What is Essential?

In John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” we find the following comment: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.” Likewise, we may find that when we are alone, we find ourselves wanting company, but when we are in company, we may find ourselves wanting to be alone.

As we find ourselves now, confined to quarters, advised to advance toward others (nor permit them to advance toward us) no closer that 6 feet, and even then advised it might be a good idea to wear a face mask and gloves and carry a sanitizer, we are reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once a lower but more essential need is met, we may climb a rung higher on the pyramid until we reach the nirvana of self-actualization.

We must now assume that top rung to have a base of 6 feet, so that there is only room for one person, that one being, of course, one’s self. And to be fully self-actualized means being able to stay home perfectly content with staying home.

But then we find Maslow adding on yet another rung to the top of his hierarchy of needs (even if, in practice, this would mean expanding the original base and subsequently the base of all the other rungs leading up to the top). The new top of the pyramid, reached after self-actualization is achieved, might be described as staying home without staying home, otherwise known as self-transcendence.

All that work on meeting one’s needs only to discover at the top of the climb one leaves one’s self behind. It might be that only by staying home can we come to grips with the differences between our needs and our wants such that we may find our essentials.

Diary: How to Improve the Text (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)

textsDiary: How to

Improve the Text (You Will

Only Make Matters Worse)


John Cage titled his diary, “Diary: How to

Improve the World (You Will

Only Make Matters Worse)” (1965),

suggesting a zen koan where every move

in one direction is a move in another direction.

Cage was not too into the game of chess,

that was Nabokov. Were they neither control

freaks? One looked down on the ground

for mushrooms, the other up in the air for butterflies.


Listen to the music mushrooms make:

shiitake, for example.


“Nothing to be done,” Beckett said, and he said

it more than once: “Nothing to be done.”

Again and again, recycling the words,


imagining a future without retail,

which entailed imagination, the tale

of dead malls, hollowed out shells,

shelter for the homeless.


(artificial intelligence:

“all watched over by machines

of amazing grace,” Richard Brautigan said.)


What if anything is artificial? Artifice, father, creator:

The true ecologist loves garbage, Slavoj Zizek said,

and, we must become more artificial,

if we are to comprehend the universe,

a grasping together. GASP! (Taylor, Examined Life).


Every thing is recyclable, even no thing (as Beckett showed),

all things crawling with recycling bugs chewing,

the textual droppings of these bugs crawling across the page

two streams of ants, one going, the other coming:

ant ant ant ant ant ant ant ant ant ant ant

tna tna tna tna tna tna tna tna tna tna tna.

The ants smell textual clues.


The job of being


altruism and community, signage,

the shape of mouths, lip tools,

tongue, teeth, mouth to ear, surplus

age, a pantry of letters, a kitchen of words

a living room of text, a bed of books,

a shelter of stories.


It probably never was the best of times

and self-pity to call any time the worst of times.

The people bored march on nothing.

Blog is dead, someone said, sweeping up,

blogging, only dead if you thought

that; otherwise, it was still

“lots of fun for everyone!”


Retail is dead, the tinker said,

stirring her pots and pans;

on the other side of the street,

a drone drops a text.


In “For

The Pleasure

of the Text…,” Jeremy Fernando explains how

text comes into being when reading, comes and goes, his book

full of marginalia mushrooms, the writer a saprophyte,

pages flipping to and fro like butterflies, and as hard to find,

the text always disappearing, pages not mumbered [sic],

but we know where to look

for mushrooms and the colors butterflies prefer.


When speaking of the universe, keep in mind nothing is factual; everything is argument – claim and rebuttal, recycling. When speaking of the text, keep in mind everything potentially purposeful, so yes, the most effective writer knows not what will be read, can’t be sure of what’s being written. That is one pleasure of the text, the not knowing, uncertainty, ambiguity – the taking and eating of a strange mushroom, an invasion, a landing, of alien butterflies. Beckett said we can’t listen to a conversation for more than five minutes without noting inherent chaos. Yet some writers abhor ambiguity and seem to think they write with clarity. What is clear is that nothing is clear, in spite of grammar.


Understanding the text, or attempts to understand one’s own comprehension of the text, are subservient

to experiencing the text. One can only begin to experience the text by giving in to it, which is to say,

consuming it, mouthing the words, eating the text, licking the letters, smelling the ink’s decay.

The text is a meal which like the mushroom can be distasteful, cause belches or gas, even be poisonous.

One might prepare for a heartburn of the text, but that heartburn is part of experiencing the text. The

metaphor grows stale, corny. Halt. Stop. Let us retire for a break in the text to some hops.

