The Daddy Scratch

Her name is Toby Brownie Sunflower Noodle Poodle, but mostly I call her Poodlah, (rhymes with good, huh!), Pood (rhymes with food), Noodlius, or Poodlius. When she misbehaves (she excels), it’s generally “Noodlius”, preceded by “goddammit”. I believe she interprets “goddammit Noodlius” as “good girl”, because she always hears it when she is rolling around in, or eating, rabbit poop, or getting into someone’s pocket where they keep their snotty tissues, or any of many other violations. If you ever visit me, take care where you set your beer (if having) and maintain situational awareness of your cannabis (if any) at all times.

A couple years back I was home from Germany for Christmas, lying on the couch in gastronarcosis from some cooking and/or eating related extravaganza. I loved living in Germany, and enjoyed adapting my cooking to the different types of ingredients I could easily get, but being back in the land of large packages of familiar ingredients led me to some excess, measured in freezerfuls of leftovers from well-attended feasts. If I remember correctly, I had several gallons of clam chowder simmering, or was perhaps braising a gigantic bone-in pork butt. Anyway, the Pood was stretched out on the corner of the sofa back that had originally been squashed down into a poodle perch by the late and most excellent Daisy Noodle Poodle. I grew tired of whatever I was reading, or awoke from a nap or something, and invited her to climb down on top of The Daddy. She has a way of stabbing her front legs down onto my chest from above, then sort of hopping her back legs off the back of the couch onto my beer belly. Oof.

I could just barely reach down with both my arms stretched out to scratch at her backbone just above her tail. Tiny little finger motions like parting your hair down the middle. I gradually worked my way up to the back of her neck, sometimes going down her flanks but mainly concentrating on her spine. I managed to locate one area just a little bit above her tail, where scratching it just right led to her giving the cutest little quiet grunts. This was the first time I had done this particular move. Mrs. Dean, reading in the comfy chair across the Persian rug from the couch noticed and remarked upon the cuteness of the grunting. I kept repeating my tail to neck massage, and every time I hit that sweet spot I elicited happy vocalizations. Eventually a timer went off and I had to venture into the kitchen to attend to my pre- and post- gluttony duties. The Pood was perhaps reluctant be heaved off my stomach.

Over the next couple of weeks, I found that cute noise elicitation via Daddy Scratch was not a slam dunk. Sometimes there was no noise, sometimes different spots were sweet. One regularity was that a strenuous hike would set the stage for a chorus of different happy grunts, elicited from multiple potential sweet spots. Toby has many admirers who are pleased to provide her with, or witness her being provided with, ecstasy, and I found it gratifying to demonstrate the Daddy Scratch to all who would enjoy it.

I returned to Germany after that Christmas, having gotten my covid paperwork in order (not everybody at the gate had, alas for them), but was back the next Christmas and then back for good a few months after that. The Pood was very happy to receive these bursts of Daddy Scratch, but now she gets them several times a day. About half the time with the satisfying grunts.

Stock Split

Last Winterfest, my main Christmas present was an Instant Pot, collectively given by The Rellies. For my part, I got everybody a safety vest and a handy microplane grater (we had arranged this transaction months previously, as I am hard to buy for and hate shopping). A few days later, I remembered, barely in time, an impending Space 2.0 rocket landing. With amazing luck, I activated the live SpaceX feed a handful of seconds before the landing burn. I was so elated to have not missed it that I posted about my coincidence-joy to my historic mailing list. The succeeding conversation turned, with internal logic, into a discussion of the Mexican stew pozole, and how I have been making my chicken stock. Now that I actually have an Instant Pot, perhaps I should switch over to that as my stock pot. Thus, the following side-by-side comparison:

Here I compare two batches of chicken stock, one made according to my original procedure (OP), the other employing the Instant Pot (IP) instead.

I obtained two cold rotisserie chickens from the local supermarket, refrigerating them immediately after getting them home. The next day, I weighed each chicken, picked and weighed its meat, then froze the carcasses.

Some time later I prepared equal quantities of onions (quartered), carrots (halved lengthwise and cut into lengths), and celery (prepared as were the carrots).

