Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Ricardo and the Whale" to be performed in Missouri [UPDATED]

Very pleased to announce that Ricardo and the Whale, a new audio play recently mentioned in this space, has been selected for the National Audio Theatre Festival's annual summer workshop, a week-long event taking place in Missouri in June.

I am also told that it "looks good" that one of my heroes from The Firesign Theatre, Philip Proctor, will be there.  Perhaps at the very least I will be able to take a class with him during the week.  The thought of him attending my play is delightful.

UPDATE:   I'm told that if indeed Mr. Proctor is there, he will be performing in the play, not merely attending it. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Perhaps this newspaper article was written by the true person of no rank.  I wonder if I can get this person to write a guest blog here at the Burning House!

[Image: from yesterday's edition of The Deming Headlight]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Canyon is Closed

Somehow I find it inherently amusing when the road into Spring Canyon is closed as we see here.

This little gate and stop sign is entirely engulfed by this:

This road leads into Spring and Lover's Leap Canyons in the Florida mountains, where I went looking for easy trails for a possible Deming Zen Center activity. The Lover's Leap is a nice hike but not really suitable for the event we had in mind. It was worth looking, however, and nature didn't seem to mind my visit -- although the mountain bees were highly aggressive in defending their territory, and a snake in the brush made some noise to warn me off. (It was either shaking the brush or it was a young rattler -- a bit early for rattlesnake season.)

And the mountain poppies were by no means taking a day off.

Friday, March 23, 2012

With It

What is the practical meaning of mindfulness? Does the term help us practice?

This came up briefly in yesterday's post, but we quickly got pulled off into discussing Thich Nhat Hanh, Brad Warner, and all the stuff we make up around spiritual teachers. So now let's get back to this word, mindfulness.

This English word has become popular mostly thanks to the works of Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is often presented as the English term for samma-sati, a stage towards Buddhist enlightenment. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk and zen master from Viet Nam who has written many popular books about meditation as an awareness practice, and he uses the word mindfulness to point at an intimate awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn was a student of Zen Master Seung Sahn who integrated meditation with yoga and western psychology and applied them toward stress, anxiety, and pain. He has also written several popular books and has helped popularize the therapeutic benefits of meditation.

We need words to describe awareness and attention, but there is a caveat to this mindfulness business. Who is being mindful of what, and how are they separate? In the post that caused such a kerfluffle, Brad Warner explained the problem nicely:

They'd look at [a sunrise] and say, "Gosh. I'm not mindful enough. I'm not concentrated enough. Because when I look at a sunrise, I just shade my eyes so that I can get through this traffic jam on West Market Street without running over any of the kids from Our Lady of the Elms. Sunrises kind of annoy me. They give me a headache. I better get more concentrated and more mindful so that I can be more like Thich Nhat Hanh and let the beauty of the sunrise be revealed to me."

In other words, the concept of "mindfulness" gets in the way of the sunrise. It becomes a big obstacle between what we think of as our self and what we think of as the sunrise. And we make our efforts to try to overcome the obstacle we've placed in our own way. Most of the time I hear or read the word "mindfulness" it sounds to me like an obstacle.
This is the inherent danger of cognitive teaching: the words and concepts become bludgeons with which we hammer ourselves and our practice. ("Checking mind," Zen Master Seung Sahn called it.) And we do not limit this punishment to ourselves. Mindfulness is also a wonderful tool for judging other people and scolding them. At Cambridge Zen Center we had a running joke that the word mindful was mainly used as a "spiritual" way of scolding housemates, as at one house meeting after another we would listen to folks asking that people be mindful about this and that.

Elizabeth Yuin Hamilton shares an anecdote from a zen retreat that offers beautiful teaching about real mindfulness, as opposed to an idea about mindfulness:

One day at lunch, peanut butter appeared. Someone must have told Soen Roshi that this was an American Zen tradition, since earlier meals consisted of pickles, tea, white rice, and no condiments. Meals were silent, so when a fellow at the end of the table gesticulated, trying to get the peanut butter to come his way, no one noticed – we were too busy concentrating! Finally Soen Roshi bellowed, "How can you talk about seeing the Dharrrrma (the teachings of reality) if you can't see to pass the peanut butter?" That jolted us temporarily out of the myopic view that concentration alone would wake us up...

