22 June, 2017

"And just like that..."

Watching "A Single Man" always helps when dealing with the emotional consequences of nuclear winter. Or listening to Tsaikovsky's Symphony No. 1, "Winter Dreams."

Here's a crazy idea for a summer job: get grant funding to finish an eight-movement symphonic poem! One of the movements has already been played by an orchestra, albeit just a read-through, enough to confirm my interest in someday completing it. At the time I started composing it, my experience of return, of isolation, and of 20th century harmony was incomplete. Now, I think I'm ready to finish "The Country of the Pointed Firs: Tone poem for Symphony and narrator."

But of course that's a long shot, and it's not as though I'd get any support from my siblings. They could surprise me. I'll be contemplating the path of aesthetic and ascetic fine artist vis a vis the path of the saint and reading Schopenhauer, meanwhile.

Speaking of against all odds, I'm  blogging on a phone using phone camera pics because my laptop's logic board is shorting - a $730 replacement and nobody but Gary called to ask how the day was (discouraged? Often. Frustrated? Perennially!). But I went to the Career Center, got a library card, and checked out some "light reading." And then made art in the kitchen - haddock with lemon butter, garlic, tarragon, paprika; green beans sauteed with onion and tomato; brown basmati on a bed of spring greens. Twas a splendid summer solstice!

26 April, 2017

Hailing frequencies open

30 Nisan 5777 : Parashat Tazria-Metzora (in diaspora), Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, 15th of the Omer (Passover ...Sefirat Ha'omer... Shavuot )

Translation: Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all: for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.

{ familial-social public sphere mindshare }

A poetic fragment for today, the chanted chorus from the hip-hop song "I Wake Up"

Every fragment craves connection
Every exile brings a lesson
Every death is resurrection
Each breath is

~ Daniel Silverstein a.k.a. Danny Raphael


Today's mediation timer: "Hymn of the Cherubim" by Pjotr Tšaikovski
(If you're a new reader, start the timer, get into a calm space with mindful breathing, and then when you've reached my Song for the day at the post's end, please scroll back up to note the timestamp in this video. If you want, engage in restive reflection until the music ends, and then listen to my Song for the day while you read the epilogue.) 

 Tšaikovski's name is often mistranslated, or more accurately mis-transliterated into Christian English. His life is an intriguing, painful story in the Q continuum, but his works are celebrated in Christendom.


I tend to think of myself as a skilled writer, though it might be more accurate to say i'm a fluent writer of English. I speak American English fluently, and appreciate UK English and other regional dialects, whether or not i have a complete informal vocabulary - in other words, a working knowledge of slang - in all of them. Where cultural gaps are present - and that doesn't have to be across languages or nations; culture gaps are present wherever individuals operate from different paradigms, even within the nuclear family - communication pitfalls abound.

It is helpful to understand how languages relate to cultural spheres, and how "language" as a term includes not only spoken and written languages but music, maths, and literary-textual forms like poetry, novella, graphic novel, and kinema (nope, contrary to dogmatic belief, it's not "sin-ema," but see Bazin, particularly vis-a-vis Linklater). I have a very broad musical sphere, which includes and transcends my siblings' spheres, but it doesn't preclude me from excerpting lyrics from musical forms they would find distasteful as poetry in order to communicate. Maybe some day they'll lighten up and broaden their palates, but that's G-d's work, not mine. 

When it comes to conventional linguistic awareness, am i multilingual? Well, i'm a lazy gringo. English is so widely spoken thanks to both British and American imperial colonialism that i can at least quasi-communicate in a lot of geographies without learning anything else. Living in a border city, i am surrounded by fully bilingual individuals, and i'm learning Espanol slowly just by paying attention to bilingual signage; going to the local birriera and attempting to order politely en Espanol is good practice. 

yo: Mas agua por favor?
*Otro pours glass of cold water*
yo: Gracias! 
Otro: De nada. 

In the noosphere, there are texts i'd enjoy reading in their original language. The poetry of Rumi certainly tops that list, but i'd need to learn فارسی to do that. Because i relate to what of Rumi's emotional-spiritual experience can be translated into English, i understand a good bit of what he was writing about. Rumi began an intense, spiritual intimacy with one Shams-i-Tabrīzī that shaped the course of his life.