OP chicken stock was made by placing one frozen carcass in a 5 qt pot, just covering it with water, then adding the remaining ingredients once a steady low boil was obtained. Once the steady low boil resumed after ingredient addition, cooking proceeded for three hours. IP chicken stock was made by placing one frozen carcass in a 6 qt Instant Pot, just covering with water, adding the remaining ingredients, pressure cooking for 1 hr, and releasing pressure after 20 min. For each preparation, the cooked material was filtered through a coarse kitchen sieve, boiled down to a final volume of just under 1 c, then brought to a final volume of 1 c with hot water. The reduced stock was then poured into a pyrex container, allowed to cool to near room temperature, and refrigerated overnight. Fat and scum were scraped off of the cooled stock, and it was remelted. The lower volume batch was brought to the same volume as the higher. Each batch was then poured back into a clean Pyrex storage container, allowed to cool and refrigerated.

The IP stock was darker in color, suggesting increased extraction of soluble components versus the OP stock. It was also much stiffer, as indicated by much lower jiggle when given a gentle shake, suggesting a higher gelatin concentration, consistent with increased extraction of soluble components. It was much more sensuous to carve off bits of it for ad hoc dishes or my usual fare.

Rather than continue with further experiments – making double batches of my usual fare and having blind taste tests and what not, I have simply adopted IP as my chicken stock method of choice. I did a similar experiment with pork butt (the pig is an animal whose shoulder is also its butt), but my local megamart carries butt only in about 10 lb bone-in pieces, which needs further annoying butchering in order to fit half of it into an Instant Pot, so for now I am sticking with a simple braise of the whole butt in a big pot and boiling down and skimming the drippings.


I visited the Bowers Chili Festival, mainly for the U-pick component, although we did wander through the super-spreader component. Here is a bit of a photo essay taking you through some of the steps of what happened after I got home with 8-ish pounds of chili peppers. First I dried them at 165° F in my convection oven. I then converted them to cut-up pepper bits that I toasted in a cast-iron skillet, loosing the stems and most of the seeds along the way. Then I converted them to powder with a coffee-whacker. In the future, I will probably go directly from fresh peppers to cut-up bits, as the drying process for whole peppers is pretty long.

One thing I like to do is just open my jars of chili powder and smell them. Generally I do this by taking off the lid and holding it under my nose and inhaling therethrough. Something is different about making powder from freshly dried peppers, or from these particular peppers: it needed more of a chemistry class “hold it away from yourself and waft the scent gently towards your nose” approach.

Fresh Chilis

Dried Chilis
Chili Bits in the Pan
Chili Bits in the Whacker
The Wages of Capsaicin

Dean Sees Bees, is Pleased

Every so often I fancy myself an incipient bonsai hobbyist, home repair enthusiast, or beekeeper. The latter pastime, unlikely as it is, is most likely. Bonsai? I know I will go through periods of disinterest, apologies to the late treelings! Home repair? Yeah, maybe I could learn to do a particular job as well as a pro after a few attempts, but I do have things I’d rather do. I’ll stick with waiting until there’s an emergency or other critical need then hire a pro out of exasperation. If I’m going to overpay, having that excuse will be handy. Someday I might just decide that I have too much money and spend lots of it on some kind of kitchen/bathroom remodel. Bee-keeper? Well, that’s something I’ve wanted to be since reading The Hobbit. One of my favorite teachers in high school kept bees, and gave a seminar on it one day in his “humanities” class where they housed some of the nerd children for safe keeping. If I ever do beekeep, I’d mostly be interested in having flow hives, and maybe not actually trying to net honey per se, rather making it one of my humanitarian contributions to ecosystem health. As there are abundant local beekeepers, it might be best to simply include plenty of native bee-friendly plants among the vast native fern-brakes I imagine creating (incipient Deano Pteridospore?) on my plot.

