AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

31 December 2009

Or ... they could be.

Happy New Year to all.


May the coming year find you safe, healthy, and at peace.

Full moon, Blue Moon, last eclipse of 2009 ... all tonight!


"On this last night of the year, nearly everyone worldwide will see the full moon all night long. The only exception will be Antarctica, where there’s a midnight sun now and no moon at all. The full moon will rise around sunset on this New Year’s Eve, climb highest in the sky around midnight, and will set around sunrise on the first day of 2010. For the Americas, Europe, Africa, and far-western Asia, tonight’s moon carries the name Blue Moon. For Earth’s eastern hemisphere, centering on India, there will be a very small partial lunar eclipse, with the moon just skimming Earth’s shadow."

Read the rest from Earth & Sky here.

Mantecare


Yes, yes!

"Tony, you see, insisted that it was the mantecare—a vigorous, final beating-in of butter—that was the essential part of risotto-making. The mantecare guaranteed an immaculate, homogenous mass of rice, broth, cheese (if appropriate) and butter. Skipping it, he said, was the reason why many risotti miserably fail, with the rice falling out of suspension and ending up surrounded by a pool of seeping broth."

Read the rest here.

Use carnaroli instead of arborio, it yields a creamier, much more luxuriant risotto.

Don't get lost.

30 December 2009

Adapt to where you're worthy

Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard ...

The River Why



From the movie's website...
Set on the banks of a wild river, The River Why is the story of 20 year old Gus Orviston, the Mozart of flyfishing, who leaves his big city home in rebellion from his family.

In the process he comes in contact with an assortment of eccentric characters who help him in his journey to adulthood.

Most of all, The River Why is a love story.

The love of a man for the wilderness, and for a beautiful woman who comes to share it with him.

Great interview with Duncan here.

Write ... write ...


...write.

The Writing 101, by Nicholas Bate

1. Every day.
2. Rain or shine.
3. Snow and blizzards.
4. You'™re writing.
5. The beach is calling.
6. You're writing.
7. Mood: up or down. Up and down.
8. You're writing.
9. Pencil and paper will do fine.
10. Back of an envelope.
11. Corner of a bus ticket.
12. Find some paper!
13. Get a timetable.
14. Coffee on the hour, not during the hour.
15. Rules are rules.
16. Rules gets quantity.
17. Generate quantity to be surprised by quality.
18. An urge.
19. Ignore the phone.
20. Ignore the door-bell.
21. Phone on silent. No, not vibrate. Silent.
22. A passion.
23. It must happen.
24. Start 0700 tomorrow.
25. At the desk. Computer on. Cornflakes eaten. Coffee set.
26. Write.
27. "First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him." Ray Bradbury
28. Blank paper is scary. So. Write.
29. Write.
30. The car stopped.
31. The car pulled up suddenly.
32. The car slid across the gravel; his gloved hand urged the powerful Porsche into a tight circle whilst aiming the gun at the lit window..
33. Walk to write.
34. Swim to write.
35. Meditate to write.
36. Read Stephen King's great guide to write.
37. Also Julia Cameron.
38. And the War of Art.
39. One more word.
40. One more sentence.
41. Another paragraph.
42. Another page.
43. A chapter.
44. 7340 words so far. Cool work.
45. You're a writer; nobody said it would be easy.
46. They're asleep. You'™re writing.
47. They're watching a film. You're writing.
48. They're shopping. You're writing.
49. You're not writing. You'™re surfing.
50. Write on the train.
51. Write on the bus.
52. Write at the airport.
53. Write while waiting for the dentist.
54. Don't write in the bed-room.
55. Don't write in the delivery-room.
56. Don't write at your daughter's hockey match
57. Observe.
58. Observe more.
59. Observe more, more often.
60. A person?
61. A person who looked anxious?
62. A woman whose strained expression suggests she had seen more than she really wanted to?
63. I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose. Stephen King
64. Be sensitive.
65. To people.
66. To the elements.
67. To food tastes.
68. 100 more words, then a break.
69. Walk, stretch.
70. Don't over-analyze
71. Proof later.
72. Write.
73. Write.
74. She was astounded that the small brief-case held so many perfect five-hundred Euro notes. Where had the money come from and who was the man with whom she had been sharing her Life for the last two months?
75. Write a bit more.
76. She had a couple of options, especially now that she had decided she was going to leave him anyway.
77. Stop your melodrama. And insert more drama.
78. You are not blocked.
79. Is a shop-keeper blocked?
80. Is a fireman blocked?
81. Is a farmer blocked?
82. You are a writer: the stuff needs to get out of your head and onto the page/screen.
83. 'Take it Easy' said the Eagles. But they were not talking about writers.
84. The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. Linus Pauling
85. A slice of pizza won't work.
86. Nor a glass of beer.
87. A shower might.
88. A walk will.
89. Music could.
90. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk. Stephen King.
91. Write to create. Not to be published.
92. If you create well, you will be published.
93. Did you run the marathon to win? I thought not.
94. Listen to "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles.
95. Then start: write.
96. Cool, now off to the day job. Selling, chasing, project-managing. Writing code. Pole dancing. Writing code and pole dancing. Measuring. Cleaning. Whatever.
97. But tomorrow.
98. 0700
99. Cornflakes eaten, coffee primed.
100.The briefcase of high-value notes was scattered around the room. Blood was dripping from her cut eye ruining her new Zara top. Was he still in the flat? As she strained to see, she realised that she couldn'™t move.
101.Write.

