Tuesday, June 12, 2018


That Homer would create the definitive metaphor for the quest for identity should be no surprise. If evolution is the truth about who we are, it is inevitable that the question would arise about personal origin and identity. It may also be true that the moment of birth is so dramatic that this articulation of infinite identity awakens the quest for finding our way back home. In many ways, I have felt that my life has been a journey home, and each year has taken me further, without really knowing the ultimate destination. My personal Odyssey continually discovers new terrain that serves as a mystery that I need to unravel. This evolution seems to function in a similar way that Hegel's Thesis and Antithesis serves to shape history as process through the synthesis of opposing forces.

You may recall the poet Constantine Cavafy's wonderful poem, Ithaca, in which he persuades us that it is not the destination that is of importance, but rather the journey itself:
When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction...

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way...
It always struck me as curious that the poem is entitled ITHACA, but in his text Cavafy always uses Ithaka, perhaps idealizing our mutual destiny that may be conditional to being human, while remaining totally personal and unique. But for the poet, the destination is more a process than a location. If you ever find your Ithaka, you may discover that the joy was in the journey and not the destination.

Odysseus is the adventure story of a man who has been stranded after the fall of Troy, trying to return home. Ulysses is the Latinized version of the name. From the viewpoint of literature, the most astonishing experiment with the form of the novel was James Joyce's ULYSSES, an extraordinary literary achievement. I would venture to say that more people have owned more unread copies of Ulysses than any other novel from any period. I must admit it took me considerable time to thoroughly understand. It is difficult to process such originality that is profoundly dense, but also stands as the most imaginative conception of any literary achievement. No other novel reflected the dilemma of the twentieth century with such imagination and intelligence. There is something magical about this epic volume, so much so that when a new edition is released, I have to own it as though it had just been released.

I think the lure of Ithaca as a Greek Island in the Ionian Sea has been in my mind for as long as I can remember. As a poet in Texas wandering around different neighborhoods, towns and cities, I tended to think of those meandering excursions with blank-paged volumes to capture text as a part of my Odyssey. Part of my unremembered past came bounding out of nowhere from a comment of a friend who reminded me that several years ago, I had composed a musical version of The Odyssey, fifteen scenes with musical numbers that attempted to remain faithful to Homer's text, although it tried to add a contemporary tone. It was a workshop that received a staged reading at the end of the semester. There were many powerful moments, but I found myself daydreaming and fantasizing a different work that would combine the island of Ithaca with the lost continent of Atlantis.

So as the allure of Jeju Island loomed large on the horizon of my future, Jeju began to delineate aspects of my odyssey that was still in process of becoming. Even the writing of this text is part of the becomingness that links to themes of the past years, a quest that somehow is involved with the understanding of identity.

So I went to Jeju, which happened to be the destination of a fantasy story I had been sketching.  The story was about an older man on a quest to find the answer to a mystery that finally leads him to Jeju. And now, through an incredible sequence of events, I found myself on Jeju Island, at the juncture of my own odyssey.

Jeju was a feast for the senses, a spiritual haven that nurtured spiritual awareness and fed my imagination. The island was born of volcanic activity beginning two-and-half-million years ago culminating in the eruption of a giant volcano a hundred-thousand-years ago. The volcano is now known as Mount Halla (Hallasan), the tallest mountain of South Korea. The island has flourished and is abundant with life, surrounded by the ocean to the North (the Strait of Korea and the Yellow Sea), with the Pacific Ocean to the South. Because the oceans have different temperatures, the abundance of different species in the two oceans provide an array of fish that is quite rare.

As I explored Jeju Island, I discovered through a friend a small restaurant on the southwest coast known as Zen Hideaway. There I would sit for hours writing and experiencing the presence of the ocean and distant islands that appeared to be calling me.
It was a late Spring afternoon when I began to sketch the islands along the coast in my view. Brother Island was a famous landmark representing the legend of a brother who tried to run away from Jeju, confronted by his younger brother off shore of Jeju, they were immortalized by the island gods as Brother Island, (I called it Two Brothers Island).

A little further into the ocean lay the dim outline of  my island Ithaca, as I sketched in my journal. Ithaca was just a fantasy, connecting to the cradle of western civilization...and as I slipped into remote origins, I thought of Atlantis... the ultimate illusion of civilization lost, a continent so remote that it is dismissed by Plato as merely a fable.

It seemed more than coincidence that my Odyssey, begun on the dusty plains of Texas in my younger days had led me to New York City, then to Europe, and now to the remote island of Jeju. As I walked the terrain of Jeju, it seemed famliar and receptive. I felt the power of SanbangSan. and the sense of well-being associated with Jeju, with a welcoming spiritual presence... maybe a homecoming... but I knew I'd been this way before.

In the middle of May, before this posting , I wrote the following poem:
Not this far. . .
I never knew I would survive
Beyond a barrier
Self conceived and self imposed
So long ago
That empty pages found a way
To mock my delusion,
Imitating the nothingness
Of anticipated emptiness.
Now these words . . .

I never knew I could revive
An unknown continent
Remembered, yet emerging
So far away
That silent chambers now resound
To shape a new perception,
Celebrating the resonance . . .
Restoring such abundant songs!
This poem came from what seems to be emerging as a series of Not-This-Far themes. It's no secret that I am continually surprised to find I'm still here. As I entered my fourth decade, I thought maybe I had overstayed my tenure. Now as I enter the eighth decade, I understand there are different expectations.

