Hold It All

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It Can Be So Appealing

Or let me tell you another story I heard about twenty years ago from a black civil rights activist who came up to study at Harvard Law School-it kind of illustrates some of the other pressures that are around. This guy gave a talk in which he described how the kids starting off at Harvard Law School come in with long hair and backpacks and social ideals, they’re all going to go into public service law to change the world and so on–that’s the first year. Around springtime, the recruiters come for the cushy summer jobs in the Wall Street law firms, and these students figure, “What the heck, I can put on a tie and a jacket and shave for one day, just because I need that money and why shouldn’t I have it?” So they put on the tie and the jacket for that one day, and they get the job, and then they go off for the summer and when they come back in the fall, it’s ties, and jackets, and obedience, a shift of ideology. Sometimes it takes two years.

Well, obviously he was over-drawing the point-but those sorts of factors also are very influential. I mean, I’ve felt it all my life: it’s extremely easy to be sucked into the dominant culture, it can be very appealing. There are alot of rewards. And what’s more, the people you meet don’t look like bad people–you don’t want to sit there and insult them. Maybe they’re perfectly nice people. So you try to be friends, maybe you even are friends. Well, you begin to conform, you begin to adapt, you begin to smooth off the harsher edges–and pretty soon it’s just happened, it kind of seeps in. And education at a place like Harvard is largely geared to that, to a remarkable extent in fact.

And there are many other subtle mechanisms which contribute to ideological control as well, of course-including just the fact that the universities support and encourage people to occupy themselves with irrelevant and innocuous work.

–Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 239

Hong Kong, Harvard Square; photo by Mev

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The Real United States by Hedy Epstein

Not long after I came to the United States [later 1948], I began to work for the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) near New York’s City Hall and later in the agency’s shelter on West 103rd Street. The agency brought to the U. S. displaced persons who had been living in displaced persons camps in Germany since the end of World War II. I had daily contact with these persons. With every new boatload of people arriving, I scanned their faces, hoping to find my parents among them. I inquired of them where, in what camp, they had been during the war, hoping someone would be able to provide some information about my parents. None could.

Ethel instructed me in my duties. Her response to my repeated suggestion that we go to lunch together was always, “No.”  Summoning up a lot of courage, I asked her why she did not want to go out to lunch with me. “Don’t you know we cannot go to lunch together,” she said. “Why not?” I asked. She replied: “I cannot eat in the places where you can and I am sure you would not want to eat where I eat.” I failed to understand until she explained: “Negroes are not allowed to eat in restaurants frequented by whites.” I was shocked, incredulous. After all, President Lincoln had freed the slaves. That is what I read in history books. I thought therefore there was no more discrimination. This incident served as the catalyst for my involvement in the civil rights movement, always as a protestor and later, also, professionally.

Seventeen Quotations from Glenn Gould in Kevin Bazzana’s Wondrous Strange

“Dying was a great career move for him.”  

—Kevin Bazzana, Wondrous Strange:
The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

 

  1. “I gather my inner resources from the outdoors.”  
  1. “Behind every silver lining there’s a cloud.”
  1. “My ability to work varies inversely with the niceness of the weather.”
  1. “From the time I was about 12, I was forced to do a complete analysis and to memorize any work I was going to play before actually going to the piano and playing it. When you are compelled to do that, you get a kind of X-ray view of the score, much stronger than any tactile imagery the piano might create for you.”
  1. “I happen to believe that competition rather than money is the root of all evil.”
  1. On Tureck: “Her records were the first evidence that one did not fight alone. It was playing of such uprightness, to put it into the moral sphere. There was such a sense of repose that had nothing to do with languor, but rather with a moral rectitude in the liturgical sense.”
  1. “I love Tristan. I was fifteen when I first heard it, and wept.”  
  1. “The greatest of all teachers ix the tape recorder.”
  1. “You owe nothing to your public.”
  1. GG on Strauss: “I’ve always been addicted to his music the way some people are addicted to chocolate sundaes. I find it absolutely irresistible. “ 
  1. “Isolation is the one sure way to human happiness.”
  1. “I see nothing wrong in making a performance of out of two hundred splices, as long as the desirable result is there.”
  1. “It’s true that I’ve driven through a number of red lights on occasion, but on the other hand, I’ve stopped at a lot of green ones but never gotten credit for it.” 
  1. “Music is my ecstasy.”
  1. When asked what one must do to be a professional artist: “You must give up everything else.”  
  1. “One does not play the piano with one’s fingers. One plays the piano with one’s mind.” 
  1. “One of these times I’ll write my autobiography, which will certainly be fiction.”

