“Suffering is a treasure, for it conceals mercies;
The almond becomes fresh when you peel off the rind.
O my brother, staying in a cold dark place
And bearing patiently the grief, weakness, and pain
Is the Source of Life and the cup of Abandon!
The heights are found only in the depths of abasement;
Spring is hidden in autumn, and autumn pregnant with spring.
Flee neither; be the friend of Grief, accept desolation,
Hunt for the life that springs from the death of yourself.”
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (translated by Andrew Harvey)

Sunday Salon 11-23-14

Time: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, right after my morning gym visit, having some coffee, with a coffee shot and a coffee chaser.

Place: At my main computer at home.

Reading: Since my last visit to the Salon, which admittedly was a while ago, I have completed A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands (which I also wrote about), and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, all of which were outstanding. Current reading includes Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby.

Viewing: My movie viewing was severely interrupted a few weeks ago when Dish Network, my now-former cable provider, dropped Turner Classic Movies along with several other Turner-related networks, including CNN. TCM is my one essential channel, and I gave Dish a couple of weeks to see if anything got resolved. Nothing happened, and therefore I am now a Charter subscriber – both for cable viewing and for internet. So yesterday’s viewing included TCM’s airing of Them!, which fit right in with all of those other (often very good) late 1940s and 1950s films about paranoia and the end of the world and Communism and the atomic bomb. Also viewed recently was Shohei Imamura’s dark, clinical, and remarkable Vengeance Is Mine, and, finally, The Big Lebowski (can’t believe it took me so long to see it).

Listening: Along with a sudden inexplicable interest in revisiting old Genesis songs that I haven’t heard for years (“Mad Man Moon” from A Trick of the Tail and “You Might Recall,” an outtake from Abacab, are current favorites), I can’t point to much I’ve listened to in the last week or two. However, a live performance in Berkeley last weekend of Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River, with Ian Bostridge, is something I hope to write about in the next few days. Watch this blog.

Blogging: I haven’t been very active recently, aside from posting a couple of bits of poetry by T.S. Eliot and Xu Lizhi. But I have a couple of pieces in the works along with the Curlew River notes mentioned above.

Pondering: How I am going to spend my Thanksgiving holiday of five days. Aside from Thanksgiving dinner with the family, nothing is scheduled. It could be a time of writing, or reading, or movie viewing, or traveling, or staring at the wall. Possibly a little of each…

Anticipating: Among my recent technology changes is the addition of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall to my media empire. Even watching several trailers of archived performances last night was pretty exciting, and I will probably watch my first concert today. The treasures they have stored away are many.

Gratuitous Photo of the Week: Alexander Graham Bell and his grandson Melville wandering in Beinn Bhreagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1908. I saw this photo in the most recent National Geographic, loved it, and wanted to share.
Alexander Graham Bell with grandson

On My Deathbed

Xu Lizhi (1990-2014), “On My Deathbed”
From via Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things

I want to take another look at the ocean, behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

Sunday Salon 7-13-14

Time: 7:00 a.m. Sunday, up a little later than usual, but not feeling overly guilty about it.

Place: Back at my main computer, which had been out of commission. It wasn’t starting up, so I took it into the local shop and paid $49 to find out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. And sure enough, it’s working fine now. I have no explanation, nor did the repairer.

Reading: My current major reading project is Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands, which is quite a lovely experience so far. I am also gradually working my way through The Mindful Way Workbook, which is providing some helpful hints. And having recently discovered Gabrielle Bell, the wonderful graphic novelist, or comic diarist as she is sometimes called, I’ve started on her book The Voyeurs.

Viewing: Twice a year, Barnes and Noble has a 50% off sale on the Criterion Collection, which is sort of a boon for film fans, except that they, which is to say I, purchase more films than absolutely necessary. This has allowed me to see, finally, Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, a haunting and vaguely disorienting film about the relationships, romantic and otherwise, in a young Japanese woman’s life. It’s very different from Kiarostami’s last film, the much acclaimed Certified Copy, but leaves the viewer unsettled in much the same way. (By the way, Kiarostami’s totally gorgeous 1999 film The Wind Will Carry Us is about to come out on Blu-ray, and I will be all over that.) Several other Criterions I bought, including Breaking the Waves, Master of the House, and Picnic at Hanging Rock, await. Also viewed this week was Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord, which was about as enigmatic as the Kiarostami film. I also had the opportunity to attend a performance by Jean-Michel Richaud of Leonard Nimoy’s one-man play Vincent this past Thursday at the Nevada Museum of Art. Years ago I saw Mr. Nimoy himself perform the play, in which Theo van Gogh talks about his recently deceased brother, on television, and it was great seeing it again.

