The Mutable (and Not Mutually Exclusive) Real

[Video: “Chameleon,” by Johannes Stötter. For more information, see the note at the bottom of this post.]

From whiskey river:

I would argue that if consciousness exists, it can’t be obliterated; thus we borrow from consciousness in order to become (to get an identity), and we return what we borrow as egos to the greater conscious field when we die, so that’s what happens to “us.” The real question then is the fate not of our consciousness but of our personal identity.

You know, science’s definition of us is that a light goes on, a light goes off, and it wasn’t even a light, but that’s like not existing at all. And we do exist — in the sense that we are not just interdependent with everything else in the universe; we are everything else in the universe, and ourselves too. That’s why we exist at all, why we have a personal identity. Likewise we are not just everything else in the universe; we are one probabilistic form even of ourselves. At each moment, all of our other selves, making different choices and experiencing themselves differently exist elsewhere as well as in deep latency in us, and in states just as physical as ours. They bail us out of this mess, but we bail them out of their messes. We support one another eternally. The light we share never goes on, never goes off, and that’s the Soul.

(Richard Grossinger [source])


This Might Be Real

How long in a cold room will the tea stay hot?
What about reality interests you?
How long can you live?
Were you there when I said this might be real?
How much do you love?
Sixty percent?
Things that are gone?
Do you love what’s real?
Is real a partial form?
Is it a nascent form?
What is it before it’s real?
Is it a switch that moves and then is ever still?
Is it a spectrum of cross-fades?
Is what’s next real?
When it comes will everything turn real?
If I drink enough tea to hallucinate, is that real?
If I know I’m waiting for someone but I don’t know who, is he real?
Is he real when he comes?
Is he real when he’s gone?
Is consequence what’s real?
Is consequence all that’s real?
What brings consequence?
Is it what’s real?
Is it what turned everything to disbelief, the last form love takes?

(Sarah Manguso [source])

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An E-Publishing Experiment (2): Short Holiday Reading for Under a Buck

How It Was: Christmas (cover)Moving right along…

So I’ve had a short story for sale for a week so far, as described in this post. (The book itself can be found on; that’s the Amazon US link, although it’s also available at the company’s UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, [etc.] sites.) At 99 cents apiece (less Amazon’s cut), I’ve sold about a dozen copies of that story to date (one was “refunded,” for reasons unknown — probably a double download).

As I mentioned at the time, I haven’t really done anything to promote it, other than to announce its availability on Facebook and Twitter. I did a follow-up on Facebook, a day or two later, and — for what it’s worth — sold more copies via the follow-up than from the original announcement. I made a point of not urging anyone to spread the word, buy copies for friends and family, and so on; I just announced the story’s availability, to see what happened next.

From this small chunk of data, so far at least, I (not very earth-shakingly) conclude:

  • People who see the announcement are more likely to respond to it. Thus, the timing of the announcement is critical: almost no one can read every single posting in his or her Facebook and/or Twitter feeds. Follow-up can greatly announcements improve the odds of likely purchasers even knowing about the sale in the first place.
  • Since Facebook and Twitter (and RAMH itself, for that matter) are self-selected population samples — only people who “know” me in one way or another — presumably all of those dozen sales so far came not via word-of-mouth, but in direct response to the announcement.

I don’t know how to encourage word-of-mouth sales without constantly nudging the people who’ve bought it so far — remember, people I “know” — and risking wearing out my welcome, so to speak. Especially now, at this time of year, people (even generous friends) simply don’t want, let alone need, to be badgered repeatedly to buy something.

So, let’s move on to phase 2, applying some of these lessons (and leaving some of the mysteries unresolved for now).

You can find my next 99-cent offering here, at Amazon’s US site: “How It Was: Christmas.” If you’ve been reading RAMH for a while, you’ve seen this (both the overall series, and this specific volume) referenced before. One of my very first posts here described the series’ genesis, and what to expect from the individual booklets.

