I’ve played guitar and keyboard for many years. I’m quite experienced and confident in my playing, but my performances at local coffee shops have consisted entirely of playing “covers,” and it’s getting a bit embarrassing that I haven’t yet written my own songs (even though I do my own arrangements of the songs I sing). As I’ve forced myself to actually start writing songs with lyrics, I’ve become fascinated with the process. This interview with James Taylor offers lots of food for thought.
At this point, I’ve written two songs with lyrics. I do like the result, but it has taken dozens of hours to get these tunes to a point where I find them acceptable. I don’t know whether there is any way to speed up the process. It does feel, though, that I’m a the beginning of a compelling adventure.
I had a wonderful visit with a friend yesterday. She and I have been friends ever since we attended law school together in the late 1970’s. We had an engaging conversation in her living room. I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable visit. We traded numerous stories and observations, sharing more than a few laughs. As I was traveling back home, it occurred to me that we accomplished this without any of the following:
Handing each other gifts;
Dressing up in fancy clothing;
Blinking lights, ornaments or decorations;
A television turned on;
Singing or listening to ritualistic songs;
Eating special food or drinks;
Making unsupportable claims about events that happened 2,000 years ago.
Instead, we celebrated a friendship and took an active interest in each other’s lives. This is an activity that can be enjoyed simultaneously by small or larger groups of good-hearted thoughtful people. In fact, some of my favorite moments this year have involved
Recently, another friend of mine mentioned that her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because it is the holiday most devoid of commercialism and religiosity and jingoism. I mostly agree, but even Thanksgiving has been clouded with commercialism, obsessions with spectator sports, and the perceived need to display ourselves through decorations, special clothing and special food. To be fair, I do enjoy the spread of food one encounters at Thanksgiving, but it is a secondary consideration to the occasion. What would be more meaningful as a Thanksgiving celebration: A big feast without anyone to share it with, or a room full of special people without special food?
I would like to nominate Non-Holiday Spontaneous Visiting as my favorite “holiday,” because it is this “holiday” that gets even closest to the core of the most important part of what makes us humans at our best.
What can you do to be a better writer? Stephen Pinker offers some excellent advice, and Eric Barker puts it into summary fashion, peppering the ideas with useful links.
The beauty of Barker’s posts is that the links tend to lead you to rich clusters of new links. One of the links from this post lead me to a link on how to be a better story teller. The person interviewed is UCLA Film School Professor Howard Suber. Here’s a captivating bit of advice:
Every so often in my personal life with friends, I’ll have somebody who will be telling me, it’s usually over a meal, about they’re in a relationship, and it’s in trouble and this trouble has been going on for some time, often years, and it’s now heading for a crisis. And it’s one of those things where you know sort of, even though they don’t verbalize it, they’re asking, “What do you think? What do you think I should do?”
And after listening to the narrative for a while, every so often, I’ll say, “What movie are you living now?” And it always produces the same response. The person is startled because it sounds initially like a trivial question. They’re usually telling the story with considerable agony, and so they kind of freeze like a deer. And then their eyes rotate, usually upwards to the right, which is where a lot of people go when they’re searching their memory bank, and then they’ll laugh.
That’s the important point of this, and they’ll laugh and say, “The Exorcist,” or something like that. And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them.
While on the topic of Barker, this might be my favorite of his many posts: “Which Old Sayings are True?”
One more: Barker summarizes a study on the importance of sleep. Stunning results:
By the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
It’s a good first step, as presented in the NYT:
Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.
I rarely write poetry, but I’m finding myself in new territory these days (divorce, new home and several other related changes), feeling some angst when it would seem that I mostly have cause to celebrate new perspectives and opportunities. I’ve often joked that I experience this sort of distressed happiness because of my gypsy roots. Friends tell me that this is the plight of control freaks and that I need to loosen up. This is my response to them.
I’ve long been fascinated with the writings of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. I made his theory of the flux the focus of my poem.
The Joyride of Becoming
Erich Vieth (2014)
Heraclitus wasn’t fooled when people talked about
All is flux, he proclaimed.
“You cannot step into the same river twice.”
Now that Life has hurled me out of my self-conjured comfort,
Every moment whispers that Heraclitus is correct;
the world is permeated with universal acid.
This is not a philosopher’s word game.
I feel it in my ever-morphing bones.
Every thing is
a nonstop dance of destruction and creation.
