Thursday, January 31, 2013

Playing Out My Confusion

Sometimes I feel like I’m not supposed to be confused any more. I’m on the cusp between middle-aged and old, neither one nor the other, and aren’t things supposed to be clear by now? But there are still days when I arrive at a street corner and stand there uncertain, not knowing which way to go, or I linger on the brink of a phone call, not sure about my need or desire to hear that other voice. Those moments suspended can be like a gulf opening between alternate realities.

It’s not the alternatives that quiet me, but the cloudy span of choice between them. I shape my future step by step, and each step can seem to diminish my imagined supply of possibility, as I say goodbye to the might-have-beens that I will never be.  Those limitless, lost choices; all those “beautiful lovers I never got the chance to kiss”.
But this is all made up. Because I have a kind of affinity for that suspension of certainty and clarity of direction. I cherish the feeling of not knowing down which slope my life is about to tumble, as this or that unforeseen influence gains sway and moves me. I once thought indecision wasn’t supposed to happen to me anymore. I once dreamt that confusion was one of those childish things I would someday put aside. No longer. I’ve grown to embrace my not-knowing.

I love it when, at the end of a day, I find myself somewhere I never imagined. And it’s a daily event. Because the unexpected seeping of mystery into life is every day. It isn’t recognized as such only because the mind clings to the familiar, to the remembered, the known and the catalogued. I think it’s those items that keep us believing that we understand the journey we are on, and know how it will end, that we know in advance what lessons are to be learned and what obstacles overcome. I love it that an hour ago I had no idea what I would be writing here, though I felt moved to write.
It will never be about doing away with confusion, doubt, mystery. Rather, it will be about coming into a cozier relationship with my ignorance, my unknowing, with the cloudy side of my intellect, the shady side of believing, with the vulnerable shallowness of my certainty.

Not even accurate to call it confusion, really, this something I’ve slowly come to terms with. It’s only confusion to the extent that I feel bound to know, to the extent that I’m impatient for the comforts of certainty. I turn again to a passage from the Tao te Ching, a passage that speaks to the need for this certainty, for action, for a confident style of “doing” in the world. It enjoins: “Do you have the patience to wait, till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today’s Magic Ain’t Tomorrow’s

Creative inspiration is always close at hand. My mindset determines my availability to it. I’ve come to understand and agree that one of the best practices a creative artist can take on is to open himself to this magic every day. By doing so, a kind of rhythm is established. The creative spirit will align itself with me, or allow me to align myself with it. And if I’m faithful, it will make its regular visitations. Whatever imagination is, it will be stirred, wakened, channelled, and allow me to give my urgings, my yearnings and questions, beautiful, evocative form – form that will draw me deeper into the mystery than I can not consciously navigate or trace, form that will allow others to feel, sense or otherwise experience the mystery that has captivated me.

This is in no way my own understanding or conceit. Over the years, I’ve heard it expressed through many parallel metaphors, by artists of varied persuasions. Art comes from something or someplace beyond the limited, concrete beings that we are. It comes through us, completing a circle, from mystery to mystery, but through the consciousness that we are, carrying us and expressing us along the way, while also connecting us something larger, deeper than I can express.

Which is why it’s such a rush, such a high, to be caught up in it. Which is why we can become such wild, strange, weirdly detached creatures while we’re in the grip. If we can let go that much. Being connected to it weakens the connection to all this other. Caught up in that transcendent energy, we’re somewhat less in the grip of gravity, of the social, psychological gravities, anyway.
But magic can’t be stored in the freezer. And inspiration – while it can be engaged and perhaps synchronized with – well, it can’t be packaged, scheduled, portioned out like vitamin capsules.

I don’t know that I’m expressing a truth that’s anyone else’s but mine. Yes, others have shared the same or similar notions. But does that make it law? Does that mean that others can’t experience the creative force in completely different ways? I don’t think so. I don’t think law applies here.
But...coming around to what I sat to write about: the magic doesn’t wait, it doesn’t hold time still, it doesn’t come with preservatives that protect it against the slow erosion of moment-to-moment being. So I’ve learned, and maintaining this blog has underscored.
Now, I’m by no means a disciplined man. Far from that. I’m as up and down as the mercury in a thermometer, as fluctuating as the flames of a campfire. As are my passions. I catch these little fires of revelation, and if I’m ready, if I’m fit and open, not struggling, strong in that peculiar vulnerability that allows you to lay yourself bare while in the same moment maintaining a vigilance, a presence, a self-knowing, ah...such beauty comes of it. It comes out sometimes in words, sometimes in the sounds of a horn, sometimes simply in the act of being present, witness, or in being with.

