Winter always makes me miss New England. Today I went Christmas shopping with my partner – it was above 70 degrees and I wore a sleeveless shirt and sandals. There are palm trees in the parking lots. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to it, even though I’ve spent more than a decade living in the South. I sat in the car for a bit as I waited for her to come out of Target, and as both our iPhone batteries had died, I was left with my thoughts (a rarity). She had mentioned earlier that when she was waiting for me at a different store she closed her eyes and listened/timed the shutting of car doors in the parking lot, so I decided to do the same. If you’re curious, based on our ‘sound’ findings, Marshalls was busier than Target with an average ratio of 10:32 seconds between doors shutting.

Meanwhile as I said, I was left with my thoughts and so I have been considering these spiritual seizures of mine (see previous post) and most importantly, how I can develop goals.  Every choice we make involves some kind of purpose, so in order to climb out of this hole I need to know the purpose which will lead to the significance of the next path I choose to take. I apologize if I’m being a bit more reflective than usual – I get this way a few times per year. I do have a musical post to construct at some point in the next day or so…

I found myself considering the fleeting momentary nature of existence and of my experiences while sitting in the car.  For the past year and a half, so much of my existence has been sitting in front of words. I’m either reading or writing them – all the time. I’m sitting in front of this metal/plastic contraption (Vicki II, my MacBook), straining my eyes. It seems that even when I’m sitting still, in front of my computer, or in front of a book, I’m in a hurry.  Each moment disappears as quickly as it arrived – even as I type this. When I look back on this, what will have mattered? I have goals in mind and with each passing day, I’m getting closer to each one. That’s what keeps me on this path. So consider,  which of our actions are worth cultivating?

I suppose I’m getting into the concept of impermanence here – of course the realization of impermanence is the very reason why Siddhartha left his palace to seek enlightenment.  There is a sense of urgency in knowing that all things pass – not just people or sentient beings but experiences and objects, too. I’ve been fearful, since I was very young (7 or so), of being left with remorse over not “spending my time wisely” – which is one reason I take on too much. I know so many people, and you probably do as well, who simply live out their lives without an ounce of conscious thought, living and acting out habits/patterns and not considering the impermanence of life. My mother for instance, has spent her entire life acting out this scenario: waking up, making coffee, showering, drinking coffee while watching the news, leaving for work, spending 9 hours at her desk selling kitchens, going home, eating dinner which almost always includes meat/potato/vegetable, drinking several beers while watching tv, falling asleep – repeat. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think to myself, “I will never let that be me.”  There is simply too much to do on this planet.  Cultivation then, is a matter of personal integrity.

My goal this week is to deprive myself of reading anything at all for a day. This feels more radical than it probably is, but I’m curious about what my head will lean towards doing once I put away my books, my iPhone, and my computer. It’ll probably be later in the week, as I am still receiving student emails regarding grades… but soon. Just as an experiment.

Time to wrap gifts…

Next post hint: Lyric Analysis of Chinese Oppression. 

Local, National, Digital: Bye, Bye Borders!

I’m a nerd – I buy books. There’s a great little shop in New Orleans called Octavia Books. It’s where I’ve bought all of the Harry Potter novels on my shelf in an attempt to keep things local. Actually there are several amazing small bookstores in New Orleans. Before I moved to NOLA, my two favorite shops were The Book Bear in West Brookfield, MA and Raven Used Books in Northampton, MA (There’s also a great spiritual book shop in Santa Monica, CA that I love called Thunderbolt Books, but they don’t have a site).

Anyway – I remember being angry when I moved to the city so many years ago and saw how big corporations like Borders and Barnes & Noble were monopolizing the industry and putting small book shops out of business.  I vowed never to step foot in them (I was trying to be a good lil hippie), and then something happened. I walked into a Borders or a Barnes & Noble and found their sale racks, their bargain book racks, and I fell in love. So – shoot me already. I found myself getting off the St. Charles streetcar in New Orleans with my partner just to hang at the uptown Borders that had been transformed from a funeral home (only in NOLA).

Now folks are buying textbooks online. I have a Google Books and Kindle app on my iPhone, and I buy literary ethnographies to read on it. I can fit thousands of books on my telephone. That’s insane to me. Regardless,  I can’t bring myself to purchase digital textbooks. I’m the kind of person who needs to feel the paper and turn some actual pages. I make notes in margins, and I like to doodle (yes, I said it). I like to read in bathtubs. Then, the other day I took my iPhone to the bathtub… too much info? It bugs me. I didn’t drop it – I was able to read just fine on it. I was even able to make digital notes in the margins. It just… represents change, and I know I’m ranting like crazy here but I’m bothered by the whole thing.

My parents never took me to book stores or libraries when I was little, and I was always jealous of the kids whose parents did. I want kids – I want to bring them to bookshops and sit in a corner and let them read for hours. By the time I have kids,  they’ll be learning to read on kid-friendly iPads. I guess maybe this is a “good ol’ days” post – or maybe I’m just grrr-ing at the fact that I don’t mind when I get tea-stains on my paper pages. It doesn’t ruin the book – just gives it more character. My dogs like books – they like to chew on them. I can’t spill anything on my iPhone or future iPad.. my dogs can’t take a bite out of my partner’s favorite crime novel. They’d be toast!

Okay enough for now… I went to the local Borders closing sale when it opened this past Friday. I was sad to see it go, and it bugged me because I used to think of the little guy… and then somehow they became the little guy, and now they’re gone.

Sitars, etc.

Well, I finally got to play a sitar. I had a lovely nearly-two-hour lesson with a friend (shown below) who brought his sitar in to let me sit with it and feel the energy of it in my hands. Of course, I fell in love with the instrument after about an hour or so. I had been wanting to buy one for years now, but as they’re rather expensive, I didn’t want to purchase one until I had the chance to hold it and see how accessible things like lessons and repair would be. I’m so grateful to finally have had the chance. I’ll be purchasing one from Sitars, etc. within the next couple weeks.

I learned basics of holding, moving frets, note names, etiquette, note bending, how to use the sympathetic strings, and purchasing. I am so, so grateful to my friend Curtis (an orchestral string bassist with a sitar habit, by the way) for taking time out of his day to show me.

Bill Summers

Yesterday, in a clinic with percussionist Bill Summers, some strong points came across.

He treats his drums as a family, and the people playing them give voice to the family as a functioning thing. The drums themselves represent the family members: the mother (the one with the womb who speaks of wisdom), the father (the one carrying structure and discipline – the clave ), the child (the novice, the apprentice)… and that they should never be split up. Once they are – they aren’t played correctly. They have familial conversations. They have fights. They make up. They play.

Secondly, he lingered on the idea of african improvisation: specifically the fact that there’s no such thing. You can always tell a “real drummer” from a hippie banging a drum… a real drummer knows the rhythms, knows the discipline, knows the rhythms for each ceremony (each morning, each afternoon, each season (much like an Indian Raga), each wedding, each funeral, each birthday)..and only plays those rhythms when appropriate.

We spoke about the beginnings of man and the first instrument: the idea of an ancient guy hunting in the forests of Africa and a piece of fruit (a modern-day shakere) falls on his head, he brings it home, he’s sitting there bored, he starts shaking it – it becomes percussive, it becomes entertainment, it becomes a vehicle for ceremony… well …maybe not quite like that 🙂