09.31.10 – Preface – Piano Dragons and Karmic Lint

A lifetime of things.  Things amassed over time.  Flotsam and jetsam washed up on my beach, or hunted down and slain like the mythical Baby Grand Piano Dragon.  All the contents of my karmic pockets stacked in precarious monuments taller than I am like Zen rock stacks.  We’ve downsized the container, but not the contents, and so, due to the laws of physics, the boxes of Samsara must rise vertically, nearly to the brim of our almost finished, renter-virginal 400 square foot cabin. “I swear I am going to start using that rice cooker!” feels more like a curse right now to my aching joints that have just finished unloading the truck.  The overflow – roughly 30% of the total – has now been demoted to the outlying eaves of a barn (thank God for the barn) where it will sit for the winter and think about what it has done.  It will be mostly dry there.  It’s the rats our stuff needs to worry about.

I don’t travel light.  It takes serious camels.  To blame the rice cooker is a “Princess and the Pea” sized misnomer.  No.  It’s the speakers.  Guitars.  Cables.  Monitors.  Computers.  An armada of toys for my audio sandbox.  It started when I was twelve.  At 40, I am a sweater in a blackberry bush of audio stuff.  It’s hard for me to say no, I guess.  All those cute little knobs and faders looking up at me at the estate sales, pawn-shops, Trading Musician.  Who will care for them if not I?  Come to me, my children.  You will be warm in my rack.  Note to self: I must get a forklift.

And speaking of forklift, the coup de grace in this moment, the Olympic Feat of Absurd Proportions is the aforementioned Baby Grand Piano Dragon.  I had no hand in the LA to Seattle leg of its journey – that was all Aunt Michelle, squish! – save for writing the check when it arrived.  (Pen vs. Sword analogy here.)  But the lashing of it into the 24’ Ryder and the unloading into its new home in a Dome (!),… that was Sir Jake-a-lot.  And several strapping young lads who I owe a beer.  And Chiropractics.  But it was worth it.  Now I can sit, overlooking the garden, and tickle the ivories.  At least I think I am tickling them… I’ll know for sure in the spring when I can take my gloves off.  Until then it is a duet for piano and space heaters.

What is essential?  Clearly Piano Dragons are, but what else?  What is necessary for life?  Orcas Island will be my sieve.  I will strain the contents of my life, my brain, my heart, my closet.  Grep for Useful.  Despite my best anti-consumer Kung-Fu – and my Kung-Fu is good, Daniel San – I have been snowed with urban illusions of grandeur.  I can’t complain: my Samsara sweet-tooth has shown me some exquisite extremes.  Yet all the while, in my heart of hearts, from a very young age I have always secretly suspected, silently hoped, desperately clung to the certainty in my gut that…

“Life is so much simpler than this.”

And so, after 40 years of living with one foot firmly in The Matrix, I have decided to unplug.

Now what do I do with all this stuff?!


10.22.10 – All is Yoga

Day One.

It’s like a puzzle, really.  You can’t make music until you set up the studio.  You can’t set up the studio until you’ve sound proofed the walls.  You can’t sound proof the walls until you have some lighting in there.  You can’t get the lighting installed until you unpack the tools.  You can’t get to the tools until you unload the boxes.  You can’t unload the boxes until you put down the living room rug.  You can’t put down the rug until you sweep the floor.  And so, we sweep.  And dream of music-making.

A separate subroutine includes the need to eat.  Which is a subset of food, which is a subset of utensils, which is a subset of a kitchen.  The kitchen came up on the last trip, procured from Ikea™, Habitrail for Humans®.  Some Assembly Required has been previous executed, save for the beech wood countertops, which are yet to receive their final three coats of WaterLox™.  WaterLox™ is a mostly-natural sealant originally designed for boat hulls, back when they were made of wood.  What it does for wood countertops is nothing short of gorgeous.  But the price of gorgeosity is patience: it must be applied at least three times, preferably the recommended four or more times.  And did I mention that it must dry for 24 hours between applications?  Recursing backwards from the hunger in my belly, I head for the barn where the countertops are up on horses, one WaterLox™ application down the road towards our first meal in the cabin.

It is cold.  I can see my breath.  The barn is known for providing a mostly dry spot for tools, food storage and the overflow of our boxes of stuff.  The “natural ventilation” that won the barn this job also lets in the crisp October air.  “Back to the elements!”  Careful what you wish for!

