Potpourri, June 18th (2017 edition)

Image: circa 1952, JES + Dad[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

I damned near forgot what day it was… or, at any rate, that I typically do a blog post for the occasion! (The photo at the right was taken circa 1952, and celebrates another occasion — Father’s Day in the US.) I’m in a much better frame of mind this year than last (with the multiple-hard-drive disaster I’d been grappling with for months).

To get this rolling, here’s today’s strangely apropos poem of the day, from The Writer’s Almanac:

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want—my want. I love—my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.

(Kate Light)

I’m so glad that although Garrison Keillor no longer hosts Prairie Home Companion, he’s maintained his curation of the Almanac. I know at some point he’ll have to surrender that, too, and I know that he himself does not personally compile each issue; he delegates that to his staff. But for now, he still does the audio reading of each daily entry. Here’s today’s, read in full:

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A Careful Decoding of the Obvious

'Now This One Shouldn't Be Too Hard to Locate!,' by user 'whatsthatpicture' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Now this one shouldn’t be too hard to locate!,” by Photos of the Past — a/k/a user “whatsthatpicture” — on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is one of a so-called “photo pool” by this Flickr user and others; the series consists of over 5,000 old photos taken in what are (obviously or less so) specific locations. The modern-day user then attempts to locate that setting in our own time frame, via Google Street View. If you read the comments at the Flickr page for this specific photo, you can see what the process is. In this case, it included, ultimately, transferring the image to the Google Street View “overlay” site called Historypin: there, a little slider gizmo at the top of the Street View lets you fade out the old photo, and fade it back in, in order to see how its subject fits into the latter-day scene.]

From whiskey river:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, and think this to be normal, is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

(Douglas Adams [source])

and:

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and:

Cliché

My life is an open book. It lies here
on a glass tabletop, its pages shamelessly exposed,
outspread like a bird with hundreds of thin paper wings.

It is a biography, needless to say,
and I am reading and writing it simultaneously
in a language troublesome and private.
Every reader must be a translator with a thick lexicon.

No one has read the whole thing but me.
Most dip into the middle for a few paragraphs,
then move on to other shelves, other libraries.
Some have time only for the illustrations.

I love to feel the daily turning of the pages,
the sentences unwinding like string,
and when something really important happens,
I walk out to the edge of the page
and, always the student,
make an asterisk, a little star, in the margin.

(Billy Collins [source])

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A New Writing, Um… Adventure

'Deep Roots Magazine' logo (2017)The old-time followers of RAMH probably know about this already, via other means. But I thought casual visitors here might be interested in a new outlet for my writing about music: as of this week, I’ve been brought into the fold at Deep Roots Magazine.

As you might guess from the name of both the magazine’s current incarnation and its original one — The Bluegrass Special — the site focuses on music, particularly music with roots in American history: folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and all the many spin-off genres and sub-genres (folk rock, singer-songwriter, soul, and so on). But as you can see from even a cursory poking-about there, the Deep Roots mission is quite broad. Heck, you don’t even have to poke about; just read the sub-title/tagline: Roots Music & Meaningful Matters. If you’re really an old-timer, you may have noticed RAMH‘s own original tagline, back in 2008:

Original (2008) RAMH tagline, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine

That feels like a bit of happy serendipity to me now.

Yes, Deep Roots still covers roots music (etc.). However, it also regularly features classical music; jazz; gospel; children’s literature (reprinting content from old RAMH favorite Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast); and, well, evidently pretty much anything else that its editors might consider culturally meaningful. (Among its wide-ranging departments: the “Charlie Chaplin Moment” series; “Away Out There,” posts about astronomy; and “Talking Animals,” regular material offered by the host of the NPR show of the same name, about pets and other animals… You can see why the site appeals to me even without my actual participation in it.)

My own brief, at the moment anyhow, is to cover… well, to cover… um… well, I guess you could say to do pretty much a deeper, broader, meatier version of what I’ve been doing with music here. Yes, I’ll be continuing to pursue my primary genre of choice in recent years — roots, a/k/a (not entirely accurately) “Americana.” My first Deep Roots feature is a full-blown review of Sarah Beatty’s Bandit Queen album, released in February. (My RAMH post about the title song’s acoustic version appeared here, shortly before its official release date.)