The text plays itself out.

g UL p

The reader returns to the text, changed, reader and text, both changed, a bit tipsy, textual vibrations: screen shots of textual cuts, rips, woven riffs, quotes like on a guitar, but cited for the newly planted who need authority to get established, but why would one want authority over/under/sideways/down another? textual authority to pass testual [sic] authority, getting testy this, this authority, King Ibid on his throne in the kingdom of Where Did You Get This Weave? There can be no misreading, only the experience of reading: vicarious. Author as vicar, vice advice, a writing vise.

a grammar of the other




moth (lex) toward the light

mouth (law) toward the dark


every text an attempt to improve

which worsens

writing as self-medicating

for which there is no cure



a text that cures

Watt Ales


what is the meaning of an unpaginated (upainted) text?

citations as reproductions, pics of texts

folder paper, where the lines are the bedrock

of grammar, the grammar of the text –

the reader creates the ungrammatical (including typos)

as the police create crime (cite N+1)

calls into question any misreading

“justesse of any sentence” (JF, PT)

ripping through the text, pulling quotes out

disrupting the horizons of folder paper lines

horizontal disappearings

a following silence until a new text swells

the crowd disperses, the text shelved.


In the middle of the text we find a pic

of “Anatomie” (Ibid: 180), and this


“To write the body,
Neither the skin, nor the muscles, nor the bones,
nor the nerves, but the rest: an awkward, fibrous,
shaggy, raveled thing, a clown’s coat”

so we get at once
Love’s Body (Norman O. Brown)
Beckett’s clown
& Bob Dylan.


Next comes the pun: body > corpus

and “authenticity” – the authority

of the corpse, already with us,

and the illuminated manuscript,

backlit screen.


And don’t miss the three asterisks.


A typo it appears? (Elfriede Jelinekl) in the text, part of the text; typos are like black holes. They suck in the light. Some readers delight in seeing them (schadenfreude), but perhaps the typo corrects one’s vision. Certainly they test it. Typos are purposeful. Theory of accidents.


Musical interlude, listen, an invisible text. Music as language must be translated. “Happy New Ears,” Cage said.


…now to dreaming:

the experience of reading. experience is not

necessarily evil, a song of experience is not

a song of evil – nor is a song of innocence

necessarily a song of good. depends on text.


No more links, likes, or comments;

and if you don’t like this post at the Toads,

take it up with JF’s RB, or RB’s JF.


The bits about death, or Death? One prefers breath, or Breath! One might here sight [sic] Walt Whitman or Charles Olson, but there follows a sketch (portrait), not traced, there are rules, after all – yes, but whose rules?

The rules of the text:

JF and RB by JL


the text tails off

them’s that’s got it

Vonnegut footnote

inventions (externalizations)… to be continued, continue to be


Fernando, Jeremy. (2015). For The Pleasure of the Text… {etc.}



Haiku on Dog Cloud Piano for Guitar and Voice

Dog Cloud

Press yes to play here the balls fall for free hear them drop and roll english orb orbit for texting eddies
no to go away in pool hall heaven chalk up your cue stick break like a big bang syllabicating
maybe to come back no need for quarters green felt of grass field consider the balls men who cut their tongues
some day some day soon 8 ball in corner in the universe across the table gaming without words
tonight not that moon pocket that was quick full of dandelions stars stripes black and cue ball white as the moon
semiquantitatively microdirectionally yet who can’t get no no no unsatisfactorily twisting down the back alley
sociodemographic ideologically seven syllable word count so what is the so what here pseudointellectual
imperceptibility suspicion grows this is all pseudopoetically irresponsibility what can I say you  reading
waxing then waning away autobiographical compartmentalization social media neither social nor mediational ideas
unsystematically superficiality huge lack of self confidence just give us the artifice we’ll know what to do with it
without rhyme or reasoned sense oversimplification he likes unconventional individuality cosmopolitanism
syllables all connected he seems influenced by John Cage and that explains anything we seem to be moving to microcommunication
We appeal to fruit the nature within seeds meat juice and skin figuratively and then the real fig
banana orange grape raisin ugli miracle passion fruit worms flies mildew self-preservation
and vegetables puritanism free love free fruit gloss dogs and cats and kids seal it with a kiss
cherry red pepper baked raspberry pie apple cloudberry running toward the surf rub it in your palm
garlic and onions coconut olive oils and buttery fat when it is cold now back to the sea