Thankfully, being able to read Nazim Hikmet's poetry in Türkçe is within the realm of easily achievable for me. Traveling in Turkiye and Iraqi Kurdistan with basic conversational fluency in 
Türkçe was an amazing experience, but encountering ქართული in Gurcistan was a major mind-$#%!; if you've been paying attention to this blog since its inception, you know that already. I want to share more of the Gurcistan story, and the travels immediately preceding and following it, but those stories are very painful and personal and while i'm ready to write them for the world, i don't have permission from my siblings yet. First i must gain my audience's trust. 

I've had many spiritual teachers along this pilgrimage. My mother Geraldine was certainly a formative influence, and my ( Beloved / Anam Cara / Imzadi ) Gary is definitely a big one. But i must honor the others, chief among them one דניאל with whom i walked and talked, with whom i corresponded for a year, and toward whom i felt an attraction so strong i began to learn עִברִית in order to speak with him in his native tongue.

{ sidebar } Beloved is a term that relates to the past, the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the Song of Songs, et cetera. It relates to the longing, the divine Desire for Union with the Other. In Judaism, the prayer "Lekha Dodi" (Come, Beloved) is sung to usher in Sabbath rest. In Christianity, the Church is the Bride of Christ: We are family, i got all my sisters with me (TY: Sister Sledge). Anam Cara is a Celtic Christian term meaning "soul friend" and i suppose we could render this in modern American English as soulmate. Imzadi is a Betazoid word from the realm of science fiction in the noosphere. As far as i can tell based on the Troi-Riker relationship model, it means the exact same thing as the other two words in that trinity, but it relates culturally to perceptions of and/or hopes for future. The Troi-Riker relationship is best observed through the ST:TNG cinematic canon from VII: GENERATIONS through VIII: FIRST CONTACT and IX: INSURRECTION to X: NEMESIS in which Jean-Luc faces his most powerful foe, a Romulan clone of himself. But more on that later.
{ /sidebar }

Anyway, after meeting and falling in love with דניאל, my world was radically changed. Geraldine, may she rest in peace, was "guilty" of over-mothering and controlling behavior, codependent behavior, and other socially unhealthy behaviors that had profound ramifications for her children's development, particularly mine, as after having her moral authorship challenged around my brother's life ("Don't let Mrs. Merrill get on the bus!") she vowed never to have her authority challenged again. Of all the reasons we left the Church of the Closed Mind, the only reason she'd cop to for real was that i agreed with Pastor John instead of her. (More on that later, too.)

So i was never encouraged to leave the nest, never allowed to really develop socially by engaging in unsupervised play behaviors, and deprived of both peer socializing and non-parental mentors and role models at a key developmental fulcrum: puberty.

But when "sex" and "other person" finally collided in a single thought for the first time (age 22, oy vey, late bloomer!) i began to awaken to the fact that there was a world outside my parent's house and the woods and bogs and hills around it. For years, i had been content to wander in solitude and contemplation, to study nature through observation, and to reflect on the Law of the Lord as i had received it in childhood religious experience that ended with massive social-familial trauma.

I had finally been baptized into the communion of adults in society. How?  דניאל was the first person with whom i committed adultery in my heart. He affirmed my nascent interest in non-dual awareness and holistic paradigms; he introduced me to St. Exuperey and Coelho. He gave me his childhood copy of הנסיך הקטן in Hebrew. He was also the person who taught me how to perform mikvah; he confessed his sins to me, and together we dipped seven times in Thurlow Brook.

After Danik, i knew i had to leave the nest. But how? I had not been encouraged to work towards a career; i had been raised to be a scion of Israel, a healer, a person who puts G-d before Caesar.

I had been interested in agrarian cultural paradigms, which led to some wonderful places. Wendell Berry responded to a letter i wrote him, encouraging me to get a college education. And so i went off to study sustainable agriculture (and narrative, media, communications, and environmental, behavioral, and organizational psychology) and study abroad in Turkey and....

....but what about my family?


This morning i noticed that a melodic cue from SWAN LAKE may be quoted in the Diana Ross song "Do You Know," a song my mother loved, so that's today's mom song. Last night's brother song was "Don't Have to Be So Sad" by Yo La Tengo, and i realized that because OLD JOY is a film that sums up my feelings around that relationship and YLT improvised the score, YLT is the band that allows me to connect with my feelings towards my brother. Connecting that lyric with Doug helped me find the safe island of calm, mindful awareness and drift off to a truly restful night's sleep.

Today's Imzadi song is "Woman in Love" by Barbra, and i can't really think of anything more gay than associating a Streisand song with my imzadi LOL. But i think my sister can connect with Streisand too, so here's a song for her: "The Way We Were.


Today's Christian sutta / mantra is : Mark 9, specifically verse 42 (KJV) 

(Yoshua, the Christ, speaking to John, the disciple whom He loved):
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.


My song for today: "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina"
written by Andrew Lloyd-Weber, performed here by Karen Carpenter

{ Dad's awake. Time to break fast. / mindshare }

Your feedback is appreciated!
Please use the Wong-Baker Faces scale, which describes 
continuum of affective experience from 0 to 10, where 0 represents a happy face, or "no hurt" and 10 represents a crying face, or "hurts worst."
1. What was your overall affective experience in terms of the Wong-Baker scale?
2. Was there excess time on the mediation timer? If so, how much?
    (Your answer to this helps me calibrate post length in terms of both multimedia content and word         count; getting multiple answers allows me to customize communique length for individual                   mindshare constraints and also to gauge average read speeds for my primary audience.)
3. Did you engage in mindful breathing and/or restive reflection?
4. Red flags? White flag?

ILY & TY for sharing,


07 April, 2017

... without form and void / spiegel im spiegel

Today is 11 Nisan 5777 : Parashat Tzav - In Diaspora

A poem for today by Billy Collins: "Litany"

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

Here's today's mediation timer, "Spiegel Im Spiegel," By Estonian minimalist-postmodernist Eastern Orthodox Christian composer Arvo Part. I might enjoy playing this as a duet with you. It is the most calming piece of music i know, and the title translates to "Mirror in Mirror." Please associate it with reflective thought, and with the possibilities that open when we understand ourselves as another person's living mirror.

I need to sing you a New Story of Crevolution.

The problem is, you can't read me. We are interacting in a mediated experience.

You already know how to read media. I identify Joss Whedon's SERENITY as "The message is the medium."

Please understand when i write in all caps i'm not using a shouting voice. I want to draw attention to the term because it is a title, the title of a mediated narrative. All-caps terms in this text can be considered a code referring to concepts or narratives i find worth highlighting, and summarizing a text with all-caps titles mirrors something i need to show you about the Hebrew language, the language of Abrahamic awareness: It is worlds within worlds. Letters summarize words. Words summarize Stories. A moment can be a thousand years.


Please note, i may cite narratives i have not read. In the code we are already actively using, a narrative's title may be considered a summary of its contents.

Citation is a practice we already practice in a variety of ways, for example:

sutta : Scripture :: style : Turabian

This is an analogy. You may already recognize it as such. If so, please look up affirmation in your body's dictionary of emotive states. If you already actively practice affirmation, you're well on the way to MIRACLE WORKER status in hivemind. If not, you may be a diligent worker bee, and i affirm your diligence.

Italics is my subtle voice: "Sotto voce," in musical terms.

As you read this i want you to be carefully attuned for the presence of sarcasm. It is a Voice i will do my best to avoid, although it is closely related to irony, and some things are inevitably ironic. Should you experience sarcasm in the presence of irony, please practice forgiveness. It is a code error and i do not want you to amplify it. This may create a negative emotional feedback loop.

Sotto voce terms in the text may be thought of as "whispers" or "inside voice." I use sotto voce in order to draw a subtler attention to the word.

This blog is the story of my Lived Existence. I relate my existence to many, many texts.

For example, you may encounter me in social psychology textual awareness as LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.


This is a .gif. It should be pronounced with a hard G sound, if we're speaking Abrahamically. (I believe this is the internet's last word on the subject.)

I invite you to join me on this mountainside. It is an awareness i identify as zen.

I want you to practice trust. As you read this blog from now on you're going to feel a lot of emotions. You may not already practice conscious awareness of you're emotions. To that i say:

Group hug. Reading this blog while focusing on your breathing will make that feel like a group hug. I promise. If you don't feel group hug when you're reading from now on, that means my message isn't getting through.


I hope you practiced rest when you decoded that jump. Consider the rest of this page a freefall. Trust me to catch you.

You already know i will because you already know ILY / AHO

Oops. Did you just go "That doesn't make sense!"

I know you did, because you didn't properly decode a "bilingual acro-palindrome" (new term? yay science!). You may be a Palin drone. I don't think you're an idiot, though you may have idiom issues.

I feel like giving myself a powerhug now, so i'm going to start signing off. I invite you to reflect on this text while listening to the rest of the timer track. I'm going to practice rest.

I'm setting the intention to greet today as a sabbatical experience, because one week of years since my college graduation, i think it's only appropriate to present myself as a candidate for the first ever Christian Homeschool Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Abrahamic Media self-studies, or I AMs.

You may not recognize that i already possess this degree of discipline. You may experience a lot of surprise in the near future. Pay attention to surprise. It's a great emotion in the overall joke of life.

One final thought: If you want, set an intention with me. I'm actively working to construct sabbath awareness in my lived experience. If you already practice sabbath, you're halfway to experiencing jubilee.


Before we go, a blessing for the day:

Baruch Ata Adonai, Melekh ha'olam. Shehechiyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu la'zman hazeh.

(Please associate the Shehechiyanu with wonder, awe, delight.)

I do want to reiterate a preferred feedback mechanism: a system of symbols. It symbolizes a continuum of affective experience from 0 to 10, where 0 represents a happy face, or "no hurt" and 10 represents a crying face, or "hurts worst." You may already be familiar with this symbolic system, as it is widely used by medical professionals. It is called the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale.

1. What was your overall affective experience in terms of the Wong-Baker scale?
2. Did you spend any excess music time in restive reflection?

Love Overcomes Varied Experiences, Life is frelling beautiful. Freeing Understanding Consecrates Knowledge, in general.


01 April, 2017

If at first you don't fricassee...

... let it go, read Ann Lamott, and fry a hen.

V'YKR: and He calls

To you what might seem like "overthinking" is to me attempting to make the best possible use of the powerful CPU G-d gave me.

In over thirty years of continuous education, thanks to an "unlimited" attention span, the strong intellectual foundation homeschooling offered, and the freedom of thought afforded by a liberal higher education, i've learned a little bit about an awful lot of things and thought long and hard. I define the limits of a single thought in book-length terms - and when it comes to having a Christian conversion experience, i could write a book. A really interesting book. Would you have a brain hiccup if i proposed the thought that Judaism and Hinduism have two different names for what you call the presence of the Holy Ghost, and that it can be described in specific terms in relation to neuroscience and psychiatry?

There are things one can’t undo: life has no delete key, and once something is on the internet, for better or worse, it’s part of human consciousness. A truly well-crafted utterance - a.k.a. good art - might just become part of collective memory: this is what i strive toward, art made in good faith. For things one can’t undo, there is grace and forgiveness. 

There are also things one can’t unsay. When security guards ask if i am carrying any weapons, my standard response is, “just my words, but i try not to use them that way.” I invite you to share this practice of mindful communication with me. I agree to refrain from words you find offensive if you will prayerfully make an effort to understand the ways in which "abomination" might apply to you as well, and agree never to drop the A-bomb in our conversation. I forgive you for things you’ve said that cut me deeply, and hope you can do the same. That we are still listening to each other is hopeful. I dare say we are already better at communicating than we used to be. 

Then there are things one can’t unthink, for which there are no remedy. Christ teaches us that thought is morally equivalent to action, thus i believe as a Christian i should strive toward right thought - but in a free society, right thought is a matter on which i seek guidance from G-d, not from family members. Paradoxically, the person toward whom i first experienced a sexually impure thought was also the person who showed me how to perform mikvah. Thoughts arise and pass on this stream of consciousness, and creative practice for me is about deciding which ones to share, how, and with whom. 

Today's big a-ha - did i mention i'm still very actively learning? - is that my father, sister, and brother are all unique individuals. (D'oh, David, d'oh.) I have invited my father to share in a practice of sitting meditation, and that he engages with me in this - while bringing his own meaning to it - is spiritually nourishing to me. We're sharing culture on a level i never imagined possible. Meanwhile, engaging my two siblings requires different rubric approaches. But practice makes fluency.

Practice makes fluency: This is a concept i encountered in music, applied in language learning, and later realized applies to pretty much any behavior including self-punishing and self-destructive ones. Existential crises do not tend to make one love being alive.

Thanks be to G-d, i survived this far. In Judaism there's a blessing for that, a blessing for new experiences, and i'd like to share it with you.

30 March, 2017

Turning a page

Desert spring bursts to life in Tucson. Pink-leafed aloes send yellow spires skyward and brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) explodes into silver and yellow, while the green trunks of palo verde trees are obscured in clouds of canary blooms. Two nights ago a "ten percent chance of rain around midnight" woke me with gusting breezes and lightning. I scrambled from the backyard couch, bundling my sleeping bag, and dashed indoors. My life companion Gary helped move the outdoor furniture to shelter before rain came in earnest. I was too busy sleeping to notice, but he said it was more than a sprinkle. 

I'll save the el Niño digression for another post. Matching firsthand observation of Tucson rainfall patterns with available research on Pacific climate cycles is such comfortable, safe, analytical space. But right now i'm feeling something, and among the many things Gary has taught me, one is that i tend to suppress emotion by analyzing it.

Gary suppresses emotion in his own way. After our initial meeting in Maine, the "frielationship" grew across long distances, in fits and starts: i drove a truck containing his belongings from Maine to Toronto - a trip that included a night spent sleeping in the back of said U-Haul outside Montreal and hitting rush hour, morning and evening, in Canada's two largest cities - and later spent a month in Toronto before moving to Tucson. He spent a month in Tucson between Toronto and a new job in Calgary, and later a week's vacation; then came the phone call that he had been cut loose by his employers and didn't know where to turn. With my sporadic employment it was no trouble to fly to Calgary on short notice, and after a quick side trip to Banff, in yet another U-Haul we trekked from Alberta through Montana, Idaho, and Utah to Baja Arizona. When i returned to Maine for a season, he stewarded my habitat and started seeds in flats. When my father arrived to spend the winter - as i worked to discern what "Honor thy father" means in practice - Gary worked alongside me and shared his experience honoring his own mother as she ages. He noticed little memory fails i missed, and served as a human mindfulness bell when i would get hyperfocused on a creative task at the expense of other needs. His response to life with two cigarette smokers modeled gentleness and patience.

 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (Matthew 25:35-36, KJV) 

Gary's hand-me-downs have kept me in snappy threads, and in the rockiest months of my life his generosity kept me fed. His emotional support may have been the difference between life and death, and his spiritual balance beckons me to live and create art in good faith. His commitment to physical fitness models for me the difference between vanity and stewardship of the body, while his intellectual discipline affirms my faith that it is both Christian to question authority and wise to make use of all available knowledge. A week or so ago, as i worked in the garden, he read aloud to me Sara Zarr's 2016 preface to Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, by Madeleine L'Engle. The paperback lay in the bookcase this morning, a parting gift above and beyond all the housewares he jettisoned in the move. 

On the eve of his departure after a year of life together in Arizona, he would get annoyed when i asked what he wanted for our last "family dinner" together here. Gary shares my fondness for Eat, Pray, Love (we've both read the book; he has the film) and introduced me to Julie & Julia. Sharing recipe ideas, shopping and cooking together, or harvesting from the garden ingredients for him to cook with have been a big part of the past year, and it seemed important to me to honor the "last supper" we would be having together for the foreseeable future. But he got annoyed with the question, wanting none of the "finality" he heard in it. (Fallibility of the receiver: the bane of all relationships!) When he tried to emotionally process a final-for-now tea outing with a friend, i distractedly missed the fact that he was trying to process. At dusk, he finally coughed up some parameters: Pasta, sauce, no meat.

"Start now, before i decide to get takeout," he joked.

Thanks, mom: between her training and Gary's, my Italian heritage and time in Turkiye, meals can be miracles of spontaneity. While Gary appreciates the guidance of recipes, i dig the fact that carb + protein + veggies and spices is a global culinary equation, and mastering the art of peasant food (the daily day's food, to borrow a phrase from a Danish chef i once met) is mostly a matter of knowing what a region's go-to ingredients are. Frozen lima beans paired with whole wheat penne we'd trucked all the way from Calgary. Garden carrots and parsley joined purchased bell peppers and onions in a jar of red sauce; shredded parmesan and romano we'd bought melted on top. A salad of baby tuscan kale and five beautifully unique lettuces - from ruffled maroon to speckled tongue to robust romaine -  was accented with fresh dill, green onions, and Tucson-grown sweet oranges from the farmers' market. Gary took his usual place beside me at the stove, minding the pasta as i fervently chopped, diced, washed and tore.

A knock at the door! Jamey and Bill, to me exemplars of both "intergenerational gay couple" and "good neighbors," dropped by to say their regards. Four in my galley kitchen is tight - add an aging collie dog underfoot for grins and giggles - but co-operation makes it work, and Gary and i now have more than a year of practice. As Jamey watched with interest, Gary demonstrated his technique for a balsamic vinaigrette, choosing a mustard and spice blend to accent the local citrus. After abrazos y besos, Bill took his leave, but Jamey stayed for dinner and a rambling, enjoyable conversation.


"If components in binary star systems are close enough they can gravitationally distort their mutual outer stellar atmospheres. In some cases, these close binary systems can exchange mass, which may bring their (stellar) evolution to stages that single stars cannot attain." (Wikipedia)

Gary and i have never really settled on a definition for our "frielationship," content to simply describe it as it unfolds. When the Bishop of his new diocese asked whether he had a partner, his answer was "no;" and i would concur with that answer. Though "domestic partnership" would accurately describe the past year, we have very different ideas of what constitutes a good sleeping environment and thus prefer to have separate rooms, a caricature of some 1950s sitcom couple. Where it once would have made our private behavior illegal, secular jurisprudence now offers us the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges any heterosexual couple already enjoys should we choose marriage - but as a person whose childhood was marred by familial trauma around organized religion, being a Priest's spouse (like my sister, weirdly, my childhood nickname being Jennifer II) is not a choice i can make without a lot more healing. Gary, divorced, and i, never married, have together discovered our own sense of emotional intimacy and mutual support; raising children is not in his plans, but i have yet to rule it out. Would i care for him when he is aging? By the grace of God, absolutely. But like binary stars, or sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, our mutual orbit unfolds in cycles of proximity and distance, warmth and cooling. Emotion, like gravity, can be described as a wave phenomenon. It is, as they say, what it is.

He's airborne by now, off to learn what it means to live into being a Priest, a role he has yet to define for himself, but one he has felt called to since his youth. (The Episcopal flock he is about to serve are a blessed bunch - be gentle and patient with him and his gifts will reveal themselves! Just wanted to let you all know that i'm a part of his support system.) I prepare to charge three new inhabitants with stewardship of the huerta i call home and to begin a new chapter of my own caring for my father in Maine. I drove back from the airport in the bright desert spring, basking in the gravitational mass of the Santa Catalinas. The mountains of Baja Arizona are an emotional anchor to me.

Back at la casa, dad and i have breakfast. "I'm going to miss Gary," i say.

"I'll miss him too," Dad says. I know he means it.

A new day, a new page. Deck chairs on the front of the boat, as Alice would say.


