Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Links and Therapy

Lately I’ve had the experience of putting my hands on the computer keyboard, and having no words come out. The words are in my head, but they feel almost like a lead weight, and don’t slide easily from mind to hands. While in London, I wrote a number of short stories. But as I bring them up and try to polish them for the Web, they just appear to be all wrong. I can’t quite arrange the characters, I can’t make up my mind about the plot, I wonder if they’re all that interesting. It makes it hard to finish anything, though none of the stories are ever really finished, at least not in my mind.

I don’t like a day to go by without some kind of writing—I feel like I’ve missed something at the end of the day, and I wake up feeling depressed. It’s like driving in a windstorm—you may want to go fast, but you can’t. The wind pushes you back and forth, and you struggle to retain control of your vehicle, and are exhausted by the effort by the time you finally are able to stop again. Fortunately, when I stand back and look at these episodes, I know that things are constantly shifting outside my center, and that this too will pass. Everything seems like forever in the present moment.

In any case, I wanted to share a few interesting links:

The first is a new website called It’s absolutely brilliant, and I recommend that you add it to your feed aggregator toute suite. Created by Stephen Elliot, it provides reviews and commentary on books, art, and music that you would probably never hear about otherwise. I heard about it through the Mental Floss blog, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

The second is the SCADshorts site, which I hope gets some updates this year. There was a SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) short that made the blogosphere rounds last year. It was the May 2008 short featuring a girl and a large scary-looking pencil with a creepy smile. That gem of a film and its rather disturbing soundtrack got me to look at some of the other bizarre shorts being produced. The work is pretty amazing.

Lastly, I recommend looking at Karborn’s website. Karborn is an artist who also happens to be John Foxx’s son. I discovered his work via that connection, and his work is really staggering in its depth. I’ve always had a great admiration for those who can put onto canvas what I try to put into words. Art is so much more fluid than writing. Words often fall short of what can be conveyed in images, and I think his work is just amazingly deep—it stirs up something different every time I look at it.

Incidentally—I would mention in this crappy economic time that if you really support an artist or musician, you should BUY their stuff. Recently I bought John Foxx’s Cinemascope, even though I have some version of all of those songs somewhere else in my collection (though it does offer some great artwork as well). I’d heard some grumbling on the Web about why we need “another” compilation, but it’s simple economics. Musicians have bills and need money, just like everyone else, and that’s a difficult business to be in. So, show some economic support if you can.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


When I like a particular musician, I tend to immerse myself in their work for a period of time. Not only listening to music, but learning about the individual or group making the music. However, one thing I don’t tend to do is join forums. I was asked about this recently by someone, as I used to spend a lot of time in the early 2000’s on the Psychedelic Furs forum at Burned Down Days.

Enjoying the work of a particular band or individual is a bit like the religious or shamanic experience for me—I don’t really have words for it. I just have the experience. Some people are great at going into expositions about particular albums or songs or performances, but I have a hard time doing that. Sometimes I can relate the work of an artist to a particular experience—an event or a point in time, and I can say that a particular song or album reminds me of that event. Sometimes the song reminds me of an image, or series of images, or a quality (peaceful, disturbing, ecstatic, etc.).Beyond that, I only have the experience. When I’m introduced to a new song or album (new to me, anyway), there is an immediate visceral reaction—or there isn’t. Some songs do grow on you over time even if they didn’t strike you initially. And some songs infect you immediately, until you’re tired of them and have to put them down for awhile. Inevitably you will go back to them.

Back to the religious analogy—it’s often said that one shouldn’t talk too much about religious or spiritual experiences. I feel that way about music. The experience just IS what it is, I don’t really want to dissect it. The experience is crushed by too many words. My extensive participation in BDD had more to do with the people on the message board than the group itself, even though I am a Furs fan. It was more about meeting up, seeing the different (and sometimes opposite) personalities interact, and just enjoying each other’s company. When the board became more about discussing the music critically, I ended up dropping out, or at least dropping back. There was nothing wrong with anyone doing that, and it was appropriate given the forum. I just found I no longer had anything to add.

I reflect on this and find it odd in another way. I am a taxonomer by profession—Tech Services librarians are about describing and classifying. When I’m faced with a chaotic or irrational situation, I deal with it by seeking information—to do that, I have to classify it somehow, give it some kind of label, some means of sorting through it, even if that proves to be ultimately inadequate. It’s a means of regaining control at base—when we feel like we have no control of our lives, we employ tactics to protect ourselves, to feel like we have a grip again.

If I’ve learned anything through the years of spiritual experiences that I’ve had, it’s that I have little control over my life. I’m not suggesting that some external being is pulling puppet strings. Life just does not happen in a neat, orderly, planned fashion. All of the major religions talk about the idea of “surrender”. Surrender is not about giving up. It’s about recognizing that you don’t have control, and being comfortable with that. Most of us don’t surrender; however, in the moments that we do, there is an unbelievable freedom in not having to understand the what, or why, or how. It just is what it is. That is the crux of the mystical experience. The mind becomes unnecessary. The Buddhist idea of “unlearning” suddenly makes sense.