David James Duncan


"... in my day-to-day life as a human being, and in my imaginative life as a writer, the best deeds and work spring out of a spirit of play. Of course much good work and good writing is in response to pain. But the banal little words "play" and "fun" have definitions that can broaden and deepen to address pain: to allow real sorrow, pain and joy to come as they will, open oneself to each in turn, and respond to them via deeds, or the truest words one can set down on paper, is the truest "fun" and "play" I know. The lightheartedness born of such playfulness colors our interactions with others so profoundly that I've come to consider lightheartedness one of the crucial shades in the spectrum the religious-minded might call 'the light of God.'" -David James Duncan

Read the rest here.

The Road Home



Michigan is in my rearview.

Thanks Mom, Dad, Buff!

David McCullough



"History teaches, reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for, and what we ought to be willing to stand up for. History is or should be the bedrock of patriotism, not the chest-pounding kind of patriotism but the real thing, love of country.

We are living now in an era of momentous change, of huge transitions in all aspects of life here, nationwide, worldwide and this creates great pressures and tensions. But history shows that times of change are the times when we are most likely to learn. This nation was founded on change. We should embrace the possibilities in these exciting times and hold to a steady course, because we have a sense of navigation, a sense of what we've been through in times past and who we are." -David McCullough

Read the rest here.

Over the past week I was in Michigan at my parents' home celebrating Christmas. I was a wonderful time, one of the first times we had been together for Christmas in many years.

One of the special things we did each evening was watch an installment of the HBO series, John Adams, based on the biography of the same name by one of my heroes, David McCullough. What an interesting, talented, and enthusiast storyteller. I thoroughly enjoyed the series; almost as good as the book (Paul Giamatti and Stephen Dillane are excellent as Adams and Jefferson, respectively).

One of the unexpected pleasure of the film was a short documentary of McCullough.

Haute dogs



Boulud is doing a dog as well ... homemade beef shoulder wiener, sautéed onion, mustard, ketchup, 299 relish & fries. which goes to show that even the culinary gods can get it wrong. Why? Ha, ha ... why?!!! I'll let Harry Callahan tell you why ...

How old is that?



Ever wondered what the first recipe was? When fried chicken first hit the table? How about when Vernor's was invented? Me either, but since my buddy John sent me this food timeline, I'm transfixed! It is so cool to see the correlation between the passing of time and food culture.

Explore here.

By the way, Daniel Boulud created the $100 burger (above) in 2000. Take a closer look here.

Thanks John!

Happy Birthday, Rudyard Kipling


“I have always felt the menacing darkness of tropical eventides, as I have loved the voices of night-winds through palm or banana leaves, and the song of the tree-frogs”—from his autobiography Something of Myself (1937)

The author of The Jungle Books, Just So Stories, Captains Courageous, and many more was born today in 1865.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

28 December 2009

"Seven Sisters" visible tonight



Earth and Sky prepares you here.

At home today



This wooden bowl has sat on the coffee table my parents' most-used common room for as long as I can remember. Since I was a small child, I have enjoyed the ritual of "nut cracking."

As I write this, I am enjoying a freshly cracked hazelnut, sipping on some wine (47lb. rooster!!!), and talking to Mom & Dad about the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, as the snow continues outside.

By the way, burned on the side of the wooden bowl is the passage ...
When wintry winds
Blow fierce and cold
Nuts are cracked
And stories told.

Which is "beautiful?"








Should we just because we can?

Roger Scruton weighs in ...
"The first assumption, that beauty is subjective, owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is functional in a democratic culture. By making this assumption you avoid giving offense to the one whose taste differs from yours. He likes garden gnomes, illuminated Christmas displays, Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” and a thousand other things that send shudders down the educated spine. But that’s his taste, and he is entitled to it. Leave him to enjoy it and he will leave you to get on with listening to Beethoven quartets, collecting antiques, and designing your house in the style of Palladio. But sometimes the assumption becomes dysfunctional. Each year his illuminated Christmas display increases in size, gets more bright and obtrusive, and lasts longer. Eventually his house has an all-year round Christmas tree, with Santa protruding from the chimney and brightly shining reindeer on the lawn. To be honest, the sight is insufferable, and entirely spoils the view from your window. You retaliate by playing Wagner late at night, only to receive blasts of Bing Crosby in the early hours. Here is the democratic culture at work—on its way to mutual destruction."

Read the rest here.

Life out of stone


"Gianlorenzo Bernini, on the other hand, cared a great deal about likeness, to the point where he redefined it as more than appearance. True likeness - the kind he wanted to capture in his sculptures - was the animation of character, expressed in the movements of bodies and faces. Bernini took the stat - the Latin for their usual condition of "standing" - out of statues. His figures break free from the gravity pull of the pedestal to run, twist, whirl, pant, scream, bark or arch themselves in spasms of intense sensation. Bernini could make marble do things it had never done before. His figures charge into hectic action. Most of them are naturally yeasty, on the rise, and their natural drift is into the air and light."

Read the rest here.