I get to work applying this mucus-like syrup that is WaterLox™ at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Only the business side of the countertop technically requires application, but since they are up on saw horses I take the time to get down under the stallion and paint a bit of her undercarriage too.  Moisture has a funny way of getting into everything eventually, so I may as well do it right the first time.

(Later I will talk with Kevin – who’s land this is and who built our cabin, his house and the Dome with his brother, Loren – about the idea of Legacy, of your craftsmanship being your signature on Time.  I will reference this moment to him.)

Ten minutes into the work, the smearing process slowly gives way to something like painting as my persistence softens the congealed honey-like resin into something that responds to gravity.  With an exhale, my brain savors the acknowledgement of the first decrescendo in activity density in, literally, two solid months:  Beloved, packing, load to Orcas, Food Blogger Convention, Bloom album final mixing and mastering, packing, load to Orcas, two solid weeks of “Kennyboy” film mixing, final weeks of my final quarter teaching & grading, Bloom CD release practice / prep / show, Decibel Festival, Ableton Live Certification, packing, load to Orcas, delaying our final move for multiple trips to the vet emergency room (sigh) followed quickly by the death of Mamacita – the Kittiest Kitty in the Whole House (double sigh),… and the final pack and move in the 24’ truck.  The silence in the barn is so solemn and soul soothing, I begin to weep.  Orcas simply witnesses.  The breeze says “I know, I know.”

I resume.  Soreness predominates.  Suddenly, I am painfully aware that I am wielding my brush like the Elephant Man!  Due, no doubt, to the cold, the weeks of moving, stress and severe lack of sleep, my shoulders are up around my ears, as is my elbow, and I’m standing mostly on one leg, gripping the brush like an eagle would a field mouse, slapping WaterLox™ onto the countertop like a grumpy ten-year-old.  Beyond highly inefficient, my sore body is issuing a damage report of increasing severity to my brain.  Years of yoga and intensive physical theatre training have installed body- and spatial-awareness into regular rotation in my mental meta-process, so I am generally more kinesthetically aware than most.  But clearly the move to Orcas has overrun even my most deeply ingrained Alexander Technique subroutines.  In this moment, an outsider would assume I am Gollum, launching a full scale Jihad on these countertops.

I stop.  I breathe.  I invite space into my body.

There are things we love to do and things we have to do.  Perhaps the only difference between the two is our attitude about them.

I relax my neck, my shoulders, my arms, my hands.  I Aikido grip the brush, like a Zen master preparing for kanji.

Why do we fight?  Fight What Is, fight Time, fight Ourselves?  How will broadcasting our distaste and displeasure improve anything for anyone, anywhere, especially ourselves?

I place both feet firmly on the gravel floor, on the Earth I inhabit.  This squaring with the planet’s core ripples upward, unfolding my hip sockets, straightening my back.  My knees and head float upwards, loose and alive, ready for anything.

What have I to complain about, inwardly or outwardly?: I chose this moment, and the millions of moments that led me to this moment! 

With just this shift of awareness, I feel heat rise through my joints, my muscles, my heart.  I am standing still, yet new perspiration dews my forehead.  I am ready to begin.

And I have more choice than 99% of the world’s population!  How audacious it is to place “blame” on someone, on myself!  I am blessed.

Long slow brush strokes play like an adagio over the wood.  I had not noticed how beautiful the grain of this wood is until now.  The minimal frictional resistance of the sticky brush on wood reverberates up my arm to my shoulder, providing feedback to my brain.  My body responds fluidly, easily, from the feet, through the center, wrapping the torso, bringing the shoulders to bear, elbow and wrist supple, applying just enough pressure with my whole body to push through the stroke in an even, constant tempo.  At the end of the stroke, the brush lifts from the edge of the countertop like a seagull taking flight from a cliff face.

Inside every moment there is music.  Between the moments there are symphonies.  That is why it is called “The Dance of Life.”

The light of the morning streams through the garage door windows of the barn.  The countertops glisten as the brush feathers over them.  I begin to push the envelope, raise the tempo, engaging the whole body, find efficiencies, improve, learn.

We are 85% water and 99.9% space!  We are spheres within spheres.  We are microbial Gods swarming over a pebble in a corner of a single, average galaxy. 

Before long I am dancing with the countertops.  With my brush.  With the world.  The “work” is effortless, Time meaningless.