Early in Mid-Atlantic spring, my health walk brought me within gawking distance of a dominating bloom-perfused cherry tree. Stunned out of my usual rambling-space-out loop, I approached until I was also within hearkening distance to some pretty loud buzzing. But where were the bees? Obviously in the tree, but I kept looking and did not espy any, until I did and then they were everywhere, confirming the din explanation. One of those mental glitches reminding us that we do not directly perceive. I walked by days later, with neither bees nor buzz. There had been rain and wind, and maybe it wasn’t as warm. But a few days after that it was warm and calm, the tree abuzz. Again with the where are the bees? bee!, lots of bees!

If I were to keep visiting bee populations and aiming my eyeballs deliberately, I suspect I would gradually achieve “bee eye”, as I have with ferns. As I space out while hiking in the woods, “out of the corner of my eye” I will notice a fern or a fernbrake. Foveal vision is mostly directed at not stumbling, and at motion such as animals and waterfalls, but I probably don’t “see” the fern(s) the way you might think, rather having the emotion of a fern being there before looking and seeing it. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that involuntary eye motions – saccades – are a way of adding information to non-foveal and peripheral vision, such that some class of targets that originally took focused attention to locate and identify gets correlated in a deep neural network, ascending to the class of occurrences that interrupt my attention, as with potential mating targets or predators (though those latter two items are likely more hard wired!).

Note: I do often think of raising ferns as a niche plant nursery gig, but my strengths and desires don’t lie in the direction of operating a business, so niche is where it would have stay. Just to develop the fern propagating tech to deliver hundreds or thousands of plants would leave me with a semi-automated sunroom ready to grow additional specimens: for sale or for the garden. If you know me you won’t be surprised to hear that I imagine chili peppers, tomatillos, and tomatoes as potential crops. Occasionally I fantasize about catfish, and developing recipes for green and red catfish chili dishes. Develop a module that could be enlarged 10´X or more.

The Aperiodiad

As you probably know, rectilinear and polar coordinates are the ones normally used when doing any sort of engineering or scientific calculations. However, given the finity of computers, these coordinates, while conceptually continuous, are necessarily discretized, often by utilizing so-called floating-point or fixed-point schemes. Coordinate axes or angular measures based upon these numbers utilize a finite set of rational numbers, thus defining a finite universe of possible locations. If some coordinate of your particle or wave should “actually” between two of the available numbers, it will be assigned one or the other.

These computerized coordinate systems exhibit periodicities. A simple picture is a checkerboard or Rubik’s cube, with rectilinear shapes tiling an area or a volume, extended spatially to the limit of the numbering scheme. With higher dimensions, we wave our hands and say “it’s like going from a square to a cube, just moreso and with special sauce”. Given all this, some of the squares or cubes (or parallelo-whatsises: right angles aren’t required) that occur in the imagination can’t actually be denoted in floating or fixed point, especially when you get to very small or very large numbers. One can of course sometimes use tricks such as mentally shifting calculations so that the tractable and dense populations of available coordinates is moved from around the origin to the regions of interest, but this can be complex and might not always work. Even with these tricks, the underlying periodicity of the finite numbering scheme being imposed on an infinite substratum suggests that considerable thought be given to anticipating and avoiding the kinds of artifacts that might ensue from using these ubiquitous approximations.

Now, imagine other tilings of the plane, such as Penrose’s aperiodic rhombs. Each tile is reminiscent of the squares that build up the universe of a traditional xy plot, and again most numbers can only be approximated in the usual computer numbering schemes. Unfortunately for Penrose tilings, there is no easy trick, as with periodically distributed tiles, to locating tiles in faraway or highly magnified regions. One has to mathematically pre-assemble the tiling of interest to determine the available coordinates, and as the tiling is aperiodic, the metaphor of tracing your patterns onto a transparent sheet and shifting it cannot possibly work. There are infinite numbers of different ways to assemble such tilings. Furthermore, given any finite subset of a Penrose tiling, there is, nearby, an exact copy of that finite subset that is part of the ultimate, unique, infinite tiling. The upshot is that even once you have determined a (finite) tiling (no matter how capacious or doughty your computer), you can’t even tell which of the infinite number of different tilings it belongs to, because it belongs to all of them an infinite number of times.