Music is like that experience. Music that is really moving is like a fountain—experiencing the piece inspires you to create, and hence more creations spring out of the same source, whether that is recognized or not. It is the same with art and literature. Hearing something, or seeing something that inspires you to create something of your own—not necessarily the same type of thing—is like an endless stream or fountain. That’s just magnificent. Too magnificent for words.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

New Year's in the UK

So, I am now back from London. Given the daily visits from some of you (thanks, Google Analytics), I am guessing at least some of you are interested in knowing how it all went. So, here it goes...

First off, I do not have a daily travelogue, which is something I tend to do on trips, but was difficult on account of the fact that I had no computer while I was there. I did pop into the Internet cafes once a day, but that was just about enough time to get through messages on all of my social networks and e-mail. I did do a lot of writing on this trip, but I mostly wrote things out longhand--it's amazing how bad I've gotten at that. I am so used to just typing away; I did not bring my Macbook due to the adapter issue (there is no way my battery would have lasted 2 weeks). People tell me that I can just adapt my American plug using a converter, but I have 2 experiences of converter plugs--they either "work", or they "set the wall on fire, and your attached appliance." Given that the odds of the latter happening are rather good, I decided not to risk it.

A few general comments about London:

1. It seems smaller. The last time I spent any significant time in London was in 1993, though I have been back since that time. The whole city just doesn't seem as big. I don't know if I'm using New York as my yardstick, or maybe I'm just more used to the London streets now--but it doesn't seem like it takes very long to go from the West End to the East End on foot.

2. It doesn't have a lot of English people. I kind of knew this, but it just seemed more apparent this time around. There are people from all over the world in London, and few of them seem to be English. I heard a lot of French there this time--even from the Japanese tourists, which was kind of weird. I find it amazing that the English are branded as warm and friendly as compared to the French. Not that I have any problem with the English (my own personal space habits tend to mirror theirs, actually), but in the States they are not known for being warm and cuddly. The French are often downright rude. I was chatting with a French woman while doing my laundry out in Glastonbury, and she mentioned that the French are raised to be very competitive and individualistic, at least the Parisian French. Often they don't have any regard for you--they are competing with you. I thought that was rather interesting, and does bear out what I've observed about the French I've come in contact with overseas. Not that a sweeping generalization is fair, and I'm not making one--I just didn't meet too many French who fell outside of that way of behaving.

3. It's dirtier. Certainly the air is dirtier. I'd go back to my hotel at the end of the day, blow my nose, and there would be black, sooty stuff coming out. The underground has definitely, well, gone downhill. It's approaching New York City-subway filthy, although New York tends to be cleaning up a bit, so, maybe they're just meeting in the middle now.

By contrast, Glastonbury was a lot more open and laid back. Not much different from the last time I was there, just more expensive, and the high street is more built-up. In Glastonbury, you're more likely to strike up conversations with the locals, whereas in London it's unlikely that anyone who doesn't know you will attempt to speak to you. I met a lot of nice people in Glastonbury, hanging out in the pubs, and even just going to the shops.

So, what did I do while I was there? I visited friends and drank a lot of beer--and bought books. Yes, even on holiday, I can't stay out of the fucking bookstores. And when I'm not in the bookstores, I'm in the damn libraries. The British Library, to be exact, so not just any library. That was worth the trip, actually, since they have a lot of their national treasures on display, and nothing makes me drool like really old, valuable books. The Lindsfarne Gospels, a couple of Gutenberg Bibles, pages from Da Vinci's notebooks--and some amazing classical Hindu artwork. All in one place. Like heaven, really. The British Museum was not too shabby, either. I had never been there, and still didn't get through all of it, but it was amazing. I was partial to the Roman Britain collections, as that is something you're not likely to see too many examples of outside of the British Isles, unless there's a special exhibit.

On New Year's Eve I visited with a friend in Guildford, but ended up going back to my hotel fairly early, as I was not feeling well, and--happy new year!--I ended up with the flu and bedridden the whole next day. In a word, it was awful. I had to travel to Glastonbury the next day, so I spent the day in bed doing Reiki therapy on myself, and drinking a ton of orange juice, just to be well enough to grab the train to Bristol. Fortunately I was in much better shape by the 2nd, and being out in the country during that time was fortuitous. I stayed in a B&B overlooking the Glastonbury Abbey ruins, which was a 200% improvement over the place I stayed in London. Being able to chill out, do some writing, and chat with the locals was a good way to end the holiday. I also climbed the Tor (in spite of just getting over the flu and it being rather cold) and headed over to the Chalice Well gardens (which now costs 3.25 to get in, rather than .50, which is what it cost in 1993).

Normally the UK weather is balmier than it is here in New Jersey at this time of year, but I seem to have brought the cold weather along--it was between -5 and -10 Celsius (that's about 13 to 20 degrees Farenheit) while I was there. In Glastonbury there was also a fierce wind, which made it difficult to be out for too long. It's actually colder than that here in the States (we usually wake up to -12 Celsius on average in the winter mornings here), but I was expecting temps a little higher than that.

All in all, it was a lovely trip, but money was running low, and all good things must come to an end, so here I am again, back at home watching the cat's head move in concert with the snow flurries whizzing by outside. I still feel like I'm functioning on another planet, or maybe in another dimension, but I'm sure that feeling will subside. I did actually do quite a bit of writing on this trip, so I need to spend time making sense out of my own chicken scratch and get a few new things posted or updated.

Hope everyone had a splendid new year!