And then it is done.  For no logical reason, I bow to the countertops.  I feel exhilarated.  Renewed.  In tune.  Whole.

Walking back to the cabin from the barn I am gliding, each step an expression of my will, clear, precise and strong.

And I cannot stop repeating three words in my head:


“All is Yoga.”


Day One!

I’m pretty sure this place is going to be good for me.


10.23.10 – Rake grass like petting a cat

Day Two.

Another round of WaterLox today, almost as transcendent as the day before.

Then Kevin asks if I could give him a hand with the raking of the grass clippings.  Country living!

After yesterday’s revelations, I am more than open to the moment: I am eager!  Bring it on!

I put on leather work gloves and my Spacecraft tuque like I’m Fred Astaire.  I bow to the wire rake, my dance partner.  The music in my head is already swelling as I take to the lawn.

Years of grumpy teenage raking technique are hard to overcome, so I dive right in.  Short, sharp, staccato strokes, driving my flock of green forward in a little wave that rolls forward on itself.  I’m going to make short work of this field!

…except this field is big, and I’m not a teenager anymore.  After two quick piles, I’m feeling the burn – I’m pooped!  Hmm.  Time for a rethink.

What takes all that energy is not so much the raking action, but the stopping of the rake after each swing.  Teenage thinking says that you’ve got to put serious moxie into the swing, bending the rake back and applying enough pressure that no grass is left behind.  (Wasn’t that one of W.’s college mottos at Yale?  “No grass left behind”?)  Unfortunately, when it gets to the follow-through stage, you’ve got to reverse gears and jerk the rake backwards for the next swing.  Right?!

I’m not convinced.  And regardless, I don’t have the energy to finish the task doing it that way.

I lean down and talk to the maestro.  While I do so enjoy the Jitterbug, what this moment really wants is a Waltz.  Indulge me?  He acquiesces.

Take two.

Remembering my brush technique from this morning’s date with the countertops, I step gently forward into the swing and push-pull the rake delicately, applying only enough pressure to get the rake across the grass.  When the rake lifts from the lawn, due primarily to the full extension of my arms, it is still moving comparatively slower, and I could apply the brakes and re-cock for the next swing.  But instead, I let the rake tell me where it wants to go, which is to continue forward and up, letting the strength of my fully extended arms dictate a circular, wheel-like trajectory, all the way around in a clockwise ellipse that ends where it began, with the rake on the grass again.  Gravity and centrifugal force add their energy to mine, and again, in almost no time, I am dancing across the lawn, creating my own “Rake Tai Chi” lexicon as I go.

And this makes me think of my dear departed feline Queen, Mamacita.  Not the well of sadness for her sudden disappearance from my stage.  This time it is the welcomed vivid image of her lying in the sunshine in her favorite spot in the back yard, happy and healthy.  So regular was her occupancy that grass no longer grew in this kitty-sized divot.  Which meant, of course, that she was just that much lower in the grass, blending in, like a Russian hat dropped on a fairway, ready to strike.  Since there were no more gazelles on this patch of savannah, she took to hunting big game moths, and that slippery, uncatchable nemesis: her shadow.

Mama was a Queen, and she let you know it right away, so as to avoid any uncomfortable gaffs of decorum on your part.  And at no time were you more under her watchful scrutiny than when she deigned to let you pet her.  You were entering Herself’s Royal Space and perhaps touching The Royal Neck.  And like any lady of stature and station, WOE TO THE HAND THAT TOUCHES THE ROYAL BUTTOCKS!!  It simply wasn’t done.  At least until she got to know you.  (and by “get to know you” she meant “you’ve just fed me something exquisite and slipped me some half-n-half when Zanetha wasn’t looking.”)

If you dared stray from The Royal Head, over and past The Royal Neck and ventured out into the plush expanse of The Royal Flank, you had better be doing it just so:

  1. With *extreme* intention and attention to detail.  Absent, aimless or casual petting will be met with THE CLAW!
  2. Slow, delicate, lady-like petting with just enough pressure.  Over- or under-petting will be met with THE CLAW!
  3. And most importantly, no tail, under any circumstances.  Touch the tail, and you get… THE CLAW!

And so, through a process of trial-by-laceration, those close to her learned to pet her in a very particular, highly intentional way.  Or they simply gave up after the first application of Neosporin and kept a safe respectable distance.

