived at my new address with a van full of my belongings at 7:30 Sunday morning. I parked the van on the side of the road and started taking my stuff into my new apartment. A cop came along and told me to move the van, When I asked him why he said that any moment the rush hour traffic would be coming down that road and I would be in the way of it. I told him I chose Sunday morning because I didn't think there would be a rush hour. He gulped. He was caught in has own ignorance. He made me move the van anyway. So I unloaded all of my belongings onto the side walk and put the van in a parking lot. When I returned my belongings were still all there, thankfully. He wasn't.

But Marty also talks about misconception. "I don't know" is a legitimate answer to any question if it's the right answer. Some people seem incapable of saying it, which can cause a lot of serious trouble. The dealings I recently had with the tech support people over my computer problems are a perfect example. I eventually spent well over 40 hours on the telephone, punching this, clicking on that, on the floor unplugging and plugging, straining to understand a difficult accent, when a simple "I don't know" would have gotten me to the person who did know a whole lot sooner. But what was worse was that one of the experts who wouldn't admit to his ignorance forced a totally unnecessary solution on me that destroyed a lot of my files. I am trying not to resent that

We are all ignorant of many things. It is good and proper to know what we know, but it is also only just and kind to know what we don't know and to admit it.

Ignorance is not bliss. Wisdom is not folly.

DB - The Vagabond (teaching my old elves new tricks)
Come on, folks we need a question for the Winter Quiz, How about it? If you don't come up with one I may have to invent one myself , And you know what happens when I do that.

1 suggestion so far.

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead

If your love is true, strong and innocent it can pass through the lives of evil men and still remain pure.

DB - The Vagabond
Romeo: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops, --

Juliet: O! swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Romeo: What shall I swear by?

Juliet" Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self.

Is there such a thing as constancy? I believe there is, although I would certainly not hold myself up as an example of it. I have known and admired couples who have maintained a constant love affair through many decades of married life. I also knew a couple who got married to each other three times and divorced twice. There seems to be a wry consistency there. These days the news is filled with accounts of infidelity among the rich and famous, of sexual wickedness in high places (to paraphrase).

50 years ago I got married to the theatre. It took me many years to realize and understand that. Meanwhile, everything else, including my social life, took second place. I used to blame myself for that. I don't any more. Recently a woman said to me that she admired me for sticking with my career for so long, even through the hard, thin times. It's true that the life of an artist, particularly a performing artist can be hard on one's social and family life. Some make it work, some don't. For those who don't it means that people are going to get hurt along the way.

It may seem selfish and cruel, and it is. Make believe can carry one a long way. How long it does determines how many people get hurt. But eventually an artist has to come to understand himself well enough to know how not to fool himself and.others, and if he does, the cruelty will stop.

There were many moments in my life when I would step off the stage after a performance and say to myself "I love this. I love this more than life itself." And with that attitude nothing was going to stop me.

An actor cannot work alone. He is surrounded by people: other actors, designers, choreographers, stage managers, directors, managers, producers, critics. And some of them are "evil" men and women. Some of them will do everything they can to stop him, interfere with him, discourage him and bring him down. It comes with the trade.

An actor has to constantly fight for the right to do his work. But it's the imperturbable love of doing it that carries him through the attacks with grace and innocence so that his work is pure and strong. As far as I know there is no other way.

Still searching for a question to make the Winter Quiz,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Look unto the hills.

Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.

Saint Augustine
It’s amazing that the world didn’t end on New Years Eve 2000 as many had predicted. It also didn’t end on any of the other dates the false prophets were sure of. It’s not going to end next year, or in 2012, or 2020 as they are predicting now. No doubt there will be some apocalyptic changes as time goes by but they probably won’t be rapid. In fact they might be going on right now.

The earth may flip over again as some say once happened, making north south and south north. We may be growing crops for ourselves on some other planet, or growing crops here for some other planet. The natural cycles of existence may change forms but they are not going away.

It’s also amazing, considering the enormous amount of scientific exploration and examination that has gone on over the centuries how little we really know about things. I find that an encouraging and comforting thing. It means there is so much still to be learned and inquiring minds will still be busy learning it in centuries to come.

With each new advance and discovery in science the supernatural folds up another of its cherished gossamer fantasies. Ancients used to consider many things mysteries and miracles which we take for granted today because we now have explanations and principles for them.

Augustine lived in the 4th Century AD, a pagan who converted to Christianity. Even at that early time, when superstition ruled and the supernatural was esteemed, he was able to see that the great unknowns were simply that, unknowns, and not miracles. And yet, here we are 17 centuries later and there are otherwise intelligent people who still blame God instead of Nature for hurricanes and tornados, who believe in myths and call them human history.