For these experiences, I don’t need your confirmation that it’s beauty, art, magic, creation, love (all the same thing). It simply is that, even if I’m the only witness. The great artists, or course, record these moments, and these strings of moments, one after the other, that they’ve cobbled together through their patient, dutiful, courageous witness. That’s Coltrane, that’s Matisse, that’s this Pina, the dancer I’d never heard of, whom the recent film is about (did you see that?!)
But, (I’m having to pull myself backward again, to re-connect with the intended theme – today, I won’t let myself stray too far) time erodes magic, drains the life right out of it. So you must, I must, be outside of time to draw it in, work it, join with it, then lay it down. And how do I know this? From all those endless fragments, those evidences of brief visitations, that came and went like wisps of dream, vivid as blood until they faded like the echo you turn to too late.

There are so many such bits. Pieces of dream, flickers of that crazy, mad illumination. It won’t come back again. Either latch on, and hold tight through the delirious ascent, not thinking about the fall, the tumble back, or of plotting the path, retracing steps...( because none of that will work, anyway). Let it take you where it takes you. Or else? Well there is no else. The else is simply the every day. It’s life on earth. Nothing bad. Nothing small, or dingy or anything like that. Simply, not the mystery, the magic, the deeply eviscerating breath of spirit, carrying you to each new universe, only, just, this, once.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Re-Entry Revisited

      Time off - so good, For my soul, my racing mind and tensing muscles. It began to work for me while I was still working, merely anticipating the time away, knowing it was coming. "Only __ more days of this," I kept telling myself.

      Up until when this healing began, I couldn't even know the extent of my dis-ease. I didn't realize how I moved about with my neck and shoulder muscles so tightly bunched, against...nothing. I didn't feel how, when I walked, I projected myself three feet ahead of where I was walking, always hurrying, always behind, never actually able to settle into my steps.

      But once the healing began...ahh, what relief. I notice the tension in my shoulders only when I've begun to relax them, and they sink down an inch, then another, then another. I take walks without the imperative of arriving somewhere, and the lean has gone out of my walk. I'm aware of the different quality of my waiting at busstops, my eyes not locked in the direction of the unseen horizon, but seeing everything else around me, in that calm way we can look at things of which we have no expectation, but that they reveal themselves. And what revelation - when it doesn't matter, at all.

      I could go on - about the time away, the contours, the weight, infinity of it - time unmeasured. But I'll only say that it was healing My shoulders are hanging more naturally these days. I'm walking a step at a time. I'm more settled and accomplished in my uni-tasking, this wonderful, life-breathing practice of doing just one thing at a time.

      But what of the re-entry? Well, I come with a different energy than last year. I'm not feeling so much that I have to hang onto something that's foreign to my everyday - the tranquility of the break, the goals I set and resolutions I made. Re-entry this time around feels more like remembering pieces of myself I'd forgotten or set aside. It feels like recognizing that 'working' me and 'on leave' me aren't different people at all, but products of the undeniable influence of environment, and the power of habits and patterns to lock us in or out. And I'm knowing that the bonds I keep with others (colleagues, friends, clients) are at least as important as the bonds I keep with my dreams, and in fact are the best of what I have that can support my dreams.

      It's very satisfying in a way, that after two months off work, so little has changed. I slip back in this time around, with hardly a tremor. My own calm is noted. I see immediately how my perspective and my talents fit. I'm bringing strength. My one-task-at-a-time approach is like a window into a more sane ordering of time, in which I won't be able to lose myself again, nor anyone else.

      I've been learning, for awhile now, that you get to the life you want by living it. My newer understanding is that the living isn't planned, it's not tomorrow, not a goal for the future. It's today. Here and now.

      Re-entry? Maybe I never left.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Listening for Brownie

When I started seriously listening to music, in the late 60's as I was entering my teens, the music I found most relevant was contemporary music. To me, that meant James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations and the Supremes, Sly & the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers, and other exponents of the new and fresh sounds emerging from Black, urban communities.

I started to buy and listen more to jazz at that time, and it soon became my favorite musical form. But I remained attuned to the contemporary, so for well over a decade my tastes leaned strongly toward fusion, progressive and free jazz forms, those styles that incorporated rock, R&B, African, South American and other ethnic forms. I couldn't bring myself to take in any jazz that I felt was "old-timey". Except for Coltrane, I was well into my twenties before I gave a serious ear to almost any jazz from before the mid-sixties.