Yes. It is elementary and yet, until our greed for "spirituality" or "enlightenment" is sufficiently tired, we need to return to the elementary again and again: this is about relationship (at least, until dualism is extinguished), not a myopic self-satisfaction. One can walk around breathing from the belly and enjoying the sunshine and imagining themselves at one with all of Indra's net, and completely fail to notice an old woman wanting help across the street. What kind of enlightenment is that?

During my first year in front of an elementary school classroom, I was frequently visited by an instructional leader at the school who would watch me teach and give me feedback. A phrase he used very often was "being with it," and with it referred to being highly alert and awake, having a sense of what's going on in the room even when your back is turned. This is partly about classroom management -- are the kids passing notes or something when you're not looking? It is, ultimately, about whether the students are learning. It takes years of attentive practice to absorb various instructional methods and be able to adapt and flow freely, so that the students are actually learning and most of the classroom time is spent on that instead of discipline and business.

He would even say "with-itness," which I enjoyed because it sounded a lot like witness.

The colloquial understanding of that phrase is the point, not the words. With it? What is it? No, no. Now the fifth graders are passing notes behind your back while you're trying to be "with it." *Smack!* Let that go. Stay with them. For now, that's what life is.

With it, in other words, is simply about wisdom. The difference between concentration and prajña. "Becoming one with the universe" is a beautiful Buddhisty way of referring to being with it. Use either one, but either way, may we please manifest it.

[Photo: Easy to miss.]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Your Robes Precede You

In a way, it was a mondo in the classical style, the kind of repartee that might even be studied as a koan.

On Thich Nhat Hanh's twitter account, a comment that mindfulness and concentration might reveal even more of a sunrise's beauty. A response from Brad Warner, a younger zen teacher from the west, wondered if mindfulness would not then be getting in the way of the sunrise.

He touched a nerve, perhaps intentionally, when he elaborated on his question in a post titled "Thich Nhat Hanh is Wrong." Thich Nhat Hanh (now aged 85) has become a venerated institution that overshadows the man himself. Books transcribed from his talks come out frequently, there may be dozens of them. His retreats and dharma talks are major events. He has a large international organization around him. Among celebrity Buddhist teachers, he looms the largest. His activism for peace and his spiritual teaching, with no whiff of the personal scandals that have befallen some teachers, have put him on such a high dais that he can almost seem a fictional character, a perfected being, a man disappearing in the reverence of his followers, publishers, and publicists. The Great Zen Master.

Warner got some heat for taking issue with Thich Nhat Hanh, and notably the comments (upon cursory examination of more than 140 comments left on that post) dealt less with Brad's point (which is valid) than the fact of disputing the Great Zen Master.

Read the ancient dialogues, though. Despite the rigid hierarchy and veneration for those high up on the totem pole, among serious zen students there was no namby-pamby celebrity worship. A student would bow to the master, but they certainly would ask questions and sometimes even knock the teacher over.

It reminds me of an anecdote about Ikkyu, who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries, and who became abbot of a highly revered temple despite being something of a vagabond monk. One day, he was on begging rounds in his old monk clothes and this well-to-do household treated him a bit gruffly. A day later, he showed up at that house again in his abbot robes and was given "first class" treatment by the same family. So he removed his fancy robes and draped them over a chair, explaining that the food was not for him, it was for the robes.

Warner's follow-up post, "Who Is Thich Nhat Hanh?", is very good, and it's not really dissing Thich Nhat Hanh: it is addressing the excessive reverence we attach to famous zen teachers. This carries the potential for very negative consequences for individual practice, and for the health and ethical strength of the teachers' own institutions.

So what is a zen master? I wrote about this in a series of posts in 2010, but some readers today weren't around back then. Begging your pardon, the following will be an excerpt from the previously-linked post, in which I tried to explain this phenomenon in terms the non-zen student could understand.

What is a Zen Master? I'll try to explain this briefly in terms that my readers who don't practice Zen can understand. Those of you who DO know about Zen realize this is a daunting task and I will likely fail. Here goes.

Zen is a long-term discipline, and very few people stick with it for more than a few years. (My own teacher has been practicing nearly 40 years, as long as I've been alive.) A great value is placed in people who mature in the practice, applying it through different stages of human life, and learning how to mentor others. It is a rare person who is willing and able to make a full-time commitment to learning the techniques of Zen practice, incorporating it practically into the whole of her life, and also exhibits a talent for presenting Zen teaching and practice in a way that inspires and guides others.

If only we could leave it at that.