I draw attention to this recent poem because of the metaphor of an "unknown continent" that was apparently lingering on the fringes of consciousness even before I could identify and articulate the meaning of this new emerging intuition.

The purpose of my Blogs is that of uncovering, discovering, and disclosing the process of actualizing experience as a real and emerging entity. It is an underlying theme of how Time processed creates Quality as we record the singularity of what we notice.

As I follow this quest, I sense something emerging that somehow is connected to well-being, which is part of my remote past. Returning home to New York from Jeju, I came across a manuscript that was water damaged from a flood, my draft of a work that links ancient and modern worlds and the meeting of East and West. This document emerged from my experience with workshops in meditation and improvisation on Panther Mountain in Phonecia, a retreat near Woodstock in the Catskills in the 1980s. What came from this was one of my first works based on improvisation and well-being that eventually led to recent experiences with students at NYU in EXPANDED MUSIC sessions in Provincetown Playhouse.

Monday, June 04, 2018


When I was editing newspapers, I needed to write an editorial about the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech. I had a generous amount of space in which to write and print my column, but suddenly I couldn't think of anything to say or write.

I just sat at the keyboard, mute and inglorious while the world went passing by.

As the days go by, I see an open road before me, and looking back, I see the marvelous terrain I have traversed. Life is a challenging quest, and I still remember unexpected turns that sometimes were terrifying, but I held my ground. Mostly I have traveled parallel paths with friends and companions, but I have navigated alone over great sweeps of unfamiliar territory.

in many ways I have almost been around the world. I hope that will literally come to pass. I have a sense that everything has been leading me to this next leg of the journey.

When I was 19, I apprehended that each of us has a personal odyssey, a quest to return to the source of Being...Home... 

In a green blank page book which was my constant companion, I wrote this sonnet:
Before me stands my soul. Behind me limps
The shadow of myself, which claims my mind
And lives in fear that I'll pursue the glimpse
Of permanence once seen when I was blind
To all but thought. Eternity demands
The infinite eye of mind to see much more
Than moments. I shall touch my soul with hands
Of art, and leave my shadow to explore
The vain imagination of its own
Identity in darkness. I must go
Upon a road where I must go alone...
Pursuing the path only my soul can know.
Shadows mocking me on silent feet
Become the only obstacles I meet.
Now, more than 60 years have passed, and still the journey calls me, perpetual sirens on the shore beguiling me, perhaps distracting me. "What took you so long?" they seem to say. I must admit that maybe I was sidetracked. Maybe there was meant to be a different destiny.

In the film THE NATURAL, Robert Redford plays a baseball player so phenomenal that he was immediately given a big contract. He could pitch--- he could hit like no other player on the scene. En route by train to join a team in the majors, he meets up with some strangers who conspire to trick and betray him because they have bet big money for the team he's joining to lose the pennant. He's 19 and feels he can do anything. He is traveling on the train with what is regarded as the best hitter in baseball. A reporter who has a stake in the young man failing makes a bet that he (Redford) can't throw the ball by the famous hitter. Redford claims he can strike him out. They stop the train.  In a dramatic scene, Redford strikes out the famed hitter. All bedlam breaks out and a woman traveling with the newspaper man invites the young athlete to her room. When he enters her room there is confusion in the darkened room and the young man (Redford) is shot.  The scene dissolves to 20 years later. Now the young athlete is in his 40s. It is obvious he never made it to the big leagues. Now he plays minor league ball on a losing team, but a scout sees him hit and gives him a break.  After much ridicule and rejection, Redford surprises everyone by becoming one of the best hitters and pitchers on the scene. The story underscores that although sidetracked on his journey to fulfill his destiny, he finally makes it happen... it was his destiny.

Somehow I feel at this juncture that maybe I have returned to resume a journey for which I lost directions some 60 years ago.

But this isn't Hollywood.

I know what is required. I am still uncovering the trail that has gone cold.

I see endless possibilities waiting. I know that there is something that needs to be created, and that life has been preparing me for whatever is destined to unfold. Sometimes we are too free... with more possibilities than we could ever imagine... and even though I followed the long route to arrive at this place, this is not a time for me to be mute and inglorious in the face of such infinite possibilities. 

Friday, May 25, 2018


Once again, I am alone.

In my aloneness, I was coming to terms with a new direction from what had been a radical commitment to pursue quietness in the beauty of a subtropical isle. It was to be a time for reflection, for consolidating and celebrating past work that could eventually extend to new initiatives... essentially a time to slow down and enjoy life.

But abruptly, almost overnight, inextricably, unexpectedly, things changed. Some might call it a "bump" in the road, but this was much more pivotal.

What made me return to the streets of NYC was much more than a bump. It was seismic. I had been convinced by someone very special that I should spend my remaining years in quiet reflection and writing rather than maintaining the frenetic pace that had defined my year-round academic and artistic practices. Although summer was usually a time for slowing down in Academia, it was my busiest time. Every year was an evolution of ongoing praxial experimentation and deepening awareness of collaborative process.

But there I was, in a new commitment, in a new world. I was inspired by companionship in a setting where well-being was the essence of Jeju Island, a setting where the arts flourished, and the air and food were abundantly alive, and the Jeju skies were an elegant panorama of dazzling change.

But then one evening at dinner I was trying to make a silly joke by rolling some seaweed into a cigar. I was met by a remark that told me the dream was over.