The Power of Art: Bernini

The Bernini episode in Simon Schama's BBC masterpiece ...








In praise of a sober morning celebration


A case against midnight revelry ...

"They adopted in short order their peculiar twin customs of Hogmanay and First Footing, designed to mark the sliding of one year into another, and by the 1680s they started organizing celebrations around them that eventually had us all getting off on this whole present-day New-Year-begins-at-midnight malarkey. Then a century later Robert Burns wrote the words to "Auld Lang Syne" and set it to a jaunty Scottish dance tune—and with that, and the provision on the last evening of December of copious draughts of whisky, so these normally dour and repressed northern peoples oversaw the beginning of the long decline of the old habit of marking New Year with ceremonies of dignified moderation and temporal respect.

I lived in Scotland for a while, and there was no escaping it. The precise nature of the partying varied from town to town: In one they would manufacture and dress up a gigantic herring and parade it through the streets, in another set ablaze huge smoking bonfires of juniper bushes, and in one fishing village on the North Sea coast, local lads well on in drink would set to swinging dangerous-looking chicken-wire fireballs around their heads, usually until someone got arrested or killed."

New Year's Eve is amateur night anyway ... better to spend the evening safely and peacefully at home, with a book, some drink, and quiet reflection. Read the rest here.

Tennyson, "Ring Out, Wild Bells"


Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Snow


From John Greenleaf Whittier's, Snowbound: A Winter Idyl

The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east; we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores, --
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingàd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

So all night long the storm roared on:
The morning broke without a sun;
In tiny spherule traced with lines Of Nature's geometric signs,
And, when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below, --
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle.

A prompt, decisive man, no breath
Our father wasted: "Boys, a path!"
Well pleased, (for when did farmer boy
Count such a summons less than joy?)
Our buskins on our feet we drew;
With mittened hands, and caps drawn low,
To guard our necks and ears from snow,
We cut the solid whiteness through.
And, where the drift was deepest, made A tunnel walled and overlaid
With dazzling crystal: we had read
Of rare Aladdin's wondrous cave,
And to our own his name we gave,
With many a wish the luck were ours
To test his lamp's supernal powers.
We reached the barn with merry din,
And roused the prisoned brutes within.
The old horse thrust his long head out,
And grave with wonder gazed about;
The cock his lusty greeting said,
And forth his speckled harem led;
The oxen lashed their tails, and hooked,
And mild reproach of hunger looked;
The hornëd patriarch of the sheep,
Like Egypt's Amun roused from sleep,
Shook his sage head with gesture mute,
And emphasized with stamp of foot.

All day the gusty north-wind bore
The loosening drift its breath before;
Low circling round its southern zone,
The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
No church-bell lent its Christian tone
To the savage air, no social smoke
Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
A solitude made more intense
By dreary-voicëd elements,
The shrieking of the mindless wind,
The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
And on the glass the unmeaning beat
Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
Beyond the circle of our hearth
No welcome sound of toil or mirth
Unbound the spell, and testified
Of human life and thought outside.
We minded that the sharpest ear
The buried brooklet could not hear,
The music of whose liquid lip
Had been to us companionship,
And, in our lonely life, had grown
To have an almost human tone.

As night drew on, and, from the crest
Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
From sight beneath the smothering bank,
We piled, with care, our nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back, --
The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art

Read the rest here.

27 December 2009

John Adams


“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

A walk in the woods

Just got back from the Chippewa River Nature Reserve.


There is a reconstruction of an 1870s era Michigan homestead here ...


My dream classroom is here too!

Wood is split and ready for spring sugaring ...

Tonight's sky


Orion is one of the most beautiful of all constellations, and one of the easiest to find. It looks like a large rectangle high in winter's south-southeastern sky.
Earth and Sky has impeccable information here.

Jethro Tull, Orion
Orion, won't you give me your star sign
Orion, get up on the sky-line
I'm high on my hill and I feel fine
Orion, let's sip the heaven's heady wine

Orion, light your lights:
come guard the open spaces
from the black horizon to the pillow where I lie.
Your faithful dog shines brighter than its lord and master
Your jewelled sword twinkles as the world rolls by.
So come up singing above the cloudy cover
Stare through at people who toss fitful in their sleep.
I know you're watching as the old gent by the station
scuffs his toes on old fag packets lying in the street
And silver shadows flick across the closing bistro.
Sweet waiters link their arms and patter down the street,
their words lost blowing on cold winds in darkest Chelsea.
Prime years fly fading with each young heart's beat

Orion, won't you make me a star sign
Orion, get up on the sky-line
I'm high on your love and I feel fine
Orion, let's sip the heaven's heady wine

More Beauty


"What we look at, listen to and read affects us in the deepest part of our being. Once we start to celebrate ugliness, then we become ugly, too. Just as art and architecture have uglified themselves, so have our manners, our relationships and our language become crude."

Read the rest here.

