Two Traditions

Eight twenty five.

I’ll leave for the store at nine o’clock this morning. It’s been drizzling overnight, though I didn’t hear a thing. I should probably read Montaigne and Proust, whose pioneering examples I seem to be following in a modest way. The daylight is so colorless and void; I kind of miss the snow we got after Christmas, the way it lit up everything. As it is now, there’s hardly a sign of life. But I hear a mourning dove somewhere nearby, cooing softly like a diurnal owl. It’s a good day to stay in and read a book, but I still have to go to market for my foodstuffs…

Nine thirty. As I came upon the crosswalk worksite I felt afraid, so I asked myself why. I didn’t have a satisfactory answer, though I still went forward and dealt with the obstacle in my way. It was a relief to get to the parking lot and go inside Community Market, where Cathy was just stocking the deli cooler with sandwiches and salads. She and Heather were very nice to me; in fact, I can’t complain about anyone’s behavior today. I sometimes catch myself being paranoid, so then I run back to my rationality, hoping that other people have their own sense of reason and logic. Without this, civilization is impossible; the American Dream is unattainable. Some believe that the Bible is our Constitution, but our founders were Enlightenment thinkers, actually closer to science than religion. And then I remember the poetry of Anne Bradstreet, a colonial Puritan who deferred all personal happiness to the hereafter, while earthly life was to be restrained and pious. She reputedly was the first American poet. So, what is the spirit of America after all? It depends on whom you ask and what tradition they follow. America is the mirror of its people. 

All Saints’ Day

Four thirty in the morning.

The night is so long it’s ridiculous. I think I’ve done all the sleeping I could. I awoke to the tune of “Cult of Personality” by Living Color, perhaps the best Black heavy metal band ever. I don’t remember what other dreams I had during the night. The service for All Saints’ Day felt pretty weird to me; kind of like “The Altar of the Dead.” Photographs of dead people, candles, and photographs of the photographs, while the assembly prayed to keep them alive in heaven. A sort of magic spell to make us feel better about death. “Parting is all we know of heaven / And all we need of hell.” Dickinson’s agnosticism makes more sense to me than self deluding tricks. It is also more honest. But at the same time, it took me ten years to get over losing my mother. I guess I was kind of sleepwalking yesterday at the service; there was no one I was grieving for. Now I have to wait two more hours until daylight, but the store opens at six o’clock on weekdays. Suddenly I feel tired again. Either wake up with a Snapple tea or go back to bed and rest for a while. The night has been incredibly long… and this brings to my mind “Matte Kudesai” by King Crimson, such an exquisite little piece of music, owing mostly to Robert Fripp’s rhythm guitar line.

Seven thirty. I took so long picking out the chicken strips for Aesop that I totally forgot to buy his canned food, so now I have to run back to the store again. The sky is clear now, with the sun just peeking over the housetops to the east. I regret being absentminded in church yesterday morning; I hadn’t had my caffeine yet, wasn’t very alert. It was actually a fascinating ritual to watch, and it made me ponder about how people deal with death. I probably avoided it by drinking a lot of alcohol for fifteen years. The one question I remember having regarding my mother was why I still remained here after she had gone. It made no sense to me. 

“We Acknowledge One Baptism”

Quarter of four in the morning.

My life has been like going from the monastery to the world at large since the Covid crisis hit the United States. I suppose that’s just as well, yet still I fear for my sobriety every day. Does it make any difference that I’ve been baptized with the Lutherans? 

I can remember the October morning of that event nearly four years ago, a day of torrential and constant rain when I felt barely awake. The deluge had formed huge gutter ponds at a couple of intersections. I got my feet wet in at least one of them as I gripped my green and yellow Duck umbrella against the elemental onslaught. The color of the sky was charcoal gray, but in retrospect, not unfriendly to mortals. Amazing to realize that I hadn’t yet started my antipsychotic medication: consciousness felt like a weird dream. During the ceremony, I recall how I was called upon to renounce the ways of the devil— which forever set up this dichotomy of church and the fallen world outside the sanctuary. Very strange and archaic, a ritual reaching back half a millennium. And I was a part of it! My mother had never done such a thing as this. When the pastor asked me afterwards if I felt different, I thought it was a trick question.