For a while I continued my quest alone...relishing every moment of an island of such spiritual resonance that even personal disaster is transformed into insight and inspiration.

Eventually, I returned to New York City, and continued my spiritual quest by trying to determine how dreams begun in Jeju could someday be a setting for healing and collaboration of artists from the around the world in sharing and creating new work.

Returning to New York was more painful that I expected. When I walked in the front door I was overcome with tears, speechless. The intensity of the past ten months collapsed on me, and the spiritual scaffolding came crashing down.

So I slowly began to reclaim my identity, focusing on changing my apartment functionally, redoing the kitchen, learning to cook and establishing a regimen more like the way of life I had learned while in Jeju.

My vision for a retreat in Jeju was renewed through setting up new activities and interactions with students, colleagues, and new people entering my life. For about five weeks, the progressive realization of a new vision had given me a sense of renewal and a deeper focus and resolve.

All was going well in my recovery, until suddenly, from out of nowhere, I hit a bump in the road.

In the course of any quest, we inevitably encounter that unexpected bump in the road. But "unexpected" might be merely rhetoric, a convention born of story telling. The unexpected aspect might refer to the timing. Instinctively, you know it's coming, but you never know when. The bump itself is deliberately ambiguous. In today's world of Googling, you might be amazed to see how much nonsense is generated concerning a "bump in the road." Add me to the nonsense.

 One aspect of my return to New York was walking. Even though at 81, I've had some issues with locomotion, one aspect of change I experienced in my life after academia was the joy of walking. Walking and enjoying the night with a partner was a new experience, and a delight.

In my youth, I was a serious walker. Walking and writing were synonymous.  I walked in Amarillo, and wrote poems. I walked the city during my college days at Texas Tech, and I walked New York City, at times following the paths of Walt Whitman when he had the print shop in Brooklyn and crossed to Manhattan on the ferry, walking the famed printers row that no longer exists in lower Manhattan.

On a clear day as I walked east on Houston Street, I came upon Mulberry Street. I turned right and headed south.  As I came to Grand Street, to that sliver of Little Italy that still exists in the midst of Chinatown, I hit a bump in the road.

Memories of an improbable scenario, a fairy tale of two old souls lost to each other for centuries, only to discover each other in separate hemispheres, returned to me like a "haunting refrain...lingering like a haunting refrain." (Yes, I'm a romantic.)

 Suddenly I was hearing what I have always thought are among the most imaginative lyrics I've known:
You go to my head with a smile
That makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes
 It had been the end of summer and a new season of my life.

Returning to the street where it all began reminded me that the season was over, and I was filled with regret.  It was disarming.  Somehow the past derailed the journey... and I was looking into the wilderness, trying to get my bearing.
Still I say to myself
Get ahold of yourself
Can't you see that it never can be
Songwriters Haven Gillespie and Fred Coots expressed for me the magic of that summer of 2017. It was a summer that intoxicated me like a thousand Julys and brought a miracle to NYC.

And suddenly I was stumbling over a bump in the road right there on Mulberry Street.

Monday, May 14, 2018


During my years in high school, I had come across Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. The discovery of this posthumous novel was a revelation as it seemed to address my own crises during those years. Twain wrote multiple versions of this novel, and one critic's claim that Twain's issues and questions have become irrelevant is an example of such critical hubris with regard to this serious dimension of Twain.  He wrote a number of versions of this final novel which was pieced together by scholars after his death. Little did I realize then, that just as his book had served as my mysterious stranger, I would encounter a similar visitor more than 60 years later.

As I prepared for my final summer at New York University and our final articulation of the international multimedia workshop IMPACT, I remained inspired but somewhat fatigued from 50 years of commitment to to a process of implementing a vision for the future that served to pioneer new programs. I would soon begin a terminal sabbatical, but I couldn't see beyond that. The world terminal loomed ominously.

But in May 2017, I encountered a stranger, a mysterious stranger...mysterious because the stranger came from out of nowhere but appeared to know everything about me, including a sense of future fortune. It was almost as though the stranger had come from my remote past, perhaps a previous lifetime that was now vividly present.

The stranger was magical, playing to my sense of fate and entanglement, turning the present into a series of transforming moments by embarking on a journey to new terrain, uncovering destinies I somehow had neglected. "Who are you?" I asked. The stranger smiled and shrugged, gesturing toward an evolving entity that began to take shape.

"I was hoping you might remember..." The stranger pointed to mountains on an island by conjuring images of lush terrain, waterfalls, volcanoes that had given the island a sacred presence, of Seobul, a Chinese emissary, who had visited this island seeking the source of life and well-being more than two-thousand years ago. I could feel the magic spell of the island.

I recalled that I had been told of this island before, and had felt drawn to the magic of its location bounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Yellow Sea.. I remembered my story for a film that had begun to emerge of an older man who was on a quest to find the love of his youth and travelled the world, following clues that eventually led him to the isle of Jeju.

As I dwelt upon these incantations of the future, the stranger conjured a marvelous odyssey that led me to Jeju. In that deep mysterious enclave, I felt the immense presence of Mount Halla (Hallasan), the volcano that gave final shape Jeju as it erupted into existence 100,000 years ago. It can be seen from everywhere on Jeju as among the tallest mountains of Asia. Jeju island is just 25 miles across (north/south axis) at its widest point and some 45 miles long from west to east. Initially, the island was formed by volcanic activity two million years ago. I stood on the seacoast rock near Mount SanBangSan on this part of the island that stretched back to two million years. It is a wild and raw terrain, with winds so fierce at times that I could lean against the wind and be held upright. I walked up Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), the volcano that is the signature image of Jeju.