Of all four books, this one is most likely to “sell,” I think — especially at this time of year. I’ve done a couple of things to open it up a little further:

  • I’ve enrolled the title in Amazon’s “Kindle Select”KDP Select” program. This will provide me some promotional opportunities downstream. Chief among these: I will be able to RAISE the sale price, with the intention of immediately offering it for sale at a deep discount back to the 99-cents level.
  • The book will also be available for free “library” lending to Amazon Prime customers. I won’t get a direct royalty from these so-called borrowings, but I will get a small bit from some kind of Amazon’s global library promotions.
  • I’ll do more than one follow-up announcement on Facebook, and also make a point of following up a couple of times on Twitter. (As ever, I don’t want to wear out my welcome. If anyone sees me approaching that limit, I hope you’ll let me know!)
  • A bigger risk, maybe: I’m offering the book free of all digital-rights-management constraints. This means that someone who BUYS a copy can simply turn around and give the book file to anyone else. Of everything I’ve written, maybe, this Christmas booklet is “most likely to succeed,” at some point (perhaps years in the future). To the extent that more and more people read (and of course like) it, future sales of both other How It Was books and everything else I might e-publish might get a boost.

Again, let’s just see how things play out. And I’ll report back on this phase, too, at some point.

Thanks as always for reading anything at all which I’ve written… and of course, thanks extra if you’ve paid for it, and/or encouraged someone else to do so. ;)


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“After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”

[Video: “Behind the scenes” look at the making of a pop-up “art book,” Everyday Wonders, which was created to advertise the features of a new Samsung smartphone. (The advertisement itself is here.)]

From whiskey river:


There are so many messages I can’t interpret.
The hundred maples at the edge of my street shout orange, orange,
orange, in silent voices. And may say more if I could decipher.

How I want to understand the many calls of the birds migrating through
on their long journey. And what is the message of the shaggy
wave-curled sea quarreling around the black rocks out at the far point?

Perhaps words themselves wander off into other fields, like sheep lost
in the depths of the hills beyond the local hills so the shepherd has to
go climbing up and down, his legs aching, his breath heavy
in his chest until he spies them off there under

that far evergreen, and wrestles them down and brings them home.

(Patricia Fargnoli [source])


Anyone can see that if grasping and aversion were with us all day and night without ceasing, who could ever stand them? Under that condition, living things would either die or become insane. Instead, we survive because there are natural periods of coolness, of wholeness, and ease. In fact, they last longer than the fires of our grasping and fear. It is this that sustains us. We have periods of rest making us refreshed, alive, well. Why don’t we feel thankful for this everyday Nirvana?

We already know how to let go — we do it every night when we go to sleep, and that letting go, like a good night’s sleep, is delicious. Opening in this way, we can live in the reality of our wholeness. A little letting go brings us a little peace, a greater letting go brings us a greater peace. Entering the gateless gate, we begin to treasure the moments of wholeness. We begin to trust the natural rhythm of the world, just as we trust our own sleep and how our own breath breathes itself.

(Jack Kornfield [source])


Use what you have, use what the world gives you. Use the first day of fall: bright flame before winter’s deadness; harvest; orange, gold, amber; cool nights and the smell of fire. Our tree-lined streets are set ablaze, our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into wild color just before they die are the world’s oldest performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one last violently hued hurrah before the black and white silence of winter.

(Shauna Niequist [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Melodía Pegadiza, Part 2 (Pérez Prado’s “Patricia,” and the Mambo in General)

Perez Prado, per Mexican cartoonist Saul Herrera, a/k/a 'Qucho'

[Image: Pérez Prado, in the imaginative eyes of the Mexican cartoonist (Saul Herrera) calling himself “Qucho.” I found the image on the Web right away; Qucho, only with some hunting. And I’m not sure this image appears even there, on his blog.]