But gradually, I became more open to the jazz of the early sixties, fifties, and even earlier. First, there was the earlier work of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, whose fusion work had already enthralled me. There was Hancock's "Speak Like a Child", and eventually I discovered Miles's "Kind of Blue". I heard a cut from "Sterling Silver", a compilation of early Horace Silver performances and became a fan of his. And gradually, over time, I became a fan of other pre-fusion greats.

My latest musical infatuation is with Clifford Brown, whom I discovered only very recently. It's not that I didn't know of the phenomenal trumpet player, known as Brownie, who was firmly established as a master stylist and leader by the time of his death in an auto accident at age 25. I even had a recording of one of his re-mastered live performances that I, well...liked. But it wasn't until I heard the first album that Brownie recorded as part of his collaboration with drummer Max Roach in 1955, titled simply "Clifford Brown & Max Roach" that I came under the spell of his magic.

It's such a beautiful, lush album, one that creates its own mood, as all great albums do. It's a quintet performance. The two leaders are accompanied by Harold Land on tenor, Richie Powell on piano, and George Morrow on bass. Brownie and Land have very complementary tones - full, throaty, organic, and their play is sensual and sweet and evocative. Roach contributes melodic solos and support that keeps the outing nicely bouncing along. From the first listen, I knew I had a new favorite album, and the tunes have been in my head, playing as a kind of soundtrack to my life, for a couple of months now. I love all the tunes, but my favorite is the tune that Brownie dedicated to his wife, whom he called his "Joy Spring".

Wonderful, how music can so suddenly capture you, as this did me - creep into your soul and inhabit you, flavor your world and your thoughts, enrich your sense of being. This album warms me with its quiet, joyous heat. It breathes a nostalgia for a time I didn't know. And it gives me a little bounce too.

The vinyl version of the album that I stumbled across in a used record store is titled "Jordu", but for some reason that tune alone is presented in a version only half as long as the original. Nevertheless, I'll be playing it as part of my Jazz Gumbo set tomorrow night. On previous shows I've already featured "Joy Spring" and "Delilah", and you'll be able to find them all at if you'd like to check them out.

In the meantime, I hope that you too are bouncing along with music that you love.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Paged & Screened

           A film version of Kerouac’s On The Road is coming out shortly, and I’m excited. It happens that I just re-read the book, almost forty years after first reading it. And I recently viewed Howl, about Ginsberg and the writing of his poem, and got a new appreciation of how the lives of the two authors intersected, and of the inspirational influence of Neal Cassady on both. I’m wondering how On The Road will translate, rambunctious, radiant and rambling as it is. Can the film possibly do the novel justice?

          The occassion has me thinking about other page-to-screen adaptations, how they so often disappoint, but are sometimes revelations that transcend the book. There’ve been quite a few times that I’ve sought out a book after loving a film: Little Big Man (loved it too), The Shining (made me a King fan), Being There (very disappointing), 2001: A Space Odyssey (ah, now I get it) and Lolita (such brilliance!) pop to mind (yes,so much Kubrick). But more often than that, I’ve viewed film adaptations of loved books: The Brothers Karamazov (Hollywood! What can you say?), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Hey, not bad, not bad), Slaughterhouse 5 (not bad, but not close either), Beloved (sadly flat and lifeless), Lord of the Rings (great fun!) and I, Robot (how dare they!) are some of those.
          Yes, it’s true that the book is usually better. But not always. For example, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is a pretty good page turner of a book, but, in my opinion, the films made from it are epic and surpass it in every way. And, as already noted, I found Kosinski’s paged Being There a huge disappointment after Peter Seller’s magnificent turn as Chance on screen.

          Once or twice, I’ve rushed to read a book after being intrigued by a film’s preview. The Bourne Identity was such a case. But it backfired in a way. The trailer grabbed me, I loved the book, and was then annoyed by all the film’s shortcuts and omissions. I didn’t get why everyone said it was such a great thriller. But I saw films II and III – without reading the books – and they grabbed me and didn’t let go.
        Often, a film erases or abuses the powerful or beautiful images an author has created in my reader’s mind. But at other times, the film maker transcends my own imagining in a way that enriches the text (think Kubrick!) Sometimes a film struggles to convey mood, tone or perspective. And at other times, it just creates its own ambiance. Sometimes, the actors and sets and physical dimensions of a film replace what my mind had built from the words on a page, but not always. And they do so less when the book is a truly great one, with a rich sensory dimension of its own.
          So, I’m waiting to see how On The Road makes the transition. And I’m also waiting for (and sometimes dreading) adaptations of other favorite books. Will Invisible Man ever get the treatment? Or The Master & Margarita? Or Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels? Maybe, just maybe, with all the great television being written these days, they’ll get mini-series treatment, and at least have a greater chance of remaining whole