In Jeju, I found such wonders, and a sense of spiritual renewal. Anyone would be stunned by the richness of the plants and vegetation, the abundance of fish from such varied oceans, and the majestic skies defining the more than 300 volcanoes and tremendous forests that are the habitat of an array of birds and wild life, including the 60,000 wild horses on Mount Halla.

Of all the renaissances that have renewed my spirit, nothing has touched me as deeply as this quest to this island of antiquity that has long been a destination for spiritual renewal, healing, and well-being. In many ways this new quest wiped away impediments structured by a mindset developed over the years, and at 81, I seemed catapulted back to myself at 18, perhaps an historic palindrome. Suddenly I felt the surge of energy in the midst of an island serving as an icon for spiritual well-being and freedom.

The stranger, reading my mindset, created a new panorama and then just as unexpectedly as appearing, vanished.

I was alone.

Friday, April 06, 2018


Wednesday night emerged as an epiphany as I attempted to deal with the challenges of a profound   transformation that began prior to and during my time on Jeju Island,  a magical isle off the coast of Korea that has been s source for recovery and well-being for more than a thousand years.  A major area in the west and south of the island, along the Pacific Ocean side is an area known as Seogwipo, named for Seobul, an emissary of the Emperor of China, who was sent to Jeju to find plants that could bestow well-being and eternal life. The Emperor was Qin Shi Huang who unified the Chinese Continent (BC 221-BC206).

It would be fascinating to to understand how Seobul's presence transformed Jeju and Korea during his visit. Not only is Seogwipo (gwipo refers to eternal life/healing/well-being) named for him, but the capital Seoul is derived from Seobul. His impact was pervasive and metaphysical. His journey to Jeju brought this remarkable Island to the attention of the world as a pristine paradise favored by divinity. His quest had such impact that his name continues to enrich the manifestation of a spiritual presence in Jeju that remains palpable.

A year ago, I knew nothing of Jeju except that one of my graduate students was studying at NYU on leave of absence from her school in Jeju, where she had been teaching for several years.  The year of 2017 was a year of change, it was to be my last year of teaching at NYU as I would go on sabbatical in my final year.  It would also be the final year for EXPANDED MUSIC and IMPACT, our international workshop which had just passed a decade of collaborative new multimedia creative work of international participants.

I wondered what I should do on a sabbatical as an octogenarian. The end of my sabbatical would mark 50 years of involvement with NYU Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Professions that began with some exploratory discussions with Jerrold Ross in 1968. Leaping back to 1968, when my multimedia opera ROTATION premiered, I had made a commitment to education as a life pursuit, even though I would continue to make music through students by exploring and  sharing the collaborative process in a number of settings. But as I break from academia in my final year at NYU, all options are open, if only I knew what they might be.

As I approached my final year of IMPACT,  I was already exhausted from the academic year and anticipating moving out of my office and removing the accumulation of half a century. In many ways 2017 was IMPACT's most ambitious year, but the framework was more intimate. Several colleagues who had helped found IMPACT were no longer involved.  But we had a creative new staff on the IMPACT Team, including a brilliant young man who had started as an IMPACT participant and risen over the years to visual director. From the first time I met him at IMPACT, I regarded him as a child of the new century, a true multimedia artist. This final year he returned as production coordinator. As it turned out, it may have been an even more inspiring experience than our tenth-year celebration.

Yet, as we prepared for IMPACT during May 2017,  I had no sense of where I should be or what I should do during a terminal sabbatical. Clearly I sensed then, and continue to anticipate a turning point. Structurally it was to be a crucial juncture mandated by academic procedure. Spiritually it may require yet another renaissance...
How many renaissances . . .
How many times
Will the silence invite me
To the feast?
I toast to festivals of years. . .
Here's to the painful isolation,
Here's to the innocence
Now lost. . .
Here's to the quiet wonder
Here's to the mystery of awe
To chaos on the edge of order . . .
Too soon
The days of opportunity dissolve,
The inward possibilities remain inert,
And all that might be and might have been
Is gone.
Yet, what is emerging is not like the past... the days of opportunity are not dissolving. The inward possibilities are bubbling up from the depths and taking shape. "What might be" is evolving into a vivid presence. But none of this would be happening had it not been for an encounter with an unexpected stranger.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Soon I will have completed about 50 years of contact, planning, and implementing a new idea for an academic structure. My work shifted from composer to creating curricula anticipating the media and technology explosion that began around 1968. Now, in September of 2018 that chapter of my life at New York University will come to a close.

I am somewhat surprised to still be here, because in my fantasies, I always thought I would have been gone from this existence by now.  I speculated over time when the end would come. In my teens, my heroes were Gershwin and Mozart. Both died at 35. I said to myself, "Fine, I will live passionately and when I'm 35, I'll be gone.

But when I turned 35, I was surprised to see I was still around. What should I do? Plan my life for retirement? But frankly at 35, I was in the maelstom of sweeping academic and administrative changes at the university. In addition, I was in the midst of sponsoring an on-campus festival and symposium in collaboration with Keyboard Magazine that introduced to the world the new breed of low-cost synthesizers that led to the revolution of musical practices and styles of the 70s. We turned the entire Education Building and Student Union into rooms that hosted manufacturers and their equipment, and artists in special workshops, with performances by luminaries, in what was later named Loewe Theatre, each evening of the three-day extravaganza.