Press yes to play here                                                                                                the balls fall for free                                                                                                hear them drop and roll                                                                                                english orb orbit                                                                                                for texting eddies

no to go away                                                                                                in pool hall heaven                                                                                                chalk up your cue stick                                                                                                break like a big bang                                                                                                syllabicating

maybe to come back                                                                                                no need for quarters                                                                                                green felt of grass field                                                                                                consider the balls                                                                                                men who cut their tongues

some day some day soon                                                                                                8 ball in corner                                                                                                in the universe                                                                                                across the table                                                                                                gaming without words

tonight not that moon                                                                                                pocket that was quick                                                                                                full of dandelions                                                                                                stars stripes black and cue                                                                                                ball white as the moon

semiquantitatively                                                                                                microdirectionally                                                                                                yet who can’t get no no no                                                                                                unsatisfactorily                                                                                                twisting down the back alley

sociodemographic                                                                                                ideologically                                                                                                seven syllable word count                                                                                                so what is the so what here                                                                                                pseudointellectual

imperceptibility                                                                                                suspicion grows this is all                                                                                                pseudopoetically                                                                                                irresponsibility                                                                                                what can I say you are right

waxing then waning away                                                                                                autobiographical                                                                                                compartmentalization                                                                                                social media neither                                                                                                social nor mediational ideas

unsystematically                                                                                                superficiality                                                                                                huge lack of self confidence                                                                                                just give us the artifice                                                                                                we’ll know what to do with it

without rhyme or reasoned sense                                                                                                oversimplification                                                                                                he likes unconventional                                                                                                individuality                                                                                                cosmopolitanism

syllables all connected                                                                                                he seems influenced by John Cage                                                                                                and that explains anything                                                                                                we seem to be moving to                                                                                                microcommunication

We appeal to fruit                                                                                                the nature within                                                                                                seeds meat juice and skin                                                                                                figuratively                                                                                                and then the real fig

banana orange                                                                                                grape raisin ugli                                                                                                miracle passion                                                                                                fruit worms flies mildew                                                                                                self-preservation

and vegetables                                                                                                puritanism                                                                                                free love free fruit gloss                                                                                                dogs and cats and kids                                                                                                seal it with a kiss

cherry red pepper                                                                                                baked raspberry pie                                                                                                apple cloudberry                                                                                                running toward the surf                                                                                                rub it in your palm

garlic and onions                                                                                                coconut olive                                                                                                oils and buttery                                                                                                fat when it is cold                                                                                                now back to the sea

Press yes to play here the balls fall for free hear them drop and roll english orb orbit for texting eddies no to go away in pool hall heaven chalk up your cue stick break like a big bang syllabicating maybe to come back no need for quarters green felt of grass field consider the balls men who cut their tongues some day some day soon 8 ball in corner in the universe across the table gaming without words tonight not that moon pocket that was quick full of dandelions stars stripes black and cue ball white as the moon semiquantitatively microdirectionally yet who can’t get no no no unsatisfactorily twisting down the back alley sociodemographic ideologically seven syllable word count so what is the so what here pseudointellectual imperceptibility suspicion grows this is all pseudopoetically irresponsibility what can I say you are right waxing then waning away autobiographical compartmentalization social media neither social nor mediational ideas unsystematically superficiality huge lack of self confidence just give us the artifice we’ll know what to do with it without rhyme or reasoned sense oversimplification he likes unconventional individuality cosmopolitanism syllables all connected he seems influenced by John Cage and that explains anything we seem to be moving to microcommunication We appeal to fruit the nature within seeds meat juice and skin figuratively and then the real fig banana orange grape raisin ugli miracle passion fruit worms flies mildew self-preservation and vegetables puritanism free love free fruit gloss dogs and cats and kids seal it with a kiss cherry red pepper baked raspberry pie apple cloudberry running toward the surf rub it in your palm garlic and onions coconut olive oils and buttery fat when it is cold now back to the sea

On Discussion

IMG_2347 "Let's dialogue"
“Let’s dialogue!” “Oh, please.”

What is there to discuss-ion? “Music as discourse (jazz) doesn’t work,” John Cage said.* “If you’re going to have a discussion, have it and use words.” As both a jazz and Cage fan, I’ve often reflected on the paradox, for discourse, “running to and fro,” seems an accurate description of jazz, with or without words.

According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the word discussion in American English is on the decline, following a peak around 1960. Interested readers may follow the link to an Ngram Viewer chart that graphs the word discussion found in “lots of books” from 1800 through 2008 using the corpus “American English.” But what is the difference between being involved in a discussion and having a conversation? Again using Ngram Viewer, we find conversation and discussion crossing just after 1900, discussion on the rise, conversation falling off, but recently apparently headed for another crossing, discussion dying, conversation on the upswing, beginning around 1980. What does all this mean, if anything? But it looks interesting, even if it does not provoke a good discussion question.