And here I am, dancing across the lawn with my rake, thinking of my departed kitty.  It occurs to me that, like Mamacita, the grass is instructing me on how it likes to be “pet” with the rake.  Long, slow, delicate strokes.  Just enough pressure with the rake–not too much, not too little.  And above all, to do it with intention.  Each stroke with the rake is both a communication and an act of listening.  To do elsewise is to not only be inefficient with one’s energy, but to ignore what the grass is trying to tell you.  And although grass does not have claws with which to coral your attention to it, perhaps grass ignored will not grow as vibrantly, as happily…

Perhaps intention is all.  The quality with which you approach that which you do.  There is learning everywhere, in every moment.  If you cannot hear it you are not listening hard enough.  The Universe is petting you.  Will you relish it, ignore it or swipe at it with your claws?


01.15.11 – Your desk is an outward reflection of your inner mental state

I am not a “messy desk” person.  Although historically I have noticed that my desk is messy more than it is not.  How to reconcile that?  How does one live a life in direct opposition to one’s nature without going slowly mad?  Should I simply acquiesce to empirical data and change my status to messy-desk-person against my own internal instincts?  Should I raise desk cleaning to a priority level that precludes other important habits in the interest of aligning my behavior with my stated nature?  Or should I do nothing, living in a perpetual state of hypocrisy, driving myself slowly, knowingly mad?

There are those who say that one’s desk is a outward reflection of one’s inner mental state.  My reflexive first reaction is to take offense and discredit such aphorisms as reductionist drivel.

“Give me a break.  Your Hallmark methods of assessment cannot account for my brilliance.”

After handing my Ego some hot cocoa and a blankey, my second reaction is a bit more rationalizing:

“Yes, my desk is messy, but that is because I am doing something, many somethings concurrently, in fact, and this desk is a reflection of these many works-in-progress!  Your clean desk idea is nice, but it bespeaks a desk in a state of neglect, and a desk not used is not a desk at all!”

And after handing my Brain some hot cocoa and a blankey, my third reaction is to take some responsibility:

“You got me.  I’m just lazy.”

And after handing my self-confidence some hot cocoa and a blankey, I finally arrive at something like this:

One’s desk should vacillate between prohibitive cleanliness and prohibitive disorder, as should one’s brain.  A constant state of either is unhealthy.

If you never reach a point of not being able to find anything on your desk, are you using it enough?  If you can never find anything on it, is it useful?

Without overwhelming stimuli from time to time, does consciousness grow?  Without prolonged states of stillness, do we ever really know peace?

As with most things, it seems dynamic range is all.


02.10.11 – The Space to finish Thoughts

My loving partner owns a label maker, and she is not afraid to use it.  Given enough time and P-touch tape I think she would label the known Universe.  And then reload for the safari into the unknown Universe.

She has the tenacity of an insectologist.  And she owns a card catalogue.  Not the cheesy plastic Target back-to-dorm sock organizer.  Not some stylish snap together Ikea toy.  Not even the Kafka-esque industrial military complex strength tope-colored sheet metal model you would find at the IRS headquarters.  No, I am talking about a four-tiered oak job as tall as I am that literally sat in a darkened library holding index cards.  They weigh a ton.  Empty.  I know.  I’ve moved them.  Several times.  With friends, straps, a dolly, and a series of apologies afterwards.  They are not the most efficient means of storage, as they are as much drawer as they are drawer-space, but in addition to the kitsch-factor, they also tout one all-important feature: lots of room to label!  Five drawers wide by three drawers tall.  Times four.  That is sixty faceplates in need of labels.

In putting the final touches on our cabin, I built four sets of wooden built-in shelves for the kitchen that exactly fit half-pint, pint and quart sized Mason Jars.  One of them is floor to ceiling.  Collectively they hold over 100 such jars.  The jars quantify, organize and display foodstuffs from spices to teas to grains and dried fruit.  I have not completed the shelves in the pantry nook yet.  This is where the gallon jars will live – there are half a dozen of those so far – so it has to be built right the first time.  And so we are waiting for the specifics of the specifications for shelf heights settle down and become knowable.

Today was the day that the 40+ spices got labeled.

Prior to today, it has been like a petting zoo apothecary for the blind: Making red sauce?  Head over into the dried-green-flaky section and start twisting lids and sniffing.  Making a curry from scratch?  Not likely without the spice librarian who knows instinctually where everything is because she put it there.  Thankfully for me, she’s a hot spice librarian.  And I am not referring to red pepper.  Which is on aisle six, in case you were wondering.

