vision 2020 (full version)

The full version of the album vision 2020 is now available on Bandcamp in HD quality – 24/88.2kHz.


(this is from 2019… the word was Camera and I had 25′ to write something… this was the result)

In a world of digital photography she had to turn back to analog picture making. Why do I always do this to myself, she wondered, but Afnan knew that she loved the process she had developed. The word camera comes from the latin word for room and one day she decided to give visual meaning to the life of rooms. When ideas such as that one occurred to her, the rest of the world stood still, at least for a while. Afnan’s boyfriend complained bitterly of being ignored, while she researched how to make her own light sensitive paper. She explained her idea to him like this:

Our eyes only see the present moment. We might be able to see traces of the past, for example in the footsteps that remain for a time in mud, but eyes see the now and it’s the brain that fills in the history. Long exposures, especially at night, can show more than a moment. Take cars driving in the dark with their lights on: the lights become lines and show the history, the lines represent time expired. What I want to show is the traces people leave in a room, over time. For that I need to build a box, a camera, that lets only a small amount of light through to the light sensitive paper, so I can make exposures of hours or days, or weeks or even years. If a woman in a red dress walks around the room several times, will that show on the photograph or will it get swallowed by the image of the room.

He understood her idea and even offered to help her build the camera, using his expertise as woodworker, but mainly he just wanted more attention from her. On one hand he was proud of her for getting so deeply into her ideas, for pursuing them so doggedly. On the other hand it took up so much of her time.

I could try to talk to a boutique hotel, she mused, and see whether they would let me install my camera into a room. But wouldn’t that mean spying on people, he asked. Afnan shook her head vigorously, I really don’t think so. I don’t think anything would appear very material… perhaps if a loon decided to sit in one position for a long time… like for several days at least, then he might appear in the photograph as a shadowy outline. He laughed, that could actually be an art piece within an art piece. Performance art inside a photograph. Maybe I should do that, then you might pay more attention to me. I love the idea, said Afna, and put her hand on his arm.

Robby Rothschild, the album

Singing songs of his own making, and accompanying them with instruments such as the West African kora, guitar, and percussion, Robby draws from the dual wells of tradition and personal expression. Known for his work with the duo Round Mountain and his recent touring as percussionist for Kip Winger and Ottmar Liebert, Robby’s solo work represents a furthering of his search into musical wilderness.

Robby Rothschild

Our friend Robby has made an album and the above link will take you to its Bandcamp page. Robby toured with Jon and me in Florida last January, and in California in February. It feels like ages ago. We had such a good time performing together and were looking forward to more of that… hopefully we can pick up where we left off later this year.

Even if you haven’t seen us perform together you have listened to him play, because Robby played percussion on a bunch of my albums: Dune, Bare Wood, Waiting n Swan, Fete, and the upcoming vision 2020 (full version).

Go check out his music. Robby has a great voice and his words are poetry. He played most of the instruments himself, but you may hear Jon Gagan’s upright here and there and I made a brief appearance towards the end. Can you come up with a little tremolo line, he asked, and I was happy to oblige.

Here is the link to the album Robby Rothschild on Bandcamp.

Reading List 2020

1. Agency – William Gibson
2. Exhalation – Ted Chiang
3. Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
4. Maigret and the Wine Merchant – Georges Simenon
5. Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro
6. A General Theory of Love – Richard Lannon/Fari Amini
7. End Games – Michael Dibdin
8. The Plotters – Un-Su Kim
9. Back in Bologna – Michael Dibdin
10. The Sentence is Death – Anthony Horowitz
11. The Art of Solitude – Stephen Batchelor
12. The Last Tourist – Olen Steinhauer
13. Medium Raw – Anthony Bourdain
14. The Reality Bubble – Ziya Tong
15. Death of a Celebrity – M.C. Beaton
16. Death of a Village – M.C. Beaton
17. Death in the East – Muckerjee
18. Death of a Poison Pen – M.C. Beaton
19. Collusion – Luke Harding
20. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
21. Italian Shoes – Henning Menkell
22. This Is How You Lose the Time War – El Mohtar & Gladstone
23. Travel Light – Naomi Mitchison
24. The Octopus – Frank Norris
25. The Second Biggest Nothing – Colin Cotterill
26. Agent Running in the Field – John LeCarré
27. The Shadow Girls – Henning Menkell
28. The Address Book – Deirdre Mask
29. There There – Tommy Orange
30. The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo

I enjoyed the two books by Henning Menkell. I only knew him as a detective novel writer and these books show a different side of him. I especially liked Italian Shoes.


Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne


After the success of General Motors’ Cadillac ad campaign that used a Led Zeppelin song, for which the English band was paid a lot of money (I heard the number $17 million although GM hasn’t made that number public), other car companies were looking to buy up rights to other famous rock songs. I heard through the grapevine that one such American band was offered substantially more that what Led Zep was paid, but that they ultimately turned down the offer because they didn’t want to support the car and oil industries. Good for them, I thought, but then I wondered whether it was the best possible decision. What if one took the money and then quietly donated all, or a portion of it, to a good cause? For example, one could take money from a car company and then turn around and support climate change research.

It would be a difficult thing to pull off. The public, especially the band’s fans, might not appreciate their selling out unless they reveal that they have given the money away in a press release. In fact the idea of taking money from a tainted source and handing it over to a good player and NOT revealing the latter became a story that I have been thinking about for several years. I imagined the personal strength of character one would have to possess in order accept the scorn and hatred that could be the result. In my story a cook, or a musician, starts working for a warlord, who is despised by the people, with the intention of carefully building his influence and using that influence to help as many people as he can. He ends up saving dozens of lives and does a lot of good, but, of course, the people cannot find out about this because he would lose his influence and so he dies a lonely and hated figure. The Hollywood ending would be that someone who knows what transpired lets people know what a good person the cook or musician actually was. In the European ending nobody ever finds out and the very last scene shows a villager spitting on the man’s grave.

Ice Bubbles

Magical Ice Bubbles Appear on the Surface of Lake Nukabira in Hokkaido – Spoon & Tamago

Lake Nukabira, located in central Hokkaido, has become a fantastical canvas for one of nature’s most artistic phenomenons. Gas and other substances at the bottom of the lake freeze as they rise to the surface, becoming trapped in multiple layers and creating a multi-dimensional installation of “ice bubbles.”

The region itself gets heavy snowfall so the ice bubbles typically remain hidden to everyone. But this year the phenomenon has shown itself and photographers have been flocking to the lake to capture the rare sight.

Tree Monks

My favorite line from the previous post is this one:

In Thailand, the “Forest Monk” Prachak “ordained” trees in the forest by wrapping monks’ robes around them to save them from loggers.

What a beautiful idea that is. I searched and learned that the practice to ordain trees is now going on in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in addition to Thailand. Here is an image I found on this webpage:

Engaged Buddhism

I asked Roshi Joan Halifax, the abbott of Upaya in Santa Fe, to write a few words to explain what Engaged Buddhism is and she sent me the following text:

Engaged Buddhism during our lifetime is represented by those courageous Buddhists who apply insights from meditation practice, precepts, and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice. Some of the principle leaders are Thich Nhat Hanh, Sulak Sivaraksa of Thailand, T. Ariyaratne of Sri Lanka. These socially engaged Buddhist leaders have campaigned relentlessly, organized millions of new converts, faced death threats, been imprisoned, founded schools and universities, and produced a huge new Buddhist literature to restore social, environmental, and economic justice to their societies.

For example, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne began his work years ago with his social paramis and an extensive reinterpretation within a social context of basic Buddhist teachings. The Sarvodaya Movement works in a thousand or more villages to empower the poor.

Thich Nhat Hanh and Sulak Sivaraksa did something similar when they first began looking at precepts or sila through a social lens. Thay himself called on both North and South Vietnam to stop the bloodshed. Maha Ghosananda, a revered Cambodian Buddhist monk, led thousands in peaceful walks through the “killing fields” to seek reconciliation with the Khmer Rouge. In Thailand, the “Forest Monk” Prachak “ordained” trees in the forest by wrapping monks’ robes around them to save them from loggers. The Taiwan-based Tzu-Chi movement has thousands of volunteers who respond to natural and man-made disasters. The American social justice activist and Zen teacher Robert Aitken Roshi with the establishment of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship; environmental and peace activist Joanna Macy and her Work that Reconnects; and His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his dedication to secular ethics and compassionate action.