Are discussions weightier than conversations? We may not associate the chitchat, the tete-a-tete, with discussion, but with conversation. Do we gossip during a discussion? We prattle on. Are you still with us? Maybe conversations are more intimate than discussions. Can we have a conversation question in the same sense we have discussion questions? If words have meanings, then perhaps a discussion on discussion might mean something. But is mere meaning ever enough, or must we have entertainment to boot? To mean is to mind, as we mine for meaning. And Cage added, immediately following his seemingly anti-jazz comment, in parentheses, “(Dialogue is another matter).” What did he mean by that?

What are discussion questions, and should we have them? Can we have a discussion without a question to prompt one? What is the discussion question that can only result in silence? And is that the discussion we desire?

                                                 Give any one thought
                a push       :     it falls down easily
          but the pusher  and the pushed    pro-duce      that enter-
tainment          called    a dis-cussion       .
                  Shall we have one later ?

Cage, "Lecture on Nothing," Silence, 1961 (1973), 109 (the text is 
arranged in four columns, here approximate).

Without further ado:

7 Short Discussion Questions with Equally Short Suggested Answers:

  1. Q: Are discussion questions deconstructive? A: Pour the lecture neat.
  2. Q: Where would you like to sit? A: In separate sections.
  3. Q: Has education become entertainment? A: You’re taking me out tonight?
  4. Q: How can we improve the world? A: How long is this supposed to last?
  5. Q: What can we learn from randomness? A: Noise counts – percussion discussion.
  6. Q: Why even when diligently minding our own business are we often snared by a discussion question? A: “Do you know the way to San Jose?”
  7. Q: Does wasted time pay for itself? A: Time will never tell.
A Year From Monday, 1967, 12.

On Boredom

Today we gaze into the Abyss of Ennui. What is boredom?

“Excess of sorrow laughs, excess of joy weeps”: In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Blake understood the Abyss, and sought to correct our assumptions and expectations. “The busy bee has no time for sorrow,” Blake said. But commuting home through an hour of plodding, plowing traffic, loaded down with work we’ve taken home for the weekend, we feel not the lightness nor the fickle flightiness of the bee. “The cut worm forgives the plough,” Blake said. Maybe, come Saturday night and he just got paid.

Some tasks seem intrinsically boring. But we often confuse boredom with irritation, frustration, or addiction. Is boredom addictive? We say we are bored with what we don’t want. Tasks too bureaucratically procedural or repetitive lend themselves to boredom, not to mention carpal tunnel syndrome. What we don’t want to do, we put off, some of us; others, we jump in and get it done, so we can get on to something we find more interesting, those things we are passionate about. The former are the procrastinators, we are told, the latter the achievers. Both, though, we suspect, are susceptible to boredom.

We often gravitate voluntarily to intrinsically boring tasks. What could be more repetitive than typing out another post? Physically repetitive: mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, the blogger flies with the bees of the cosmos! Really? I should try blogging.

When we open the laptop or cell phone, we are not met with the organic breath of the compostable paper page of the book or newspaper. Someone should invent an app for smells, so that when we open the laptop, we are met with roses or the must of an old book. Maude had a similar idea in the film “Harold and Maude.” Harold is a bored rich boy, until he meets and falls in love with Maude. The protagonist is age; Harold is young, and Maude is old. Still, love alleviates Harold’s boredom, and after Maude, and after Harold sends his old life in a makeshift hearse over a cliff, the banjo.

We hear of solutions that would alleviate boredom, suggesting boredom is a heavy and dark load that might be lifted from the bearer. Boredom begins to resemble depression. And boredom blends easily with guilt, for in a world saturated with pain and suffering at one end and glitz and shazam at the other end, who dare the chutzpah to turn the cheek of boredom outward? Quit your bitching and get back to your widgets.

Does Superman ever get bored? Batman, bored? Spiderman? The specialist, it would seem, would be the first to suffer from boredom.

In “Only Disconnect: Two cheers for boredom” (New Yorker, 28 Oct 2013, 33-37), about the relationship between boredom and distraction, Evgeny Morozov maintains that “to recognize oneself as bored, one must know how to differentiate between moments – if only to see that they are essentially the same” (34). When we’re bored, we want to be distracted, to take our minds off the monotony. We look down the assembly line of our lives and see nothing but more of the same, the same terrain, and unless we’ve been able to sustain an endless summer of surfing, we start to crave a fifth season, and we understand the winter and every other season of our discontent. The ability to click off one app and on to another is ongoing, but the solution creates another problem – call it the William Blake challenge: Excess of distraction bores, and we crave more and more distraction.

On Boredom
“What are you doing?”
“I’m bored! Let’s do something!”
“I am doing something.”
“You just said you are not doing anything.”
“I did not say I am not doing anything. I said I am doing nothing.”
“Oh, wow! You’re not going on another John Cage binge, are you?”