Dr. Harrison prescribes getting "word drunk"


Bednarik: There was that essay in The Atlantic by Dana Gioia called “Can Poetry Matter?” where he made the argument that poetry is being killed because it’s being concentrated in the academy.
From an interview Harrison did with Joseph Bednarick ...
Harrison: Without question. You know Karl Shapiro, who wrote that magnificent book which doomed him forever called The Bourgeois Poet, he told Ted Kooser—who’s one of my favorite American poets—he said to Kooser, who was just a beginning graduate student: “Just get out of here. You’ll only write poetry for your peers.” I’ve talked about this improbable post-Victorian sense in American poetry of a kind of breathless nature poem from people totally uninformed about the natural world in terms of botany or ornithology. But it’s a set piece, like in Victorian England there were all these faux sincere set pieces, and we have the same thing now, which is of course unfortunately 99.9999 percent trash. And we accept that fact. That we have a few things that last, we’re very fortunate.

Bednarik: So how do you wade through the trash?

Harrison: I don’t wade through the trash, I try to avoid it. There’s very little room for the durable. For instance, I knew Robert Lowell quite well, James Dickey, those people and you know Lowell was the eminence gris of American poetry but since he’s died I’ve rarely heard anybody mention his name. Fumius flumis: We all go up in smoke. I can disappear that quickly. People can be the dominant voices of their generation, but the next generation doesn’t want to listen to them. For good reasons, sometimes.

Bednarik: To pick up on something you said earlier, about writing for your peers: Odysseus Elytis said that ideally the poet wants three readers, and since every poet had two good friends, his whole task is to try and find that third reader.

Harrison: That’s a fascinating idea, I’ve never heard of that. Maybe it’s some kind of implacable ideal reader with a perfect ear who is sort of a muse. It has to be female, of course. For some reason I can’t take men seriously maybe because I’m a man, you know what I mean? I feel that I’ve responded most deeply even to my harshest female critics. And it’s not the mother thing, it’s not any kind of odious psychologism, it’s just that I think they’re hearing with larger ears. Very big ears, like Dumbo.

Bednarik: Careful with that one.

Harrison: Dumbo was brilliant. Always remember that.

Bednarik: I’ll do my best. . . . There’s a poem in your first book called “Sketch for a Job Application Blank.” You’ve called that your first successful poem.

Harrison: I don’t know. It was written at a time when I was always unemployed and I couldn’t get a job and I would get these application blanks and you look at them and you realize you’re not qualified for anything on earth.

Bednarik: You mention in the poem that you were saved, and also earlier in the conversation you mentioned that at fourteen you discovered Keats.

Harrison: Well that was a difficult thing to discover Jesus and Keats and James Joyce all at the same time. Your soul is pulling all these other directions. I thought I should be smarter so I was always reading the New Testament and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Dostoevsky.

Bednarik: This is in your mid-teens?

Harrison: Yes. And so where do you go with this information?

Bednarik: You go to New York.

Harrison: Yeah, you get out of town. That kind of thing.

Bednarik: You talked in an essay about the transference of your religious impulses—your fervent religious impulses—into the impulses of art.

Harrison: Well there’s no question that I found out we crave the genuine and life is short. It’s sort of Joycean, where devoutness as a young man easily transfers itself to the religion of art. Because you don’t like the form of organized religion, though as I’ve said before if you’re in New York and admit you go to a “Mind Doctor,” as I call them, but that you also say your prayers every morning, that’s unthinkable. But I do. I can’t stop. I always have. So you naturally say your prayers every morning and then you read and write your poetry. So it’s mythical in origin and the energy behind the mythological transfers from one form to another. And you think San Juan de la Cruz or Santa Teresa, these improbably fabulous poets, who were also very devout poets, but for some reason this is now totally unacceptable. I can imagine going into Elaine’s in New York and saying “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”—they’d think you’re a lunatic. It’d be fun, I think I’ll do that.

Bednarik: You have also, over the past twenty-five years, practiced as you call it “an inept form of Zen.”

Harrison: Zen is a form of discipline that I’ve practiced almost thirty years, though I’m very poor at it. Very bad at it. That’s a life discipline.

Bednarik: It’s not a discipline that you’re talking about relative to writing?

Harrison: Well, it’s a discipline of attentiveness, or else you diffuse all your energies on nonsense. What did I write the other morning:

You have to pull out the plug of the TV forever
and cut your telephone cords
because it’s not proper that you should spend your life
with you ears stuffed with merde, as they say.

So it’s a religious attitude to life—every moment. Like Deshimaru, the great French Zen teacher was in China and said, “You have to give your life full attention as if a fire were burning in your hair.”

Bednarik: I never understood that quote. I certainly understand the attention.

Harrison: Well, it keeps you awake. Your hair is burning. I like the idea.

Bednarik: But, there’s also the sense of panic in that for me.

Harrison: Oh, no panic. You just put out the fire. I mean, you just stay awake. No question. Where I live down on the border in the winter, I stepped out of my car and put my foot on the ground to open our gate and there’s a black-tipped rattler, a rather fat, large one a half-a-foot from my foot. And what attention means, even being a burly fellow, I landed on my hood—you know, it’s about five-foot high. I shot through the air, and then said hello to the snake. But you want to be attentive about that, watch your step.

Bednarik: Is that one of the things you see in your dogs: An attentiveness that you admire?

