Category Archives: Thinking

Zazen Earworms: “Inevitable Western” and “Cascades”

So, I haven’t been earworming much during zazen, but last night I got one. Two, actually. “Inevitable Western” by The Bad Plus and “Cascades” by Oliver Nelson. The first makes sense. I saw The Bad Plus on Sunday, and I’ve been writing about that (and meeting them) for my Guitars and Geeks column. I hadn’t purchased the album Inevitable Western prior to the show because I wanted to see it live first. So when they played the title track to the album, it was the first time I’d heard it.

It was stunning.

It’s my new favorite by The Bad Plus. It’s been in my head a lot. There’s a fragility, a loneliness, an associative holding together of notes that is oceanic. The more I listen to it, the more my heart expands.

On the heels of this, somehow, “Cascades” by Oliver Nelson started up. It surfaced unexpectedly–I was actually startled when I heard the horns. Somehow, it made sense, because this song, born of a scales exercise, has the same associative fragility. It doesn’t seem like it at first (the horns are assertive, without being aggressive. Confident. They know where they’re going). But the same associative quality is what holds the song together and makes it more than scales.

While “Cascades” knows where it’s going, “Inevitable Western” ends up where it is going. “Inevitable Western” is the sonic equivalent of amor fati, and “Cascades” is Nostradamus. But the fate of character and the fate of prophecy are often the same: fated.

I watched and listened to these songs until they merged together, making something new, something wondrous. Something inevitably foretold.




Writing Mush

I’m trying to write about seeing The Bad Plus last night, and fangirling, and jazz, and I have turned my brain to mush. I have writing mush brain. I’ve spent too long trying to get the sentence just right, the paragraph just right, the ideas just right, and now the words are becoming less like lightning, and more like lightning bugs.

I think writer’s mush is far more insidious than writer’s block. I’m more daunted by a page full of crap than a blank page. I know that many people have the opposite problem. But an empty bowl vs. a big bowl of crap? I’ll take the empty bowl every time.

The only thing to do with writer’s mush is walk away–the opposite, really, of writers’ block. I must relinquish this idea for today, but it’s sooo hard to put it down.

Hence this post. Something different. Something new. Something to use to let go.

For now.



Zazen Earworms: “Weigh” by Phish

So, I haven’t updated my zazen earworms, but that’s not because I haven’t had any. I had the theme song from The Goonies the other day (more Cyndi Lauper) and “Afternoons & Coffeespoons” by the Crash Test Dummies (shortly following an email exchange with Brad Roberts, who is a super nice guy, btw). On Monday I had a terrible stomach flu, so I didn’t zazen.

And then, tonight in meditation class, my least relevant earworm to anything I’d been listening to or thinking about noodled through my brain: “Weigh” by Phish.

So far, my earworms have been bubbling up more on the relevant side of things. But then I started thinking (after I got home, because it was enough to try to focus on breathing with “Weigh” noodling in my noodle. That was a doozy.) that “Weigh” seems to be relevant to zazen itself. My problem is always over-intellectualizing (as you can probably guess from my blogging about my zazen earworms). And what does “Weigh” begin with but cutting off a head to weigh it–cutting off the mind. The song itself is silly, but the silliness itself defies intellectualization. And the last part, about weighing options, seems to get serious but immediately reverts back to silly with the answers of 5 lbs, 6 lbs, and 7 lbs. The chorus, “why weigh on a sunny day,” is rather like saying “why obsess with overanalysis and cause yourself suffering when you can live in the present?”

Why indeed. Definitely something to think be about.

Zazen Earworms: The Imperial March

That’s right. My zazen earworm this evening was “The Imperial March” from Star Wars. If, for some ungodly reason, you are not familiar with that, it’s Darth Vader’s theme. If you still have no idea what I’m talking about, then I pity you deeply.

Few things are more disconcerting, really, then meditating and having “The Imperial March” surface. But I was thinking about my father a lot today, and discussing him a little, too, so it makes sense.

And not just because Darth Vader is Luke’s father. When I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, it must have been 1981 or 1982, because we rented it on VHS (for younger readers, that’s like a giant cassette tape for movies. I know. Crazy.). I would have been in elementary school then. And I vividly remember the moment when Darth Vader revealed his father-ness and cut off Luke’s hand. I watched in horror, and empathy, and discovery. My dad wasn’t the only dad who sucked. Luke’s dad sucked, too. I wasn’t alone.

So while it was startling to hear “The Imperial March” surface, it’s not really surprising with how much I’ve been thinking of my dad today. He crept through my zazen this evening in all sorts of various random burbling thoughts and memories. And I let each one surface.

And then I let each one go.

Zazen Earworms

I’m starting a regular zazen practice (Zen Buddhist meditation. Sit and stare at a wall. Breathe.) and every single time I sit down to sit, various songs immediately start up in my brain.

I’m sure this is common for music lovers. Watching my thoughts surface and swim and float away is one thing. That’s hard. Breathe. Focus. Sometimes I count my breath. But the earworms? Those things are insidious. Focusing on a  sound in the room, like a slight rhythm to an air conditioner, can help. But sometimes it surfaces a new earworm.

I’m intrigued (and rather amused) by which songs surface and assert their presence during zazen. So I’m going to list today’s earworms, in order of appearance.

1. Time after Time–Cyndi Lauper

2. Punk Rock Girl–Dead Milkmen

3. Cashmere–Nerf Herder

4. Mr. Spock–Nerf Herder

I’m not sure I have any commentary about any of these, but there they were, and they’re all still kind of mushing around in my brain. I’m guessing the double Nerf Herder is from the massive amount of listening I’ve given them lately and the Cyndi Lauper is from the recent rediscovery I’ve made of She’s So Unusual. “Punk Rock Girl,” however, was completely random. I’m mystified as to where that one came from. And why these songs? I’m sure I can’t tell you.

(Un)Happiness Culture

I’ve recently discovered that there are apps to boost one’s happiness.

Now, for people that are unhappy (not the same as depressed, I’ll emphasize), that could very well be a good thing. But it seems like there is a sudden prevalence of apps, techniques, articles, studies, and so forth that are all aimed at teaching people to be happier.

I have no beef with happiness. I like happiness. I am all for happiness. But I have a few questions.

Are people actually unhappy?  Or am I just seeing a lot of happiness focused ads because I meditate and do yoga and I’m likely part of some demographic for some advertiser somewhere?

If people are actually unhappy, then why? I see a lot of people on my Facebook feed participating in gratitude and positivity challenges, which are, incidentally, a way to increase one’s happiness. But I have no idea why these people are unhappy (but then again, why would I? It’s not like they post about that on Facebook, which, as research is now showing, itself makes people unhappy).

Which brings me to this question: Does our culture create unhappiness? Is the happiness trend a form of backlash against unhappiness culture, or a way to monetize it?





Construction Debris

Please excuse the mess as I move things around, add, archive, etc.

What I’m going for is more “project/object,” and less “sporadic ideas that never fully gelled.”

My big plan is the Thing a Week section (inspired by Jonathan Coulton, Noah Scalin, and Parry Gripp). So stay tuned for whatever happens there.