Let us now don our speculation-spectacles and loosen up our arm-waving muscles. Extend the above to n dimensions, such as 11 for string theory or 4 for general relativity, or what have you, and assume suitable aperiodic tilings exist in these dimensions. Further assume that such coordinate systems provide artifact-avoiding and performance advantages for physics calculations. Any time a re-casting of the activities of daily physics improves our abilities, we assume that our models are closer to reality. If aperiodic coordinates bring us closer to reality, but we can’t even distinguish between different specific instantiations of said coordinates, then distinguishing between determinism and indeterminism becomes questionable, potentially rendering the very question “not even moot”.

Haida Gwaii

Trail Stories #4. The desert southwest of the USA, “red rock country”. Mrs. Dean and I are navigating from cairn to cairn on a short loop trail, starting and ending at a parking area. We espy a pair of what we correctly guess to be lost retirees, us in a few decades perhaps, driving an RV around the continent and going on any little day hike that appeals to us. Now that I think of it, this was before we were married, she wasn’t “Mrs.” yet; must have been sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s. She had driven from Seattle to Arizona with her sister to meet up with their parents for a family vacation, and they had all ended up in Phoenix, where I flew down to meet them, the parents for the first time. Parents and sister would be flying back to Mid-Atlantic; we would be driving back to Seattle, a nice little vacation for me, a continuation of a long one for her.

Our retirees are evidently waiting at the next cairn, which our last one had pointed to. They’ve made it this far so they know how to navigate, but as we chat, we learn that they can’t see the next one, or even the previous one. They have been waiting for a while, hoping somebody like us will come along. I got the feeling they were ashamed that they hadn’t brought water with them. We let them have most of ours, but they aren’t inclined to hike with us, so we eventually set forth to the next cairn, hoping they’re watching where we go, and eventually complete the loop.

I’ve read Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, and web-stalked Edward Abbey somewhat. Years after the retiree incident, Mrs. Dean and I took what ended up being a very amusing vacation (not only the vacation itself, but also the aftermath when I got back to work afterwards – a set piece/object lesson for the software business that I might relate someday) to Santa Fe. I always fall in love with the geography and ecology of wherever I visit, and fantasize about moving there, but of course practicalities always intrude upon such ruminations. Really, there are too many people in Redrock already. My environmental footprint would go up so much I just can’t justify it. Talk about being ashamed. Plus, it would probably never feel like home. Home, to me, from the geography/ecology perspective, involves Sitka Spruce and Western Redcedar. Douglas Fir and Deer Fern. Otters, Beaver, Orca, Copper River King Salmon.

If I were going to live remote from all urbanity, in a Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest, I’m thinking Skidegate, on Graham Island in British Columbia. Very low population density, devoted to outdoors experiences. A ferry terminal connecting to Prince Rupert. I’ve never been there, but from what I’ve read, Haida Gwaii, the name for Skidegate’s archipelago, would be a lovely place to visit. I’m sure I would fall in love with it and fantasize about moving there, and in many ways, it would feel like home. I don’t know if it’s even possible. Sure, a multi-week or -month excursion would be totally doable, but long-term what’s the visa situation, how could I get Canadian residence, do the Haida even rent or sell real estate to non-Haida? I haven’t looked into any of that. A coffeeshop with wifi, the availability of craft beers, and unlimited hiking along wild coastlines amidst my favorite gymnosperms and sporophytes. An indigenous art style that I love. But the winter weather, winter darkness, lonesomeness. I’m not sure I could stand that.

Who is the Edward Abbey of Cascadia, a garrulous, environmentalist iconoclast, nucleated by Octavia Butler, Ernest Callenbach, Ken Kesey, Ursula LeGuin?

Present Absence

My wife, Barbara, died of metastatic breast cancer on August 23rd, 2021. We got married in 1995, right after I’d been hired full-time at The Great Satan, to get her onto my health insurance as soon as possible, as she had just been diagnosed, with the ceremonial wedding coming a year later. We’d been seeing each other since the late 1980s, having been introduced by one of her Glacier friends. She got into a great clinical trial, but in 2019 her lymph nodes started acting up again, while I was in Germany on my first (3-month) Visiting Scientist gig. The void left by her absence is so palpable I feel that I know metaphorically some of what an amputee feels. Fortunately, most of my friends and family know that I am an introvert and touch averse, and so do not overdo “supporting” me. Here are some anecdotes.