Every cloud, creature and canyon a ghostly multiverse,
a sprawling swirling that runs through our feeble stop signs,
ignoring these empty-shell words we try to use as hooks
to stabilize our vivid imaginings.
Even my steadfast dog threatens to become an ontological metaphor.
The SuperFlux gives rise to joys that will inevitably threaten
and dangers that will someday delight–
A roiling process that moves in and on in a thousand ways
On both sides of our skins and skulls,
whether we are ready or not.
Failure to heed this fact that all nouns are verbs
tempts us to walk
with undue swagger
and blurt out false promises.
Yes, some things change less noticeably, mostly
things that don’t cry,
though all things eventually crack, crumble
It is our friends, lovers
and central truths that are
the fastest fire and water:
Even though they look the same from day to day, they are
self-extinguishing works in progress
that we struggle to know
only through sparks and splatters.
Trying to possess them is to try to embrace
dancing flames and swift whirlpools.
Act, we must. Judge, we must,
or we would quickly die.
We are told that to live well
we must know well,
though we are irretrievably smeared
across all that is.
Even that magic three-pound organ in our head
cannot wrap itself around the impossibility of this daily task.
Taking this plight seriously risks
If only I could better convince myself
to go with the flow.
As we pause to drink water molecules previously drunk
by Jesus, Cleopatra and Heraclitus, we become
We summon up courage as a substitute for knowledge
and we have faith that all Motion is Progress,
whistling while rearranging our decaying deck chairs,
over and over
that it is the Blobs in this lava lamp that are stably
rather than the process.
I’ve soured on Sam Harris over the years, but I still find him to be highly articular and engaging.
In recent weeks, some friends have indicated that I look absorbed and even anxious, even though my life is filled with joys and possibilities. I have been told that I have tied myself in knots, and I have heard, “You need to get out of your own way.” For the umpteenth time, it has been suggested that I consider meditation in order to clear my mind.
You can learn about meditation in many places. I’ve read articles and even a book on meditation. Today, I stumbled across this video by Sam Harris, who has long been an advocate of meditation. The fact that he is also well versed in cognitive science caused me to be interested in his approach to meditation. This is a 26 minute guided meditation. I found myself surprisingly able to hang onto the process and to escape some of the things that have been distracting me as I viewed this video. I’m going to come back to this several more times, while I continue to explore personal meditation.
There’s an awfully large amount of money being spent on special gluten free products. How many of the people who buy these products really need them? According to this article on Buzzfeed, not many. The most memorable passages from this article:
17 million people may unnecessarily believe that they are gluten-sensitive. (Source: A Mayo Clinic survey in 2012, cited in a NY Times article.)
[We] spent $10.5 billion last year on gluten-free products. (Source: Mintel, a market research company, cited in the NY Times article.)
It is especially important because a psychological disease can spread as fast as any virus but be more enduring.
A 2012 Mayo Clinic survey concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have Celiac disease. Only 1.8 million people should be on a non-gluten diet. Compare this to the 18 million people who consider themselves “gluten sensitive”
According to this article many of the people who spend lots of money on gluten-free products, gluten serves as a “nocebo,” defined below by Wikipedia:
a nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”) is a harmless substance that creates harmful effects in a patient who takes it. The nocebo effect is the negative reaction experienced by a patient who receives a nocebo. Conversely, a placebo is an inert substance that creates either a positive response or no response in a patient who takes it. The phenomenon in which a placebo creates a positive response in the patient to which it is administered is called the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is less well-studied and well-known, by both scientists and the public, than the placebo effect.
What’s the evidence that gluten is not detrimental to most people who are committed to gluten free products?
This disease is largely self-diagnosed, and studies are starting to show that it may be real in a great number of cases. Professor and scientist Peter Gibson is no stranger when it comes to studying gluten. He did a study in 2011 that gave a lot of credit to the belief in (non-Celiac) gluten sensitivity. Seeing that NCGS had become a worldwide phenomenon, he revisited the topic in 2013 with a critical look at the original assumptions. These are the measures he took to validate his results:
Subjects were given every single meal for the duration of the study.Any other potential causes of bad stomach symptoms were removed from the diet. (Think lactose from milk.) Just in case you do not think he was serious, Peter collected nine days worth of urine and fecal matter. (Now that’s a topic of conversation.) The results were pretty shocking. They concluded that gluten in no way could have caused any of the negative symptoms that the subjects were suffering from.
Most claims of the need to be gluten free are starting to remind me of the phenomenon of facilitated communication regarding autistics.