Zen traditions differ. There are different schools that handle mentorship in various ways. Zen is practiced in different countries that transfer some of their cultural trappings along with their rituals. Generally, whatever title a "Zen Master" is given, there tends to be a formal ceremony -- usually public, but sometimes private -- wherein a recognized Zen teacher bestows that recognition to a long-time student. This personal transmission is considered very important, and people will often look to a teacher's lineage. "Oh, you're an old student of so-and-so. HIS teacher was so-and-so!" This is roughly analogous to the licenses and diplomas you will find on the walls of a doctor's office: sometimes we like to know where somebody trained, and to see some documentation that they are qualified to play this role.

Now we're going to add some complications.

In some places, a Zen Master is considered a kind of priest. The master might in fact be a Buddhist monastic, or have trained in a monastic environment for a period of time. Whether he has hair or not, the Zen Master is often thought to have attained something special, if not supreme enlightenment itself. A wide range of expectations are projected onto the "Zen Master." At its extreme, this can approach guru worship.

On the other hand, transmission has at times been a matter of politics, a simple business transaction. Suzuki-roshi's decision to come to the United States was, by many accounts, partly motivated by the routinization of dharma transmission in Japan.

In spite of that, the "Zen Master" or "roshi" is made into something special.

At Diamond Hill Zen Monastery in Rhode Island, I was present at one retreat where a bird in flight struck one of the glass walls of the dharma room and fell onto the porch. It was right around that time that Zen Master Dae Kwang was leading walking meditation, with everyone in a line behind him. Dae Kwang Sunim gave the bird a gentle nudge with his foot to see if it was dead, and the bird -- who had merely been stunned, I suppose -- suddenly flew away. Much later, I heard this story told by someone else, but in his version, the Zen Master had resurrected the bird!

This is how Zen folklore develops. Tales of Zen Masters from ancient times crackle with magic and miracles, clairvoyant insights, and special powers. It is very seductive stuff for those of us still ruled by greed. The Zen Master is transformed into something special. She is expected to move seamlessly between various roles: priest, meditation master, organizational leader, fundraiser for their Center, motivational speaker, grandparent, therapist, theologian, contractor, cook, medicine man. And more.

It is difficult to live as a folk figure when one is, after all, a human being. A Zen Master is sometimes believed to have attained something beyond conventional understanding. In my personal experience, I have met people who seemed almost magical, but when I examine that for what it is, what I find is that they were remarkably perceptive, spontaneous, and resourceful. They expressed a kindness that was profound, and tirelessly creative.

When people desire to believe in a Zen Master's divine impeccability, they suspend critical judgment. An enlightened being's actions are taken, in aggregate, as an expression of enlightenment, even where they contradict our sense of right and wrong. Occasionally, people in the "Zen Master" position have themselves been seduced by this idea.

And, in closing, I give Brad Warner the last word, quoting from this post.

I think it's really vital to destroy the image that has been built up of what a "spiritual teacher" is supposed to be. I feel like no good can possibly come of the belief in supposedly perfected beings. They simply do not exist.

On the other hand I have no doubt I'd be far more successful in the way that term is usually defined if I just played the role that's expected of someone in my position rather than constantly questioning it. I just don't see that as a way to do anyone any good. And not only that, I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy acting like an idiot in front of a camera or an audience.

People in this Eastern spirituality business often talk a lot about something they call "authenticity." But usually what they call authenticity seems to me more like fitting into a mold of what someone else imagines authenticity ought to look like. I think it's time someone tried being truly authentic for a change. It's more fun that way anyhow.

[Photo: Cutting up with Zen Master Dae Bong in our formal robes after a ceremony in 2005.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Going to the Cabin

My first solo retreat was at Diamond Hill Zen Monastery many years ago. Had the place all to myself for a little while, except for a persistent squirrel. It was a difficult retreat in no small part due to an illness that gripped my body. Was it psychogenic? Don't know.

Zen Master Dae Bong has likened zen retreats to placing a white background behind your life for a period of time. Against this backdrop, your mind appears to you very clearly. There are few distractions: the retreat is conducted in silence, the schedule is pretty rigid, ten hours of your day are spent in formal meditation, and for the duration of the retreat you devote your life to practice. In a group setting, you have the support of that group to encourage you and complete your retreat commitment; on a solo retreat, you're on your own. No one is checking your practice. What will you do with your time?

My family situation does not allow for long retreats at this time, but I have received clearance to go away for a seven day retreat, and arrangements are now underway with the help of my teacher. The cabin you see at the top of this post is located on the slope of Greenhorn Mountain above the Huerfano Valley in southern Colorado. This is the location of Dorje Khyung Dzong, a retreat center founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and dedicated to solo retreats. There are seven cabins, at a distance from each other, with a few spare facilities to support people doing a period of hermit-practice.