I wonder what has brought the human race to such a recidivistic, spiritual blockade.

A person of Faith should be encouraged and comforted to know there is as much, if not more, to learn about their God as there is about Nature.

DB - The Vagabond
Don't get into that egg nog too early now, you hear me?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chords of Character

It is up to the actor to compose the music of his feelings to the text of his part and learn how to sing those feelings in words.

I'll tune me fiddle and I'll rosin me bow
And I'll have music wheriver I go.
A few days ago I wrote about a student in an acting class I once gave, who found great meaning in a speech she didn't know was there. Here is another acting lesson.

The actor in this case was an intelligent, middle aged woman with talent and strength of character. She had prepared a soliloquy from Shakespeare. She knew the speech very well and when she was comfortable with it delivered it with depth and spirit.

Her problem was that she had a very hard time beginning. She would fuss around and waste a lot of time preparing to start. And once she had begun she would stop at difficult places and have to regain her momentum. In other words, the speech didn't flow.

In spite of a few gentle reprimands from me she was still having a hard time with the speech. One never knows, especially with older actors, what personal, internal things they have to deal with when performing a role. Associations and relationships are brought out, memories are touched which are not relevant to the speech. So I was giving her the chance to work those things out if it was necessary.

After a while, when she was still having trouble with it I got a crazy idea. I knew she was a classical music lover so I gave her a conductor's baton and told her that she was on a podium facing an entire symphony orchestra waiting for her to conduct them. I told her to envision the entire orchestra, the strings, the brass, the winds and the percussion section as clearly as she could. Then I told her to conduct the speech instead of speaking it. To bring the strings sweeping in, to add the spice of the clarinets and flutes, to let the trumpets play and even add the kettle drum where it was needed. In other words she was to turn all the thoughts and feelings of the speech into silent music.

She took the baton, stepped up and began. She was completely focused on that invisible orchestra. It was beautiful to watch.

After that she never had a problem beginning a scene or keeping the flow. She must have always carried with her the vision of that orchestra waiting for her downbeat.

I think it was Einstein who said that logic will take you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere.

DB - The Vagabond
Announcements: (1) As a result of losing my Internet Connection all the answers to the Autumn Quiz were lost. Pity. But Winter is on the way (yes it is) and so I'm open to suggestions for a question to pose to you and everyone for the Winter Quiz.

(2) Since there were no apparent attempts at solving the Weekend Puzzle, because you were all out buying things for the holiday (or else you were sleeping it off, which is okay) I will hold it and pose it for the next Weekend Puzzle.
May the Bird of Joy leave footprints in your snow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking outside the T-shirt

In an age where history is recorded on T-shirts, the very notion of dwelling on the deep structure of an experience has come to appear both arcane and archaic.

Thomas Harrison
Quick! There are only 96 shopping days left till Spring.

One month ago I fell off of the Internet and couldn't get back on until some unknown friends came through with a computer that works. During the 6 weeks I was off I had to do a lot of thinking, planning.and reorganizing of my life.

Some people would say "So you had computer trouble, so what? Big deal. What a shame. Why all the drama?" The big deal is that it allowed me, it prompted me to figure out what I wanted or needed with this form of communication. I could examine the paradoxes of the instant space travel of words, friendship among people who've never met and know little about, the sharing of sorrows, joys and important details of personal lives with total strangers.

When I wasn't spending hours on the phone dealing with a technician who couldn't figure out and solve the problem, I was introspecting about those things. With little but household chores and occasional trips to the market to interrupt me the lamp of investigation was always lit. When it was finally determined that the problem was the computer and that therefore no correction was going to happen, I settled down to read and think. With an unfinished painting staring at me and a pile of necessary but not crucial papers stacked up on my desk I opened the door to aloneness, the place where one discovers one's strength and self-understanding. In so many ways solitude is the best psychiatrist in the world. Emerging from the autumnal quiet and facing another winter without being able to communicate with people I found how much my writing and reading had temporarily covered my real life with effects as a carpet covers a floor or clothes the body. Neither the effects nor the covering are wrong but they need to be seen as covers and now and then the body underneath needs to be exposed to oneself. It is very easy to define oneself and one's life by what we do, whether it's a job or a hobby. But to define one's own mind by the unnecessary effects of what we do is a strange tunnel vision which doesn't appear to be harmful. After all in order to do anything well we have to think about it, don't we.