Twenty-Eight Cullings on Glenn Gould from Kevin Bazzana’s Wondrous Strange–The Life and Art of Glenn Gould

I believe in God—Bach’s God.
Glenn Gould

 

  1. Stayed out of the public eye, maintained his presence through a conspicuous absence. 9 Gould’s personality has certainly fueled his posthumous appeal. His eccentricity made him fascinating, his isolation made him mysterious, his personal modesty made him lovable, and his apparent sexlessness paradoxically gave him sex appeal among some female (and some male) fans… 10
  2. He was a powerful communicator of deeply personal, sometimes shocking and subversive, but always compelling and entertaining interpretations, which he put across with great conviction. 10
  3. Question Authority: His eccentric interpretations, his garish on-stage demeanor, his abandonment of concert life, his dropout lifestyle—all imply a stubborn resistance to authority and conventions that makes him an immensely attractive figure, even a role model especially to young musicians engaged in their own battles with teachers and traditions and clichés of classical-music business. He was refreshingly irreverent in a business whose conservatism and formality and pretentiousness have always alienated many people, especially the young. 11
  4. In some quarters he is received as a kind of guru or monk, a holy man, a Platonic ideal—the posthumous reception really does get this airy. 11
  5. For all his originality he was identifiably a product of the country, the province, the city, the very neighborhood—and the times—into which he was born…In fact, he remained, all his life, in fundamental ways, an Old Toronto boy—he never did leave town—and his work incarnated Canada in unmistakable if sometimes unusual ways. 13
  6. Both of Gould’s parents came out of traditions that were steeped in the social gospel and that stressed personal faith and morality, respect for the authority of the Bible, community service, and the belief that God should be manifest in all aspects of life. 28
  7. By the time he was ten, he could play all of the preludes and fugues in the first book of Bach’s WTC… 48
  8. As his teen years progressed, his Puritanism yielded an increasingly rational and idealistic approach to music. 87
  9. He liked to talk about “ecstasy” as the highest goal of playing or listening to music, and he meant not exultation but the sense of standing outside oneself, of stopping time, of being in touch with an otherworldly realm. 87
  10. It was interpretive wisdom beyond his years that most impressed his listeners as a child, not bravura technique. 104
  11. He was thinking, about matters theoretical and practical, about morals and aesthetics, about music and interpretation, about the piano and performance practice, about the future direction of his career and his adult relationship to the world of music. 135
  12. His was an exhilarating, modern Bach. 171
  13. His objections to the concert hall were ultimately moral: it was simply immoral to demand that someone display his wares in this way in front of a ravening public. 179
  14. Gould was not interested in money as source of status or luxury and was willing to maximize his income only in ways compatible with his lifestyle and artistic goals. 241
  15. In a recording he saw a permanent document in which he could leave a fixed, definitive statement of an interpretation, and he accepted the responsibility of that position. 260
  16. As a conversationalist he was animated, engaging, provocative, witty to the point of riotous, and usually dominating through the electricity of his ideas and sheer volubility. 271
  17. The lifestyle he cultivated was all about eliminating contingencies and distractions, maximizing opportunities, relating to the outside world on his own carefully controlled terms. 318
  18. He lived alone and guarded his privacy jealously, giving out his unlisted address and telephone number only to a trusted few. He was a classic introvert, drained rather than energized by prolonged contact with others, especially crowds, and he discovered early that isolating himself from society was essential to his happiness and security, and to his art. 320
  19. Often he would have, say, a TV and two different radio stations (news and music) playing in different rooms of his apartment, and he would keep them on while working or talking, reading or practicing. (He read several newspapers a day and a handful of books a week.) 322
  20. He did not smoke and drank nothing stronger than coffee. 325
  21. Gould had no denominational or even well-defined religious beliefs, though he was fascinated by religion and indeed by all sorts of otherworldly phenomena. 333 His appreciation of the Bible seems to have been more ethical and even aesthetic than doctrinal, but he took comfort from certain Biblical texts. 335
  22. Gould’s God was not the fire-breathing law-giver of the Old Testament, but something more akin to the transcendentalist or pantheist or Spinozist God, a timeless spiritual ideal, and like many mystics he worshipped, in some ways, the centrality and restorative power of nature. 336
  23. Gould manifested a variety of obsessional, schizoid, and narcissistic traits, too, hardly surprising given his frailty, sensitivity, and advanced intellect 370
  24. He had a sharp intellect and a quick wit, but his humor, unlike that of many intelligent and witty people, was without cruelty or spite; he used it to relax, occasionally to provoke, never to wound. 389
  25. Fugues and twelve-tone works have pleasure to Gould’s puzzle-solving brain because they need to be analyzed, figured out, to be fully appreciated, while more intuitive types of music—fantasias, aleatory pieces, jazz improvisations—disturbed him the way an unmade bed disturbs a neat freak. 401
  26. There are Bach recordings from his last years in which his control of touch and tone is so immaculate as to be almost superhuman. 427
  27. With his mother’s death, his hand problems, his family troubles, the various losses of his later forties, his apparently worsening health, and probably the realization he would never enjoy a long-term romantic relationship, it is no surprise that Gould became more introspective in his later years. 483
  28. Acquaintances that saw him in his late forties for the first time in years were shocked at his deterioration. His complexion was sickly, his hair was thinning and graying, he was paunchy and wrinkled, he was more stooped than usual. 484

