Ridiculously Young.

October 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm (By Amba)

J and me with our Sensei Kishi, long ago in a galaxy far away.



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A Hint of Trane

October 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm (By Tim)

John Coltrane’s  A Love Supreme:

Possibly Coltrane’s greatest work. Devotional and thankful to God.

In surprising ways.

You can buy the whole thing on Amazon, which, although it will cost you a little money, is nothing compared to what you might get out of it.

If  the link doesn’t work, just double click on it and play it straight from YouTube.

I have little hope this will stay up long on YouTube, but while it does, enjoy.

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A Song for Thanksgiving.

October 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm (By Amba)

Front-paging Rene Marie today.

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The Best Book I’ve Read in Years

October 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm (By Amba)

and I’m serious, Is this little book of “flash fiction” by Sippican Cottage: The Devil’s In the Cows. Yes, Sippican (Gregory Sullivan) is an old-time blogfriend but I am not being influenced by that. This is not hyperbole. The book, quiet, modest, sly, insidious, packs a wallop. It’ll blindside you and punch a laugh out of you in a public place, and only sometimes because it’s funny, which it often is. Sometimes it’s just startling — so apt and so unexpected.

It took me a long time to finish reading it and write about it, not so much because I’m busy (though I am), but because each one- to three-page story, and there are 37 of them, feels like a whole novel. A character falls into you like a stone into a well and the reverberations go on and on. A glimpse of, a momentary overhearing of a life somehow implies the whole life. How does he do that? It’s the compression of poetry with the witness of fiction.

The stories are responses to archival photographs from the Library of Congress. Their “narrators” are mostly farm people, laborers and craftspeople, who worked with their hands on things that had real substance; that is, they are voices of a nearly gone world and they transmit the wisdom obtained by wrestling with things that are tangible and heavy and unhurried, that have their own textures and dangers, that require respect and give back an inalienable self-respect, no matter what the world thinks.

I had to put “narrator” in quotes because Sipp doesn’t channel these people’s “voices,” exactly, although the stories are written in the first person and they sound natural, they have particularity, they would make great dramatic monologues in a one-actor show. (Dorothea Lange as Anna Deavere Smith?) But what they say is not exactly what these people would SAY, even to themselves; it’s what their being would say if given a voice.

Let me just quote you a couple of paragraphs at random.

The dentist Yankees drift by on the dance floor and you can see them eying the real woman you got, pushing the limits of her dress every which place — Bam! Boop! Bap! — and he’s got the skinny sorority girl who moves around like a giraffe in a straightjacket and you know right off that she moves like that everywhere. That’s why he can’t stop robbing a peek at the missus when he can; they always sneak out of the house in their mind in here, the white bread. They couldn’t handle a woman like I got anyway. They should stick to the ingenues who reach for the diazepam instead of the kitchen knives when you piss them off.

In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you.

* * *

He’s wearing the wrong clothes and toing a comical box of the wrong tools, and not enough of them, either, and his hands are like his momma’s, or more likely his daddy’s if he’s an ink-stained wretch. He’s wrong, all wrong, and in every aspect and from every vantage point — asleep or awake; in action or repose; drunk or sober — but he’s smart enough to look you straight in the eye and say, “I don’t know nothing but I’m willing to learn, if you’ll show me.”

A boy like that knows everything.

* * *
You can read a whole story here.

If you buy this book, see if you don’t end up buying a bunch more of them to give to certain friends, the ones who know what these people are talking about. My only regret is that some of the people I most want to give this book to are dead.

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A Hint of Train

October 19, 2011 at 1:03 am (By Ron)

The other day a large old-fashioned steam train was being pulled by a diesel on the track right in front of my house…. I couldn’t get to my camera in time!  But yesterday, I heard them coming and I raced to get the train on video….with the great steam whistle blasting away!

Here goes….

<object width=”420″ height=”315″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/CmFpgqdKZY4?version=3&amp;hl=en_US”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param></object>

I ran out of space on the memory stick of the camera just before it hit the intersection and blew the mighty steam whistle!  You can hear my annoyance at the end there!  Ah, well….a bit of cinema verite for you all!  At least you can see the train at the beginning of the clip…


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An Experiment, Live, at The End of Work

October 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm (By Amba)

An “idea party” over there all day todayBarbara Sher, whom I assisted many years ago in writing her first wildly popular book Wishcraft, discovered that people could actually reach their impossible dreams by crowdsourcing them (a word that didn’t exist yet then)—putting them out there where other people, who don’t have our own personal negativity and blind spots, could rather easily come up with ideas we’d never have thought of, and contacts we’d never have found on our own, that added up to a doable new enterprise.