But I find it is also true abut thinking. The fact is that we really never think about the most important thing which is thinking itself. It seems to be one of the most paradoxical things of all to observe and understand thinking itself. Not "What am I thinking about?" or "What am I thinking?" but "Why am I thinking?" and "Of what does my thinking consist?"

Another paradox is that as we make the mental effort to understand our thinking the process of thinking itself seems to retreat like trying to grab a puff of smoke.

I didn't arrive at any definitive conclusions about that process but I did gain some understanding of thinking itself, surprises revealed themselves. We know that what we think affects our lives, but how and what form of thinking produces what results, were the questions I was led to ask myself. Is there a science involved? There certainly seems to be a provable theory of scientific fact on a limited and everyday level, but to what extent can that theory be taken and to what extremes if the thinker is really thinking.

In fact, this all may be archaic and arcane. But I don't think so and you can't put it on a T-shirt.

DB - The Vagabond
May a warm sun soon shine on your head.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Search for the invisible



This morning's mull is about importance. Theories and practices go in and out of favor and acceptance back in again like the seasons and the tides. And all the while the universe continues to evolve. There is continuous flux. Physics tells me that all things are in motion. If they weren't I couldn't see them. How can a thinker grasp and understand the invisible things which never change? Mountains of words are written by people trying to describe the ever changing reality as they understand it and from their own particular vision of it. Furthermore, I am told that the mere fact of observing something changes it. How then could it be possible to observe the unchanging, invisible things?

I want to write words about important things, invisible things.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Moral Manifesto

The most important thing is to develop a vision of your own.

Jerry Harrison

Let me never mar the beauty of creation with the ugliness of destruction.

Let me never hold or cherish in my mind images of fear, hate, anger, cruelty, pain, poverty, suffering, injustice and revenge.

Let me never use my gifts of intelligence, talent and creative imagination for any harmful or ignorant purpose so that I may avoid the punishment of regret.

Let me never forget the source of the goodness in my life and the processes which have brought about the blessings I enjoy.

Let me never lose respect for or attention to the great geniuses of the past who nurture me, lead me and influence me in all positive ways and enable me to be the person I am.

Let me never be responsible for the discouragement, abatement or destruction of any worthy thing that exists.

Let me never take another man's ideas and accomplishments and claim them as my own.

Let me never misrepresent the knowledge, wisdom and truth of all things as I understand them.

Let me never show disrespect or lack of compassion for my fellow creatures to the extent they are deserving of it.

Let me never desire to own another man's life or any of its accompaniments.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The beginning - again

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.

Ernest Hemingway

This is the description of an acting class I taught once. Actors should study acting with an actor, not with a director. As you will soon see. Directors don't know what is not attainable until the actor shows it to him.

A young woman was in the class who had brought in a speech she wanted to use as an audition piece. It was about trying to deal with the heartbreak of a lost romance. She said she had worked hard on the speech and thought she had it down, and wanted my opinion. She stood and recited the speech for the class and for me. She tried to be as dramatic as she could. When she was finished I said "Okay. Have a seat. Let's begin." She sat down in a folding chair.

'Where are you?"

"In a room."

"What room?"

"My bedroom."

"What's in the room."

She named off the objects: a bed, a desk, a dresser, a closet and so forth. I asked her to describe the bed and kept pressing for all the details, the color of the bedspread and sheets, what the frame was made of, if the bed was made etc. Then on to the desk, What was on the des? A lamp, a phone, a clock, a typewriter, some papers, a cup with pens and pencil in it. I asked he to describe everything in detail, colors, shapes, hoe msny pens and what color they were.. The dresser with the same details. What was on the floor. What color was it. What was in the closet. She told me what the door of the room was like, what color and what the door knob looked like. Then she described the chair in the room, not the folding chair she was sitting in, but the comfortable easy chair,

I asked her if there was a window. "Yes." "What's outside the window?" She said there was a rail yard across the way and a street right below. Then sitting in the chair I asked her to describe what she heard. The clock ticking, the trains, the traffic below.

Then I asked her who she was talking about. Her ex-boy friend. I asked her to describe him in detail. She seemed to have no trouble with that. I asked her if they had spent any time together in that bed. She said they had so I asked her to think about the last time they were together and what happened, to recall it in her mind. She did that for a few minutes. Then I asked her to look around the room again, recall all the items she described to me, to listen to the sounds of the clicking, the trains and the traffic and to feel the nice comfortable chair she was sitting in. Then I said "Fill your thinking with all those details and when you're ready, do the speech again." The whole process took about an hour.

Finally she did the speech again, very quietly, and it was stunning. When she finished someone said "Wow!" and the class applauded her.

