October 28th, 2011 § § permalink
There’s a small flock of deans where I work. They’ve decided to offer a regular time on a regular basis when they’ll make sure one or more of them is available to hear from folks about whatever those folks have on their minds. That sounds pretty good. It shows a desire to make communication easier. I don’t think they really want to hear what’s on my mind—and they don’t make it a fair risk to tell them—but, on the surface at least, it’s a nice gesture. There’s something to be said for that.
The result was a flurry of e-mails. One person saw the invitation as an occasion for bluster, and the “reply-to-all” button on their email client as a convenient megaphone.
I’m not against “reply-to-all.” It has its uses. And I’ve no problem with soap-boxing. I’ll stop to listen if the voice is a compelling one. But I do like having the choice to move on and be done with it should that voice strike me as hollow. “Reply-to-all” makes that nearly impossible. It turns the public street into an endless loop. I have to come back again and again if only to read enough to know that it is that same windy thing I want to delete.
The fellow had his withers swelled about grade inflation. It’s not a new subject, so he must have felt it was one not taken seriously enough. The invitation from the deans was to walk over and tell it to them, but that requires legwork. And it’s private. He wanted an audience.
All right. Even if I never bought the rap about grade inflation enough to care about it in the least, I figure the guy has some congestion to clear. I can live with that. And if he has to be rude and mean-spirited, I can let that pass, too. I’ve been there. Let him blow it off. Then maybe he’ll pour himself a drink with a little bite to it, put on some music, and let it all go away. That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t type it and hit “reply-to-all.”
The professoriate is a wreck. It is hidebound. As winkered by procedure and atrophied presuppositions as any rankist clergy. Sure, it will change. Everything is changing now. Technology is ahead of us. And whether you think we’re caught in the web or at home in the cloud there’s no going back unless we tear it all down and start again. More and more, the professoriate puts on the uniform of the corporate structures it serves. Some members pay lip-service to resisting that direction; others welcome it. Those in opposition don’t fight too hard. The bargaining table is a Brahmin picnic where everyone is afraid they’ll go hungry and no one is aware of how fat they are.
Of course, the blowhard’s rant didn’t die. “Reply-to-all” is electronic chum. Fish gather.
In the itty-bitty frenzy of back and forth that followed, someone from the “hard” sciences “replied-to-all,” claiming her department does not have to be concerned about grade inflation. Half of their students are failing. That was a mark of pride. Of solid pedagogy and high standards. “How easy,” I thought. I did not hit “reply-to-all.”
I feel pretty good about my students. And though my job is a temporary one, I’ve been at this place for better than ten years. I’ve met good folks. Both on faculty and in administration—even a dean or two. Ones I admire and like. There are some loons about, too, and that pleases me. And sure, there are plenty of others who are forgettable except in their own minds, and a few who are a curse on everything living. I don’t care. Just stay out of my mailbox.
I’m not sure what it is that made me want to write this rather than spend the time working on a song, but there you have it. It might have been the invitation to talk which, while well-intentioned, was in essence personally meaningless. Maybe it was all the grade inflation nonsense—the problem has never been in the classroom. Maybe rising grades are a symptom (and I’m not swearing to it) of something else but, if so, the fault is elsewhere. Or maybe it was that “weed-them-out” mentality that reeked of a discredited (one would hope) Social Darwinism. But I’m betting it was just that “reply-to-all.” Get a blog, for God’s sake.
It could be that windbag did me favor. I’m looking around. I’m looking at my wrists and ankles. I’m smiling as I type.
October 14th, 2011 § § permalink
I am under the influence.
I should not drive a car.
I should not handle
I am under the influence.
Deeply under it.
I am under the influence of Mark Rothko.
Of the Lone Ranger and Tonto and Sky King and Fess Parker and George Reeves.
Of Mr. Wizard and Mike Mars.
Of invisible ancestors
Of Chagall, Blue Rider and Montparnasse
Of Bob Dylan and Brookyn and dead rebbes
I should not wrestle alligators
I am under the influence of the short-lived perfection of apples.
I should not climb a tree
Or plant one in the electric soil.
I am under the influence of blended whiskey.
Of day old bread dipped in six bit wine.
Of caffeine and hot sauce
And Soutine’s meat.
I am under the influence of frightened people.
I should not run with scissors.