“Is that Mrs. Dean you’re talkin’ to?” asked Ross, late one sunny warm highish-latitude German summer evening at his (Lynch’s) Irish Pub. Since Mrs. Dean and I had regularly patronized the place during the prior year’s warm (and even cooler) months, she and Ross were well-acquainted. But Mrs. Dean was back in Baltimore; Ross’s query arrived during our daily Phone Time, late for me but comfortable for her. As usual, I was sitting at one of his patio’s RUGPB tables (Rickety Ubiquitous German Pub Bench) with my doodlebook and a Kilkenny pint. I had given Ross the nod a few minutes previous, and as the goodbyes approached, he arrived with another one and his cheerily lilting question. A natural publican, Ross is an overgrown leprechaun, speaking both German and English with an adorable Irish accent. Barbara, overhearing him, was instantly fond of her new nickname.

“There is no landscape that cannot be improved by the presence of a horse”. A colleague quoted that to me once during a pause in a bike ride through German farmland, as we enjoyed the view of some horses in a landscape. That night, I began reciting this quote to Barbara during our Phone Time, but she interrupted, completing it. I haven’t been able to identify the source of the quote, but perhaps it is an Obvious Truth known to Horse People, who simply generate it automatically. Icelandic ponies had set the tone for our (geez, two decades ago!) barge/bicycle tour of the Netherlands, as our very first overnight stop on the barge Noorderzon (schipper Bart Wijn) was adjacent to a field of them. Horse-drawn carriage rides. Horse shows. Horse art prints, horse postcards, horse sculptures. Dick Francis novels. Several thousand dollars for a charming gicleé horse painting from a gallery in Coeur D’Alene. I myself am not especially interested in horses, but if I don’t mind hot salt water cluttering up my vision while I bark out helpless sobs, all I need to do is to espy or picture a horse, and think of her love for them.

Daisy, the Original Mountain Poodle, was a Barbara project when we lived in our tiny Seattle cottage. Toby Brownie Sunflower Noodle Poodle came next, from Virginia, after Daisy died and there was an earthquake as the gods evidently objected. Both miniatures, both nicknamed “Noodlius” or “Poodlius” or “Pood”. I would never have gotten a dog on my own, being lazy and irresponsible, but was of course smitten. Some of our friends became Dog People in honor of Daisy. We, and especially Barbara, indulged them greatly (and of course I continue to indulge Toby), not by giving them treats (note: there was and is no treat shortage) but by sharing experiences. Daisy hiked everywhere she was allowed (and probably sometimes where she wasn’t), and loved learning tricks. “Go around!”. “Find it!”. “Hop on pop!”. Toby, another doughty hiker, is more focused on snuggling, snuffling and sneaking, but never hesitates in the plunging ahead department. I am so proud of her. She can learn tricks, but thinks it’s kind of stupid. She may be immortalized throughout Japan, after several days hiking in the Swiss Alps beset by gaggles of squee Japanese tourist girls begging to take selfies with her. If horses or visions of horses cannot be conjured, I can ask Toby, stretched out on my beer belly for a Daddy Scratch, if she knows how much we love her, if I’m happy staining my shoulders and pillows with chlorine bleach coming out of my eyes.

If, as often happened, she and I were driving country roads and came upon a field of Belted Galloways, we’d stop by the fence and encourage the cows to join us for a scratch on the nose and a chew of the greener grass. The Dipper (Water Ouzel or Bul-bul) was “our bird”; we saw them nearly everywhere we hiked, perhaps through witting confirmation bias. Spring lambs provoked especial exclamations. If you need to get some soldering done, just follow me around and wait until a beautiful or lovely cute or darling beastie appears, then jam your goddamned wires into the corners of my fucking smelter sockets.