She was in exhausted, joyous tears. She said she never realized how much there was to the speech. I said that there was much more and that she would find it. She had just begun.

In order to have a new result you have to start with a new beginning.


PS: I've just given away some acting secrets that many directors and audiences don't know about. Mum's the word.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alchemical Advantage

I think the anguish of realizing our own vanity is the purgation for restoring our innocence.

DB - The Vagabond

Most people want to believe that their lives are important, interesting, colorful and worth talking about. But what if you aren't poor enough to brag about it or rich enough to flaunt it? What if you are neither beautiful enough to be admired nor ugly enough to be shunned? What if you aren't intelligent enough to be consulted, stupid enough to be pitied, old enough to be respected, young enough to be pampered, ill enough or healthy enough? What if your life falls between the cracks of the special?

I was recently in a discussion with someone about how poor we were growing up and hence how generous we are in giving money and time to help the less fortunate. I suddenly realized that we were in a competition. It was the I-was-poorer-than-you contest. I stopped and thought how pointless it was. Why brag about poverty?

Furthermore I thought how fruitless it was to try to value myself in anyone's eyes by how much money I give to help save the whales and feed the children. Such contributions should be anonymous anyway, if possible. Sometimes contributions are given out of charity and compassion and sometimes out of conscience or for tax reasons. It doesn't matter. I don't care if my 15 bucks goes to help defray administrative costs or puts a bowl of beans down in front of some unfortunate African boy. And don't tell me about some charitable organizations being less honest than others. That's a simple matter of research. I trust the charity to put the money where it's needed. You buy the beans.

Look in the bright daylight as if you've never looked at yourself before and you will see an embarrassing array of affectations, pretensions and illusions. justifications and erroneous zones. It's frightening.

I think my life is important to me and perhaps to a few other people. But why should I think the words I write, the pictures I paint, the music and poetry that come from my heart belong to me. If I didn't write the words or paint the pictures someone else would, in different forms, of course, but the messages would be given because they exist in the universal bank of ideas. I recognize myself as a messenger, a conduit for some of those ideas through the telegraph of creative imagination. As an actor I was frequently in awe of the great writing the marvel of theatre was giving me the right and privilege to speak on the stage. When the applause comes some actors forget that the beauty came off the pen of a gifted playwright. And so does the audience.

I was doing a production in East Hampton, New York written by a favorite playwright, Joe Pintauro. After the show had been running for a while the two of us went out for lunch at a well known seafood restaurant in the area. As we were leaving we passed a table of four people near the door. The all applauded me. So I introduced them to Joe. They were equally impressed with him.

The alchemy of theatre works this way. A writer gets an idea from the universal bank and turns it into literature. The actor takes the literature and adding to it the skill of the performing artist turns it into events. An audience comes to watch the events and turns them back into ideas. And so on. And all through the process the beauty and greatness is loaned to the participants from the universal bank.

If you successfully rake over all the foibles of self illusions, clean out the shed of pretensions and throw out the many masks hanging in your closet it will be humbling and depressing. But eventually you will get to the point where you are free to laugh at yourself, at what you've been and what you thought you were. When that happens you are ready to be invited back into your own innocence.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Grateful Gathering

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Autumn: The only season of the year that has two names. Why it is also known as Fall is a mystery to me. Spring forward Fall back? The Falling leaves? My dictionary gives many meanings to the word but only one that simply says "autumn." It seems a strange word for this time of year. What does it mean? Dropping down to a lower level? The loss of innocence? Toppling over and hitting the ground.? Pinning your opponent to the wrestling mat?

I think a much better nickname for the season is The Gathering. It's the season of harvest, of bringing into the storehouse what has been sown in the Spring and nourished through the Summer. Nature is pulling back into herself the sap of the trees to let them sleep and dream of Spring. It is the time to take stock of the results of last Spring's vigorous ambitions. It's the time of the coming together of families to celebrate. In the northern farm communities it's the time to amass the fuel for the Winter and enough feed for the livestock. It's the season of shopping for the holidays and bringing home the gifts you're going to give. It's the time to shake out the blankets and quilts and to make sure your children have the boots, coats, hats, scarves, mittens and all the gear they need for the cold weather to come. And, yes, it's time to go out and catch the precious leftover rays of sunshine.

Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn. The Sleeping, The Waking, The Growing. The Gathering. The busy joyous evening of the year.

DB - The Vagabond

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Maybe there is a priceless ore deep down below the surface of the earth that spreads out over all the globe and unites every continent and all people.

