A squirrel hops into a field of grass after a rainstorm, most of the ground around it covered in fallen leaves, the whole still wet from the storm. I relax with potted cacti and other indoor succulents, all of us reaching toward windows wanting sunlight. Honoring this demand shared across ages, Sarah and I rouse ourselves for our walk. Along the way, we converse with neighbors, some of them with dogs, one couple expecting like us, plus a woman I know from a sangha that used to meet here in town. A weird record turned up in the bins today: Harry Partch and His Strange Musical Instruments.
A recent book features an essay by music scholar Mina Yang calling Partch a “Hobo Orientalist.” He composed music that was to be played upon unique instruments, using scales of unequal intervals. Partch was one of the first twentieth-century composers in the West to work systematically with microtonal scales. An interesting find — but not where my head is at. I’d rather be licking bits of cranberry curd.
We’re ready for a new one. Little one on the way. I feel like leaning back and releasing wild exclamations, loud laughter, cries of animation and joy. Birds fill the air with song. After a walk through our neighborhood, Sarah and I sit at the counter at our favorite fried chicken joint, dining on breasts and sides. The owner recommends that we play music to entice the little one to rotate. I start thinking song possibilities: Yo La Tengo’s “Big Day Coming,” Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” Apollo 100’s “Joy.”
Perhaps, as Maria Montessori might say, those sounds are too loud, “displeasing to the ear of one who has known the pleasure of silence, and has discovered the world of delicate sounds” (121). Perhaps we should try at a variety of volumes a variety of timbres and tones.
Crows and helicopters fly overhead on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Squirrels scramble along branches of trees, pausing, waving their tails in greeting. I sit with them for a while, the neighborhood’s lawnmowers and leafblowers heard in the distance. Afterwards I join Sarah for a walk, the two of us visiting a colleague along the way. We talk again about names and the weeks ahead, pausing now and then beside piles of leaves.
Travel isn’t quite the remedy I’d hoped it would be, though it rarely is. It rained — and I was still working throughout the day grading papers. Plus the laws, the policies of the state, make it hard to conduct Dadaist and surrealist walks. Urban excursions. Those are the practices that thrill me as a traveler: resolutely following a lack of itinerary. The surrealists called these practices déambulations, their results appearing in works like Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926) and André Breton’s Nadja (1928). Strange encounters: a kind of “weird fiction,” though infused more with romance than with horror. An experimental approach to cartography and cosmology, becoming revolutionary (at least in the everyday of a collective reality — tiny, temporary, but at least not boring) with subsequent groups like the Lettrists and the Situationist International. These groups amp up the emphasis on “scientific study” and “rigorous analysis.” There was not among Debord’s circle enough dancing and loving, not enough romance in the group’s theory of the dérive. I prefer the surrealist emphasis on the authorial agency of the unconscious. Prior to all of these figures stands the original urban saunterer, the Parisian flâneur. Charles Baudelaire described the flâneur as “a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness.” In the 1940s and 1950s, the Beats reinvented this practice for the postwar era, the art of flânerie set on the road, flâneurs now palling around with one another, driving, hitchhiking, freight-hopping: the artist-poet as ecstatic world-tourist and pilgrim.
All of it seems memorable in retrospect. I remember a clickable icon appearing in the upper right corner of a newly opened Word document, or a text message arriving on my phone. Both events occurred. Updates have something to do with ontological transformation. They introduce novel forms of interruption and collaboration into the lifeworld. Through them, I find myself rediscovering ancient play-scripts: theaters of mind anchored to toys and action figures, consensual hallucinations, collectively experienced fictional beings. Of course, collective authorship can take other forms as well, Zoon in dialogue with Oikos. “Listen: go out and take note!” reads the received instruction. “Don’t ask where: just go!” So I do — promenading excitedly to a neighborhood park. I walk first to a small wooden pavilion to sit in its shade, but turn away upon sight of a purse left on a table, preferring instead to sit at a different table on the far side of the park, near a stand of trees. Sunlight warms my forehead. Kind words kindle kind dreams. Before long, I’m home again, feeling a bit distracted by worlds of possibility. The story involves beams of light, squirrels appearing, eyeing us, making contact. The story involves forests and rock creatures, Lego ruins amid gardens overgrown with weeds. “Time for a little ventriloquism,” says the narrator. “Become an ensemble and speak each part.”
The moment I lift the blinds from my office windows, my body longs to go outside. I imagine myself in a speculative, future sense, standing in the sun, wind on my cheeks, enjoying myself despite the heat. Choices absorb energy. I find myself wishing to write, walk, and swim, all in equal measure: but then find myself wondering, in what order? Don’t get trapped between window and screen vis-à-vis doors of perception, says a bee in that condition. Let it be, let it be. Allow writing to occur, I tell myself, as it will as one walks. And so it happens. I explore communities that have begun to assemble in cities of late: psychedelic societies. I sit at a picnic table in a park. A millipede peeks out from between the boards of the table, causing an initial jolt from which I quickly recover. I eventually greet the creature and learn to abide. A small bee flies over. Is it related to the one I saw earlier, I wonder as it explores the edge of my notebook. A butterfly approaches soon thereafter. I confess: scientific names for flora and fauna have never been my forte. I’ve never been a He-Man; I’ve never wished after “mastery” of that sort. Does that limit my appreciation of biodiversity? Sarah brings word of sudden drops in global financial markets — signs, perhaps, of a crisis.
Wise ones suggest that messages from beyond, furtive communications from a higher consciousness, are to be gleaned from their point of entry amid the trash strata of capitalist-realist everyday life. To perform this gleaning of meaning, we peer into the apparently random assemblages of this strata (in my case, the blue bins of a nearby Goodwill outlet, the blue skies of my locality), peering bemusedly at emergent patterns, teacherly anomalies, portals into novel domains. This is where Cosmos and Psyche manifest as acts of love. Today, for instance, the bins supply me with Pookah, a self-titled LP by a psychedelic, early prog group from 1969, as well as the debut LP by The Firesign Theater from two years prior. Weird stuff, for sure — some of it quite trippy, like Pookah’s “In a Field.” It’s also a bit scary at times — so when a bird arrives outside my window, I go out and follow it, a path disclosing itself as I walk. Before long, however, the path loops back and leads home again, where Sarah joins the quest. The two of us share reports of life’s bounty as we pass a garden hosting swallowtails and enormous drunken bumblebees, one of the latter conjuring in my mind a cartoon-rendered hippie van or microbus, a yellow one resembling the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo, bopping along, rubbery wheels bulging as it buzzes by.