Many of us have followed these footsteps, including Roshis Bernie Glassman and Jishu Angyo Holmes and their Zen Peacemaker Order; Jon Watt’s and his social kandhas, an anti-consumerism political paticca samupada; Santikaro Bhikkhu’s “Four Noble Truths of Dhammic Socialism;” Sensei Alan Senauke and his work in the prison system and with Rohingya refugees; Diana Winston and her BASE program; and myself with Upaya Zen Center as a platform for social and environmental responsibility and action. More recently, Bikkhu Analāyo, who addresses Buddhist responsibility to speak out against racism in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Also important is the Buddhist Perspective on leadership as outlined in the Dasavidha-Rājadhamma: The Ten qualities for a leader to cultivate and possess articulated in the Dasavidha-Rajadhamma are ones that current leaders and polity would do well to cultivate: generosity; ethics; altruism/unselfishness; integrity/honesty; gentleness; self-restraint; non-anger; non-violence, non-oppression; patience; uprightness: being congruent with what will truly benefit others.
Those qualities advocated in the Dasavidha-Rajadhamma are qualities cultivated through deep practice and the presence of developed moral sensitivity. I would suggest that this is why socially engaged Buddhism is so important at this time in our world. Although the Buddha was socially engaged, relatively speaking, we now have a bigger, more ecologically and socially consequential field to repair and cultivate.

Dr. Cynda Rushton shared some guidelines on integrity during a recent Upaya Buddhist chaplaincy training program. These are interesting to consider as they reflect an inner discernment process that could help us to keep aligned with our values: I know what I stand for; I live my values; I inquire and am curious to discover what will serve; I ask the hard questions; I speak out for what I stand for; I listen to the call of conscience; I am courageous despite risks; I take principled action or inaction; I am responsible and accountable.
Another thing to note in relation to contemporary socially engaged Buddhism and the importance of current protest movements, Thich Nhat Hanh in the “The Ninth Mindfulness Training” on truthful and loving speech in his Order of Interbeing makes it clear that we have to take a stand for justice. The “mindfulness training” ends with these words: “We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.” This admonition seems particularly important at this time.

I share these modern vows which are aligned with what Dr. Rushton shared in terms of our moral responsibility to follow a path of good trouble.

“Cultivating Peace, Dismantling War”
(author unknown)

As one who aspires to practice the way of non-harming and compassion
On this day, I solemnly swear to hold all life sacred.
I vow to cultivate peace:
To greet all guests with compassion,
To feed the hungry,
Shelter the homeless,
Heal the sick,
Shield the defenseless,
Bring the young to safety,
And rescue the old from indignity.
I vow to work for communities of connection
In which all people can realize their full potential,
And contribute to the common good.
I vow to dismantle the workings of war,
Both within myself and in my society.
In the tradition of Buddha, Gandhi, and King,
I pledge nonviolent resistance to institutions and governments that destroy life.
I will stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who
Refuse to pay taxes for weapons of war,
And who are conscientious objectors.
In realizing my own true nature,
I vow to stand for peace,
I vow to protect our earth from limitless greed,
And to dispel ignorance,
Spreading justice and mercy in every direction.

Indeed, may we spread justice and mercy in every direction. May we exercise the right to vote and vote wisely. May we send our voice and help others to do so in order to end racist and sexist violence in our world today. May we end our addiction to lifestyle and recognize the catastrophic impacts of our consumeristic habits on climate and our earth. And may we end the supremacy of the privileged few, so all can enjoy equal justice and equal care. This includes working toward the transformation of our economic system, our system of government, how we educate and care for our young, how we treat our elders, and how we treat our earth and indigenous peoples. And may we do this even if it threatens our safety and puts our lives at risk. At this very time, there is no question that we need dramatic and systemic change. We together can make good trouble and bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. We can do it whether we are a contemplative or social activist, whether young or old, whether rich or living in sacrifice zones. And, clearly, we must do this now.