Harrison: They’re improbably attentive and you know dogs are our fellow creatures, as are cats and so on. At my cabin my dog knows if there’s a bear near. One little sniff and he rolls his eyes and looks around. If the wolf howls at night, he just very casually goes up to the loft and gets under the bed because wolves are mojo. Too much mojo for a dog. But they’re very matter-of-fact about that, but we sort of witlessly go through life thinking we’re safe and dissipating our lives on nonsense. We suffocate in trash and wonder why we’re not happy, that kind of thing.

Bednarik: So if you take your advice in the poem you wrote a couple of mornings ago about unplugging the cord, can the person used to all these things in their life successfully turn to poetry?

Harrison: Oh, sure. Anybody who has the gift, you know. I have such trouble, getting all these manuscripts every year by the hundreds, and galleys and so on, because you can tell right away if a person’s not in touch; if they want sincerity, or to be right, it’s hopeless. If there isn’t a primary intoxication with language and playfulness of their own consciousness, it’s hopeless. If they just want to be right, well then they’d be better off being a professor, wouldn’t they?

Bednarik: You actually provided advice to young writers and said the best thing for them to be was “word drunk.”

Harrison: Word drunk and don’t forget red wine and garlic. Aimless travel. Obsessive reading. Jobs that have nothing to do with written word. It would be better if they worked in a truck garden, growing things, with a knowledge of botany, natural history and so on. That’s all they need—and you certainly don’t need a bloody MFA. Why don’t they just shoot themselves?

Bednarik: I’ve actually guided several young writers away from MFAs.

Harrison: Well, the trouble is it’s a pyramid scheme, to me. The one good thing about the program is that it teaches people to read and they become very intense about it. But these poor folks—it’s a way of delaying your parents’ opprobrium. “I’m continuing on for an MFA, blah blah blah. . .” What could it possibly mean? There are no jobs available for them, it’s sort of humiliating for them. They’ve gone now to college six or seven years; an MFA is worth about as much as a BA in English, which means for a buck you could get a cup of coffee.

Read the entire interview here.

Instructions to the Cook


From Glassman and Field's Instructions to the Cook ...
"At its deepest, most basic level, Zen -- or any spiritual path, for that matter -- is much more than a list of what we can get from it. t fact, Zen is the realization of the oneness of life in all its aspects, It's not just the pure or the "spiritual" life: it's the whole thing. It's flowers, mountains, rivers, streams, and the inner city and homeless children on Forty-second Street. It's the empty sky and the cloudy sky and the smoggy sky, too. It's the pigeon flying in the empty sky, the pigeons shitting in the empty sky, and walking through the pigeon droppings on the sidewalk. It's the rose growing in the garden, the cut rose shining in the vasein the living room, the garbage where we throw away the rose, and the compost where we throw away the garbage.

Zen is life -- our life. It's coming to realization that all things are nothing but expressions of myself. And myself is nothing but the full expression of all things. It's a life without limits.

There are many different metaphors for such a life. But the one that I have found the most useful, and the most meaningful, comes from the kitchen. Zen masters call a life that is lived fully and completely, with nothing held back, "the supreme meal." And a person who knows how to plan, cook, appreciate, serve, and offer the supreme meal of life, is called a Zen cook.

The position of the cook is one of the highest and most important in the Zen monastery. During the thirteenth century, Dogen, the founder of the largest Zen Buddhist school in Japan, wrote a famous manual called "Instructions to the Cook." It was the Zen cook's duty, he wrote, to make the best most sumptuous meal possible out of whatever ingredients were available -- even if he had only rice and water. The Zen cook used what he had rather than complaining or making excuses about what he didn't have.

On one level, Dogen's "Instructions to the Cook" is about the proper way to prepare and serve meals for the monks. But on the other level it is about the supreme meal -- our own life -- which is both the greatest gift we can receive and the greatest offering we can make."

Surrender


Jim Harrison, Calendars

Back in the blue chair in front of the green studio
another year has passed, or so they say, but calendars lie.
They're a kind of cosmic business machine like
their cousin clocks but break down at inopportune times.
Fifty years ago I learned to jump off the calendar
but I kept getting drawn back on for reasons
of greed and my imperishable stupidity.
Of late I've escaped those fatal squares
with their razor-sharp numbers for longer and longer.
I had to become the moving water I already am,
falling back into the human shape in order
not to frighten my children, grandchildren, dogs and friends.
Out old cat doesn't care. He laps the water where my face used to be.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Baker! Thanks for your gift of poetry.

Dr. Baker's poetry is here.

26 December 2009

Scruton ... Why Beauty Matters

A six-part BBC documentary ...





Roger Scruton, Beauty


From the dust jacket ...
"Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane," writes Roger Scruton. "It can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend."
In a book that is itself beautifully written, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton explores this timeless concept, asking what makes an object--either in art, in nature, or the human form--beautiful. This compact volume is filled with insight and Scruton has something interesting and original to say on almost every page. Can there be dangerous beauties, corrupting beauties, and immoral beauties? Perhaps so. The prose of Flaubert, the imagery of Baudelaire, the harmonies of Wagner, Scruton points out, have all been accused of immorality, by those who believe that they paint wickedness in alluring colors. Is it right to say there is more beauty in a classical temple than a concrete office block, more beauty in a Rembrandt than in an Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can? Can we even say, of certain works of art, that they are too beautiful: that they ravish when they should disturb. But while we may argue about what is or is not beautiful, Scruton insists that beauty is a real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world.