It’s been a few months now since I posted the first of these Midweek Music Breaks on Latin-music earwigs from the 1950s. That post dealt with “Blue Tango,” by decidedly non-Hispanic classical composer Leroy Anderson. This week, we take a look at one of this genre’s hits penned by the self-styled “Mambo King,” bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado.

First, an (apologetically pedantic) aside about that name: Dámaso was his given name; Pérez, his paternal surname; Prado, his maternal surname. Thus you’ll find many references to him as simply “Pérez Prado” — which “feels,” at least to a native English speaker, like a first/last name combination. For all I know, this was common during his lifetime. Maybe he even got used to it: when someone shouted out “Pérez!” on a street corner, maybe he turned his head more readily than when they called for Dámaso. But really, it’s never quite correct to refer to him as plain-old Prado — like the Spanish national art museum. Speaking from experience, this is harder than it sounds. Nevertheless “Pérez Prado” is right — just like the dark-and-stormy-night author is never called simply Lytton but always Bulwer-Lytton.

Pérez Prado cut something of an exotic figure on the mid-20th century American musical landscape. Born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1916, he started out studying classical piano. By the 1940s, he had moved entirely into popular Cuban genres, specializing in the rhythm called the mambo.

What exactly is mambo, anyhow? Unfortunately, most of the descriptions of it are cast in terms of other styles which — presumably — you already do know enough about to discuss intelligently. One Joseph Levy, about whom I can report pretty much nothing at all, seems to have taken a special interest in Pérez Prado. At his site, he says of the mambo:

Prado’s conception of the mambo began to develop in 1943. He later said that four, five, and sometimes six musicians would often play after hours jam sessions on the tres (a small Cuban guitar) and the resultant cross rhythms and syncopation give him the idea. Jazz writer and critic Ralph J. Gleason reported that “Prez” talked to him about the mambo as being an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing. According to Prado, the mambo is “more musical and swingier than the rhumba. It has more beat.” He also explained, “I am a collector of cries and noises, elemental ones like seagulls on the shore, winds through the trees, men at work in a foundry. Mambo is a movement back to nature, by means of rhythms based on such cries and noises, and on simple joys.”

…The mambo as we know it today is actually a rhythm whose tempo may be slow or fast, and almost any standard tune can be set to its tempo. The saxophone usually sets the rhythm pattern and the brass carries the melody.

That reference to “cries and noises” and the squawks of seagulls may allude to Pérez Prado’s own style of band leadership. Often, you can hear him grunting aloud as though to punctuate the rhythm; sometimes these grunts are actually exultant variations of the imperative “Dilo!” (“Say it!”) and sometimes they seem — at least to me — just, well, grunts.*

Pérez Prado’s departure from Cuba is sometimes described as though he’d been ridden out of town on a rail, for tainting the purer strains of local music with foreign jazz elements. Well, maybe. Maybe the musical establishment of mid-twentieth-century Cuba was fiery, conservative, nativist; maybe people really did (still do) work themselves up into a frenzy of distaste over such matters, and not just in Cuba. What seems more likely, given what we could later tell of Pérez Prado’s ambitions: he just felt too constrained by a narrow — oh, say, island-sized — popularity, and left on his own. Whatever the case may be, when he left, he left for Mexico. And except for his big but fairly brief success in the US, from then on he seemed to present himself as a citizen of Mexico rather than Cuba.

His first introduction to US audiences came via across-the-border radio broadcasts from Mexico. He had a big hit there with a number called “Que Rico del Mambo,” which was repackaged and -recorded by American bandleader Sonny Burke as “Mambo Jambo.” That song’s success first brought Pérez Prado to the US.

