The plan was that on Thanksgiving I would fly to Phoenix, a couple of days after returning from touring in Texas, and get on a plane to L.A. At LAX I would catch a flight to Seoul and a second flight from there to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. Sometime today I would have landed there.
I found this cheap flight in February and booked it right away. I also booked two different hotels, a cheap one for most of the stay, and a more pricey one for the the last couple of nights, just because it looked beautiful. I was feeling the urge to explore, after looking through a diary I had kept during my travels in Asia in 1978. That spirit of being nineteen in a foreign location was something I wanted to rekindle. Use it or lose it. Aging is quicksand and one can easily, and very quickly, get stuck. My co-pilot encouraged me and for a few weeks – this was during the California tour in February – I was very excited about this trip. I planned what I was going to take with me. It was going to be very little, just a backpack and a small carryon.
But this year unfolded very differently. I was able to get a refund for the flight, which the airline eventually cancelled altogether, and one of the hotels. The other hotel was bought at a non-refundable price.
There is always next year. Or the year after next year.
2020 became the year to stay home, to record music, and to think.
Yesterday I thought that life itself is the practice. Life is one cross-training opportunity after another. The practice is how we engage with another person, how we treat an animal, how we go about our daily business. Meditation, or prayer, are simply there to help us improve what is the real practice… daily life. The Dalai Lama said (I quote from memory) that we don’t need more Buddhists but we need more people who are kind.
Continuous practice, day after day, is the most appropriate way of expressing gratitude. This means that you practice continuously, without wasting a single day of your life, without using it for your own sake. Why is it so? Your life is a fortunate outcome of the continuous practice of the past. You should express your gratitude immediately.
— Dogen (translated by Kaz Tanahashi)
(this is from 2019… the word was Glasses and I had 25′ to write something… this was the result)
I remember that morning, many years ago, when Frau Zimmermann, who taught German, asked me to switch desks. She wanted me to take a seat further back so that a troublemaker would have to sit closer to her and she could keep a close eye on him. I don’t remember who it was… I am guessing it was a boy, because the girls rarely made any trouble. I liked sitting close to the blackboard, the better to learn, or so I thought, but I grabbed my bag and things and shuffled a bunch of rows back to the second to last row of desks. The lesson continued and Ms. Zimmermann droned on. She called upon me to read something she had written on the blackboard. I replied that I could not be expected to read anything from this great of a distance. Frau Zimmermann felt differently and had me stand up and slowly walk forward, to determine how close I would have to be to the blackboard in order to read the words… well, apparently I had to be pretty close. She said that I had to go to the optometrist asap.
I relayed the message to my mom and that very afternoon we walked to the eye doctor. In those days one didn’t seem to make many appointments. One simply showed up and waited for one’s turn… My eyes were tested and we were told that I was short-sighted, meaning that I could see very well up close, but that my vision dropped off a cliff at about eight feet. I needed to wear glasses and I wasn’t happy about that. We picked out a frame for the lenses, something reasonable, inexpensive and pretty boring.
A few days later I went to the optometrist and picked up those tools called glasses, that I would have to carry around, balanced on my nose and ears, for the rest of my life. How crisp and clear my room looked when I arrived at home. Everything looked different! All those things I was so very familiar with suddenly had a new shape and a razor sharp appearance. I looked at my mom and declared that before that day I had never known that she had so many wrinkles. She said, give me those glasses, and mock-reached for them. We laughed and I told her she was beautiful with and without my glasses.
I remember thinking how unfair it was that everyone was supposed to have some sort of average vision… what if I was meant to look at everything close up, what if I was meant to paint miniatures, or become a jeweler… perhaps being short sighted was a very special ability that helped me to concentrate on what was right in front of my nose. But, I also loved playing basketball and so I began to wear glasses in seventh grade.