What is boredom? John Cage provided what we might call a working definition: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else” (Silence, 1961, “Lecture on Nothing”).

If the specialist is the least equipped to stave off boredom, the artist is the best equipped. Because artists are generalists, they are able to turn their attention in different directions, outward or inward (whether at will or forced change does not matter) without the quality of disinterest or distraction. A true artist cannot know boredom in the act of art. Artists don’t require passion; passion is for amateurs. This is true for the painter or poet, gardener or dancer, musician or chef, surfer or clown, sailor or walker, potter or plumber.

Got boredom? Get art. At the bottom of the Abyss sits art, doing nothing.

On Prayer and Poetry

What is prayer? When I was a kid, I learned the Catholic prayers, and believed Sister Mary Annette, who liked to quote Shakespeare, when she said, “Words without thought never to heaven go.” King Claudius is trying to pray, looks like he is praying, to Hamlet, anyway, and so Hamlet decides to put off killing him, for fear that if the king is killed while praying, he’ll go to heaven, while Hamlet wants full revenge, not to send his uncle to an unjust reward. What Hamlet doesn’t realize is that while Claudius’s “words fly up, [his] thoughts remain below.” Annette waxed literary, incomparable to none.

Impossible to know with certainty if the thoughts of others are wedded to their words, so I don’t know if I alone among Annette’s 8th grade class had this problem, but my rote prayers were recited much like Malachy McCourt explains in his book “A Monk Swimming.” He had misheard “amongst women” in the prayer known as the “Hail Mary.” But if his thoughts were behind his words, applying Claudius’s rule, I suppose Malachy’s monk swimming would have made it into heaven. If I had said “a monk swimming,” my thoughts would have been about the surf down the road from our church.

Salinger’s Franny gets caught up with prayer, and one day, her brother Zooey explains the alleged benefits of the pilgrim’s prayer to his mother, who has expressed some concern for what Franny’s getting into: “And the main idea is that it’s not supposed to be just for pious bastards and breast-beaters,” Zooey says. “You can be busy robbing the goddam poor box, but you’re to say the prayer while you rob it.” The argument of the pilgrim’s prayer, in Zooey’s explanation, seems to run counter to the “words without thought” school of prayer.

Hemingway’s characters are often caught in prayer, or anti-prayer. Consider the waiter’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, for example, in the short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”: “Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name….” And, “I don’t love anybody,” Krebs tells his mother in “Soldier’s Home.” “Now you pray,” his mother tells him. “I can’t,” he says. In the short piece titled “Chapter VII” in “The First Forty-Nine Stories,” a soldier caught in battle prays, “Dear jesus please get me out.” He makes promises to Jesus, bargains for his life, and “The shelling moved further up the line,” but “The next night back at Mestre he did not tell the girl he went upstairs with at the Villa Rossa about Jesus. And he never told anybody.”

What happens when Jesus gets prayers at odds, opposing viewpoints? Athletes often pray. A ballplayer will make the sign of the cross at the plate just before a pitch. Does this give the batter a kind of steroid-prayer advantage? But couldn’t the pitcher simply counter with a prayer of his own, just before delivery? Do the prayers then cancel out? But something has to happen to the pitch: call strike, ball, foul ball, base hit. But is this what prayer is supposed to be about? On the other hand, given the pilgrim’s prayer premise, why not position oneself in constant prayer? Baseball is a game of inches.

I pray you, is the idea of prayer to be always asking for something? But prayers are often made for the benefit of others. Praying for peace would seem to benefit everyone. We might pray for rain, or for a dry spell, for sun or shade, for our horse to finish first. If we have everything we need or want, should we then stop praying? But we might pray we don’t lose something, or that someone else gets everything they need or want. Is there ever enough prayer?

We pray for peace, health, safety, security. We pray for stuff. We pray that there be more stuff, and less stuff. Different kinds of stuff. Not everyone prays, of course, but if prayer is a question, surely everyone has a prayer at some point. What is gambling but a prayer, a prayer to the god of luck. John Cage said “…nothing is accomplished by writing, hearing, playing a piece of music } our ears are now in excellent condition.” Probably the same might be said of poetry. Not much accomplished there, either, and the most accomplished poets seem to know this, which improves the condition of their voice. Can the same be said of prayer?

