Landscape-as-Triptych

Be generous: unfurl word-scripts into trusting patterns. Travel the life-world as a sunlight sunbright Sunshine Superman. Practice breathwork on the streets. No need to feel lost there on the sidewalks. Wander for a bit with a gray wooden wand pilfered from a mound of twigs. Ahead of me: Small Batch. Behind me: the looming edifice of the First Baptist Church. On the ground beside me, near a tree where I stand: a plate of uneaten beans. And beside the beans, a board game: The Game of Life. Turning left, I relax into a park bench to absorb the implications of an allegory: an emblematic architecture. In the left panel of the landscape-as-triptych: a glass office tower capped with the number 5. And in the air above it: a rocket ship. In the middle panel, a smaller rocket ship, there too in the sky, though this time above the church. And on the right, in the third of our panels, local high-rise housing project, the Crystal Towers. ‘Tis past the latter that we go en route to Dada’s House. Let us find our path and walk it.

Light Amid Darkness

Frankie has been a consistent source of light amid this darkness. Upon waking from her nap yesterday, she asked to go to “Dada’s House,” with “house” sounding a bit like “horse.” Why have I been inattentive to her here in these trance-scripts? She likes Dada’s House. She requests that we go there, cries if we don’t. Cats; playgrounds. Beautiful tall houses ‘round a bend. What’s not to like? Perhaps tomorrow we can embark on a stroller ride ‘round town. Time to stop ruminating. “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” sing The Tams.

By nightfall, my sentiments align with a line from Chance the Rapper’s “Blessings”: “When the praises go up,” he sings, “the blessings come down.” Blessings make us feel, make us like as they land in our lap. Let us ready ourselves with praise.

Time to communicate lovingly, share the love out on the streets, hang with neighbors, chat with artists, bond through shared love of Buffalo Poetics and Black Mountain College. I feel like a lightning bug: if not a social butterfly, still a giver of gifts. 2022 will be a Lovers Year. Right now, though, I feel a bit crushed. Hurt. Heartbroken. Awaiting something beyond silence — some new adventure. For tonight I feel apart from the life I imagined. The narrative coordinates that have held are about to change, thinks the Time Traveler, scalp pricked and hands stigmata’d by impetigo. The hope is that love will prevail. And it does, it does, as soon as I listen to the record of the year: Moor Mother’s Black Encyclopedia of the Air.

Nights and Days

I am uncomfortable. Not yet fully moved, suspended in the liminal state of a pre-furnished dwelling, like flats I’ve rented over spans of weeks in London.

To compensate, I attend to small, daily acts of being. This is my new adventure.

Items to grab: rice-cooker, ladle, plants ASAP.

Sound system assembled, I make it work: I dwell by night.

Sitting cross-legged in the center of a room, I listen to Träd Gräs Och Stenar’s “Sanningens Silverflod—Djungelns Lag Version.” Outside, the sky darkens, day hastening toward night. Kool Keith and Ultramagnetic MCs give chase with “Ego Trippin’” as come evening I prepare my stew. Kate NV brightens the mood with “Kata,” and there we have it: the pride of another home-cooked meal. I plot others while listening to Kikagaku Moyo’s “Green Sugar.” Bakery and fish market each within walking distance. Do as Flo & Eddie sing: “Keep It Warm.”

“We’re all mad here,” says Cat to Alice. “I’m mad, you’re mad.” Otherwise we wouldn’t be here, under house arrest by karma police. “For a minute there, I lost myself,” sings the love-mad subject, swooning tear-stricken. And for that, we are punished. For each of us is that subject. Each of us punished, our demands unmet.

I stage an event of attention by watching How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary about artist Ray Johnson, featuring narration by Living Theater co-founder Judith Malina. Johnson arrived to Black Mountain for the college’s Summer Institute of 1945, and remained until autumn of 1948. After moving to New York, he began to produce mail art. Paper glued to cardboard. By these means, he accrued his fame.

I feel heartened by a recently arrived fortune of the fortune cookie sort: “You are imbued with extraordinary vitality.” And so I am, walking easy, energized like a bunny. Being out is such a relief. Time to dance, sharing air, getting close. It needn’t all be heartache and not-knowing.

West End’s rad: cool houses, some of them crunchy, many lit for the holidays. All things considered, I’m pleased with where I landed. The apartment rests along a hilltop, Hades and downtown short walks away. When I sample a bit of each, however, hoping by these acts to make the night generative, I want none of it.