My retreat will be in late May.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ricardo and the Whale

Back in the autumn of 2008, I mentioned starting work on a radio play involving "a brash reporter, a hurricane, Al Capone, and a gigantic whale."

These Deming years have been hectic, and that script spent a lot of time in the drawer. In a virtual drawer, that is. In this age of word processing, manuscripts don't linger in drawers so much as linger on hard drives. At any rate, months would go by, I'd play around with it some; then I'd get busy, unable to look at it for several more months; and repeat.

Once again, Lance Roger Axt (a fellow alumnus of Trinity Rep's conservatory and founder of Audio Comics) stepped in to nudge me.

This was the man who first challenged me to write a radio play back in 2006. The result was Do You Hear What I Hear?, which was produced in 2008 by the Shoestring Radio Theatre in San Francisco. Lance later visited New Mexico and produced two short plays of mine, Simulated Drowning and The Heart Has No Location, which were broadcast on KUNM in 2009. I found the medium very freeing as a writer.

Lance is a good nudge: not too much to provoke resistance, but enough to get me working on it whenever I could (and in my home, it is very difficult to write). He presented me with a deadline. Well, you know what Douglas Adams said about deadlines:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

But I was only a few days late when, finally, a complete first draft of Ricardo and the Whale swam the world wide ocean to Lance's email box.

Its dramatic theme widened over the past few years. There is still a brash reporter, an improbably large whale, and a terrible hurricane. And Al Capone. It is an extraordinarily silly play about environmental issues. And American culture. And dreams.

I'm awaiting word on a possible production of this play, that you might be able to enjoy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pink Slime is Nothing New

Dear meat eating friends, you know I'm not one of those vegetarians who preaches at you or judges your diet harshly. Once in a while, a little bit of animal flesh even passes my lips. This is rare, no pun intended. Anyway, we're friends. Let's chat about this "pink slime" controversy.

The recent explosion of revulsion and protest, mostly on social networking websites, over this image of "pink slime meat" has us scratching our heads at the Burning House. It is almost, if not quite, as if you were all just waking up to the fact that your hamburgers come from those nice cows you see grazing on the side of the freeway. It's touching, really.

Granted, this image is rather disconcerting. You are not meant to see your meat in this stage of processing. If you harvested your own meat, as some still do, it would not look like this -- but that would be a pretty disconcerting sight, too, if you're not used to it.

What you are looking at here is a "textured beef." You see, during the slaughtering process (for your meat comes from animals), a lot of "bits" end up on the floor. Forgive me, but these are bits of muscle and sinew and tissue from freshly-killed animals. This stuff used to be ground up for pet food, but now it's used for human consumption. They grind it up and mash it together. But dead bodies are germy. In order to kill pathogens that may cause you to get sick, the meat plants treat this mash of dead meat with a pink chemical that kills the microbes. It's an ammonia product, and it has been used in beef products since the 1990s. That includes the meat served in schools. Your supermarkets. And yes, McDonald's.

I'm not picking on my meat-eating friends, really. I'm not a preachy vegetarian. Just sayin', if y'all are going to get in a tizzy about how your meat is prepared, we here at the Burning House would suggest (1) not looking at photographs of the process, (2) harvesting your own if you are appalled by the meat industry (and it is a pretty appalling industry, we'll grant you), and (3) considering a smaller helping of meat and a bigger helping of the other stuff.

We will be happy to share recipes.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Left to myself, I could eat stir fry just about every day. This image shows some of the preparation for a stir fry tonight. Not in view is the chicken, which I cooked separately with a spicy ginger sauce for my wife, and served to her as a side dish for the main event: brown rice and stir fried vegetables and mushrooms.
This post, however, concerns itself with what's in that yogurt container.