Since I was sill around, I thought maybe the end woud come at 50, then at 60, and then surely at 70, so I never really planned for retirement. But as 80 approached, I began to realize maybe I wasn't going to die in the job.  Is there life after 80?

One of the joys of working in such a dynamic department where we had managed to attract so many energetic and visionary faculty was my relationship with the Music Therapy Program when I served as Chair. I had helped the former Chair in setting up the new program, and we brought in a talented and visionary person to lead the program. As consistent with our other programs, our Music Therapy departed from the prevailing model in Academia, so much so that we left the existing association and created a new one. This was through the initiative of my mentor and Chair, Dr. Jerrold Ross who had been responsible for bringing me to the department to develop new and innovative programs.

During my tenure as Chair, Barbara Hesser, our new Music Therapy Program Director initiated retreats in the Catskill Mountains on Panther Mountain near Phonecia, New York. My first experience with the retreat was so memorable that I composed an interactive ensemble piece based on the happening of that week together with so many creative artists.

I travelled to the retreat with colleague and philosopher, David Burrows, whose book Time and the Warm Body, remains one of the most original treatments of Time that I have encountered. I remember him saying, "John, these people know something about making music that most of us do not know or understand."

The Panther mountain facility was beautifully designed and we lived in dorm style rooms. We could make our own meals or purchase simply-prepared snacks or meals. We had to clean up after ourselves, and there were many rooms where we could separate in various configurations as needed and congregate together as a group. There was no set agenda, except to share and to have conversations and mini-sessions that were like informal workshops.

Deep in the forest was a Sanctuary shaped somewhat like a teepee. A large circular building narrowed like a funnel as you looked upward, culminating in an opening at the top where you could see the sky, or stars at night.

On the first night we gathered in the sanctuary. Those of us that had instruments brought them and put them in the center. We gathered into a large circle so that everyone could see each other and the instruments in front of us.

In the sanctuary, in the middle of the forest, underneath a starry sky, we sat in deep silence. After a while, Time became irrelevant. We no longer sat in silence... we communed in silence and communed with silence. I became deeply aware of our breathing. It was almost as though we were all drawing the same breath. After more than an hour I could hear a low voice intoning a sound as though breath had discovered tone. Gradually everyone joined.  Toning began to follow contours, and then melody emerged, almost as though this communion had summoned the power of music. For the next two hours there wonderful textures, melodies, emotions created as an ensemble, but punctuated with solos, duos, trios, and other configurations expressing full joy and utter despair, pain and gladness, anguish, and delight. The improvisation created its own form and after about two hours, it returned to silence. We sat again in the circle, silent, but somehow wholly fulfilled. After a few moments we began to talk and share our experience.

The retreat was all about making music together spontaneously and then sharing our work from the past year.  Everyone was exhausted from the demands of rigorous programs in the different parts of the world, so as we shared and interacted, we found that the process we were undergoing Became a profound healing experience.

From this experience, the idea of ARC (ARTS RECOVERY COLLABORATION) occurred to me as a possible focus for what I might implement in the future. An Arc is a symbol of connecting. Maybe it is ARTS RENAISSANCE COLLABORATIVE, or ARTS RENEWAL COLLABORATION... but the idea of reaching out and connecting with colleagues in the arts at the end of the year to celebrate and recover seems like something worthwhile to do, taking my inspiration from what I encountered in Phonecia almost 40 years ago.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


From the first moment I learned of Haiku, I felt a connection with Matsuo Bashō, one of Japan's greatest authors. This Christmas I received a volume of Bashō's middle and late periods, if one can call them that, since it appears that his progression toward his rich mature style was steady and uninterrupted, even though it came at great personal sacrifice. The volume is The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches.

As was the practice of the time, a poet's work was created on journeys undertaken for the sake of creating.. I felt a parallel with the volume I received and Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  This sensitive and thoughtful translation is by Nobuyuki Yuasa, and covers the major three journeys of Bashō.

Perhaps it is the notion of the journey that most attracted me, because I had not realized the context of Bashō's poetry before. From this reading I understand also that poetry was often a collaborative process. Disciples accompanying the master would contribute poems and often suggest lines to the master. But also there are deliberate sacrifices that must be made to undertake such journeys into a wilderness... usually by foot, but at times the terrain could be so challenging a horse would be necessary.

In my journeys, I have been aware of the spiritual quest that has always defined the issues of awareness and noticing. Listening and noticing---intimate encounters with being that provides glimpses into the nature of existence as we embrace appearances masquerading as reality.

In following Bashō's journey, I became aware that the haiku and at that time hokku, was an evolving form, and the 5-7-5 syllable form was not the only syllable structure prevalent. Nobuyuki Yuasa prefers the four-line form which seems to better fit the poems as written by Bashō. Especially since poems always appear in the context of prose passages.  Scholar and translator Yuasa comments:
First, the language of haiku, ...is based on colloquialism, and in my opinion, the closest approximation of natural conversational rhythm can be achieved in English by a four-line stanza rather than a constrained three-line stanza.
Bashō took his name from the tree of that name after one of his disciples presented him with a stock of a Bashō tree. A Bashō is a species of banana tree. Bashō remarked "I love the tree for its very uselessness."