I could replace curtains in this place, I could hang plants. I could attend to these and other tasks in the days ahead. Tonight I walk the streets of downtown. Tomorrow I paddleboard. Final papers arrive early next week.

Morning mist meets me, air lit by morning sun. Steam billows from a horse’s nostrils as I listen to Eddie Harris’s “Listen Here.” The moment passes, and then I’m there: a friend and I, out on a waterway in a nature-space of great beauty, maintained by a hydroelectric company downstream from a dam. We paddle around, water’s surface gleaming with wind-patterned lines of light. Baptized by the spray of a small waterfall, we ground our boards and hop among rocks.

Chopping carrots and green onions afterwards, I prepare a dinner.

***

Out on the street I marvel

gaze at houses lit

festive porches

flowers reaching over fences and walls in greeting

amid the stonework of a neighbor’s garden.

***

I store my memory palace in a place in the sky.

Welcome to the Dungeon Crawl

What will I do here alone / in a place that is not my own?

I feel cast off, exited west into the wonderland of the West End.

My father, kind and understanding, talks me through the separation, helps me imagine brightness in the months ahead. With a room of one’s own, he says, other hopes become imaginable.

Ready now to be thankful, I walk about the home admiring it, knowing it to be a place of flowers, books, and beauty. S. and F. erected a Christmas tree one evening without me. This is their home now. It remains my home, too, in a sense. But I spend nights in an apartment — and we’ll place the house on the market come spring.

Emo thanksgiving: What more can I say? I whiled away the morning singing along to Cap’n Jazz while cooking dinner for one. And in the afternoon, I walked. See me there beside piles of leaves, humming the words to “Bluegrassish.” Singer Tim Kinsella ends the song pining for Virginia.

The Language of Favors is Yours, Not Mine

I okay “Thanks,”

but is okaying it now

enough?

Should I regret not

saying thanks

when, upon your mistreatment of me,

I took leave of you,

As one might regret not

upgrading oneself 

to a seat in Economy Plus?

Or does regret

just breed regret?

Upon my asking this

of my remorse

I release it,

with intent to do better next time.

“The basic law of magic,”

says The Illuminatus Trilogy,

is “As ye give, so shall ye get.”

You didn’t give,

I thought,

So why should I?

Instead you told others

my addressing myself 

to another you

disgusts you

and others like you.

To get off that wheel

And make thanks okay

one would have to

give as one would

an offering of peace.

North American Time Capsule 1967

More to my liking is John Cage.

Where the architect-composer Iannis Xenakis used probability, game theory, group theory, set theory, Boolean algebra, and computers to produce his scores, thus pioneering “stochastic music,” Cage composed “aleatoric music.” While stochastic and aleatoric forms of music both rely on chance procedures, aleatoric music eschews mathematics in favor of ancient divinatory devices like the I Ching.

Readied by Cage for further weirding, I tune in and listen to Alvin Lucier’s “North American Time Capsule 1967,” a 10-minute composition that neighbors a track by Cage on Side A of Extended Voices. The Lucier piece uses a vocoder designed by Sylvania Electronics Systems “to encode speech sounds into digital information bits for transmission over narrow band widths via telephone lines or radio channels.” Lucier says of the piece, “The performers are asked to prepare material using any sounds at all that would describe for beings far from our environment, either in space or in time, the physical, spiritual, social, scientific or any other situation in which we currently find ourselves.”

Thinking of 1967 as “situation,” I relate the song to the psychedelic consciousness of that year’s Summer of Love. Lucier worked at Brandeis, directing the University Chamber Chorus there from 1962 to 1970. While dwarfed in scale by hippie meccas like Berkeley, Brandeis was nonetheless an important independent nexus of sorts for 1960s consciousness. Abraham Maslow taught there during the 1950s and 1960s, as did Herbert Marcuse, who served as a faculty member at Brandeis from 1954 to 1965. Future Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman studied there, too, under both Maslow and Marcuse. Through Lucier’s time capsule, one becomes entangled again in that scene.

Stochastic Music

The university library here in town dumps a collection of LPs from its listening room. Out with the old, in with the new. I encounter them in the bins at Goodwill. To them by chance led. The ones I come away with are remarkable: compositions by the likes of John Cage, George Crumb, Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Krzysztof Penderecki. One pursues one’s education here or not at all, thinks the Narrator.