I wish I had kept every pair of glasses I ever bought. A few of them were very German looking. In case you didn’t know, Germans use glasses as a ray of sunshine under their often grey skies… Germans like to wear brightly colorful glasses. If you are in Milan or London or Paris and you see a man, or woman, dressed in black or very very dark grey clothes, but with bright red or blue glasses… you can be sure it is a German person. It has become a national identifier, like the mustache of a Turkish man…
We are self designing organisms. We are designer as well as product. Or perhaps I should say, we are co-designers with our partners, fate and circumstance. In this case, fate is an abbreviation for everything that lies beyond our control. We can, however, own how we react to those things that are outside of our control, like the location of our birth, the family we were born into, the collection of DNA we inherited, the teachers who inspired us, or made us hate school, the places we traveled to, the people we met, and the storms and accidents that happened along the way.
It’s self administered alchemy. And discovery.
We each are some kind of solvent, a chemical that combines with other people and thus changes us and them both in the process. And it’s something we willingly accept. But, while we accept this, none of us can reliably predict the outcome of the process, and who we will become a decade from now.
Every friend we choose, every person we love, is bound to change us in some way. If they are more cautious than we are, that could make us also more cautious OR it could make us become more daring. If they speak well, it could inspire us to speak well also, or perhaps we would speak with less care. We are the designer as well as the product, and everything we do shapes us, not just the friends we keep, but what we do, what we practice and strengthen, and what we ignore and weaken.
Over time, a musician will hear things others don’t, the rhythm of water drops falling from the roof, the harmony created by two birds singing. An experienced painter will see color in a deeper way. The simple blue becomes indigo, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, or prussian blue. The generic red turns into Naphtol red, Cadmium red, Crimson, or Pyrrol red. An athlete, aside from creating a totally different body structure and changing their organs, will be able to concentrate in ways that others can’t. What about the food we eat, the drinks we ingest, the drugs we take? We might not observe an immediate physical change from smoking cigarettes, but give it a few years or decades. Similarly we might not see an immediate change after starting a meditation practice, but give it a few decades. And then there is food for the mind, the books we read, the music we listen to, the people we talk to, the places we frequent, don’t they all shape us?
I can’t help but wonder how wrong people who decry the mixing of differently colored people are, by claiming it will make everyone “grey”, when in fact it creates more hues. A re-joining of differently evolved lines of humans. In some ways mixed race people are more complete, less narrowly defined, less singularly purposed.
I remember a conversation during which I learned that in order to strengthen or enforce a set of genes the best partner should be a cousin once or twice removed. I don’t exactly remember what it was, because the idea didn’t appeal to me. The person I was talking to agreed with the premise and said that they could see themselves attracted to people who were very similar to them. This made me wonder whether there is a genetic switch whereby some of us are attracted to similarity and others are attracted to otherness. It would make sense from Nature’s survival perspective. Some people would be attracted to familiar looks in order to preserve and strengthen their genetic code, while others would be attracted to different and even foreign looks in order to enrich the code with new variations.
I am both the designer and the product. I am the magician and I am also the brew in the cauldron. I am the result of alchemy. I desire to grow and am aware that with every choice I make, the world and I both change.
Here are a couple of little recordings I made in 2008 while experimenting with Fritz, the artificial head we used to record Up Close with. You will need headphones to hear the effect. If you don’t have headphones you can try covering you EarPods or AirPods with your hands, so that no sound escapes.
The first recording is whispering into Fritz’s ears:
For the second recording I swung the guitar around the head:
These files are 16/44.1k, but the album will be available from Bandcamp in 24/96k.
The above examples play on my computer and phone, but may not play on PC. You can try this sample, which is an mp3 file.
What should I release today?
- Up Close Binaural 24/96k
- Bare Wood 24/88.2k
- Jon’s version/remix of Dance 4 Me
I rolled the dice and then confirmed the release order by laying Tarot cards and, because I was still not convinced, I called a well known medium in New Orleans… Jon’s remix of Dance 4 Me is available on Bandcamp now. Next week I will release Bare Wood…