  • My inaugural Deep Roots Magazine feature: “Songs From the Heart and the Headlines” (Sarah Beatty and Bandit Queen)
  • For even more details about Sarah Beatty and her music, also see the annotated version of my full email interview with Sarah Beatty, here at RAMH

And for the record, no: I do not intend to stop my coverage here of musical topics, especially in the Music Break and What’s In a Song categories (and their offshoots). And probably needless to add, I’ll also continue my weekly Friday series of posts “about” nothing at all specific (or at least nothing at all obvious), and continue to wander around and yes, poke about into other topics that catch my interest from time to time.

Thanks as always for visiting, reading, and listening with me. (And very special thanks to the Deep Roots team, especially editor David McGee and Julie (Jules) Danielson, who made the introductions!)

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ADMIN: “The New Look” (Not Really)

Apologies for the look of the site at the moment (a moment which will probably stretch to 24 hours or so). I promise — it will return to the normal layout (including fonts, colors, header image, and what-not).

Thanks for your patience!

 

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The Observer in the Observed

'Message From the Unseen World,' by Roger Marks on Flickr

[Image: “Message From the Unseen World,” by Roger Marks; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). Click photo to enlarge. The photographer explains: “…this permanent installation is a collaboration between United Visual Artists and poet Nick Drake.  Alan Turing is one of Paddington’s most famous sons. This artwork, Message From the Unseen World, celebrates his groundbreaking work on artificial intelligence. Its outer shell comprises aluminium panels, punctuated with holes. LED lights shine through the holes, forming the words to Drake’s poem. A Turing-inspired algorithm shuffles through the poem, creating new interpretations of the verse.” An excerpt from the poem appears below, as the last entry in today’s post; the entirety can be viewed at the Flickr page.]

From whiskey river:

We’re only here for a short while. And I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention. In some ways, this is getting far afield. I mean, we are—as far as we know —the only part of the universe that’s self-conscious. We could even be the universe’s form of consciousness. We might have come along so that the universe could look at itself. I don’t know that, but we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.

(Mark Strand [source])

and:

There is no less holiness at this time—as you are reading this—than there was on the day the Red Sea parted, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of god. There is no whit less enlightenment under the tree at the end of your street than there was under the Buddha’s bo tree… In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may rise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree.

(Annie Dillard [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

Why do I write?

To satisfy a basic, fundamental need. I think all people have this need. It’s why children like to draw pictures of houses, animals, and Mom; it’s an affirmation of their presence in the corporeal world. You come into life, and life gives you everything your senses can bear: broad currents of animal feeling running alongside the particularity of thought. Sunlight, stars, colors, smells, sounds. Tender things, sweet, temperate things, harsh, freezing, hot, salty things. All the different expressions on people’s faces and in their voices. For years, everything just pours into you, and all you can do is gurgle or scream until finally one day you can sit up and hold your crayon and draw your picture and thus shout back, Yes! I hear! I see! I feel! This is what it’s like! It’s dynamic creation and pure, delighted receptivity happening on the same field, a great call and response.

(Mary Gaitskill [source])

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Book Review: Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover: 'Aurora,' by Kim Stanley RobinsonRecognize that book cover? No, I’m not referring to the whole thing — just to the idea: remind you of another science-fiction image of recent vintage?

I’ll tell you what it made me think of: this classic movie-poster shot, from Gravity. I’ve used a wallpaper-sized variant of that image as a computer desktop for several years now, which sharpens the point of the message: When you’re in space, you are really, really alone.

The main cast who populate the pages of Aurora aren’t quite as aware of their utter aloneness in space as viewers of that book cover are. True, they know they live in an interstellar spaceship, their mission’s purpose to populate a world beyond the solar system. They know the distance to their new home is vast — nearly eight light years — and the duration of their journey there likewise almost unimaginably long.