Listening: Not so much music listening the last couple of weeks, for reasons addressed below.

Blogging: I finally put a mind to completing the writing I have long wanted to do on the subject of Chinese calligraphy, having been inspired months ago by the exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Many pages of notes, and a general sense of inadequacy, left me overwhelmed for a long time. Finally I arrived at a form for all the stuff – two posts, an introductory blog post on the wider subject of calligraphy in China, followed by a review of the exhibition catalog. The latter, by the way, was the 200th post I’ve made to my blog! This whole project was a lot of work. But the result is fairly acceptable, and now it’s done!

Pondering: (1) The vagaries of my mood. As I’ve described here in recent weeks, I’ve been having some slight depression problems. But a week or two ago these suddenly vanished, like mist dispersing and evaporating as the sun rises. Now everything is more or less fine. Why this happened is as mysterious as why the darkness descended in the first place. But I’m not complaining about the result! (2) As part of my increased exercise regimen, I have been working my way through the Couch-to-5K running program. Earlier this week I started Week 4, which features a considerable increase in activity from Week 3, and I wasn’t able to complete the first day. Yesterday was Week 4 Day 2, and at first I thought I was going to have to abandon the last five minutes of running and fail again. But I willed myself on, and as I did I had a strange experience, very like the one described in mindfulness meditation. While meditating, instead of dwelling on thoughts and feelings, you’re asked to observe them, stepping slightly outside of one’s self as it were. As I ran, rather than feeling exhausted, I was somehow able to observe myself being exhausted instead, at a remove, and I completed the run without too much difficulty. This is an experience I need to remember, and call upon when other difficult circumstances arise.

Anticipating: The end of my wisdom tooth extraction-related pain. The infection and swelling on the left side of my mouth still hasn’t quite gone away, making chewing actual food difficult.

Gratuitous Seven Pieces of Advice from Rumi:

In generosity and helping others be like the river.
In compassion and grace be like the sun.
In concealing others’ faults be like the night.
In anger and fury be like the dead.
In modesty and humility be like the soil.
In tolerance be like the ocean.
Either you appear as you are or be as you appear.

Sunday Salon 6-8-14

Time: 5:45 a.m. Sunday. It’s been so long since I got a good night’s sleep.

Place: At my main computer, hoping that the warmth and stuffiness of the air will clear with all the windows open.

Reading: My main reading this week has been in A Man of Parts by David Lodge. This is a fictionalized biography of H.G. Wells, told largely through the prism of his romantic relationships. Oddly enough, it is exactly that aspect of the book that is unfortunately making it somewhat tiresome for me. Having liked many of Lodge’s books in the past, I admire the clarity and humor of his writing. I’m sure, too, that his research on Wells was thorough. Therefore, I don’t doubt that Wells had a large number of affairs and relationships in his life. I also don’t doubt that he was quite the specimen sexually, or that practically every woman he met between the ages of 18 and 25 was not only beautiful but also wanted desperately to sleep with him. But the parade of such women, for me at least, has become a little tedious.

Viewing: This week was a slow one for films. Continuing to make my way through the Criterion set Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, I watched Metin Erksan’s Dry Summer, a quite beautifully photographed black-and-white film from 1964 that deals with a farmer that, during the season of the title, decides to shut off the water supply from the spring on his land, on which his fellow farmers have long relied. It was a rather dark tale that escalated into violence in an unsurprising way. Liked, but didn’t love. Also on the schedule was a second viewing of Samsara, Ron Fricke’s follow-up to Baraka, a particular favorite of mine. Samsara is much more somber in tone, perhaps not as likeable as Baraka, but still quite a journey, with the stunning photography that marked the earlier film.

Listening: I’ve quite liked the anthology Cold Blue Two, a collection of shorter pieces by composers and artists from the Cold Blue Records catalog. A few of the composers – Daniel Lentz, Ingram Marshall, John Luther Adams – were familiar to me, but many were not. The collection showed remarkable unity despite the variety of musical styles represented. A full review will probably find its way onto this blog before very long. I am also continuing some tentative work on my own music writing, accumulating bits and pieces that may become something larger someday.

Blogging: I was actually pleased with my blogging this week, as I completed two fairly substantial pieces. “Looking at Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert,” the second installment of my “Looking At” series on famous artworks, was a long time in the making but turned out pretty well. On the other hand, the post on “The Hungry Ghosts” was an idea that I had this past Wednesday night, and had finished by Friday morning. It came quickly and easily, perhaps because it seemed quite relevant to my life right now.