As many who know me have observed I have given much thought to issues of madness, and making moments tangible and retrievable through poetry. Poetry is the essence of intense noticing. This seems to be confirmed by Bashō:
What is important is to keep our mind high in the world of true understanding, and returning to the world of our daily experience to seek therein the truth of beauty. No matter what we may be doing at a given moment, we must not forget that it has a bearing upon our everlasting self which is poetry.
In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Bashō  undertakes a journey to what is regarded as the unknown forces of the universe in order to be the poetry that makes the world profoundly eloquent. Having composed a song this summer, "If This Be Madness", I wrote:
If this be madness,
It sets me free,
From all the sadness
That once was me.
But is it madness
To look with love
Beyond the limits
That we’re made of?
We each have madness
Somewhere inside…
 A touch of genius
From which we hide
Perhaps its madness
Or just naive
To want to live my life
As I believe…
And even now I hear
A distant song
I know it’s somewhere near
Where I belong
And even now I see
That I must go
There’s a different me
And there are worlds
I’ve yet to know!
What a revelation it was to come upon this poem by Bashō:
With a bit of madness in me,
Which is poetry... 
And so I seem to have come full circle as I continue my journey of 81 years, remembering that as a child, the essence of the world was its poetic presence.

Monday, January 08, 2018


Going quietly into the night, NOHO STAR shuttered its doors forever on New Year's Eve, 2017. There was no fanfare, and the lack of public outcry was disappointing.

I learned of the proposed closing from Ted Coons, a colleague of mine at New York University over breakfast early in December. I was saddened that the owner George Schwarz's son had decided to close both neighborhood fixtures, NOHO STAR and TEMPLE BAR after more than 30 years in order to convert the building to rental property. George passed away December 14, 2016.

Adding to my dismay was that I was scheduled to leave Manhattan for Asia before the closing. I never heard if there was an appropriate wake to mourn the loss of the NoHo Star. I saw many celebrities there during my 30 plus years of using this landmark bistro as my true office, with countless meetings with students, meeting with colleagues, meeting with artists in planning sessions, Many a project was launched over breakfast, brunch, and dinner.

NoHo Star opened after I had been with NYU for about 17 years when NoHo Star opened at 330 LaFayette Street. I saw the transformation of the area south of  Houston Street into SoHo in the late 70s. Before that it was an industrial area filled witth factories and industrial sites, warehouses, and various tradesmen.

This was a block from where I lived, and I watched artists tranform the area by invading on the weekend and using factory spaces to perform and exhibit exper innovations in technology that were experimental artwork, much of it using technollogies begun in alliances with scientist and artists in the 60s in New York, It was a time of Happenings. Everything was free and in the moment. I remember wandering around the warehouses and coming upon works such as a darkened room filled with low and high frequencies and fluctuating projections on the wall. As I grew accustomed to the dark, I saw the artist on the floor hooked up to biofeedback.

I remember how quickly artists were replacing factories and warehouses with lofts and studios. Then, quite suddenly, the area was officially dubbed SOHO, and the area hurtled toward gentrification. Now all the artists have fled and what is left are upscale stores and businesses, with Apple occupying the old Post Office Building on Prince Street.

SoHo --- because it was South of Houston Street, but also it borrowed cachet from the area in London which was also Soho and known as an area for the music, theatre, film, the arts and the pornographic industry.

I always had the fantasy that when George Schwarz acquired the building just north of Houston Street, he dubbed his eatery The NoHo Star, and inspired the christening of those few blocks north of Houston as NoHo.

It is sad to witness the death of an era in NYC which was such a mecca that it drew so many artists from the midwest and around the world, including me. Unfortunately Manhattan has been captured by a strict business mentality where the arts have a place only if they are part of the establishment. The artists have left their strongholds of SoHo and Tribecca and headed to Brooklyn, where there appears to be a renaissance in all aspects of the arts. Yes, there is a revival of young artists in te Lower East of Manhattan that is gathering momentum, even though the city politics and institutions are rigged against them.

The closing of THE NOHO STAR is the dissolution of a giant star. In my small universe, NoHo Star was a massive star, perhaps its debris of a supernova will seed new generations from the many projects and ideas hat were created through casual and not-so-casual meetings of creative people discussing, creating, and launching new ideas over coffee, tea, and the tasty fare from morning on into the night.


As it happened during the holidays, the Camiellias of Jeju were reaching their peak. It seemed appropriate to visit Camellia Hill, a wonderful theme park which, because of Jeju's temperate climate, is open year-round with different species of flowers peaking in the changing seasons. Arriving a few days before the New Year, we found the camellias in full bloom, white and red camellia trees lining our path as we wandered through  the thick growth to encounter many surprises along the way.
There were shops, coffee houses, green houses, statues, a Japanese garden, storybook characters and icons scattered throughout the terrain. As we walked I was
reminded of the 19th Century Parks in Europe and England designed deliberately as adventures. Paths would wander and then abruptly turn and you would unexpectedly see a waterfall towering above you. Central Park in New York City was originally designed using that concept. The surprises of Camellia Hill were similar, as the growing shrubs were so thick that many things were obscure until you would enter a clearing and there would be a Greenhouse thoughtfully laid out with many species of flowers and trees and even moss. 