DB - The Vagabond

When I first came up with this idea I was thinking in geologic terms. I envisioned some primordial ash, from an ancient volcanic eruption, that had been buried under billions of tons of earth and compressed into a fine sacred stone. If we dug in any place, Siberia, Ireland, Botswana, Alaska and Argentina we would eventually come to find it in all those places.

Maybe it's there. But since then I've raised my consciousness a bit above the ground level up to where the blossoms are. I believe there is a priceless ore, but it's not to be found by digging.

I don't think there is any question that the most interesting creature walking upon the earth is the human being. We are seemingly endless in our different abilities, behaviors, characteristics, personalities, errors, dreams, illusions, accomplishments, idiosyncrasies, failures, forms, mentalities, reactions, perceptions, beliefs and destinies. The philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that the purpose of the human race is to become what it is capable of becoming.

I liken living one's life as a walk in a forest. Some times the way is smooth and pleasant and sometimes it's steep and harsh. Along the way there are some who will help you up the steep and rocky places and there are some who will kick dirt in your face. That's the human race for you.

I've had more than my share of dirt in my life and maybe I have even kicked a little in the past. But I've also been able to help a few people over the rough spots and I much prefer that. The dirt kickers are the enemies of humanity, of course, but there's an even worse enemy. It's known as "not caring" and it marches under the banner of inertia in the uniform of selfishness.

There is a vast web of friendship throughout the world and it is what is keeping civilization together. But it is a vulnerable cobweb and can easily be broken by inertia, by not caring. It is the sacred ore of the earth that unites us. We must never let it get buried.

So here is your mission, "should you choose to accept it." Make a list of people, 10 or so, people you know and like, perhaps they are people you haven't spoken to in a while, or people you mean to keep in touch with but don't, people who are somewhere along your part of the friendship web, and on their journal page, or in an email or on a postcard, simply say: "I'm thinking about you and I'm writing just to say hello." Or similar words of you own choosing. I will do the same.

DB - The Vagabond

Monday, December 7, 2009

The End of the Tether

In the darkest, meanest things
Something always, always sings.

Better make yourself a cup of tea, this is a long one.

I'm sorry to disappoint anyone but life is NOT just a bowl of cherries. It is a mass of threads which we weave, braid and twist into a rope, better known as a tether. And that rope connects us to our past and our future. Like Penelope we keep weaving it every day, but unlike she we don't undo it at night.

I used to know a most unpleasant woman named Mrs. Fox. It was a good name for her because she was a wily observer and harsh critic of what she considered incorrect moral activity of the teenagers around her. As far as I know she wasn't employed to do that. It was a self-appointed crusade against normal behavior. While she sat, keeping a close and suspicious eye on us she would knit. I never saw any result of her knitting, maybe she did undo it every night, but I'll bet she had special knots to record, like Madame Defarge, the names, dates and acts of all offenders. She didn't realize it but she was knitting her own tether.

I recently read an article about a man who has a strange condition that allows him to remember every single day of his life. I don't know if that's a blessing for him. I know for me it would be a curse. There are a lot of things I've done that I would like to forget but can't. On the other hand there are a lot of things I've done that I would like to remember and can't. That's one of nature's little jokes.

There's a box next to a window in my apartment which contains the threads of my career that somehow I managed to save. In that box I can find simple typed and copied programs each of which tell me I was someplace in New York on such and such a date and did a reading of someone's play. I have absolutely no memory of most of them.

Such a condition tends to make me doubt my own history. I have vivid memories of certain things. But was I really there, did I really do those things, did those things actually happen to me? Some of it seems inconceivable to me now. I feel like a stranger to myself. It seems I am not the man I was 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago.

Saturday afternoon I was trying to explain to someone how it was that I first started painting. I couldn't remember the year or many of the facts leading up to it. It's all there somewhere in the rope, but I've lost track of it.

I set out to write about my experiences during th six weeks I was unable to connect with the Internet and thus with my own journal, my address book, my stories and all the journals I enjoy looking into. From the moment I knew for sure and had to accept that my computer was just no good, until the new computer arrived, was a period of great transition, a period of learning and adjustment. From the despair and depression of being deprived of my friends and my ability to communicate, I turned back to reexamine other parts of my life, reading and painting, writing in my private journal. I even baked some cookies. And finally there came the moment when I was awestruck and speechless at the arrival of the new computer, given to me by the love and generosity of some of my journal friends, some of whom are reading this entry right now.,

But the resonance of those weeks is slipping thorough the cracks. I find it hard to put all the pieces in their proper places. I remember the peaks of emotion, of course, the rage, frustration and deep despair. But most of the knicky kinacky things that happened through that trip in the desert are forgotten, which is all to the good, I suppose.