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The Spirituality of Photography by Cami Kasmerchak

Cami gave me permission to share this essay.

I remember first becoming interested in photography a little over 10 years ago. At first, photography was simply a way to capture moments of family and friends, but over the years it has morphed into much more than that. Photography has changed the way in which I engage with the world. It has forced me to wrestle with ethical questions. It has propelled me to pursue adventure and experience. I now understand photography as a form of creative expression, a catalyst for social change, and a deeply spiritual practice. Through photography, I can be connected to the past, grounded in the present moment, and aware of the future all at the same time.

My Grandpa Harry gave me my first digital camera back before smart phones and selfies. I never saw him that often growing up, maybe a handful of times throughout a year. He lived alone with his dog Co-Co three hours away in northern Wisconsin and was generally a closed-off person (read: alcoholic with PTSD). On holidays and my birthday he would send me a card with Kodak prints of Co-Co out swimming in the river and a black sharpie arrow pointing to where her dot of a head was bobbing above the water. “Co-Co,” he would write, making sure I didn’t mistake her for a log. Sometimes he would send pictures of roadkill he found on the back country roads of Wausau while roaming around on his scooter. He hardly ever responded to letters I would write or expanded on more than the seasonal sentiment in cards, but he always included pictures. It didn’t matter that these pictures were kind of weird and sometimes gross. He captured what he found interesting and meaningful, and that’s all that really mattered. My freshman year of college, my Grandpa Harry died from lung cancer and even though he had been living much closer for about two years prior to his death, I still didn’t feel like I really knew him. Photography has been the way I continue to reflect on him and our relationship even after all these years. Whenever I talk about photography, I have to talk about Grandpa Harry because he was intertwined in the beginnings of my passion for it. He gifted me both with my first equipment and an example of the freedom to notice what you notice without judgement. Read the rest of this entry »