I came across Scruton this year while researching and reading Dutton's The Art Instinct. A classical conservative, Scruton rails against the "Me" in art and its degradation of beauty. Edification is taught here, if we will listen.

25 December 2009

Scruton ... with wine all things are possible.


"Ancient philosophy, Christian religion and western art all see wine as a unique adjunct to the human condition: a channel of communication between god and man, between the rational soul and the animal, between the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Through wine, the distilled essence of the soil seems to flow into the veins, awakening the body to its life."

Scruton is a GOD!

Read the rest here.

The Genius of Handel


"... his father, a surgeon-barber and valet de chambre to the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, 63 years old at Handel's birth, was dead set that his son would not grow up to be a musician; a career in civil law was the only way to go. Paternal strictures against the boy's having anything to do with music only enhanced his desire. The enterprising youngster secretly had a small clavichord brought to an attic room, and there he practiced while everyone else in the house was sleeping. Then one day, after the seven-year-old had finagled a visit to the duke's court with his father, the duke heard him playing the organ and proclaimed his genius, which must not be wasted. The duke persuaded the father to let Handel have music lessons, gave the boy more money than he had ever seen, and told him that if he worked hard he would enjoy every encouragement."

Read the rest here.

Washington Irving's Old Christmas


Awaiting the roast beast for our dinner, I'll read this.

Washington Irving's Old Christmas


Today is Christmas.

As we passed over a rising ground which commanded something of a prospect, the sounds of rustic merriment now and then reached our ears; the Squire paused for a few moments, and looked around with an air of inexpressible benignity. The beauty of the day was of itself sufficient to[106] inspire philanthropy. Notwithstanding the frostiness of the morning, the sun in his cloudless journey had acquired sufficient power to melt away the thin covering of snow from every southern declivity, and to bring out the living green which adorns an English landscape even in mid-winter. Large tracts of smiling verdure contrasted with the dazzling whiteness of the shaded slopes and hollows. Every sheltered bank, on[107] which the broad rays rested, yielded its silver rill of cold and limpid water, glittering through the dripping grass; and sent up slight exhalations to contribute to the thin haze that hung just above the surface of the earth. There was something truly cheering in this triumph of warmth and verdure over the frosty thraldom of winter; it was, as the Squire observed, an emblem of Christmas hospitality, breaking through the chills of ceremony and selfishness, and thawing every heart into a flow. He pointed with pleasure to the indications of good cheer reeking from the chimneys of the comfortable farm-houses and low thatched cottages. "I love," said he, "to see this day well kept by rich and poor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at least, when you are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and of having, as it were, the world all thrown open to you; and I am almost disposed to join with Poor Robin, in his malediction of every churlish enemy to this honest festival:—

"Those who at Christmas do repine,
And would fain hence despatch him,
May they with old Duke Humphry dine,
Or else may Squire Ketch catch 'em."

Read the rest here.

24 December 2009

No brown M & Ms!


Just look.

Handel's Messiah in his own hand


From The Guardian...
Hallelujah! What a Christmas present from the British Library: a chance to peer into the inner workings of Handel's Messiah, with a selection of pages from the composer's draft score of 1741 available for free at their online gallery. Actually, "draft" is something of a misnomer: what you'll see (and read about, and hear) at the British Library site comes pretty close to the final version we all know and love. The top tunes of the Messiah are all here, from Ev'ry Valley to the final Amen, laid down in Handel's magnificently energetic scrawl. As the British Library commentary points out, it might seem like a superhuman feat that Handel conceived the entire oratorio from beginning to end in 24 short days in the summer of 1741, but that's entirely in keeping with what we know about the composer's working practices. In fact, he finished another huge oratorio, Samson, by the end of October the same year.

The revelation of this Messiah score is the thousands of corrections and rubbings-out you can see. Handel didn't get everything right first time, and, in the changes he makes, you get a rare insight into his dynamic compositional process. There's even a dramatic ink-spillage on one of the pages, making the music almost illegible.

The miraculous thing about the Messiah is the way it's become enmeshed in our collective Christmas consciousness, and these pages are the place it all started. It's a privilege to see them. Maybe next year, the British Library will make the whole score available. Until then – the New Year, that is – have a happy, Handelian Christmas.

Start here, and with a safe, simple download you will see Handel's own hand as it wrote The Messiah.

"It'll be on the market pretty soon."


Legendary bowhunter, Fred Bear, had an ingenious idea.

Balance.


Mipham, a great Tibetan master who lived around the late 1800s, was a kind of Himalayan Leonardo da Vinci. He is said to have invented a clock, a cannon, and an airplane. But once each of them was complete, he destroyed them, saying it would only be the cause of further distraction.

Great article here.

Washington Irving's Old Christmas


Today is Christmas Eve.

"My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous furniture of which might have been fabricated in the days of the giants. The room was panelled with cornices of heavy carved-work, in which flowers and grotesque faces were strangely intermingled; and a row of black-looking portraits stared mournfully at me from the walls. The bed was of rich though faded damask, with a lofty tester, and stood in a niche opposite a bow-window. I had scarcely got into bed when a strain of music seemed to break forth in the air just below the window. I listened, and found it proceeded from a band, which I concluded to be the waits from some neighbouring village. They went round the house, playing under the windows. I drew aside the curtains, to hear them more distinctly. The moonbeams fell through the upper part of the casement, partially lighting up the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they receded, became more soft and aërial, and seemed to accord with quiet and moonlight. I listened and listened—they became more and more tender and remote, and, as they gradually died away, my head sank upon the pillow and I fell asleep."