The threads in our ropes are made of the easy, mundane things of life, the tasks performed, the simple acts of love, the great acts of heroism, the beautiful moments of inspiration, the fantasies of the day, the dreams of the night, plans, hopes, failures, successes, lessons learned, lessons taught, tears and laughter.

I'm 70 years old, which I also find it hard to believe, and as with many people my age and older, I'm grateful that I'm not at the end of my tether.

DB - The Vagabond
Results of the Weekend Puzzle


First place Grand Prize of the Mistletoe Tiara goes to Paula of the Email Lions

The second place prize, a subscription to Pine Cone News, goes to Salemslot9 of the Blogspot Tigers.

Nice going girls.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Violent Virtue

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Jack London

A work of art is a dangerous jungle beast which has been tamed. Not only was the beast strong and threatening, it was also treacherous, tricky, secretive and capable of setting traps for the poor unsuspecting artist. And thus the artist has to be very careful when entering the wilderness of ideas.

I knew an actor who, when the first reading of a play came with all the actors, offered nothing of himself to it. In the most dramatic parts of the play he wouldn't even raise his voice. No doubt it was his technique for avoiding the false steps into the role, but it was unnecessary caution and disrespectful of the other actors, in my opinion.

On the other hand there are some actors who try to give a full performance at the first reading. That is also detrimental. I admit to having had that fault myself in my younger years. In time I learned how fruitless it was, I only had to start over again once I was in rehearsal.

Another problem is with directors. Some directors will read a play once and think they know how to direct it. Directors who do that fall right into one of the pits the beast has set for them and are dragging the actors down with them. If an architect tried to building a building that way it would collapse.

One year I did a play with a well known actor who stumbled over one of his lines in every single performance. I thought: Why doesn't the self-important lazy bum go back to his script and get the line right instead of making a mumbled mess out of it every time? He never did.

We should always be careful, precise and complete in what we do. If an artist is sloppy, careless and undisciplined the beast will sneak up behind and tear his work into shreds.

To work well is to focus clearly, seek out and follow the right trail, expect light from strange places, find energy from hidden sources, grasp the silent jewels that flit past, be aware of the work's insistence on its own being and one day the savage beast will show up benign, tamed and ready to enlighten the world.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Give It Up

Idealists foolish enough to throw caution to the winds have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.

Emma Goldman

It'll Never Work
The Same Old Baloney

Many years ago I had a job as a classical music radio announcer. One night I was about to play a Mahler symphony. But just before I did I recounted this incident. I was having lunch in a nice restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At the table next to me were two men, a young man and an older man. I heard the older man say "Well, healthy imagination is a good thing. But you don't want to let it run rampant."

After I told that story I introduced the music by saying "And here is imagination run rampant. Otherwise known as the Symphony Number 5 by Gustav Mahler." Almost immediately I received a call from a man who congratulated me for making that remark,

Ludwig, you're starting your first symphony with an unresolved chord, a dissonant chord? Don't do that. Nobody begins a piece of music with an unresolved chord. It's just not done. The critics will tear you apart. Now erase that and start over.

What's that Alex? A telephone? What does it do? You talk into it? Okay, and then what? Somebody answers? Okay, but why do you have to talk to him with that thing? Because he has one of his own? Well, good, but why not just have a conversion with him? He's somewhere else? Where is he, in the next room? In the next state?!! Oh come on, Alex, that won't work. Write him a letter.

You want to paint pictures on the ceiling of the chapel? Forget it, Mick, you'll just get paint on your face, in your hair and all over the place. It'll be a mess. Just paint the walls and leave the ceiling alone.

What are you guys up to? You're trying to build a machine that flies? Go fly a kite if you want to fly something. You want to sit in it while it flies. Don't be ridiculous. Man can never fly, everybody knows that. Leave it alone and go back to fixing bicycles.

Roger, a man can't run a mile faster than 4 minutes. Don't even think about it.

Herman what are you doing? You're writing a novel? What's it about? A whale? What is it a children's story? A crazy captain and a big white whale? Are you sure it's not a children's story? Well, okay, if you want to, but it probably won't sell.

You there, what's that? A what? A wheel? What's it do? Swell, it goes around, so what? What can you do with it? Move something? Go hitch it up to that wildebeest if you want to move something and leave that so-called "wheel" where it is. It'll never work.


Consider the Lilies

Always think of what is useful and not what is beautiful. Beauty will come of its own accord.