Oh, sure: how could they not know it, at least at an intellectual level? After all, when we first encounter these people, we’re seeing not the original passengers and crew, but their descendants six and seven generations removed: people who’ve never set foot on — or even seen — Earth. Their starship left the orbit of Saturn about one hundred sixty years ago. It takes only a single spacesuited trip out of an airlock — just a glance through a telescope — to tell them how isolated they are.

But the book-cover image of that starship deceives: the ship is big. I mean, forget Starship Enterprise-class big: really big. It consists of these main components:

  • The spine — that single central stem surrounded by the rings — is itself ten kilometers (six and a quarter miles) long.
  • The two outer rings: each torus-shaped outer ring (designated Ring A and Ring B) contains twelve “biomes” (about which, more shortly) — cylinders, each a kilometer in diameter and four kilometers long.
  • Six spokes connecting the spine to each ring: although their dimensions are is never specified, a seat-of-the-pants estimate would make the total diameter about eighteen to twenty kilometers. Thus, each spoke would be about nine to ten kilometers long (depending on various factors).
  • Two inner rings: these are purely structural in nature, serving to “lock” the outer rings to the spine.

Like I said: really big. And it’s populated not just by a couple hundred people, but by a couple thousand. On top of which are all the animals: Earth species which in some cases, yes, are raised as livestock, but in others are simply left feral. This ship is not just a starship; it’s an ark…

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Seeing (and Knowing It)

'I Know I See You, I Just Don't Know When,' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

[Image: “I Know I See You, I Just Don’t Know When,” by Thomas Hawk; found on Flickr.com, used here under a Creative Commons license. The photograph shows one view of the Stata building at MIT, designed by Frank Gehry. The building houses various facilities in support of research into computers, information science, intelligence, robotics, and related topics. More in the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal. This is the thought of identity—yours for you, whoever you are, as mine for me. Miracle of miracles, beyond statement, most spiritual and vaguest of earth’s dreams, yet hardest basic fact, and only entrance to all facts. In such devout hours, in the midst of the significant wonders of heaven and earth, (significant only because of the Me in the centre) creeds, conventions, fall away and become of no account before this simple idea. Under the luminousness of real vision, it alone takes possession, takes value. Like the shadowy dwarf in the fable, once liberated and look’d upon, it expands over the whole earth, and spreads to the roof of heaven.

(Walt Whitman [source])

and:

It would be an endless battle if it were all up to ego
because it does not destroy and is not destroyed by itself
It is like a wave
it makes itself up; it rushes forward getting nowhere really
it crashes, withdraws and makes itself up again
pulls itself together with pride
towers with pride
rushes forward into imaginary conquest
crashes in frustration
withdraws with remorse and repentance
pulls itself together with new resolution.

(Agnes Martin [source])

and:

To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us. Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen.

(Linda Hogan [source])

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Void, Not-Void, and Everything in Between

Figure 5 from US Patent #US 20140215949 A1: '65 db SOUND BARRIER INSULATED BLOCK'

[Image: Figure 5 from US Patent #US 20140215949 A1: “65 db SOUND BARRIER INSULATED BLOCK.” For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

When I was younger I thought my knowledge would increase with years, that it was steadily expanding like the universe. A constantly widening area of certainty that correspondingly displaced and diminished the reach of uncertainty. I was really very optimistic. With the passage of time I must admit that I know roughly as much as then, perhaps even slightly less, and with nothing like the same certainty. My so-called experiences are not the same as knowledge. It is more like, how shall I put it, a kind of echo chamber in which the little I know rings hollow and inadequate. A growing void around a scant knowledge that rattles foolishly like the dried-up kernel in a walnut. My experiences are experiences of ignorance, its boundlessness, and I will never discover how much I still don’t know, and how much is something I believed.

(Jens Christian Grøndahl [source])

and:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.

(Annie Dillard [source])

…and:

In That Great River: A Notebook
(excerpt)

So a little spring prays to the ocean, so the beating heart prays to the heart of the universe, so the little word prays to the great Logos, so a dust speck prays to the earth, so the earth prays to the cosmos, so the one prays to the billion, so human love prays to God’s love, so always prays to never, so the moment prays to eternity, so the snowflake prays to winter, so the frightened beast prays to the forest silence, so uncertainty prays to beauty itself.