“Patricia,” in 1958, was the last of Pérez Prado’s releases to reach #1 on US charts. To characterize it as infectious (as I, at least, am tempted to do) is to gloss over the recording’s supreme oddness. The orchestra’s swing is punctuated not so much by its leader’s vocal cries — it doesn’t seem to feature any of them — as by weird little bursts of horns and percussion which almost suggest to me a burp, or the compressed-lips Pppppbbbfffflllt! of a raspberry/”Bronx cheer.” But the tune itself seems to pinpoint a moment in time, in pop culture, captured by Federico Fellini in La Dolce Vita:

In [1960], even the composer Nino Rota would turn to mambo, reworking “Patricia” (Perez Prado) for the La Dolce Vita soundtrack. The song is used on several occasions, including in the “orgy” scene… As [the character of Nadia] prepares to take it all off, an inebriated guest calls for some “Middle Eastern music.” But in a truly exotica moment, the hi-fi needle falls into the groove of “Patricia.”


If you’re not familiar with that scene in the film, here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

To celebrate her recent divorce from Riccardo, Nadia performs a striptease to Pérez Prado’s cha-cha [JES: ???] “Patricia.” The drunken Marcello attempts to provoke the other partygoers into an orgy. Due to their inebriated states, however, the party descends into mayhem with Marcello throwing pillow feathers around the room as he rides a young woman crawling on her hands and knees.

(Ah, the early Sixties…) Of course, you can see this scene on YouTube, starting at around 3:55 into that seven-plus-minute clip.

Anyhow, here’s “Patricia,” as recorded by Pérez Prado’s own orchestra in 1958:

[Below, click Play button to begin Patricia. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:05 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Lacking Focus

Cover from the catalogue of the 'Focus on Imaging' show, 2010

[Image: cover from the catalogue of the “Focus on Imaging” exhibit of 2010. Photo by artist Nick Veasey, who specializes in X-ray photography; found it on Flickr, uploaded by user Karen Roe. The image seems straightforward at first, but the more you look at it the less plausible it seems. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

People don’t do what we want, things don’t happen quickly enough, the weather doesn’t cooperate, our bodies don’t cooperate. Why are these moments so painful? Because our minds are focused on a static, unchanging, me-centric picture while the dynamic unfolding of a broader life continues around us. There is nothing wrong with expectations per se, as it’s appropriate to set goals and work, properly, towards their fruition. But the instant we feel pain over life not going “my way,” our expectations have clearly taken an improper turn. Any moment you feel resistance or pain, look for the hidden expectation. Practice giving yourself over to what “you” don’t want. Let the line at the store be long. Let the other person interrupt you. Let the nervousness make you shake. Be where your body is, not where your mind is trying to take you.

(Guy Finley [quoted everywhere, but unsourced anywhere that I can find!])


To the Happy Few

Do you know who you are

O you forever listed
under some other heading
when you are listed at all

You whose addresses
when you have them
are never sold except
for another reason
something else that is
supposed to identify you

who carry no card
stating that you are—
what would it say you were
to someone turning it over
looking perhaps for
a date or for
anything to go by

you with no secret handshake
no proof of membership
no way to prove such a thing
even to yourselves

you without a word
of explanation
and only yourselves
as evidence

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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When TV Commercials Verge on Art

The Missus’s and my favorite between-the-films bumper/promo on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable/satellite TV network:

For those not familiar with it, the network specializes in films — mostly Hollywood-made — from years ago. They’ve been showing this occasionally for years. It so dreamily evokes bygone days, without overt sentiment. It doesn’t include any clips from old movies. (Indeed, the only reference to film at all is the shot of a guy selling tickets from a theater booth.) It keeps the locale(s) non-specific, although it’s hard not to assume they’re all in New York City. It uses jazz effectively, and even references Edward Hopper. But somehow — even without the TCM logo at the very end, probably — it unambiguously tells you what you can expect to find featured here.

It is, we think, a masterpiece of the form.

[Found it, while looking for something else, at the YouTube channel for the AJ Ross advertising agency — the firm which produced it.]

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The Stutter in the Clock’s Second Hand

[Image: “It’s time to stop, the night said to me,” by Brandon Barr. One of many photos in The 24 Hour Project, a worldwide collaboration of 65 photographers documenting every hour of the day…  in over 35 cities. Barr’s photo of a street corner in Atlanta was snapped at 11:03p.m.]