Scraps for stock.
No doubt, some of the readers of this blog already do something like this. But for those who don't, let's join together and let them in on a wonderful secret: making fresh vegetable stock is easy and suffuses your home cooking with added flavor.
It isn't hard to do. As I prepare a meal, I have this yogurt container out and I throw mushroom stems, ginger peels, and various vegetable trimmings in there. When prep is done, that goes into the refrigerator for the next day's stock.
Today's stock, meanwhile, would already be simmering on the stovetop. Water in a very gentle simmer for at least an hour. It might also include water left over from cooking vegetables. I put stock on at the same time I put on brown rice (which takes an hour itself) and just check occasionally to make sure it hasn't gone to a boil. That's it.
Most of what I need to know about vegetable stock, I learned from Ed Brown's wonderful book Tassajara Cooking, a copy from the original 1973 printing, which I regard as a treasured possession even though it's been splattered with food stains over the years.
Vegetable scraps: almost anything--ends, tips, tops, trimmings, roots, skins, parsley stems, outside cabbage leaves, limp vegetables. Go easy on the green pepper centers. Some people find a large amount of onion skins or carrot tops makes too strong a flavor. Water to cover.
It's important that this brew simmer rather than boil. Simmering means a few wee bubbles are popping gently to the surface -- a quiet, subdued leaching process, while boiling means that the entire surface is in turmoil, bubbling and frothing. Vegetables do not endure boiling very well, soon yielding their more rank flavors and aromas, so bring the stock to a simmer and then turn the heat low enough to keep it there, or you will have a harsh-flavored stock.
Let the stock simmer an hour or more, and then strain out the vegetables, squeezing or mashing out the last juices. Use in place of water for soups, or for cooking vegetables, grains, or beans. If not using immediately, leave uncovered until cool, then cover and refrigerate.
It keeps for a couple of days in the refrigerator, if you don't use it right away.
Here's a photo of that quiet, subdued leaching process.

Friday, March 09, 2012

You're Confused, the Horizon is Moving Up!

One less bozo on this bus. Peter Bergman, one of my heroes from adolescence, passed away this morning.

On its Facebook page, the Firesign Theatre announced that Peter Bergman, one of its four company members since the group's earliest performances on Los Angeles radio, died today from complications related to leukemia. He was 73 years old.

My parents made an occasion of sitting me down in front of the record player and having me listen to my first Firesign Theatre album when I was 12 or 13 years old. The album was How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All (1969), and it was audio theatre as I had scarcely dared imagine it. As summarized on the Firesign Theatre's home page:

The title track, which follows a babe in the woods as Climate Control draws him into a revisionist hysterical Americana travelogue/propaganda montage, is bookended by the omnipresent Ralph Spoilsport. It's Homer's Odyssey and Joyce's Ulysses in the blender of popular culture, set to puree. This segues into "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," a classic parody of golden-age radio theater and one of Firesign's most enduring creations. This segues into (go back to the beginning).

Yes, and more than that, even. I was hooked. Obsessed. And this album is what I thought of as soon as I heard that Peter Bergman was gone.

Bergman played the central character in a hilarious odyssey fitting on one side of an LP. It starts with Ralph Spoilsport doing a car commercial, when Bergman's character shows up and immediately buys a car. It appears to be an RV, absurdly large and equipped with a magical "climate control" device that instantly transports him into different lands. He meets up with a group of irritating and inept explorers, who end up following him into the Land of the Pharaohs. At one point he complains that he wants to go home and the sun is setting, and one of the explorers (who sounds exactly like W.C. Fields) says, "No, you're confused... the horizon is moving up!" To prove it, they decide to stand him on his head. He then falls and someone complains, "He's no fun, he fell right over."

And that's just the beginning of an adventure that takes him through a pyramid into a surrealistic tour through U.S. history, and ends with Ralph Spoilsport talking about marijuana and reciting Joyce.

On the flip side, we had the first recorded adventure of Nick Danger, "Third Eye," a private eye in the mold of classic radio-noir, with Bergman playing his foil, police lieutenant Bradshaw. At one point in this seemingly-unrelated story, the A side of the record begins to infiltrate.

It blew my mind. This was as if Thomas Pynchon had written for Monty Python. I devoured all of the early Firesign albums, listening to them over and over again. They kept on working together right up until today, doing podcasts and videos and occasional spots for NPR's All Things Considered. Famously, they recorded a Thanksgiving piece entitled "Pass the Indian, Please" in 2002 that NPR refused to air. NPR called it "incomprehensible" but in my own opinion, it was too subversive. (You can hear it and judge for yourself by visiting this page and scrolling down a bit.)

Peter Bergman was a Yale graduate who taught economics, and started improvising radio broadcasts with the other members of Firesign in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. (When I lived in Los Angeles, I had to listen to these albums all over again -- there are so many local references!) We have lost one hilarious genius.

So Peter Bergman has passed on from this absurd planet, and I am enjoying a fantasy of him emerging in that tropical paradise from How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All, meeting up with those wisecracking explorers in pith helmets.