Her need to label is really just a subset of the greater need to reorganize.  I would call it a need to organize, but it keeps happening, usually in my absence, rendering my usefulness, and chances of finding anything without the hot spice librarian, next to nil.  At first I thought it was some devilish form of perceived job security on her part, but it goes far, far deeper than that.  Point in fact, I’m not sure either of us knows just how deep it goes.  Yet we love each other’s circus sideshow eccentricities.

I am OCD in my own, very different, less tangible ways.  My computer files have rhyme and reason.  I obsessively massage complex audio signal processing chains and will sometimes get lost in a time-vortex A/B-ing back and forth over a tenth of a decibel increment, cursing the architect of the device for not including hundredths of a dB steps.  Now I’m writing a third-party manual for Ableton Live and obsessing over the perfect logical sub-sub-bullet-point order with which to disseminate the perfect mind-bullet of comprehension.  It is that particular obsession that superseded sleep this morning.

Back in my life in the city (ooh–that felt good to type), my brain was like a wall of unlabeled spice jars.  I would run from one thought to the next, putting out fires as best as I could as I went.  I would allot thought cycles to a mental process until another more pressing process set off a battery of alarms warranting immediate attention.   Thoughts were rarely put away, and were regularly left on the mental counter with their lid off inviting spillage or spoilage.  The thought was rarely dealt with again until it either caught fire or grew mold.  By the time the smoke cleared for the day, there was rarely a desire to want to deal with my mental dishes, and the unfinished thoughts just got swept into the trash.

While making those kitchen shelves I clearly recall heading out to the barn for another round of sanding one morning and thinking “Ahh! What shall I think about today?”  And while I sanded, I thought about that very thing.  And later, as I put away the tools, I remember thinking “There.  That thought got thoroughly thought about.  That was nice.”  And I put the thought gently back on the shelf in its newly thought about state.

Then there was a moment of profound silence in which I walked back from the barn.  I saw the trees, the grass and the sky as if for the first time.  Undistracted by unlabeled spice jars in my head.

I now appreciate labeled spice jars.  It takes time, but when it is done, you can safely move on to thinking about other things.

How did I ever survive without the space to finish thoughts?


03.11.11 – What to wear to a Tsunami?

She ran into the office where I was sleeping.  “You mother called!  She said Japan has had a major earthquake and there is a tsunami on the way!”  And then she shut the door behind her as she left.

She does not await my response because she is afraid, and because we are somewhat prepared for this moment.  To be more specific, we are somewhat prepared for this moment because she prepared us.  Bought new backpacks and filled them with The Essentials: flashlights, water bottles, batteries, utensils and even clean underwear.  Hers weighs twice as much as mine, and she packed them both.  It is not “handbag syndrome” – she does not have something absurd as makeup in there.  She is far smarter than that.  But the full contents I could not innumerate for you.  I still can’t.  But I rest assured that when the Big One comes, we will be stylin’.

Although the emergency bags are packed and happen to be coincidentally by the door this week, the particulars of where to go when this happens have not been fully worked out beyond “seek higher ground.”  I make a mental note to drill down on that later.  If there is a later.

I head for the cabin, which is where she and the backpacks are.  I walk.  I am half asleep and fully awake at the same time.  I note my surprising lack of panic.

As I enter the cabin, she exits, headed for our landmate’s house to wake them.  She is fully dressed.  I turn to my clothes rack and literally think out loud:

“What does one wear to a tsunami?”

And then laugh aloud at the absurdity.

We stride across the yard towards the car with our backpacks.  I am mentally planning my route to higher ground.  Will there be a first-ever traffic jam on the road up Mt. Constitution today?

Our landmate Kevin steps out of his house in his bathrobe.  Is that what he’s going to wear to a tsunami?  Huh.  Well, I guess it worked for Arthur Dent.

Kevin quietly assures us in his ever-Zen morning voice that he has taken the moment to check the website and that the website says the threat is negligible for the Puget Sound.

We pause.  Look at each other.  And walk back to the cabin.

I was, perhaps, in the last moments of the comforts of hearth and home.  What I chose to do and to take with me would have dictated my level of comfort, perhaps level of survival in the coming hours, days, weeks.  And I was laughing.

Laughter is definitely in my survival pack.  Laughter is definitely what to wear to a tsunami.

Comments are closed.