And all these prayers are heard.

(Anna Kamieńska [source])

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Potpourri, June 18th (2016 edition)

1959ish, I'd sayIt’s been a few months of hardware madness here — and if you know my tastes in computer stuff, you know they lean towards the software rather than the hardware side of things. So I haven’t been entirely happy during that time…

Back in mid-April, my two-terabyte (2TB) hard drive abruptly failed. It took me several weeks — educational ones, to be sure — to admit that I probably could not resuscitate the thing. I replaced it with a 3TB one, and all went swimmingly at first…

…at least, until I installed Windows 10 on it.

Here’s how my computer at home has been set up, now going back maybe five-six years:

The hard drive is divided into two (main) partitions, running two entirely different operating systems: Windows in the first partition, and Linux in the second. This is called a dual-boot setup: when you boot the computer, you’re prompted to select which operating system you want to run for this session. The default for me is Linux, but I do occasionally (rarely, actually) use Windows for one specific program or another.

The Windows side has moved progressively from Windows XP to Windows 7 and then finally to Windows 10, via the automatic (i.e., forced) upgrade which Microsoft “offers” to users of older versions. When I installed Windows 10 on the new hard drive, I was actually restoring it.

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RAMH@8: To One Thing Constant Never… and a Playlist

Drawing by V. Spahn

[Image: cartoon by French cartoonist/illustrator/humorist V. Spahn. Roughly translated, I believe the caption says something on the order of, “Oh, shoot — I meant to get to the office early this morning!”]

Like many people who fired up blogs in the Great Flowering Era — i.e., pre-2009, say (the year when Facebook first turned a profit, or at least become “cash-flow positive“) — I imagined Running After My Hat would become a journal.

A journal, of course, is different from a diary. A diary celebrates or simply notes the everyday, with lesser or greater force depending on its import to the author; a journal discusses, considers, weighs, argues, and/or blathers on about topics which may or may not be based upon something mundane, but which may also spring, unbidden, from the author’s mind and soul. The latter more closely resembles my RAMH ideal at the outset.

I suppose the place has attained that ideal, over time, although the topics have come to differ from those I’d first imagined. I apparently have much less to say about writing, for example, than I once thought I would. (On the other hand, some of this is reticence by design.)

It’s also become, well, stranger than I’d planned — stranger in ways that I could not have anticipated. I didn’t know, in 2008, that the blogging wave was already cresting. For a while, I actually tried to post something new every single day; by the time RAMH attained what I think of as its own peak, though — 2011-13, maybe — the posting rate had already declined, roughly in proportion to the dwindling audience.

To be fair, the decline in my output was mirrored by the decline in my input — my reading of and participation in other blogs. It’s not as if RAMH were the only blog withering at the time. When Google dropped its “Google Reader” blog-aggregation product, in 2013, I believe the transformation of the Web from a writers-and-readers model to a social-chatter model was complete.

What’s left, then, has become more like a real journal: a place for talking to myself, as time and circumstance allow, about topics and in ways I don’t mind making public, but also about topics and in ways I can’t imagine sharing in Facebook’s short-attention-span theater. (RAMH posts do automatically trigger brief summary posts on Facebook, for anyone who might be interested, with links to the full RAMH entries.)

Although I haven’t done a statistical analysis, I bet ninety percent of the content here has come down to two things: posts in the “Ruminations” category — all of them whiskey river Fridays posts, I think — and posts related somehow to music. Translated, this means that my output here seldom exceeds two posts weekly: not a good mechanism for attracting and retaining loyal readers, but at the same time a good tool for “keeping my hand in.” I like ruminating, and I like learning (and talking at length) about some aspects of music, too: both pursuits which ultimately depend not on facts, but on the processing of facts. And I don’t mind processing them openly, for my own sake, even if for no one else’s.

All the other stuff I used to post about here has transitioned to That Other Place. That place has its uses, as I’ve learned. But there’s not much room there for running after one’s hat, any more than I’d find in a shopping mall at the holidays, or a crowded amphitheater.

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