Nikolai Gogol

I'm sitting here in a puddle of thoughts, listening to some jazz and surrounded by all the little tasks and loose ends of my current life wondering what to do about them. I think there has never been an artist who didn't leave behind fragments. An idea comes out of a mind that is oiled up to a vigorous imagination and it's easy to think it's going on to become a great work, or maybe a moderately good work. And yet somehow it ends up in a drawer or a box only to be found later and wondered about.

I once read an article by a writer who said that he enjoyed dreaming up titles. He had a collection of titles for books and stories he would never write. I've seen young actors come into a class or an audition and try to tear up the stage with drama, to show how emotional and colorful they are, without having any grasp of what the speech is about.

It's not only in the arts where this is done. People will have and hold a theory and then bend the facts in order to prove it. A scientist will make the mistake of having a conclusion before doing the calculations to get there. Folks will work hard to make something resemble something else instead of itself. It's called starting from the wrong end, starting with the effect without looking for the cause.

The flower doesn't grow out of the ground just to look beautiful for our benefit much as we would like to think so. The design of its petals are to catch special rays of sunlight and reflect others back and so we see shape and color. Its leaves fulfill other purposes and the vibrations it sends out to bring pollination and to renew itself we enjoy as aroma. The brazen sunflower in the front yard and the humble violet in the corner of the garden are both fulfilling their functions.

If you design a building, whether it's a skyscraper or a shed, all of its purposes must be accounted for. A poet knows there is only one right word for a place in the line. He will reject everything that isn't that word. A composer must consider all the intervals and harmonics of a piece in order to make the melody sing. For the scientist, when all the calculations have been properly done the correct formula blossoms into place. The actors job is to tell the story, to know all of the relevant facts, to pursue a well established purpose within that story and to bring all the pieces together into the logic of events. I'm listening to jazz pianist Dick Hyman play a piece and noting that he could not get to the beautiful finale of it if he had not connected all the dots and filled all the spaces on the way.

Raymond Shurtz in his journal, "Cowboys and Bohemians" calls it the "click." That moment when the work has been done right and you know it and the result is inevitable. I have proved this too many times in my life not to know it's true. When you start at the beginning, when the work is done unselfishly and done rightly there comes a moment when the result appears like magic. And it's beautiful.

DB - The Vagabond

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mangled Morality

A man who lives, not by what he loves but what he hates, is a sick man.

Archibald McLeish
(Thank you Bruce)

Freedom gives me the right to punch you in the mouth. That right ends just before the place where your mouth begins. Morality is a complicated subject, confusing and difficult to define, even though some people think they know what it's all about.

Villains don't think they are villains. Mad people generally don't know they are insane, unless they have been observed by a professional who can tell them.

We're all mad to one degree or another, (particularly artists, it seems) it comes with the mantle of humanity. But hate is one of the worst injuries one can do to oneself. I'm paraphrasing a quote from someone who said that if you want to hurt me convince me to hate someone.

Years ago a man was out to kill me for something I did which was admittedly wrong. It was a moment of passionate impulse which I regret. I didn't deserve to die for it, but he didn't see it that way. He could have easily killed me and gotten away with it. I survived because he was stronger than his hatred. And where did that strength come from? From reason, clear thinking and a lot of understanding himself.

Moral actions may happen ignorantly, but they don't come out of cowardice, lack of opportunity, self justification or the force of will power. Those things may prevent an awful result but one must think back from the result to the cause, and the cause is not the action the prompted the hate but the knowledge of what that hate consists.

Wrongs must be righted, that's true. But that doesn't mean the wrongdoer must be destroyed. The dark cloud that shadows a life will pass if allowed to, but it won't if it is fed by hatred and revenge. The sad fact is that sometimes hate dresses up as love. When you hear people speak of "closure," "an eye for an eye," "leveling the field," "teaching a lesson" or "sending a message." the chances are very good that they are talking about revenge. Vengeance will often show up, well dressed, with a smile on its face and an expensive hat covering the snakes that are crawling out of its brain. But vengeance doesn't finish anything, it continues it. Indeed, hatred held in the heart grows until the person harboring it is sick. When it becomes someone's way of life it can be fatal..

The mad man who massacred those police officers in Washington was seeing violent visions, hearing voices and calling himself the Messiah. Was his illness developed to the point of no cure? We'll never know. He died.

Hate, as any negative, destructive emotion, which grips the heart and mind with icy fingers, is a liar. It calls itself yours. It calls itself you. It is a parasite designed to gnaw at all the healthy, loving parts of you until it attacks your vitality, drives you mad and destroys you. That's the history of hatred. Hatred breeds hatred, violence breeds violence, war breeds war. Will we understand that before we destroy ourselves?