Last year, New Directions published a small book collecting selections of Thomas Merton’s writing, titled “On Christian Contemplation.” For Merton, prayer seems to be a kind of poetry, but only after acknowledging a marketplace uselessness of both; and prayer, like poetry, might also transcend doctrine: “…ascending the slopes in darkness, feeling more and more keenly his own emptiness, and with the winter wind blowing cruelly through his now tattered garments, he meets at times other travelers on the way, poor pilgrim as he is, and as solitary as he, belonging perhaps to other lands and other traditions. There are of course great differences between them, and yet they have much in common.” Merton felt “much closer to the Zen monks of ancient Japan than to the busy and impatient men of the West.” He characterized these men as thinking “in terms of money, power, publicity, machines, business, political advantage, military strategy – who seek, in a word, the triumphant affirmation of their own will, their own power, considered as the end for which they exist.”

This does not mean that in prayer one escapes one’s responsibilities for putting bread on the table. This is a problem for poets, of course, too: “Simply to evade modern life would be a futile attempt to abdicate from its responsibilities [while clinging to its advantages. The way of contemplation is a way of higher and more permanent responsibilities] and a renunciation of advantages – and illusions,” Merton says.

The modern world presents problems for the poet and the prayer: “Can contemplation still find a place in the world of technology and conflict which is ours?” Peace, and wholeness, Merton argues, are not “the most salient characteristics of modern society.” No kidding. Yet, “What is keeping us back from living lives of prayer? Perhaps we really don’t want to pray. This is the thing we have to face.” But, if we do want to consider prayer, or contemplation, or poetry, how do we go about it? “If you want a life of prayer, the way to get it is by praying,” Merton says.

How does one pray? Merton says, “The best thing beginners…can do…is to acquire the agility and freedom of mind that will help them to find light and warmth and ideas and love for God everywhere they go and in all that they do. People who only know how to think about God during fixed periods of the day will never get very far in the spiritual life. In fact, they will not even think of Him in the moments they have religiously marked off for ‘mental prayer.'” And “mental prayer” is an awkward term, because we don’t pray with our minds, Merton explains.

But to return to the idea of uselessness, of prayer and of poetry, commercial uselessness, worldly uselessness: Merton says, “Christ does not control by power; further He does not control by law. This is one of the most important and neglected features of the New Testament.” Not everyone feels the need to enter into contemplation, prayer, or poetry, but that does not mean the need is not there, seeded within the individual soul. While at the same time one’s personal anguish might be so intense or one’s perspective so hurt as to call forth a dismissal of God and Christ and all the baggage one feels associated with the church and its people and prayer and what one sees to be the hypocrisy and futility of it all. So, “How does the theology of prayer approach this problem?” Merton asks. “Not by reasoning but by symbol, by poetic insight, leading directly to those depths of the heart where these matters are experienced and where such conflicts are resolved.”

On the other hand, one might want for something simple, a simple prayer, a simple poem. One shouldn’t have to google a prayer or a poem to enjoy the moment. To google literature, in a search for meaning, is to ruin a good meal. The same might be said for church prayer, church being the place where we google our souls, but any book might work, Merton says, and reading prayers out of a book, or reading a book as a prayer “is a good thing to do and very easy and simple.”

Why pray? “The real purpose of meditation is this,” Merton says: “To teach a man how to work himself free of created things and temporal concerns, in which he finds only confusion and sorrow.” Still, we might find ourselves bored with all of this, with the idea we are going to spend any time away from our busy schedules on something as trivial as prayer or poetry. We want to feel productive. We want to help others. We’ll go to church, appear to be part of some community, put some bills in the basket, sprinkle some holy water on our face, just in case there really is something to all the hocus-pocus. For the bored or busy, Merton seems to advise to not only get it while we can but where we can: “Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train.” One can pray “with few words or none…half-hopeless.” There are poems like this, or there should be.

There’s a chapter in the little Merton book titled “Silence.” Did Merton read John Cage? Merton says, “Whether the house be empty or full of children, whether the men go off to town or work with tractors in the fields, whether the liner enters the harbor full of tourists or full of soldiers, the almond tree brings forth her fruit in silence.” Another chapter is titled “Difficulties & Distractions.” One can’t escape all of one’s difficulties or distractions, even in prayer. Hamlet said he could bound himself in a nutshell and count himself a king of infinite space – were it not that he has bad dreams. Of this kind of tension, Merton says, “Do not strain yourself trying to get ideas or feel fervor. Do not upset yourself with useless efforts to realize the elaborate prospects suggested by a conventional book on meditation.”

“Everything good that comes to us and happens in prayer is a grace and a gift of God,” Merton says. “Even the desire to pray at all, and the attempt to pray, is itself a great grace.” Does this mean that God has ignored many of us, who may not feel this call to pray? Ah, but what is prayer? This claim of Merton’s rings true, pray or not: “The mere fact of having an opportunity to pray is something for which we should be deeply grateful.” Grateful, too, for the opportunity to contemplate poetry, to read, or even to try to write a poem.