Further on you might see a coffee house and restaurant and then  wander through a Japanese Garden, beautifully sculpted, coming upon an exquisite Japanese Bonsai Tree near a rock formation called Crouching Dragon. The garden invites meditation, maybe a place to return to when there are fewer people. The Crouching Dragon    seems to be sleeping. I noticed that the English sub-title beneath the Korean name was "Couching Dragon,"---a typo or merely descriptive of a lazy dragon in the afternoon sun? The afternoon unfolded like an adventure, perhaps emulating the great English Parks of the 19th Century.

Finally we found ourselves in front of an elegant greenhouse, and on further investigation discovered it to be a coffee house still decorated for the holidays and almost gleaming inside from the afternoon sunlight pouring through the glass.

Here we were in the midst of winter, but on an idyllic adventure that might be typical of a Spring day elsewhere. A few days later I would be waking to see a blanket of snow on the farmland outside my window.

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Just a short drive to the Jeju coast in Seogwipo is the mountain SangBanSang which was once the peak of Mount Halla and was separated by a cataclysmic event that caused it to land by the ocean. Because it was the peak of Korea's tallest mountain, it possesses a powerful energy and spiritual presence that inspired the founding of a revered Buddhist Temple, Sangbanggulsa Temple. 

 In a reconnaissance maneuver to scout the terrain before winter solstice, I journeyed with friends along the coast leading to SangBanSang, coming upon countless coffee houses and hangouts where any aspiring Hemingway would be honored to linger to observe and write unpretentious masterpieces of humanity encountering the world, inspired by the sun and sea, with a beautiful terrain so breathtaking that one can hardly believe the whole thing is not simply a fantasy. I resolved to sometime return to Zen Hideaway to resume the writing I used to do in the coffee houses of New York City.

Arriving at the foot of the mountain, we found a multilevel approach to Buddha and the Temple, and through some mysterious means found ourselves having tea with the Temple's Buddhist Monk who revealed an inspiring voice as he shared his chants with us.  His voice had such resonance and depth, and I felt as though we were touched by some ancient miracle as he brought the sound into our presence as though summoned from some cherished sanctuary.

All of this was just to see if, indeed, the stories about the mountain being the site of a sunrise vigil to welcome in the New Year were true. They were --- we will return to SangBanSang to welcome in the new year 2018.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Apparently this will be my 81st winter solstice. One might think in all these years some of the mystery would be gone, but the mystery deepens. It deepens because there is no true repetition. The absence of repetition is something we seldom notice because we are so captivated by its illusion. Music delights us when we hear the refrain repeated.... the familiar returning. We scarcely notice the illusion that Time affords us. Each repetition is tempered by time. We are older, even thought it be seconds later, and that repetition invades time as a new entity, stamping the moment with its presence, even as we are shaped by the time that passes. Even though the earth is spinnng its predictable course around the sun, the sun is traveling around the galaxy and is in a new place. Time teeters on the edge of discovery, and we are in a different energy.

We also alter the moments by the space we occupy. Our changes may be subtle or dramatic, but they never repeat the past. As the human race, we share some vision of the future. We see a scintillating panorama of things to come...of machines obedient and serving us like slaves... of an increasing, never ending projection into a future where we control our destiny. But if we are to believe artifacts and remnants from the ancient earth, there were greater dynasties than ours that have vanished...
leaving behind faint echoes of civilizations that once flourished and have fallen to some cataclysmic ending.

Recently I listened to Diana Krall's "Let's Face The Music and Dance," a masterpiece in sound and interpretation.  I detected in the arrangement and improvisation more of an encounter with the universe, with entropy and with a moon that is widening its arc around the world until it spins out of earth's orbit to some distant destiny. There is a sense of cosmic inevitability about the arrangement that moves from a simple beginning to an ending that is like the running down of the cosmos...

Perhaps Irving Berlin meant this simple lyric would mask a deeper meaning... the law of entropy demands we pay the price of existing in time...so before our fling draws to a close, we will have to pay the piper, so to speak. There are no free rides....

Ms. Krall starts with a simple dance rhythm, nice and casual, but then a note of caution, a sustained string sound has a slight foreboding tone:
There may be trouble ahead,
but while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
let's face the music and dance.
But we try to ignore those signs of impending disaster... the music is playing, and yes, we will have to pay for our putting off the inevitable, but this the time to celebrate while we can... let's get the most from this moment:
Before the fiddlers have fled,
before they ask us to pay the bill,
and while we still have the chance,
let's face the music and dance.
Reality interrupts the party... the universe is running down and the moon is pulling against the earth, intent to follow a different journey... the counter melody moves away from the main melody
Soon, we'll be without the moon,
humming a different toon,
Then the orchestra and improv become more complex in texture, and we hear a kind of wistful orchestra as we become aware that the end may be near:
And then, there may be tear drops to shed.
But we realize we have no control over the future or our destiny:
         So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
                 Let's face the music and dance.

        Soon, we'll be without the moon,
        humming a different toon,
        And then, there may be tear drops to shed.
       So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
                 Let's face the music and dance.
                          Let's face the music and dance...
                                  Let's face the music and dance.              
                                         Let's face the music and dance...
                                                Let's face the music and... dance.
The repetition is incessant and sad, but also resigned to the beauty of the reality that reluctantly all things come to an end...  each repetition becomes fainter and fainter as the universe comes to its treacherous demise...suddenly Ms. Krall abruptly breaks the texture with an almost passionless utterance of "dance!" and the music seems to end teetering on the brink of chaos... a brilliant rendering starting simply and unraveling as time goes on in the song... music can be a comforting companion in a journey through Time.