We’re trying to adapt that strategy for the post-work era, when the impossible dream often seems to be simply generating an income.  Many of us are going to have to figure out how to do that outside the shrinking “job” structure (we freelancers have a head start, of course, because we’ve been doing it most of our lives).  The End of Work is one place to refine the strategy.  The blog host, Ron, is the guinea pig.  We’ll do more.  It’s actually fun and surprisingly easy to come up with ideas for someone else, because you yourself have nothing to lose.  So have at it.  Ron has posted his “ingredients list” — skills and interests — so let’s see what we can hypothetically cook up.  Comments will be open all day.  Nutty ideas are welcome (they often lead to less nutty ones), and the only censorship is of cynicism and “this’ll never work” negativity.  By all means feel that way if you must — just don’t express it at the idea party, because it turns the beer to vinegar.  If you need to vent, do it here.

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Posting. For Karen. [UPDATED]

October 8, 2011 at 1:24 am (By Amba)

OK. I’m feeling a weird combination of introverted and extroverted lately that sort of jumps right over the blog.  I’m either completely alone (save for cats, a significant exception) at home, or running around with friends.  The proportion of days doing each has lately been about 1:3 or 1:4.  It’s always struck me that when the weather starts to get cold a lot of traveling, visiting, and socializing goes on, as if we had an instinct to connect with each other before winter isolates us and freezes us in place.  I wonder whether another ice age is trying to start, what the sun is up to, and whether anthropogenic global warming is just confusing the issue, making the transition more turbulent.

Also, now that “the party’s over” (and I have not crashed; if anything I feel launched), I’m more aware than ever before of the growing dark and cold.  This period last year was J’s dying time.  Strangely, I didn’t even think about that last spring when I set the date for the party—all I thought about was that enough but not too much time would have passed, the weather would still be good for travel, and September 19 was a significant date for him, the date of the Jack Dempsey tournament in Toronto in probably 1949.  And I didn’t think about the aftermath of the party except to anticipate that I would feel released into my new life.  (Which I do, but with a difference:  being at the party with so many people who never really knew J sick brought back his healthy vitality to me, and the blank-slate feeling of unfamiliarity about being back in New York, as if starting from scratch, is gone; I feel reconnected to the past.)  Somehow I missed the obvious point that the party was September 19 and J got shingles and started to die September 30.  Funny how we know what we’re doing even when we don’t.

So I’ll copy what I just wrote in my notebook, and then I have to do one of my wee-hours workouts—”kicking the devil’s ass,” a friend calls it; if you don’t, he kicks yours.  This penance for ever-beguiling sloth is the beginning of my Yom Kippur.  I was all ambitious to learn and say Kaddish for Jacques, the honorary Heeb as Brian Abrams of the late lamented funny magazine (but still website) Heeb called him, and then I couldn’t make head or tail of either the sound files or the transliterations, couldn’t match up the fluent familiar mumbling with the nonsense syllables on the page, most of which seemed skipped or slurred by the pray-ers.  Oh well, it’s more than a little late to start trying to do any of that right.

It’s been striking me a lot how weird and broken-and-mended ALL people are, improbable survivors of improvisation, dodging illness and madness with our daredevil entropy-defying bodies and half-finished minds. Everyone seems to me very exposed, very vulnerable, crossing the brief battlefield of life, dodging bullets for as long as your luck holds.  An awful lot of cancer, autism, depression.  What are we doing wrong?  Or has it always been this way or worse?

I realized with a start this morning that J was only just getting home from the hospital at this time last year.  That his dying period, and therefore its anniversary, was really excruciatingly drawn-out.  For some reason that’s hard to endure, that twilight anniversary.  I want it to be either-or, both-and:  I want him dead and whole, and instead, for the next five or six weeks, I must live with him alive and dying.

UPDATE:  On second thought, think I’ll let the devil kick my ass into bed, and kick his in the morning.

UPDATE 2: Saying Kaddish, in a large Reform synagogue, was comforting but somehow deemphasized in the midst of guided imagery and therapeutic insertions (“I am grateful that I’ve learned to honor my sister-in-law as she divorces my brother”).  Like some Catholics, I also feel that religious language loses most of its mojo in translation.  J had his own very private, idiosyncratic relationship with his Creator (and very Jewish-like in that he had an intimate beef with Him), but all I could think of yesterday was him saying, “Let’s get the fuck out of here and have a hot dog.”

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