From whiskey river:

We Have Time

We have time for everything
Sleep, run back and forth,
regret we made an error and err again
judge others and absolve ourselves,
we have time to read and write,
edit what we wrote, regret what we wrote,
we have time to make projects and never follow through
we have time to dwell in illusions and stir through
their ashes much later.

We have time for ambitions and diseases,
to blame destiny and details,
we have time to look at the clouds, at the ads, or some random accident, we have time
to chase away our questions, postpone our answers, we have time
to crush a dream and reinvent it, we have time to make friends,
to lose them, we have time to take lessons and forget them
soon after, we have time to receive gifts and not understand them. We have time for everything.

No time, though, for a little tenderness.
When we’re about to do that, too, we die.

(Octavian Paler)


It seems that most of us could benefit from a brush with a near-fatal disaster to help us recognize the important things that we are too defeated or embittered to recognize from day to day.

(Alain de Botton [source])

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Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

[Image: Big Top, a photograph (!) by user “*Trippy4U” at the deviantART site. More in the note
at the foot of this
(looooong) post.]

On the planet of Literature of the Fantastic (considered separately from its sister worlds, for horror and science fiction), you will find three major continents, inhabited (with a great deal of crossover) by generally three types of being.

You will find, for starters, the land of ancient and often supernatural beings: gods and lesser immortals of myth (dryads, cyclopes, and such); fairies, elves, pixies, and leprechauns; unicorns, dragons, and mermaids; any or all of the Four Horsemen (especially Death).

Across the ocean in one direction lies the land of latter-day heroics. (“Latter-day” refers to the time of this continent’s creation, although many of its denizens are centuries or even millennia of age.) Aside from humans, the most common inhabitants may be horses. Swords and other weapons are commonly brandished here, occasionally in the vicinity of immigrants and tourists from the first land, often in the direction of wild creatures invented specifically (because convenient) for the tale at hand: ents and orcs, sand worms, Frankenstein’s monster, the Jabberwock, blast-ended skrewts…

On the face of it, on the third continent we’d feel most at home. The populace here is all familiar to us, just from looking around at the (present or past) “real” world: donkeys and dogs and other domestic animals; lions and swans, friendly brontosauri; and, well, the people next door. But then we dig a little deeper and the “reality” drops away: the animals talk, not just among themselves but to us, they argue and scheme, some of them have jobs; and when we visit the people next door, we find them mixing potions in the kitchen, the surfaces of their bedroom furniture writhing with living ivy, their homes’ very walls sided not with vinyl or clapboard but with gingerbread and treacle.

Many of the Grimm “fairy” tales — which feature no fairies — fall into the latter category, and so do Aesop’s fables. Also here you’ll find whole shelves full of one-off, sui generis works with (nearly or in fact) no counterpart elsewhere.

And on one of those shelves, you’ll find Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

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Midweek Music Break: Collins H. Driggs (on the Novachord), “Estudiantina,” and… Beer

[The Novachord, closed and open (click either photo for an enlargement); both photos per Wikipedia]

When you grew up in the US during a certain window of time (and maybe in certain geographic areas, within certain socioeconomic strata), the culture you could absorb from the adult world was this weird amalgam of past and present. The mass media hadn’t quite figured out what “mass media” might mean. Television still felt like an extravagance. Pop-culture artifacts from the early decades of the 20th century could still be found lying around in basements and attics, waiting for (re)discovery by kids with maybe a little too much time on their hands.

One such sort of artifact in our household was 78rpm record albums. I have no idea from which side of the family most of these things might have come to us — or, rather, to the cardboard boxes in the second-floor “storage room” and in dark back corners of the basement. If they were Big Band-related, odds were good that they’d arrived trailing in Dad’s wake. But the others…?