Pondering: I am in the midst of a weeks-long period of extreme sadness, bordering on depression. The recent breakup that I’ve mentioned in past Salons is part of the cause, but it extends much further than that. This sadness has caused me to behave in a number of unaccustomed ways. My writing in this Salon, in my blog more generally, and on my Facebook page has gotten more personal, and emotional, than it had been in the past (a couple of pieces I’ve written for the blog but decided not to make public have been even more personal). I’ve picked up the pace of my gym visits, started jogging again after many years, started writing music again after even more years, and have been reaching out (mostly unsuccessfully, but not entirely so) to people for companionship. All of these ring somewhat of futility with me, but at least I’m trying. What I’m pondering is whether I should seek out professional help for my problem from a counselor or psychologist or something. The answer, I believe, is yes.

Anticipating: Seeing the documentary film Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World this afternoon at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Gratuitous Poem of the Week: By Hafez of Shiraz (1325–1389)…

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a
Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

Sunday Salon 6-1-14

Time: 7:15 a.m. Sunday.

Place: At my main computer at home, surrounded by the usual clutter of books, DVDs, and music equipment.

Reading: Last night I completed Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. As I’ve said before, the book is very helpful in steering one toward what is important and valuable in one’s life. It may simply be a matter of time, but I haven’t yet figured out how to implement the changes, or even determine what the changes are, that would take me towards that ideal life that I’ve more or less identified. Since completing that book I’ve started on A Man of Parts by David Lodge, a fictionalized biographical work on H.G. Wells. I’ve also returned to the exhibition catalog Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy. At some point in the next few weeks I’ll be blogging on this subject of Chinese calligraphy, using this book as well as notes taken at the connected exhibition as a starting point. Also sitting at the top of my to-read stack is Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands, a beautifully illustrated compendium of utopias and dystopias from throughout human history. The real world leaves much to be desired right now, and escaping to some imaginary lands has great appeal.

Viewing: I never challenge intuitions and vague attractions, and something has drawn me toward the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder this week. Several DVDs of his films have long resided on my shelf, but in some cases I’d never even taken the plastic off of them until now. In World on a Wire (1973), Fassbinder’s only science fiction film, a virtual world has been created on a computer, and one of the lead scientists on that project becomes suspicious when people associated with it start dying, disappearing, and behaving strangely. It was a fairly mind-bending three-plus hours, full of the themes and the visual cues (mirrors and other reflective surfaces, careful framing of shots, endless fascination with peoples’ gazes) typical of Fassbinder’s movies. I had also never seen one of his most famous films, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), about an older woman who falls in love with and marries a much younger Moroccan man. This portrait of loneliness really moved me, and the casual racism of the woman’s family and friends was both disturbing and seems quite germane even today, forty years after the film was made. I’m peering right now at my Criterion box of Fassbinder’s famous series Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), and wondering if I might finally need to watch it.

Listening: Once again this wasn’t much of a week for music listening. I did, however, continue noodling on the Korg keyboard that sits next to my computer here, with the thought of trying to write some music. I haven’t completed a new piece of music in around a dozen years, and now, for some reason, seems like it might be the time to break that streak.

Blogging: My only post this week was a short, charming poem, “Bugs in a Bowl” by David Budbill, that characterized very nicely my feelings of undirected compassion on the day I posted it.

Pondering: The perception of time. So many stretches of weeks and months in my life have passed without my even noticing – a trend that seems to get worse as one gets older. However, there are other periods in which time seems to drag to a standstill. The last two or three weeks have felt like slogging through a muddy field. How can two weeks feel like months?

Anticipating: I have lost approximately 1/80 of a ton since the beginning of 2014. For those of you without calculators, that’s 25 pounds. Daily walking, eating carefully, and a little heartache and its associated loss of appetite have brought me within shouting distance of the weight of 175 pounds that I had wanted to reach by the end of this year. So well has this gone that I’m even thinking about dropping that goal to 170.

Gratuitous Artwork of the Week: La Sortie de l’opéra en l’an 2000 (Leaving the Opera in the Year 2000) by Albert Robida (1848–1926). In this lithograph from 1882, sometimes referred to as Leaving the Paris Opera, Robida, an illustrator and science fiction writer, imagines a world of air travel as fashionable Parisian society departs from a night at the opera. Click on the image below to see a larger version and enjoy the fun details. Featured in Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands.
Robida Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000

Bugs in a Bowl

Han-shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled
Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:

We’re just like bugs in a bowl. All day
going around never leaving their bowl.

I say: That’s right! Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.

Over and over again. Around and around.
Up and back down.

Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for your self.

Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.
Walk around.

Say, Hey, how you doin’?
Say, Nice bowl!

— “Bugs in a Bowl” by David Budbill, from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse