Monday, February 23, 2009

Qualitative Quest

Qualitative Quest

Atlas groaned only under the weight of the Earth.
Today we sweat under the burden of cosmic ideas.

DB - The Vagabond
Good day Earthling.

It may someday be proven that human beings are the most arrogant, and hence, most ignorant creatures in the universe. We used to believe and proved, we thought, that the Earth was the center of the universe. After having to give up that canard, many now believe, and think they have proven, that the Earth is the only inhabited planet in all of creation. But with the increasing evidence that there might be extraterrestrial activity, the question comes up: Is there life on other planets? So far that question has only two answers: Why should there be? and Why not?

Science fiction writers, astronomers and cosmological theorists have had a grand old time with this subject. If there is life elsewhere we will probably know someday. If there isn't, we may never know it but we will keep looking.

Reason tells us that there must be some form of life existing somewhere out there. But reason itself is a questionable thing. It is merely the way humans think. But man cannot truly classify himself as a terrestrial rational being until he meets a non-terrestrial rational being. And if he were to find totally alien creatures who reason as well as, or better than, he does, he would have to conclude that reason is not what makes him human, that we reason because we're human, and not human because we reason. But what if reason is not the standard of universal mentality?

It seems as likely that there is a superior mode of thinking as there is that pigs can fly or that roses can grow at the bottom of the ocean. That is only because we can't think of one. But what if there is? What if our dedication to reason and our ability to think things through in a logical manner is just another form of believing that the Earth is the center of the universe?

There are some earthbound religions that teach that there is a higher form of thought than reason and that it is obtainable by the enlightened. Maybe that is so, and maybe it is a cosmic form of thought, shared by those whose dwelling place is an all-inclusive mental realm, no matter where they may come from.

I am a reasoning creature, and will no doubt remain so, I hope, for I see no better way. But I retain the right to have an open mind about unheard of and undreamed of possibilities in the universe of ideas.

DB - Vagabond Journeys
If there's a clear sky, wave. Something may be watching.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spiritual Search

The ultimate triumph of philosophy would be to cast light upon the mysterious ways in which Providence moves to achieve the designs it has for man.

Marquis de Sade

I have always liked mysteries. Not the Sherlock Holmes variety, but the sort of mysteries that scientists enjoy poking their noses into.

I took a philosophy course in college and found it dull, boring and tedious. The professor was an interesting, colorful fellow, but his lectures were not and I thought his examples were silly. But I waded though the literature: Kant, Nietzsche, Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Rousseau, etc. and retained just enough of it to get by.

Many years later, out of curiosity, I read a series of lectures by Martin Heidegger and discovered something. I was suddenly into the world of the known, almost known, unknown and unknowable. In short, I was in a mysterious land. Now I'm an avid reader of philosophy, both ancient and modern. It has become one of the most interesting and satisfying adventures on my vagabond journey.

I'm not a gardener and most of my life I have taken gardens for granted. But I have seen how people can turn a small patch of earth into something beautiful by care and determination. There is such a small patch in front of this apartment building and the young woman who lives on the first floor has filled it with flowers. I have seen her stand and look at it with concern and love as one might worry over a child.

I remember seeing a clarinetist stare at his instrument while it was still in its case with the same look of curiosity and fascination.

Now I understand those looks. There are mysteries to be seen. What may bloom in that garden, what music is that clarinet capable of.

Philosophers may disagree with each other about the best route to take, there are the empiricists, the Cartesians, the metaphysicians, the ethicists, the aestheticians, and so on, but the summit of the climb is the same . It is to know the unknown and the unknowable.

DB - The Vagabond

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jinxed Judgement

Saturday, September 6, 2008
12:03:46 AM EDT Feeling Uncomfortable Hearing Wagner Edit Entry Delete Entry
Jinxed Judgement

There is nothing in the doughnut that isn't in the recipe,
but you can thoroughly examine the doughnut and never find the recipe.

DB - The Vagabond


It is customary when preparing a play that after a rehearsal or a run through, that the company meets with the director who then gives notes. The notes can be about minor matters, timing, the execution of a certain scene or moment. or information about the director's vision and interpretation of the play. So when I say actors are those who give themselves notes long after the show has closed, it means putting themselves in the director's place, aloof from themselves and realizing the scene, speech or moments afresh with more objective eyes.


When I was in elementary school a group of actors came to the school and put on a children's play for us. The plot involved two rival kingdoms. One kingdom made doughnuts. They were very good, delicious doughnuts and everyone loved them. Hence that kingdom was very wealthy. The other kingdom also made doughnuts, but they were bad doughnuts and no one liked them. Hence that kingdom was very poor.

One day the poor king sent spies to capture some of the good kings doughnuts so that his wise men could analyze them and find out why they were so good. The wise men carefully analyzed the doughnuts and reported back to the king that the good king's doughnuts were made of millions of crumbs.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that play taught me two great lessons.

One was the futility of trying to analyze anything by breaking it down into it's smallest parts. Without knowing how a thing is made, all you end up with is crumbs. And so we have words, tones, molecules, cells and crystals. But what is the recipe for a dove or a poem?

That sort of analytical thinking is what most critics are habitual practitioners of. I speak of Drama critics because those are the ones I read most often. Trying to reconstruct for a reader what the critic witnessed by attempting to put the individual parts back together doesn't work; the poem makes no sense, the dove won't fly. The critic must reprocess the play from the beginning, as I eventually did with that play in the school. And finding the recipe for things is the great work of serious science today.

The other great lesson I learned from that play was that great ideas can be understandably, palatably and entertainingly presented by theatre. In so many cases I have seen a student who seemed incapable of grasping a complex idea in a classroom situation, understand it instantly when presented as a play. Unfortunately, many teachers who know that and who try it are not professional theatre people and they don't know how to create the right recipe.

Many years after I saw this play I worked for a theatre company that toured the schools in the DC, Virginia and Maryland area, and I saw first hand, many times the positive effect on students of this kind of learning.

Tags: analysis, recipes, children's theatre
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Monday, February 9, 2009

Upward Unction

Upward Unction

You deserve bliss.

DB - The Vagabond

Several people have asked to see the cartoon in my side bar up close and personal, and to hear the story of how it came about. So here it is.

It was while I was working for the radio station I mentioned in my last entry. One of our duties was to help raise money for the New York Philharmonic. We set up tables with microphones in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall, the orchestra's home. We set up an engineer with turntables, a bank of volunteers to answer the phones and chairs for an audience. We broadcast from there for 2 and a half days, non stop, 24 hours.
I had one all night shift, from midnight to 6, by myself. During it I raised 4 thousand dollars. I also had one 4 hour shift one afternoon where I got to interview various people who came by to help. I met with members of the orchestra, Zubin Mehta, the conductor at that time,. the pianist Earl Wild, the actor Tony Randall and Hugh Carey, who was then Governor of New York.
As with all telethons, there were premiums available for a certain amount of contribution. Unknown to us, someone drew caricatures of all the classical radio celebrities, and they were put up as premiums. For a certain pledge you have a drawing of your favorite personality
Well someone bought the whole batch and graciously gave each of us a Xerox copy of ourselves. And that's why I have it.
I'm not sure about this, but I heard that they are all in some museum somewhere in Florida.
I don't think it resembles me that much. I look blissful enough but I don't have fat cheeks (anywhere).

Veritable Visions

Veritable Visions

Frighten me not with fears,
trouble me not with troubles,
worry me not with worries;
but bless me with blessings
and gladden my heart with gladness.

DB - The Vagabond


There's an old saying: You always get what you want, so be very careful about what you want. A modern day Kabbalist scholar likens the human mind to a radio that has only two stations, similar to the little black box I wrote about in Emerging Enlightenment 9/01/08. One plays beautiful music and gives good news reports. The other has nothing but bad news and static. We begin the day by tuning in to the good station and go on about our business. But after a while we notice that we have been hearing the other one. Something (Satan maybe) has turned the dials on us and now we are hearing about all the wrongs and regrets, the things that are bad about us, the reasons why we can't do this or have that, why we don't deserve to be happy. It's time to change the stations.
You are what you think about and so is your life. If your mind is giving you nothing but trouble to think about it's absolutely necessary to switch stations, start hearing the good reports about yourself and leave the gloomy stuff alone.
It's difficult to get back to the right frame of mind because it seems that the evil broadcaster has power over the good one. If you want to go upstream you have to row, If you don't row you'll go downstream even if you sit and do nothing. That's why it's hard to stay on the right frequency.
The first thing is to refuse to accept as undeniable reality the bad news you're hearing about yourself. You don't even have to reason your way out of it. Just say No, I refuse to accept and believe all the bad things about me in spite of the so-called evidence the nasty announcer in my head is telling me,
The next step is to give yourself a clear picture of the way you want your life to be and hold on to it. Persistence is a proven means of accomplishing many things. And so is patience. If you plant a seed it doesn't grow overnight. The bigger the dream the longer the gestation time.
Now stay by the dial to make sure the devil doesn't flick it back to his favorite radio station.
And then listen.

Wise Whip

Wise Whip

Sometimes love comes wrapped up in a boxing glove.

DB - The Vagabond

The best explanation I ever heard of tough love came from my friend Charles during a group discussion on the first day of rehearsal for a play. Hearing it enabled me to understand why it is sometimes necessary, if you care for someone, to shake him loose from an illusion about himself, and to be brutal about it if you must.
Looking back I can remember and be grateful for times when one friend or another let loose a thunderbolt of therapeutic criticism over some special form of stupidity I was crowning myself with.
I spent too long in a relationship that was almost nothing but painful to me. The nastiness and verbal abuse often reduced me to tears even though I felt that I was doing my best for her and loving her enough. I was complaining about it to a friend one day hoping for his compassion, sympathy and agreement. He listened to my ranting for a while without saying a word of support. Finally he said "Let me ask you something. What are you getting out of this relationship?" That question brought me to my quiet senses. I realized I had been holding on to something out of a false sense of responsibility and that the pain of ending it was not going to be as bad as the pain of putting up with it.
Sometimes tough love can be very graphic. While in school I complained about my roommates leaving things on my desk, which was right inside the door, and I was arrogant and insulting about it. One night I came back from work and found that my roommates had gone out scavenging and had come back with as many strange things as they could find, including a no parking sign, and filled my desk to overflowing with this junk. I was furious. But when I faintly got the desk cleared off I softened up and told them that I got the point. My complaints stopped. After all, they were nice guys and they didn't do that because they hated me.
A colleague and I were invited to speak to a group of high school seniors who had just seen the play we were performing. During the discussion one of the boys asked what it would take to be an actor. I responded by asking him if he was considering a life in the theatre, and he said "mildly." My colleague said "Well, if you're thinking about it mildly don't think about it." The boy was stunned. I said a few words to soften the blow but I had to agree with what my fellow actor said and the boy needed to hear it.
What does the mother think when she's about to take a hairbrush to her kid's backside, or the father who is about to wallop his son? I don't know. But I know that the clear light of wisdom that you won't take from a parent, a teacher or a significant other can often come through to you from a loving friend's virtual slap in your self-righteous face. I've even got some healthy rough lip from some of my Jland friends when I've moaned about life's injustices.
What good is a friend if he doesn't beat up on you every now and then.

Xenophilic Xylograph

Xenophilic Xylograph

If you love me give me music.

DB - The Vagabond

This Vagabond is one strange dude, you know what I mean? He's got stacks of books and magazines all over his apartment. They're in the corners, up against the walls, everywhere. And they're all philosophy, history, psychology and stuff. I only found a couple of novels.
And where there are no books he has paintings. He paints pictures and tucks them into plastic bags here and there.
He told me that he spent his working life as an actor. Imagine that! That's got to show some lack of common sense right there. He says he's an artist. Well, lah-de-dah.
So am I when you get right down to it, but you don't hear me bragging about it.
And as if that weren't bad enough, he listens to classical music and opera (especially Wagner!). I mean what kind of a nut case is this? Who wants to listen to screechy sopranos singing in a language you don't understand?
I went to visit him one afternoon and he was listening to some hunk of junk in German about a dragon and a guy with a sword who listens to the birds. I asked him, "Do you really like this crap?" You know what he said to me? He said,"Yes. I really like this 'crap'." There's obviously something wrong upstairs.
But dig this. He told me he first started listening to opera when he was 6 years old. SIX ! ! ! If that isn't weird, what is? He said his was sitting in a car with his 16 year old brother who was turning the dials of the radio looking for a jazz station when it just happened to hit on the opera broadcast. He says he jumped forward from the back seat and asked his brother what it was. His brother told him it was the Saturday afternoon opera broadcast. So every Saturday afternoon he got with the family radio and listened, all the way through, even if he didn't understand any of it. And he still does that even to this day over 60 years later.
See what I mean? This guy's a kook.
Now he's retired from show business (more likely sent out to pasture because he's to old to play leading men now, if that's what he was doing, which I doubt). And he lives in some small town somewhere and writes essays on things he thinks he knows something about. But I ask you what could a retired actor and classical music freak ever know about anything?
I've known some crazy people in my day, but this Vagabond character takes the fruitcake.

Yearning Yield

Yearning Yield

What's the use of it taking so long
to learn life's lessons
if not to teach us patience.

DB - The Vagabond
When you're young you rush to get it done. When you're old you dwell on the doing of it. I'm reminded of the story about the boy who planted a seed and then kept digging it up to see of it had started to put down a root. That seed didn't have a chance. Things take as long as they take and we have to give them their natural time.
This is quite strikingly true in the arts. The creative process goes on no matter what. We can assist it along but we can't rush it. Impatience has reduced a lot of great ideas into a bucket of trash.
As a painter I've found that the process is often a form of dialogue. It's a dialogue between the artist and the painting. But it is also, strangely, a dialogue between the painting and itself. The shapes and colors have to live with each other and come to terms before the painting starts telling the artist what needs to be done.
In acting it's similar to a digging process. Rehearing, reading the play, learning the lines, mentally going over the lines, repetition all uncover more and more of the play and give the actor increasing levels of experience to bring to the role.
Inexperienced actors who aren't that familiar with the creative process to trust it tend to rush the development of their roles which may look and sound nice but don't get far below the surface.
I was in a show once with one of those. She was very pretty and looked great on the stage, but she didn't really act the role as well as she could. The older actress in the company said to me one day that the girl had worked out her entire performance in the first week and was waiting fo the rest of us to catch up.
Another problem to be encountered in theatre is an impatient director. Many directors don't realize that because they have seen the play so many times in rehearsal it begins to look slow to them and so they start in on the actors to "pick up the pace." Good actors know about pace. We are aware of it all the time. We never want a show to lag, especially if it's a gloomy tragedy. I have, on occasion, seen a good production go bad because the director was forcing the actors to go too fast.
I had an audition one day with a director who kept snapping his fingers while I was reading the audition speech. I was glad to get out of there and I told my agent that if they wanted to call me back I wouldn't go. If that director was so mpatient during an audition, I can't even imagine what he would be like in rehearsal.

Immense Information

Immense Information

The human race cannot exist with nuclear weapons.

Icchio Itoh

Halloween is coming. I recall one Halloween in NYC when I saw a young boy go into a grocery store and purchase a dozen eggs. I thought nothing of it until I saw him carefully remove the eggs from the carton and put them in a plastic bag. He started to walk into the park. I asked him what he was going to do with the eggs. He said they were for defense. I asked him what he meant by that and he replied that if the other guy throws eggs at him he would have some to throw back. I said that it wasn't defense. He looked quizzically.
So I reasoned if the guy throws an egg at you and you throw one back then he knows you have eggs. Maybe next time he'll throw a stone and that means you have to collect some stones to throw back. Now what if he gets some of his buddies to help him collect his stones and throw them? Then you have to get some of your buddies to help you. And what if one of his buddies brings a slingshot? Now the stones are coming fast, and they hurt. Now what will you do if you don't have a slingshot? Maybe you get a bow and some arrows for protection. But when they see the arrows coming one of them gets a gun and fires it back. You have to get a gun. Now things are getting very dangerous and someone gets shot. That has to be paid back by someone on the other side being shot and maybe killed. Now, all of a sudden there's gang warfare. And it all started with an egg
The best thing to do if the eggs start flying is to put up a barricade, or stay home.

So here we are ready to blow each other off the face of the globe in the name of "protection," "defense," "securing our freedoms."

"Peace in the world
Or the world in pieces."
Pete Seeger

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Zig Zag

Zig Zag

Always know where the back door is.

DB - The Vagabond

I have often found that the best way out of a bad situation is not necessarily the same way you got into it. Back peddling is the tactic used most of the time, but it doesn't always work, and at worst it leaves one open to accusations of hypocrisy and infidelity. And breaking through a wall to make an exit is harmful and causes a lot of resentment. Knowing where the rear exit is is the best plan.
Being a bit claustrophobic myself, I always want to know what my means of escape are in case I want to leave a place. I was very uncomfortable when I had to work in the hermetically sealed office buildings in New York. I worked in the World Trade Center a few times and though it was very comfortable when you were in there, trying to get in or out was an indication of how ill equipped it was to allow for easy egress.
In concert with the sealed up office buildings was the sealed mentality that ran many of the businesses that tried to function in them. That was another thing I needed to escape from. Many of the people I met in those environments reminded me of Bob Newhart's "Buttoned Down Mind." Suits were wearing men rather than the other way around. I could sit there in a cubicle doing ridiculous things and tell myself how important they were. In my files I have some minutes of a Board Of Directors meeting. One paragraph clearly states: "Dress down Friday was discussed and all agreed it was a great success. The Board voted unanimously to have it discontinued." Quick! Where's the back door?!
Sometimes you can find the back door in a contract. Many a game has been lost because the winner knew the rules and the loser did not. A good agent will always negotiate an "out clause" into a contract simply to allow for getting out of a bad situation.
I gave my notice at a radio station I was working for. The boss was resentful and wanted to know where my loyalty was. When I signed up there was guaranteed job security. But the contract was renegotiated and firing without cause was inserted. I had to explain to him that if you take away job security you also take away employee loyalty. They go together. He wasn't bright enough to understand that.
Once in my life I was fired. It was from an actng job. But the vacuum heads who ran the theatre didn't know what they were doing and I had to go into the office and show them how to fire me. They didn't know about a termination clause in the contract, that I could work for two more weeks if they wanted me to, or they had to give me two weeks severance pay, and they had to provide transportation back to my home. It was all in the contract, which they never read. I was the one being fired and I had to teach them how to do it. You see why I have a sense of humor?
There were a few other sticky things they didn't know about and when all the legal mumble jumble was finished they probably wish they hadn't decided to do it. But I didn't care. I didn't like that job anyway. Firing people was not the only thing they were ignorant about.
I showed them the back door and had them hold it open for me while I made my exit.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Wisdom Within

Labor to keep alive in your breast
that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

George Washington
A fond hello friend.

One of the things I regret the most from my youth was having to make unfair and unnecessary adaptations in my speech and attitudes in order to accommodate the people around me. If I expressed my own opinion about something it was usually belittled, ridiculed and criticized. Furthermore, it was generally agreed upon by everyone that until a person reached the age of 21 he was completely incapable of thinking for himself. So that when I did make a statement I heard a scornful "Oh, is that so." or "Where did you hear that?" or other such comments. People thought they were correcting me when all they were doing was disagreeing with me.

In order to protect myself from this moral misdemeanor I learned, early on not only to keep my mouth shut but to act like I agreed with everyone. I got so good at it that I actually convinced myself that I believed in certain things that weren't true. I didn't realize then what a betrayal of myself I was causing.

I began to believe that certain behavior was all right because the group of people I was with behaved that way. I developed prejudices and biases that were based on nothing. I formed attitudes about things that conformed to those around me. I did whatever I needed to so that I would be approved of and not criticized and harshly judged by others. In short I gave myself away.

I did make friends, real ones. And at first I was puzzled by why they approved of things that I had convinced myself were wrong. But slowly my horizon began to change. I was actually opening up some closed doors in my own thinking and to accept ideas tht had been hidden behind them gathering dust. I started to ask myself what I really thought about something and to reason it out rather than to fall back on a safe and previous attitude. My words became better and less judgmental and my behavior improved. I was discovering my conscience.

I felt vigorous about leaving the unreasonable behind and standing on better moral ground. Rather than to conform, I became a vagabond. Rather than to satisfy the normality, I became an artist. And rather than agree with the inane I found a sense of humor.

Such a thing doesn't happen overnight. It takes a life.

The Vagabond

May you always have enough hay for your horse and wood for your stove.