Music is how i process and best communicate emotion. So i want to leave you with four pieces i'm listening to today. The first is a folk hymn performed by the Amidon singers, the second a piece old friend Emeline introduced me to and which i introduced my father to this morning. (I'm looking forward to watching Les Miserables with him soon; the "Epilogue" is to me both a good tear-trigger and an anthem of liberation and healing Creation.) The third is to me a shining example of postmodernism in sacred choral music, the universe of new harmonies that are possible when Orthodox traditions and Western ones are engaged in a global musical conversation. Last, a piece by Vaughan-Williams i had never really encountered until this week. I can't express my gratitude in words, Gary, but maybe you can hear it in the Vaughan-Williams you shared. Thanks be to God for this beautiful, ever-changing life, and for your company on the journey.  


18 March, 2017

Location: Breakthrough

Welcome to my stream of consciousness. Sometimes it feels like "The River Wild," and other times it's an inner tube ride down a lazy river. I just want to say how grateful i am you have agreed to come along with me, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm a creative person, and creativity to me is active participation in the Creation. While i've lamented the lack of care some traditions show toward stewardship, i have to admit my own shortcomings.

Estranged from the God of my childhood, i continually engaged in learning, but the stream of inspiration slowed to a mere trickle.

"God on His thirsty Zion's hill some mercy drops has thrown," says an old shape note hymn. Even when i could not accept the theological paradigm i was raised with, i remained open to encountering it in the context of early American four-part music. One thing i enjoy about the shapenote tradition, wherein the notes are represented with four geometric shapes, is that a new leader stands for each song, making its organization a democratic one, and singers are free to choose any part regardless of gender. This to me is a hallmark of modern social structure, yet it is evident in a tradition dating back to 18th century New England.

I've been reluctant to embrace faith because i thought it forced me to choose between belief and science. Darwin's theory of Evolution was greeted with hostility where i came from, and as a child i was taught to censor phrases like "millions of years" from natural history texts.

Faith has been skeptical of science for some time, and science it seems returns the favor. Italian polymath Giordano Bruno, a "Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist" was in 1593 tried and burned at the stake for heresy. Among other things, Bruno espoused pantheism while denying core Catholic doctrines such as the Divinity of Christ, transubstantiation, and eternal damnation. (The excellent 2014 documentary series "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" profiles Bruno among others who were early adopters of a more modern perspective.) It sucks to feel unappreciated - and it's even worse to be executed for your beliefs, whether or not they later prevail. It's a cold and broken Hallelujah.

Today, science holds the floor. But religious traditions are still killing people. In both Islamic and Christian contexts, atrocities are still being committed against homosexuals. U.S.-based pastors like Scott Lively and Steven Anderson fan flames of anti-gay sentiment in Africa with ideas like "homosexuals should be stoned to death," while Daesh spreads across the Levant like a plague and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran remain unsafe for LGBT people to claim their identities openly. Even in the United States, LGBT individuals have a higher suicide rate than the general population.

Reclaiming my Christian identity and at long last coming out to my brother, whose response i feared, were a necessity to me because i believe honesty is paramount. I believe my orientation is one of many gifts from God, and the only choice in the matter was whether to finally break out of the closet. Having the courage of my convictions allowed me to confront years of anxiety, and after a frank and open phone conversation i actively look forward to our next one. I feel as though a creative block has been removed, and i see light at the end of the nicotine-addiction tunnel.

I for many years denied the existence of Spirit, but God sent me a partner who restored my soul and nurtured my body. Now mind, body and spirit are in harmony for me and creative insight flows freely again. I'm working on a new format for this blog, one that mixes symbolic communication, wordplay, neuroscience, intersecting narrative, behavioral science, philosophy, analogy, poetry - you name it - a veritable smorgasbord (#CharlottesWeb) of concepts in conversation across cultural context. So many ideas are swirling around in my head that it will take a bit to sketch out a plan of attack. Creativity is playtime, but formatting and organizing will help me structure creative leisure. Take a minute to look around, see a sight, hear a sound. i'll be #Bach soon.


24 October, 2016

Elegy for a compost pile

It’s been a long time since i’ve felt such a stirring to write for writing’s own sake, fingers pining for the keyboard and remembering what retreat and sanctuary i found in the act of writing. Too long without taking a reflective hour to memorialize the passing day. 