There’s a wonderful poem included in the Merton book, called “Song for Nobody.” It seems to embody some of Merton’s idea of prayer:

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)

A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

Merton advocated contemplation in an age of distraction, where we might become free of anxiety and anguish magnified by the reckoning and wreckage surrounding us. And John Cage said nothing is accomplished with music, thus freeing our ears to all sounds. Cage said, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it.” Maybe Shakespeare’s King Claudius should not be trusted when he says “words without thought never to heaven go.” Words without thought may indeed be the lingua franca of heaven, thoughts without words the mother tongue of heaven.

I confess I do not know how to pray, not in Merton’s view, where one prays with every breath one takes. And I have typically prayed only with reason, and with words, and this seems the wrong approach. One should pray without reason, and without words. Prayer occurs in the act of contemplation, then it disappears. Poetry occurs in the act of writing, then it disappears. “A poem should be wordless,” Archibald MacLeish said, “As the flight of birds.” Relax, Merton says. Make a poem a prayer. If no one reads it, if no one wants it, maybe God will accept it. For readers who have read to the bottom of this post, consider it a poem; for those who have ignored it, it’s a prayer, one with far too many words.


“jazzskin” is an old, handmade chapbook (1973, 17 pages – click on photos):

"soakin up the bath" & "Lester Young founded the"

jazzskin info. page

The “poetry occurs” idea is a riff off John Cage, whose book “Silence” (1961) begins with “The Future of Music: Credo”: “Wherever we are,” Cage says, “what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.” In his essay “Experimental Music,” Cage underscores the idea that noise is everywhere and attempts to control it create other hazards, but, he says, “One need not fear about the future of music. But this fearlessness only follows if, at the parting of the ways, where it is realized that sounds occur whether intended or not, one turns in the direction of those he does not intend.” When I was working on “jazzskin,” I felt, as I do now, the same about poetry that Cage felt about music. But Cage was not a jazz fan. He apparently thought jazz was about having a conversation, for which he preferred words.

"duet for snow balls and light bulbs"

jazzskin cover

Lester Young founded the

Related: Jazzskin, a post, and “JAZZSKIN” a poem (follow link or see “About” page).

A Lot Ado About Nothing

The Myth of Syllabus

I once spent a lot of time going to a lot of meetings where I took a lot of notes but also doodled a lot. Sometimes my neighbors showed an interest in my doodles, but not often. Over time I developed a disregard for the term a lot. A lot is used a lot as support for an argument, but a lot of the time a lot is too imprecise to properly fund a decision. Nevertheless, a lot of people got away with using the term a lot a lot.

Apart from its imprecision, a lot is unpalatable. A lot lifts off the tongue but cuts itself short, unlike alas, aloof, or aloft, which all seem more complete and satisfying. A lot carries no drift.

A lot of people think a lot is one word: alot. What’s a word? Speech flows, a syllable stream, often alotadoo about nothing. Punctuation helps, but punctuation is a kind of stop animation. A lot of the time, punctuation can only approximate the real speed of speech. Writing is divorced from speech. We are taught from a young age to separate our tongues from our eyes, the quicker to read. Poems often use stop animation technique to slow readers down, to get the reader to mouth the words, to taste the words, chew them. Words become salt water taffy in the poet’s mouth. A lot of poets suffer bad teeth, yet poetry is not fast food. A lot of poets are poor.

A lot tells an amount, but how much is it? Lots and lots. Compared to what? A lot of the time a lot is used with the time: a lot of the time. There seems to be some connection between a lot and time. A lot of the time the meaning of a lot is understood from context. It rains a lot in Portland, but still, there are a lot of different kinds of rain. A lot of the time, I think it’s raining, but it’s not wet outside. Those are good days to get a lot of yard work done.

What’s the opposite of a lot? Is there an antonym for alot? Alittle. In “Silence,” John Cage’s book that I come back to a lot, there’s a little story about a couple who live in Alaska. Someone asks them if it was very cold last winter. Not too cold, they respond, only a couple of days, they explain, did they have to stay in bed all day to keep warm.

Then again, a lot of the time, memories go awry, amiss, askew. While I read a lot in “Silence,” I had not recently read the little story about how cold the winter was, so I thought I’d better look it up. I glanced through “Silence” a few times, but I couldn’t find it. I then thought it might be in John Cage’s book “A Year From Monday,” and it is, on page 138, but there’s no mention of Alaska, and there’s no couple, just “a woman who lived in the country,” and there were more than a couple of days, “three or four days,” she says, but she does say “we had to stay in bed all day to keep warm,” so maybe that’s where I got the idea there was a couple. It’s a very short story: 44 words total.