“To Xenakis—as, indeed, to most philosophers—” writes Bernard Jacobson in his liner notes to one of the Xenakis LPs, “chance itself is a scientific concept.”  The reference to “chance” catches my eye, given that “hap” (a Middle English word meaning chance) has been a preoccupation of mine of late.

“Central among the scientific laws [Xenakis] has applied to music,” continues Jacobson, “is Bernoulli’s Law of Large Numbers, which provides that as the number of repetitions of a given ‘chance’ trial (such as flipping a coin) increases, so the probability that the results will tend to a determinate end approaches certainty. Hence Xenakis’s use of the term ‘stochastic’ music, which means probabilistic in the sense of tending toward a certain goal.”

Xenakis’s approach intrigues me. Yet what interests me most about “stochastic music” and stochastic processes more generally is that, despite their probabilistic nature, their behavior and outcome is intrinsically non-deterministic.

Happening Upon Hap (An Affirmation)

Feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed happened upon hap by following happiness “back on the route to its root.” Happiness, she learned, is derived from the Middle English word hap, meaning chance. Released as utterance, the word blew haphazardly, “like straw in the wind,” down the halls of time, giving rise to related terms like perhaps as well as happens and happenstance.

“To affirm hap,” writes Ahmed, “is to follow a queer route: you are not sure which way you are going; maybe you let your feet decide for you. You can be redirected by what you encounter along the way as you are not rushing ahead, rushing forward, to get somewhere. You wander, haphazardly at times, but then you might acquire a sense of purpose because of what you find on the way. How we take a walk is not unrelated to how we live a life. To proceed without assuming there is a right direction is to proceed differently. To say life does not have to be like this, to have this shape or this direction, is to make room for hap. To make room for hap can be experienced and judged as snapping a bond” (Living a Feminist Life, p. 197).

‘Tis what happens.

Along our walk I like your post, a toast to turbulence. I brush my thumb to my lip and ponder your handle. To turb is to disturb. What might we disturb today? Seeing before me an unoccupied birdhouse, I imagine it repurposed as a mailbox. That being one of the things we shared for a time, until that, too, was taken from us. I hesitate for a moment, wondering if there might be a way still for me to apologize and make amends. “A partnership for preservation,” says a sign. “Approach slowly: gate will open automatically,” says another. But we’re seated at different benches, zoned apart along different branches, separate streams of time. For now, I’m on my own, wandering uncertainly to and fro as I wait.

Love Everyone

That is what happens. We time-travel to the present. Author catches up on publishing, begins live correspondence. Akron/Family balloon the belief. “See through strata,” they sing on their 2007 album Love Is Simple. “Go out and love, love, love, / everyone,” goes the chant — so we do. Love is simple with help from friends.

In so doing we find again things to say. Everything exists internally and externally. We are together nightly — in our beds, in dreams so real. And while sitting, meditating, concentrating on breathing: there, too, we meet. The fixated moment opens to flow and transformation. Old forms crumble. Old roles vanish. Mazeways give way to portals and pathways, ways and means.

After Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground

Yea, and I rise—

no grapes,

no gripes—

each breath an act of love.

Blacula (1972). Rocky Horror (1975). El Planeta (2021).

To our list, add Lou, too — his story eerily lesson-like, and relates —

though different, certainly, in its affect.

Gay nightclub noise bands formed

to silence Lou’s committee in head.

Enter John Cale, ex-Welshman

Radio tuned to foreign broadcast.

Out pops

“European Son.”

Artists escape to

New York at midcentury’s end.

42nd Street

Andy’s Film School

60s culture.

15-20 movie houses:

Here comes

new channels.

Here comes

LaMonte Young.

Very high spiritual states.

Long sustained tones.

Study of drone.

And along comes

Lou’s Syracuse buddy

Delmore Schwartz.

Add, too,

Jack Smith, Tony Conrad.

The drone of Western capitalism:

By Dream Syndicate Dazzled

By Dream We Dream

PS I LOVE YOU

To catch an evening screening of you, I hike downtown.

Seeming Lovers

ahead of me.

The Lovers

sit side by side

whispering in the dark.

“‘Tis my new favorite movie!” I tell myself:

made with masks all the more thrilling.

Plants kick in and

I relax,

Chasing happiness by my side.