This video contains three excerpts from that album, starting with Babe's first drive in his new car and trying out that chromium switch...

And if that has you intrigued, why not go back to their first album and listen to it in its entirety? Here is Waiting For The Electrician or Someone Like Him (1968), an amazing satire of european colonialism, 1960s counterculture, television, and a bizarre Kafka-esque fantasy on the B side.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Tale of Two Mailboxes

Up at 2:00 AM to make sure the call time hasn't changed. It hasn't: 6:30 AM at a base camp near Albuquerque's old town. The car is already packed and fueled. The road to Hatch is pretty lonely at night, but there is radio -- until there is neither scenery nor much worth listening to on radio, and it's just a long drive in the dark to Albuquerque.
This was for another day of work on the set of In Plain Sight, and this episode we might actually watch with friends, not only to enjoy one of the final episodes of a fine comic-drama, but for the added enhancement of a drinking game along the lines of "Spot Algernon." You can play along with us at home, dear reader.
The day began with an elderly woman falling kersplat! in the middle of the street right around the spot where the photo above was taken. (This is not my photograph: I brought no camera with me to set, and it is not Christmas time.) On location like this, the crowd easily gets mixed up with the 100+ extras on set, but the medic rushed to her aid regardless.
The first half of the day was spent here in this plaza, shooting dialogue in the midst of a crowd, with some of us costumed as undercover FBI agents. I was in a mailman costume with the telltale sign of an undercover Fed: the earpiece with squiggly cord on the right side of my face.
A fake mailbox was set up immediately next to the real one you see in the photo here. Despite a piece of gaffe tape bearing the words "FAKE MAILBOX" I had to keep an eye out for people dropping their bill payments and Netflix DVDs into the fake mailbox.
The clock began at 6:30 AM and I was sent home at 7:30 PM after appearing in two scenes. First as the FBI/mailman and later as the partner riding shotgun with a guest actor in the episode, pulling up to a "situation" and jumping out of the car looking all federal. I feel empowered to use that adjective since the script-consultant, a law enforcement guy who makes sure the show gets the details right, described me as looking "really federal." Go me.
For non-speaking extra work, this was a good day, and long enough that despite the long drive I earned a little money. Furthermore I actually did get to act, receiving direction even, and might be visible enough to make the drinking game work.
It will be episode #506, airing in late April.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I Smell like a Brewery

Coming soon to this space: tales of temporary employment including another day on the set of In Plain Sight followed by a couple of days bottling beer by hand at Deming's microbrewery.

But right now, we need to wash beer out of our hair.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Happy Trails

Probably I was home from school sick that day. I don't remember clearly.

What I remember is that I was an adolescent, and when I had time to myself alone in the house, I would go exploring my father's record albums. He had more than 2,000 of them, meticulously organized on store-bought shelves in the living room of our house in East Providence. His LPs covered vast territory: classical and baroque music, jazz, albums by standup comedians from the 1960s (Bill Cosby, Rusty Warren, the Smothers Brothers, "Jose Jimenez") and musical humorists like Stan Freberg, Oscar Brand, Allan Sherman, P.D.Q. Bach, and tons of weird novelty records. Rock from the 1950s up into the present day (this would have been early 1980s). This was the period when my parents actually sat me down and introduced me to Frank Zappa and the Firesign Theatre.

I had never heard of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Knew about the Airplane and a little bit about the Dead already, but no one had told me about this Bay Area band. The album's cover art intrigued me. I put it on the record player and lo! Orpheus descended and rocked. One of the best albums ever, dating from 1969 and blowing the walls off most of the new music I was hearing. Still one of my favorites.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Pass Through Here

Midnight, and the sun is shining.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Seven months of unemployment. Someone I know around here told me he was out of work for two years before getting an unsatisfying job working nights.

After months without even getting an interview for a job, I started looking outside the region and suddenly I've got three interviews lined up, in different cities and even different states. Another sign that if I'm going to find any work short term, I need to move.

It's an impasse. My wife wants to remain here, and she is dead-set against Los Angeles even though my likeliest opportunity so far is back there. If I land the Albuquerque job instead, they would stay and I would visit on weekends, which means no theatre and being apart from my sons most of the time. Los Angeles would be an even more drastic separation.

Really? Must I choose between employment and being with my children?

We are still consulting and brainstorming in anguish, trying to create some other choices for us. We will keep you apprised; this is all the news for now.