Read the rest here.

James Taylor, The Frozen Man.


This morning's hike was a little chilly and being on the river reminded me of this song.

Last thing I remember is the freezing cold
Water reaching up just to swallow me whole
Ice in the rigging and howling wind
Shock to my body as we tumbled in
Then my brothers and the others are lost at sea
I alone am returned to tell thee
Hidden in ice for a century
To walk the world again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Next words that were spoken to me
Nurse asked me what my name might be
She was all in white at the foot of my bed
I said angel of mercy I'm alive or am I dead
My name is William James McPhee
I was born in 1823
Raised in Liverpool by the sea
But that ain't who I am
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

It took a lot of money to start my heart
To peg my leg and to buy my eye
The newspapers call me the state of the art
And the children, when they see me, cry
I thought it would be nice just to visit my grave
See what kind of tombstone I might have
I saw my wife and my daughter and it seemed so strange
Both of them dead and gone from extreme old age
See here, when I die make sure I'm gone
Don't leave 'em nothing to work on
You can raise your arm, you can wiggle your hand(unlike mysef)
And you can wave goodbye to the frozen man

I know what it means to freeze to death
To lose a little life with every breath
To say goodbye to life on earth
To come around again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Morning shadows


In the Shadow of the Leafless Tree

In the shadow of the leafless tree
I waited, alone with melancholy
There was nobody, nobody around
To touch, speak and see ...


... I walked on with my shadow, as though
It was my greatest friend
No companion could be more faithful
To me until the journey's end.

-Rani Turton

23 December 2009

"... the moment could not last."


“At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection. He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last.”

"Art does not come easy."


Fron The Writer's Almanac ...
It's the birthday of author Norman Maclean, born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902), but he grew up in Missoula, Montana. He taught English at the University of Chicago, and after his retirement from teaching, at the age of 70, he focused on writing. He published two autobiographical essays, and then he wrote his famous autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through It.

"My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy."

A River Runs Through It is a wonderfully well-written story. The writing is so simple, the characters so keenly described, the setting so vivid it seems to be shoveled into your lap. No surprise. Maclean did as Hemingway prescribed ... write what you know.

Most have come to this piece by way of Hollywood. The movie is expansive, the scenes breathtaking. Redford's treatment is reverent. This is a film, like Legends Of The Fall, that could be enjoyed just as completely with the sound turned down. The common denominator? Pitt, miscast yet again.

For full effect, read the book. Always. Professor Maclean's writing on time spent in his youth with the forest service is fine. His descriptions of forest fires roaring over the side of mountains is not to be missed.

22 December 2009

I'll take one ...


... and repeat as needed.

Mixed drinks that require more than two ingredients are for bangers ... just gimme some booze and pour something in it, out the door. Bloody Marys and their extended variations are the exception. One of my favorites is a adaptation of the Mexican cultural institution, tequila completo. A shooter of (hopefully) reposado is paired with a shooter of jet fuel consisting of tomato juice, serrano pepper (chopped very fine), and the juice of fresh lime, lemon, and orange. Due to the labor intensity of this little beauty, I prefer to mix up a big ol' jug o' the stuff, skip the shooters and serve 'em in a quart canning jar over plenty of ice.

Here's another noble novelty, called a Michelada, it marries Mexican lager and tomato funk.

Here's the recipe ... Thanks Way Upstream.

100 ideas


From Keri Smith ...

A list, a work in progress.