One story that didn’t make it into Jacques’ obituary was from Barbara’s youth (she may not have quite been in high school). After some family shopping she found a quarter in the parking lot, and took it back to turn it in to their lost-and-found. This is the way she was about everything. She never turned down an opportunity to go hiking or dining with friends, or to a concert, or just hang out, and in fact was probably herself responsible for instigating most of those opportunities. She packed as many people as possible, and sometimes more, into any event, lest anybody feel left out. She had some superstitions, such as never leaving a house save by the door you came in by, knocking on wood, saying “bunnies” three times on the first day of the month. Our deck was party central during the warm parts of the year and occasionally the cold. I am nowhere near as gregarious and so suspect that I will simply decay into a lonely old guy with no friends. Boiling lava scars my cheeks and gouges tunnels in my heart: thank goodness this post was written on computer; zero tons of paper were stained, dissolved, or torched during the months it has taken to compose it.

Vacuity: “it is a thing that happened”. There is no afterlife, except for the fact that none of us is only ourselves – we’re partly our reflection in the minds of others, who comprise our extended nervous system. That spark inside her cranium, the part that mattered most, is gone for good; the only resurrection possible is the wholly inadequate spark of memory inside those crania that remain and recall. Friends and friends and friends and family. The Glacier friends, the Ivar’s friends, the Genesis friends. Joellenbecks, Abeles, Holtgrewes, Scholls, Calahans, the Baloneys. Dapper horses, dashing dogs, curious cows, frolicking lambs. We who experience or remember these and millions of other sights and times, briefly flick a flame of Barbara’s essence, a glow that before would have reverberated with her, enlarging herself and us. Mere embers now reflect but briefly in mirrored rooms. To barge laughing through prickly brambles or nimbly hop from rock to flooded rock, is to summon her enjoyment of every moment. The night that Pavarotti died we happened to be driving through the Redwoods. The local classical stations were playing endless foot stompers, and we sang along with his Nessun Dorma, his Funiculí Funiculá, his La donna é mobile. Even though we had never even seen him live, somehow we were recapitulating his spirit. Whenever you gather, drive, hike, listen, I enjoin you to sing, to laugh, to love, to think of Barbara, and make her so.

Bingeing I

Like probably everybody, I like to binge. Thankfully, my days of binge drinking are long over. But what counts as a binge? Is it nothing more than excessive indulgence? If so, “excessive” implies a negative, such as with the drinking. However, people also binge on television series. Granted, obsessively watching Downton Abbey episodes to the point that you can’t properly perform activities of daily living such as cooking, cleaning, and work, is a definite negative. But people love to binge-brag, and media companies love to invite you program-binge (I myself am somewhat tempted by the upcoming “Miss Marple” – off). They literally use the word. Alcohol vendors don’t run public ads inviting you to Bacardi-binge. We will just have to accept that “binge” has an additional, positive, connotation. There must be a philological concept of word meanings going from negative to positive via some cultural usage shift. “What were once vices are now habits”. Here’s a brief riff on some of my favorite binges. I expect to indulge in more binge-related posts, thus the titular Roman numeral.

Maps. I cannot remember a time that I didn’t love looking at maps. In fact, when the Pluto data started coming back, I wrote a one-line iambic nonameter poem: “Like Bilbo Baggins, I love maps; therefore I love this recent map of Pluto”. IIRC I used it in a seminar I gave at the time, not coincidentally about geospatial programming in R. One of my grandfathers was a hobbyist – not only did he polish semi-precious gemstones and cut large agates into thin sheets, he cast plastic sundries, including (back in the day when cigarette smoking was everywhere) an ashtray that was the outline of Oregon, which for some reason fascinated 5-year-old me. I get lost zooming around web maps, switching between satellite, map, and street views. Possibly half of my love for Dungeons and Dragons in high school was the drawing of campaign and dungeon maps, often at the expense of taking class notes.