A good dose of anger over one injustice or another, now and then, is not a bad thing if it spurs on to a positive result. A sense of humor is even better. Love is the best. But we should examine ourselves and our motivations to find out if there is any hate and, if there is, get rid of it.

Freedom gives me the right to hate you enough to punch you in the mouth. But reason gives me the right and freedom to take that hatred, stuff it into a plastic bag, attach a rock to it and bury it in the swamp from which it came.

DB - The Vagabond

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thunderous Thinking

Labor and rest, city and country life, social discourse and mere play, entertainment in solitude, now with prose, now with poetry, sometimes with philosophy, sometimes with mathematics, all those changes of activity strengthen the mind.

Immanuel Kant
I used to know a young philosopher named John. I say young because he was fresh out of graduate school with a PhD. We tend to think of a philosopher as a gray haired, bearded old professorial type with a system of thought summed up from a lifetime of pondering. John was an exception to that picture, as I'm sure there are others. He was a follower of the English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, an empiricist and mathematician.

The remarkable thing about John was his ability to completely focus his mind on whatever issue interested him at the time. He could address any topic: astronomy, the economy, poetry, cooking or football, with the same intense concentration. He was curious about everything. He was also very passionate about things he was for or against, but he always had good, sound, well thought out reasons for his opinions. He also had a good sense of humor and play.

I think John's secret was that his mind didn't wander. Nothing in his head interfered with what he was thinking about at the time. But he wasn't the slightest bit critical or judgmental toward people whose minds did wander, such as myself.
John had a girl friend at the time who was my sister-in-law. The four of us would hang around and do things together. He was a pleasure to be with, although often a little intimidating. One always knew that clockwork mind of his was ticking on some issue that had attracted his attention even if he was silent.

We were driving somewhere one day and I posed the following problem:

A guy goes into a gambling hall, pays $4 to get in, doubles his money and pays $4 to get out.

He goes into a second one, pays $4 to get in, doubles his money and pays $4 to get out.

He goes into a third one, pays $4 to get in, doubles his money and pays $4 to get out.

He goes into a fourth, pays $4 to get in, doubles his money and pays $4 to get out.

When he leaves the fourth gambling hall he has no more money. How much money did he have when he started?

John immediately started from the end and calculated, adding and subtracting as he went. He stopped only once to ask me if there was a fourth gambling hall. When I said there was he went ahead and gave the correct answer. It took him way less than a minute.

John, I wish you great happiness wherever you are.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Absolute Answers

We're a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we really don't have an explanation for.

Malcolm Gladwell
The journey from here to the Oxford Valley Mall is a twisting, turning, bumpy thirty to forty minute bus ride. I made the trip uncertain of my destination but with hope and expectation. It was mid October, shortly after my Internet connection failed and I lost the Windows. I thought it would be fixed at the first phone call. What a shock I was in for!

I still had my Dell at that point and the technicians I spoke with were certain they had the answer. The conversation always began "Okay. I'll get you back on line." Somewhere between 2 and 5 hours later it ended by whoever it was giving up.

But on the way to the mall I thought things had changed. The last technician I spoke with assured me in the most positive terms that the problem was with the Ethernet cable. It was old and threadbare and needed to be replaced, that was all. So I got to the mall, found Radio Shack and purchased a top-of-the-line cable. On the ride home I was feeling joyous and couldn't wait to get it hooked up. When I got there, I plugged it in, powered up, turned on the computer and clicked on Internet Explorer.


For about the next 20 days I heard as many explanations from Dell, Verizon and other experts as to why I still could not get on the Internet. By the time I decided myself that it was no use I had logged in 37 hours on the telephone. Some of the techies I talked with were abusive, insulting types, many were slow and plodding, some were difficult to understand and some were just plain ignorant.

I was made to perform the same processes over and over again including getting down on the floor to read numbers, unplug and plug, check connections and so forth. Getting down on the floor was difficult, but nothing compared with getting on my feet again. I felt like the woman in that old commercial who said "I've fallen and I can't get up." I soon learned that if I crawled over to the sink I could hoist myself up, but some of the techies grew impatient with me. When I finally got back to the phone they would be in the middle of talking to me or they had hung up.

There were exceptions. One Indian gentleman at Dell was determined to stay with me until the problem was solved. He really wanted me to get back on line and tried everything. A day would go by and he would call me up with a new idea. We conversed back and forth for many days and hours. I think he finally realized the fault was in the computer but he didn't want to admit it. He eventually gave up.

The brand new Ethernet cable that was the certain answer is now coiled up with a rubber band around it and sitting in a box.

Calling Tech Support is like jumping off a high diving board with a blindfold on. You don't know if there is any intelligence in the pool.