We had a couple of records by Arthur Godfrey, for instance, including one on which he and a would-be comic country-singin’ group sang an embarrassing number called “Slap Her Down Again, Paw.” (That was the refrain, in a narrative about an adolescent girl who’d stayed out later than her parents allowed — but finally came in at sunrise.)

And we also had a collection of recordings on a musical instrument called the Novachord.

Like the Mellotron (covered here in a Midweek Music Break some time ago), the Novachord was an experimental keyboard instrument straddling the analog/digital divide. Wikipedia says only about a thousand were manufactured by Hammond (the organ company) between 1939 and 1942; production lapsed during World War II because of the shortage of parts, and never resumed afterwards because, apparently, the thing just hadn’t caught on anyway.

I don’t ever remember Mom or Dad playing the Novachord records on the family hi-fi (or later, stereo). But I listened to them myself, for some reason, and often enough that one song really lodged in my head. The label identified it as “Estudiantina,” a waltz by a composer named Émile Waldteufel. Although (as Wikipedia says) Waldteufel is considered a French composer, he was born in Strasbourg — as German a city as a French city may be, right down to the geography. (And his surname is German, meaning — I love this — forest devil.)

Given all that, maybe it should not surprise that “Estudiantina” — certainly as rendered by the Novachord, in the hands of someone named Collins H. Driggs — has so much a lilting, oomp-pa-pah beer-hall quality:

[Below, click Play button to begin Estudiantina. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:55 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Maybe the main reason why this performance struck me with such force was that I recognized the tune well before I heard it from the Novachord recording — and even then, when I must’ve been only ten or twelve years old or so, I recognized it for an unlikely reason: it provided the melody to the advertising jingle for (yes!) a Germanic-sounding brand of beer, Rheingold. That’s Miss Rheingold* of 1949 in the ad over there on the right. I can almost hear “Estudiantina” tootling from her concertina, which perhaps sounded much like the Novachord: thin, reedy, and rather, well, burbly. I can even almost hear her singing the jingle — whose words, indeed, included the announcement: My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer…!

Background: When I set out a couple days ago on this general topic, for no reason that I can put my finger on, I had exactly two facts at my disposal:

  • The word “Novachord.”
  • The remembered connection between that old 78rpm record, and the Rheingold jingle.

I certainly couldn’t remember the song title, “Estudiantina.” And I don’t think I’d ever even registered the name of Émile Waldteufel.

But as I continued to think about the recording, I vaguely remembered that the overall album title coupled Novachord somehow with the word magic. It wasn’t Novachord Magic… nor The Magical Novachord… it was… was… was it The Magic of the Novachord?

And folks, I wanna tell you: I just about fell out of my chair when a quick check of Google led me to that very album on iTunes.

I love the Internet.


* The very first Miss Rheingold, in 1940, was Jinx Falkenburg. (I might have been able to invent that name, but I’d never have had the nerve to use it in a story. Too implausible.) Her autobiography, Jinx, came out in 1951, but apparently went out of print long ago. (Hers, I’d wager, is a potential best-selling story in search of the right biographer or filmmaker, especially in our beautiful-celebrity culture.) There are many pictures of her online (and yes, Jinx appears to have been something of a minx), but one of my favorites is the one at the right. She is here not signing the accordion, as it appears. She’s signing a short snorter. You can be forgiven for not knowing what a short snorter is; according to the site of The Short Snorter Project (where I found the photo), it is:

…a banknote which was signed by various persons traveling together or meeting up at different events and records who was met. The tradition was started by bush pilots in Alaska in the 1920’s and subsequently spread through the growth of military and commercial aviation. If you signed a short snorter and that person could not produce it upon request, they owed you a dollar or a drink (a “short snort”, aviation and alcohol do not mix!).

Did I say, I love the Internet?

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Don’t Answer the Door. They’re Wearing… Gloves.

[Hat tip to the Speak Coffee to Me blog’s consistently brilliant selections in its Ad of the Week series]

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