Food programs. I have watched most the food programming I can find on our streaming services, that has an educational component. Not necessarily “how to do something” programs, although definitely those, but also ones where they spend a lot of time on chef techniques, chef descriptions of their approach, and/or exquisite filming of cooking some dish. I can sometimes get something out of the competition shows, although they’re kind of a secondary source. Shows that follow people who are famous for being well known (I usually don’t recognize them) watching them eat? Mrs. Dean got me to watch one episode of “Someone Feed Phil”. Not for me.

Drink. As mentioned, I don’t binge drink anymore, although I have very fond memories from when I did do that (this suggests that I wasn’t very “good” at it, as the conventional wisdom is that I shouldn’t remember!). My obsession is not with excessive drink consumption, rather with excessive drink quality. Craft beers and gourmet sodas are what I’m talking about here. Not wine. I also quite enjoy single-malt whisky, although only in small amounts, not even getting tipsy. Interestingly, I will fall in love with a beer, preferentially drink mostly that for a few years, and then switch to another. Not because I don’t like the first one any more, as I seldom quite totally abandon old favorites, but probably because a combination of menu fatigue and something new (to me) comes along. Gourmet sodas, to me, start with a cane sugar requirement. In my youth I mostly drank root beer, Hires bubbling up as a favorite in my lapsed memory. Today I favor Maine Root sarsaparilla, root beer, and birch beer. Virgil’s root beer is quite good, and Boylan’s black cherry may be the best soda I have ever tried, strangely for me as it is not actually a root beer.

Good Art

the temple bell stops / but the music keeps coming / out of the flowers —Basho

While I do love a good poem, I don’t like all poems. The same with other art. A piece must transport me to a “different world”, of memory or of possibility. Technique is critical: any flaws distract from the transport and can foreclose on the desiderata. Technique is particularly important with ensemble dance, where unity of motion can transport me, but any skew gesture, by accident or by design, leaves me dejected. For poems, even the typesetting is important. Granted, “A poem should be palpable and mute, as a globed fruit” (MacLiesh), but also: A poem should be ample, able, and put, as a figured blot. I do expose myself to new art (though not like Bud Clark), but am rarely rewarded. I am highly aware of difficulties in communicating simple factual information to people who sincerely want to receive it and are competent to comprehend it. Transmitting complex emotional information to a diverse and random audience must be leagues more difficult.

Last year Mrs. Dean and I visited Bonn to tour Beethoven’s house and take in some museums. I elected to experience modern art. Gallery after gallery, my disappointment increased, until finally I espied, across one gallery and through a doorway to the next, something quite intriguing. I savored the anticipation as I tried to “get” the pieces in my current gallery, and finally allowed myself to enter the tempting one. Alas! It was the historical room, with fine pieces by Max Ernst and others – nobody from any recent decade. I was of course happy to enjoy the genius, but rueful, reflecting on my lack of personal response to the rest of the museum. A few years prior, Mrs. Dean and I had visited the Tate in London, mainly to visit the Turner collection, but there was plenty from the early 1900’s. Those “classic” modernists (can I use such a juxtaposition?) were expressing something detectable and special absent from more recent works.

I’ve never really followed musical trends, but I was caught up in the Grunge phenomenon. I happened to live in Seattle then, but that hardly matters as I rarely attended live music, and then mostly just local bar bands, not really enjoying it. I listened to the radio and bought the CDs. I wonder if “spirit of the age” is a real phenomenon. The eras of the Dutch Masters, the Impressionists, Dada; the Big Band era, Rock-and-Roll, Grunge. It seems as if there are brief intervals of innovation punctuated by longer ones deserted by the muses. Does culture need to chew, swallow, digest, and sleep before fully absorbing the innovations it has hunted, gathered, or cultivated? The imitators that come after can be just as competent, or even technically better, than the founders, but their work is obviously derivative. The innovators whose efforts stall out are obviously groping for something original, but either have no vision or can’t express it in a way that attracts colleagues and patrons. I think it may take a rare confluence of cultural readiness, practitioner availability, and patron generosity to create conditions where a seed crystal can nucleate an artistic revolution. I hope that long intervals of novelty vacuum somehow allow culture to become supersaturated with “blah”, making it ever more likely that authentic genius will trigger widespread innovation. I’m definitely ready for another one.