I know that.
It would be a bad idea.
I am under the influence of a chain of springs.
Of no laughing matter, my friend.
Of hangers and needle points.
Of belt buckles.
I am under the influence of lost causes.
I am under the influence of Ashcan and Cobra.
I should not smile at babies.
I should not sail a boat, handle heavy machinery or talk to prostitutes.
I should avoid rooftops.
I should certainly
I am under the influence of innumerable breasts.
And collar bones.
Of necks stretched like the scraped residue of hash pipes.
Of cold fusion.
Of bald lies and hidden meanings.
I should not play with matches.
I should not play with strangers or my food or with words.
I should avoid accidents of letters.
I should seize my pen from my claw like a frog catching flies.
Then I should hold my tongue.
For a time.
From Spoken War
October 6th, 2011 § § permalink
Okay, so yesterday I heard some guy is going around saying I don’t give a shit. Ticked me off. I steamed over it. After all, who the hell is going to tell me I don’t give a shit? But he didn’t tell me. He said it to other folks. It just got back to me. And now I’m going have a trouble liking this guy. What a nuisance.
He seemed all right before. Didn’t know him well but wanted to. Chatted a few times. Got the impression we were simpatico, and I don’t get a hell of lot of that sense around where I live. Now, in retrospect, I guess those conversations were just politics. Okay. It’s a political world. I don’t give a shit.
Most likely I don’t give a shit about some of the same shit he gives a shit about. In the context of the universe of which he is the center, my attitude probably does come off as more general. Context, if not everything, is a lot. And there’s no accounting for universes. We all make what sense we can out of the world, and we only have our own feeble perceptual and cognitive powers by which to construct the conceits we live by. Sometimes, when I get a glimpse into one of those worlds, I’m glad there are so many others.
I don’t have a need to get along with everybody. I don’t trust people who do. But that doesn’t mean I want to do anything about them. I just take it into account. Instinctively. Beyond that, I don’t give a shit. There’s too much else to do.
I like walking with people. I like it when there’s wine and the gab is good and we’re walking and picking up stuff along the way to make a noise with. I like the improvised syncopation that happens, the joyful stumbles, the sounds of voices charged with merriment. I like the word “merriment.” But when the route is mapped and the drumbeat insistent, I prefer to slip out. I disdain neat rows. The irrefragably programmatic. The very idea of like-mindedness as the highest aspiration makes my sinuses ache.
I kind of like that “build it and they will come” concept. But when it’s married to blaming the ghosts who don’t arrive, it loses meaning. They don’t come because there is greater nourishment elsewhere, or because there is some other place in that moment where they must be to manifest more according to their own lights. That’s obvious. It ought to be respected.
So what do I give a shit about? I don’t know. I think as long as there is food in the world, everybody ought to eat. As long there’s medicine, everybody ought to have what they need. As long as there are people, everybody ought to have a friend and a lover with whom to make crazy love all the time. I think there is nothing sweeter than a kiss, and I want everyone to know what that can be, to judge for themselves. I believe the world has a lot of hardness in it, and we ought to make things easier for the next person when we can. We ought to help one another find and do what each of us loves to do because, in the end, at the heart of things, it makes all the difference. The quality of our sleep depends on it. Every morning, we leave pieces of our dreams on our pillows. These get into the air we breathe.
I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give one another, one that is within the reach of everyone to give, is encouragement. The most remarkable state of being is not to be inspired but to inspire. And I know the value of that from having been given inspiration. And whatever the temple, no matter how tempting it is to appoint oneself gatekeeper, it’s better to “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”[i]
Oh, and yeah, everything is personal. Everything. That’s probably why I was still so ticked when I started typing this. I wish I wasn’t so hot-headed sometimes. After all, it’s pretty stupid to get all fired up by hearsay. But I’m smiling now. In another couple of days, I’ll forget why I was so bothered in the first place. Maybe that means I don’t give a shit.
October 1st, 2011 § § permalink
I met Julian Beck through Jack Gelber in 1984, shortly after the Living Theater returned to New York for a run at the Joyce Theater. The press was harsh; more like ridicule than review. After 10 years of self-imposed exile and more than 30 years of relentlessly experimental work, the Living Theater was broke and broken up. When I arrived…
To read more and listen to the interview: UbuWeb Sound :: Julian Beck