1. Go for a walk. Draw or list things you find on the the sidewalk. 2. Write a letter to yourself in the future. 3. Buy something inexpensive as a symbol for your need to create, (new pen, a tea cup, journal). Use it everyday. 4. Draw your dinner. 5. Find a piece of poetry you respond to. Rewrite it and glue it into your journal. 6. Glue an envelope into your journal. For one week collect items you find on the street. 7. Expose yourself to a new artist, (go to a gallery, or in a book.) Write about what moves you about it. 8. Find a photo of a person you do not know. Write a brief bio about them. 9. Spend a day drawing only red things. 10. Draw your bike. 11. Make a list of everything you buy in the next week. 12. Make a map of everywhere you went in one day. 13. Draw a map of the creases on your hand, (knuckles, palm) 14. Trace your footsteps with chalk. 15. Record an overheard conversation. 16. Trace the path of the moon in relation to where you live. 17. Go to a paint store. Collect 'chips' of all your favorite colors. 18. Draw your favorite tree. 19. Take 15 minutes to eat an orange. 20. Write a haiku. 21. Hang upside down for five minutes. 22. Hang found objects from tree branches. 23. Make a puppet. 24. Create an outdoor room from things you find in nature. 25. Read a book in one day. 26. Illustrate your grocery list. 27. Read a story out loud to a friend. 28. Write a letter to someone you admire. 29. Study the face of someone you do not like. 30. Make a meal based on a color theme. (i.e. all white). 31. Creat a museum of very small things. 32. List the smells in your neighborhood. 33. List 100 uses for a tin can. 34. Fill an entire page in your jounral with small circles. Color them in. 35. Give away something you love. 36. Choose an object, draw the side you can't see. 37. List all of the places you've ever lived. 38. Describe your favourite room in detail. 39. Write about your relationship with your washing machine. 40. Draw all of the things in your purse/bag. 41. Make a mini book based on the theme, "my grocery list". 42. Create a character based on someone you know. Write a list of personality traits. 43. Recall your favorite childhood game. 44. Put postcards of art pieces/painting on the inside of your kitchen cupboard doors, so you can see them everyday (but not become deaf to them.) 45. Draw the same object every day for a week. 46. Write in your journal using a different medium (brush & ink, charcoal, old typewriter, crayons, fat markers. 47. Draw the individual items of your favorite outfit. 48. Make a useful item using only paper & tape. 49. Research a celebration or ritual from another culture. 50. Do a temporary art installation using a pad of post it notes & a pen. 51. Draw a map of your favorite sitting spots in your town/city. (photocopy it and give it to someone you like.) 52. Record all of the sounds you hear in the course of one hours. 53. Using a grid, collect various textures from magazine and play them off of each other. 54. Cut out all media for one day. Write about the effects. 55. Make pencil rubbings of six different surfaces. 56. Draw your garbage. 57. Do a morning collage. 58. List your ten most important things, (not including animals or people.) 59. List ten things you would like to do every day. 60. Glue a photo of yourself as a child into your journal. 61. Trasform some garbage. 62. Write an entry in your journal in really LARGE letters. 63. Collect some 'flat' things in nature (leaves, flowers). Glue or tape them into your journal. 64. Physically alter a page. (i.e. cut a hole, pour tea on it, burn it, fold it, etc.) 65. Find several color combinations you respond to in public. Document them using swatches, write where you found them. 66. Write a journal entry describing something "secret". Cut it up into several pieces and glue them back in scrambled. 67. Record descriptions or definitions of subjects or words you are interested in, found in encyclopedias or dictionaries. 68. Draw the outline of an object without looking at the page. (contour drawing). 69. What were you thinking just now? write it down. 70. Do nothing. 71. Write a list of ten things you could to do. Do the last thing on the list. 72. Create an image using dots. 73. Do 3 drawings at different speeds. 74. Put a small object in your left pocket (or in a bag), Put your left hand in the pocket. Draw it by feel. 75. Create a graph documenting or measuring something in your life. 76. Draw the sun. 77. Create instructions for a simple everyday task. 78. Make prints using food. (fruit and vegetables cut in half, fish, etc.) 79. Find a photo. Alter it by drawing over it. 80. Write a letter using an unconventional medium. 81. Draw one object for twenty minutes. 82. Combine two activities that have not been combined before. 83. Write about your day in an encyclopedic fashion. (i.e. organize by subject.) 84. Write a list of all the things you do to escape. 85. Cut a random shape out of several layers of a magazine. Make a collage out of the results. 86. Write an entry in code. 87. Make a painting using tools from the bathroom. 88. Work with a medium that is subtractive. 89. Write about or draw some of the doors in your life. 90. Make a postcard that has some kind of activity on it. 91. Divise a journal entry using "layers". 92. Divise an entry using "layers". 93. Write your own definition of one of the following concepts, sitting, waiting, sleeping (without using the actual word.) 94. List 10 of your habits. 95. Illustrate the concept of "simplicity".

What would you add?

Keri Smith's blog is here.

Chippewa River

From a walk this morning ...

Terry Sawchuk


Last night Martin Brodeur broke the 40-year old National Hockey League record for shutouts by stoning the Penguins 4-0, his 104th career shutout. The record had previously been held by former Red Wing, Terry Sawchuk. Number 1 in the Winged Whhel sweater played before the advent of the goalie mask.

From the Detroit Free Press ...
"A natural in goal, Sawchuk was just 14 when he got his first workout with the Red Wings in 1944. He developed his famous stance, the Sawchuk Crouch, when he found he was quicker when he bent forward so deeply that his chin almost touched his knees.

Though he was plagued with injuries throughout his career, when the game was on the line, Sawchuk always seemed to come through in heroic fashion with incredible acrobatic saves.

He died in 1970 at age 40 from injuries suffered in a backyard brawl with a New York Rangers teammate, Ron Stewart."

Brodeur and Sawchuk by the numbers here.

Put a cork in it.



Ritual is important to pleasure. In no case is it more important than in the enjoyment of wine. As a server in restaurants, I took great pride in the presentation of wine to my guests. The ritual was a way to allow the guests to take part in grace. I learned this art by reading Hugh Johnson, Joe Bastianich, and studying Chef Hubert.

It does matter. This is art and art requires reverence.

In what context, then, would a screwtop bottle be acceptable? Roger Scruton provides the argument against such an outrage.

"Wine properly served slows everything down, establishing a rhythm of gentle sips rather than gluttonous swiggings. The ceremony of the cork reminds us that good wine is not an ordinary thing, however often you drink it, but a visitor from a more exalted region and a catalyst of friendly ties. In short, thanks to the cork, wine stands aloof from the world of getting and spending, a moral resource that we conjure with a pop."

The rest is here.