Five o’clock. Now I see the predawn twilight outside my window, a powder gray foreshadowing. Still I don’t know if I’m going to church this morning; today is not four years in the past, it is inalterably here and now. It’s very important to trust myself as the sun comes up on another summer’s day. 

From an Amateur

Seven fifty five.

Today is a church day. I’m not sure how I feel right now. I saw a young Black woman at the market, which used to be rather rare during the last presidency, a very regrettable four years. It’s amazing what can be done when enough people agree to something, like fascism or building the border wall. With time, it gets to be the accepted norm and it settles into a tradition. Tradition can be used as a rationale for anything, from stoning to lynching, whether or not it’s right.

Quarter of nine. I’m feeling uncomfortable physically and somewhat nervous. I don’t want to read the lessons for the assembly today.

Quarter of noon. Home again. I feel kind of tired, so I’m a little doubtful about having practice this afternoon… The service was just okay. The sermon dealt with the Trinity, almost like a lecture on logic, was rather convoluted and likely lost on most of the congregation. I think a Unitarian system makes more sense because it’s simpler, and pantheism is a great idea: God, like Love, is one essence and is present in everything. But no one asked for my amateur opinion on theology, so take it for what it is. Meanwhile, the clouds have passed on and the sunshine is strong. If we have practice late enough today I might be able to swing it. 

Halloween





The night of Walpurgis is coming soon,

All Hallows’ Eve upon a witch’s broom;

No action of the Grinch could stop it now

Nor Goodman Brown annul his wedding vow.

Deep in New England woods the sabbath calls

The autographs in cryptic bloody scrawls

Within the black book of dark forest man,

Excluding not one member of the clan.

And whether or not the legend is a hoax,

The Headless Horseman gallops through old oaks

To terrorize poor Ichabod and you

So everyone had better believe it, too.

Believe it to be safe, the rumor goes,

Or end up in a limbo no one knows. 

Monkey Do

I never have done the Black Friday thing. Leave that to the rat racers, the ones who don’t think outside of the box. Lemmings over the cliff. Follow the leader. No one thinks to ask who sets the trend. Or if they know, then they still want to be or look like that person. Trends and traditions are strange things. People are monkey see monkey do. Doesn’t anybody rely on herself to judge?

In the bass guitar world, every player thinks there has to be a precedent for what you do. If it wasn’t done by James Jamerson or Jaco Pastorius or someone else famous, then it’s not worth doing. What would flatwound strings sound like on a Jazz Bass? People would say oh no, you can’t do that. Only on a Precision Bass because that’s what Jamerson did. People don’t use their own ears to determine what sounds good. How about using a thumping technique on a P Bass rather than a J Bass or Music Man? Some would say oh no; but in fact, Louis Johnson used to thump a Precision Bass sometimes. How do I know that? Because I recognize the tone of a Fender Precision. Because I trust my ears. When you listen, you’ll hear a lot of slapping on basses other than a Jazz or Music Man. I had a sound engineer once tell me that the Rickenbacker I was using got some good trebly tones. But she was relying solely on the reputation of the instrument. The fact was that I had heard much brighter sounds from other specimens. After about 1985, the manufacturer designed the pickup differently for a darker tone.

And the same for Black Friday. Ever try yellow mustard on a chili burger? It’s very good, though people may say you can’t do that…

Bah Humbug

Eleven o’clock. I was far too stressed out to care about Halloween, and now it’s over. Call me a selfish party pooper if you will. I don’t give a shit. Life is too short to spend it someone else’s way, and that’s what conformity is. I think Christmas is a stupid commercial thing too. The fascinating thing about it all is that the whole world does it, or at least knows about it. Is this the power of tradition? Or rather is there a truth behind the observance? If the onion has no center, then why bother to peel it? I don’t think holidays are something understood by reason. If they were, then we would probably dispense with them. I am all for the individual, always, and screw the collective. It is much better to be loved by one person intimately than by a strange impersonal ritual. I believe in deep connections, not shallow meaningless ones. You either crave intimacy or you run away from it. My big blue eyes bore right through you. Are you the type who needs popularity to consider yourself a success? Or instead can you bare your soul to another person and to the universe, pitching away all pretense? Humbug to Halloween and Christmas; after the show is over, what do you come home to? The world is cold and fearful. Look into your heart for meaning. And admit no impediment to the marriage of true minds.