“Speaking Truth to Power Makes No Sense”

Noam Chomsky, The Common Good  [1998]

Brandon,

I first read this collection of interviews between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian twenty years ago. The interviews were from the second half of the nineties, the Clinton years when the UN/US sanctions on Iraq were decimating thousands of Iraqi children each month and people like Madeline Albright justified it.  The following are some passages  worth understanding…

Mark

Truth to Power:  “Speaking truth to power makes no sense.  There’s no point in speaking the truth to Henry Kissinger — he knows it already.  Instead, speak truth to the powerless — or, better, with the powerless.  Then they’ll act to dismantle illegitimate power.” 158 

Prophets:  “True prophets like Amos — ‘dissident intellectuals,’ in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of.  Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert.  The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either.  Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.”  148

Looking for the Magic Answer:  “When I speak to elite audiences, I constantly get asked, What’s the solution.  If I say obvious things like Pick your cause and go volunteer for a group that’s working on it, that’s never the answer they want.   They  want some kind of magic key that will solve everything quickly, overwhelmingly and effectively.  There are no such solutions.  There are only the kind that people  are working on in Massachusetts towns, in self-governing villages in India, at the Jesuit Center in Colombia.” 152

Illusion of class harmony:  Like in the faculty departments, “we’re all in this together.”

Business Week Survey:  “95% of the people — there’s a number you almost never see in a poll — said corporations have a responsibility to reduce profit for the benefit of their workers and the communities they do business in.  70% thought businesses have too much power, and roughly the same number thought business has gained more by deregulation and similar measures than the general population has.”  61 Read the rest of this entry »

Fiddling with the Archetypes

Gary Snyder, The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964-1979

I first learned of Gary Snyder in fictionalized form as the hero Japhy Ryder in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Therein, as in real life, the character was at work on translations of Hanshan. I went on to read Snyder’s translations, as well as those of Burton Watson, and committed many of the poems to heart.

From The Real Work I’ve culled the following passages on the theme of poetry, which may be of interest to my friends who love reading poetry, spend time doing any kind of writing, and make effort at going through their days in states of equanimity, compassion, sympathetic joy, and all-around friendliness.

___________________

The thing that keeps me from someone else’s poem from working for me most often is too much ego interference, too much abstract intelligence, too much striving for effect; there’s a lack of contact with the inner voices. 4-5

I’d emphasize the importance of a sense of community, a need for the poet to identify with real people, not a faceless audience. There should be less concern with publishing, more with reading. A reading is a kind of communion. I think the poet articulates the semi-known for the tribe. This is close to the ancient function of the shaman. It’s not a dead function. The poet needs a long view. He can’t just plan in terms of a few poems to be done immediately. He may be eighty years old before he’s ready to do his masterwork. The creative imagination doesn’t stop growing like the body. It keeps growing and getting ready to strike deeper into the basic relationships between the personal perception, the social ritual movements, and nature. Poetry is a life’s work. 6

Or like the great enlightened poet saints like Milarepa or Zen Buddhist masters who wrote poetry. They wrote poetry at the height of their delight, the sheer play of their being. 19 Read the rest of this entry »

Thought for the End of One Year and the Beginning of Another

“Why count the days, when even one day is enough for man to know all happiness. My dears, why do we quarrel, boast before each other, remember each other’s offenses? Let us go to the garden, let us walk and play and love and praise and kiss each other, and bless our life.”

~Markel, in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

Gratitude/899

A predictably wonderful thing about late December–getting to see  Thuy Khuu when she comes back for a visit.

 

with Thuy at Cafe Ventana, January 2015

“I Think I Was Trying to Suggest Something about the Duality of Man…”

Title is taken from “Joker” in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.