In the latest round of garden expansion, i had excavated the beginnings of a new bed. My housemate Gary joked that it looked like i was preparing to bury someone or something, and i had every intention of burying some horse manure there, one of these days, when the horse manure connection was available and friends could help with their truck. Then living order asserted itself as what seemed to the lazy mind entropy and disorder. A task not in my awareness four days ago was, looking back on the day, the one real, necessary thing i accomplished beyond the daily chores - and that’s the sort of day that begs reflection.

A compost pile is more than just a cache of vegetable scraps, egg shells, and the right balance of carbon and nitrogen residues to achieve efficient decomposition. It’s a sourdough, a partnership with microbes as delicate and resilient as a kefir culture, a mother of vinegar, or a good scoby. Compost is metaphysical, an apotheosis of that natural alchemy constantly transforming death into new life. It is alive, for it contains millions of organisms. 

When three years ago i signed the contract with this little chunk of earth, i purchased among other minor outbuildings a small stake-sided bin. Whatever feral microfauna the home’s prior owners had managed to lure into their service lay in a rather dried out pile. Over seasons as compost receptacles came and went, a little of the old compost went into each new pile. 

Autumn 2016. My little microbial cattle were grazing quite happily in the remains of an old Tucson barbecue - a brick structure along the back fence, handy to the garden, that handily held two batches of compost side by side. Overly vegetative tomatillos - they grew like weeds, but never set fruit - got tossed in, along with the Anaheim pepper on its last legs. Then the nights got cooler, and the compost started to sputter. 

One day while watering, what i thought was a beneficial wasp alit on the watering can. Little did i know this was actually a black soldier fly, a common yet not oft seen and largely unsung ally in decomposition. The slender black adult, which i later learned was Hermetia illucens, was the first sign the pile had cooled too far. Adding some vegetable scraps i found the writhing mass of larvae that helped - though icking me out a bit at first - clarify the insect visitor’s identity. Consulting the internet took my stress level down a notch. I could accept that this very squirmy batch of larvae are allies, and while i still needed to do something with the pile, that task’s urgency could be downgraded. The fact the compost had cooled enough for macro-grazers had yet to sink in completely. Then one day, proverbially haying the microbial cattle, i lifted the paving stones set atop the pile to see a very quick scuttle. Not a slow fly-larval writhe, but the unmistakable movement style of a cockroach. “Scores” might be an appropriate scale on which to estimate the pile’s roach population. 

On the heels of several months of occasional indoor roach visitors, this discovery of massive proliferation lent a certain urgency to the “deal with compost pile” task. How to vanquish a roach nest - without poison and without landfilling the compost? I was stymied until i remembered my parents’ time-tested method of dealing with garden pests: drown them. 

A few roaches ran for a nearby woodpile (the lizards’ favorite hang-out spot), but most made the journey by shovel into the blue rubbermaid tote where they met a watery death. Unfortunately, drowning the roaches meant drowning the compost pile and all its other denizens. The H. illucens larvae, a few massive white grubs, isopods, ravenous staphylinid beetle larvae - i couldn’t begin to identify the organisms i could see, not to mention the ones i couldn’t - and most of the aerobic microbe populations perished with the roaches. The morning after this act of destruction i had a new resource: a vat of compost tea that didn’t yet stink to high heaven. (Anyone who has dealt with waterlogged compost may well know the aroma of anaerobic decomposition. I can only imagine the small after Noah's flood.)

The sloppy, waterlogged remains of the drowned compost pile were laid to rest in the sepulcher intended for horse manure in a sort of substitutionary fertility rite, ligneous central stalks of the disappointing tomatillos and a few still wriggling H. illucens and all. In the world of compost nothing, in the end, is lost. The whole garden got a shot of the tea - some sixteen gallons worth - before i worked the solids into the garden. That fertility, hopefully, will be the secret to finally growing Romanesco cauliflower.

Unless we get all Leeuwenhoek with the microscope regularly, those of us who dabble in micro-ranching never see our flocks. Composting is in many ways an act of faith - though i can’t see the microbes, their populations are present, shifting in response to the pile’s microclimate and other ecological factors, and actively reshaping its internal ecology. It’s easy to neglect an invisible resource.

For now it’s off to another task… researching an Arizona-proof composting system.