Not a lot, but sometimes (maybe that’s the antonym) a lot is allot, as in allotment. I’ve reached the number of words allotted for this post. Not a lot.

Four Short Statements on the Sentence

3 Sailboats
  1. Entering the sentence, one feels caught in a trap, a cage, punctuation the catches and latches of entrance and exit that clamps down on our heads and tails, our arms or legs, fingers – when we let out an exclamation point, holding swelling finger up.
  2. Returning to the three persons (me, you, and the other: navigator, driver, and passenger), in a race to the finish, around pylons of periods.
  3. Periods around and around we go, how to begin and how to end, and where to dot the nose, punctuation choices a kind of Mr. Potato Head game.
  4. Returning to the sentence, the idea of the sentence as a measure of composition. “Where Are We Going? and What Are We Doing?” John Cage asked in “Silence.” And not sure of the answer, we feel the tension of certain sentences, we feel the intensity of the sentence, like a taut wire, fish on, pencil bent like a deep-sea fishing rod.

Ticker Tape Sentence

A new sentence, ahoy, begins to move along the horizon, words crossing on the horizon like ticker tape, words like ships at sea, ship-sat sea, a sentence a fleet of words, but quiet, so far out, out to sea, but futile, our following them, their passage, so why not just limit the sentence to one word, a single word, stop, for example, stop these ships before it's too late, before we cross the point of no return, but no, I'm not worried about running on, I'm more concerned with running aground, so I'm running with the wind while the wind's in my sails, running with this new sentence, running with the wind, for a spell, a run-on sentence, tilting and lilting with comma splices, funny term, comma splice, like tacks, like sailing tacks, the comma splice, to cut off, pause, we learned in grade grammar elementary school while the period was a full stop pull over go to sleep, compared to the comma, where you had to leave the car running, riding the clutch (but wait, we didn't drive cars in grade school, can't use that comparison - too late), quick breath, come around, though, we got that, just enough time to glance up, look at the teacher, visage, what was she thinking, and did she have hair under her habit, she had thick bushy black eyebrows, like punctuation marks underscoring the white cardboard starched forehead, big black dashes, but that's to digress, to veer from course, deviation from planned course, stay on tack, on tact, too, and on track, for the railroad is like a run-on sentence, too, too, too, but the run-on sentence is like a chase scene, like a chase at the end of a Keystone Cops adventure, a chase that runs on and runs on, like a run-on sentence, sometimes called a comma splice run-on sentence I should caution good reader there is no end in sight to this run-on sentence, so if there's somewhere you need to be, you might want to mark where you are, just grab a piece of tape, or something, a felt marker, and make a mark on your screen, not a period though, a comma, mark your place, where you are in the sentence, mark the word just above where the little blue bubble marker is now located below this run-on sentence, mark it with a caret, like this ^ or with an upside down y or keep going no reason to stop unless you need to be somewhere but still give them a call, call in, and tell them you are in the middle of a run-on sentence you can see that we are in the middle of this run-on sentence by checking the blue bubble, if the blue bubble is in the middle of the ticker line, then we are midway through this run-on sentence you don't need to mark your screen when you get back just slide the blue bubble over to the middle of the ticker tape-like rectangular oval below the sentence nice feature that blue bubble where I got the idea actually for this run-on sentence thinking why bother having to tab down read down always down the page why not just keep moving sideways this is how new things are invented by questioning the status quo and a book could be written like this why not run the sentence to the end of the page, turn the page, continue sentence on the back side, reach the end again, continue the sentence onto the next page, not down, straight across, until you reach the end of the book, then go back to page one before you tab down to the next row, the next line, and off you go again, until the book is full what would each page read like then a complete surprise futile though the perspicacious reader will note the influence of John Cage here, here on this run-on sentence, so maybe this idea of the ticker tape run-on sentence is somewhat Cagean, but then again, maybe not, maybe Cage has nothing to do with this, but Cage embraced the futile and in doing so crossed the horizon of doubt and I keep coming back to Cage even after all these years and new things to look at and read and listen to, and reading Cage's books, "Silence," for example, or "A Year From Monday," might suggest more ideas for new forms of composition of posts, though Cage preferred the mosaic to the linear the ticker tape sentence (I think the name might stick) is certainly an exercise in linearity if nothing else for it resembles a line, a line sliding, a line of words, sliding horizontally, like ships on a horizon, words like a fleet of ships, ships though that never come any closer, and whose purpose remains, at best, ambiguous, or worse, simply silly, but it takes a long time to stop a ship, and still, there they are, out to sea, floating above the blue bubble in the long oval, and they stay on the horizon, sliding across the horizon until they are out of view and we are left to go our own way.