REPETITION...  "Let's Face The Music and Dance" has been repeated many times over the years since Irving Berlin penned this song 81 years ago when I was born in 1936. All through those 80 trips around the sun, singers such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have charmed fans with their versions which voiced the reluctance of two lovers resigned to an unknown fate... and then the song repeated in a new era, wiser in the understanding of our place in the universe, Diana Krall reminds us that we should relish "our place in the sun" while we can... just Face The Music and Dance...

And so this solstice is our romance with humanity's journey with the sun and our hope that the sun will continue to sustain us for another season... a ritual since before Stonehenge and now in a few days on Sunrise Mountain on Jeju Island.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Last October... as autumn ebbed away with slight invasions of winter... as a Saturday sun defined a golden afternoon, I meandered through Poet's Walk overlooking the Hudson River where Washington Irving once walked and is said to have been inspired by the distant Catskills to write Rip Van Winkle. It was a perfect autumnal evening with the waning sun settling in the west. Below, the Hudson detailed itself in elegant silence, and clouds interpreted the sky with glowing gestures of drifting calm.

Now in the waning hours of 2017, I walk along the beautiful vistas of Jeju Island, which erupted into being eons ago in the Yellow Sea. Looking north, I know the morning calm of mountains of Korea are somewhere beyond the horizon. To my right, Japan silently waits for my attention, and to my left the vast mystery of China calls me with a voice I remember when I was a child discovering that continent in my father's library.

In some way that I cannot understand, this island has emerged as the center of the universe and my mind leaps light years in all directions. What began as a poet's walk along the Hudson has become a greater walk among the stars. Perhaps the most elegant aspect of the island is the magnificent changing skies providing a panorama of changing cloud-formed constellations. I see the sun painting such bold, and sometimes delicate, streaks of light, igniting a spectrum of colors, never repeating and endlessly changing. At night, dwarfed by the surrounding oceans, the island glows in the moonlight and silence is the music of darkness. And in the silence I hear the music of myself.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Time has a way of continuing to unfold. It is the most compelling dimension we encounter. It is the consequence of of a moment of revelation in awareness ignited with a sense of IS-NESS. We have been trying to understand ourselves in relationship to Being and Time, Time and Being, (as Heidegger framed the dilemma twice in his life).

In eight decades, the procession of events has been defined somewhat angular on what I sensed as an upward trajectory. This metaphor is probably common to us all. Does the trajectory now tail off and curve back toward the earth, or does it continue and escape gravity, spiraling toward unknown destinies?

That is where I am today, as I look to know where Wyzard Ways now wanders, for I sense it more as a wandering than a zooming.  Free of the gravity of my past life, I now float freely toward some unknown destiny. The all sounds much too grand for what emerges as a quiet, more reflective drifting to new ways of BEING and MEANING. 

I look to being in a place where I can comprehend where I have been and what that may actually represent as experience, as a sense of reality. Language begins to fall short of discovery. 

Monday, February 13, 2017


With noted Avantgarde-artist Clayton Patterson serving as Presenter, the 2017 Acker Awards Ceremony was warmly acclaimed by a packed audience of fellow artists and arts enthusiasts. It was more of a happening than a ceremony.  Initiated on the West Coast, and named after novelist Kathy Acker, the East Coast Acker Awards in 2013 was founded by Clayton as a means of documenting the extraordinary artistic activities in the lower east side of New York. Clayton champions and celebrates the leading edge of artistic development that has long been identified with the East Village.

As described on HOWL ARTS: (updated slightly)
The ACKER Awards were created by Alan Kaufman in San Francisco and Clayton Patterson in New York. Patterson and friends pay tribute to members of the avant-garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, and to those who have served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. The Acker Awards are named after novelist Kathy Acker, who in her life and work exemplified the risk-taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant-garde artist.
Each recipient receives a commemorative box that contains original art works and mementos created by some of the 40 winners. Each year the box,includes booklets, bios and  original works of art and ephemera. Previous boxes have contained a signed and numbered papier- mâche potato by Hapi Phace, a sculpture by Tom Otterness, a handmade book by Edgar Oliver, and other specially-created art works.

Flanking Clayton Patterson's stage presentation was the celebrated Phoebe Legere,  musician and multiform artist, serving as MC of this event that had elements of spontaneous combustion. The energy of the artists and the audience was palpable, immediate and free spirited.

The evening was laced with impromptu performances, witty and insightful comments from Phoebe and Clayton, with an air of celebration in understanding that this event helps create and maintain community among a wide range of arts and generations from young and aspiring to venerate veterans who have established identities and domains through many struggles and challenges.

Many in the audience were former winners of the Acker Awards, suggesting that Clayton Patterson's vision of establishing a strong sense of community through the awards has become manifest,  It is a monumental achievement to put together these awards, prepare the  commemorative boxes,  hire a hall, advertise and stage the event. Kudos to Clayton Patterson.

Even more impressive of this community of village artists is the diversity of practices, preferences, and artistic collaborations/creations spanning almost seven decades of explosive creativity. At one point when Lincoln Anderson and his work with The Villager was announced, Clayton took a moment to remind us that the Villager is on-line, and that its presence on the Internet makes it equal to all other publications in visibility. He noted that this publication is a record of the work of the community, urging that everyone add to the record by commenting on articles and postings.

This was an awards evening worth noting for the city, for the artists represented by these awards are carving out new terrain that resonates with change and the creation of new work.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Just when I thought that for me at eighty there were no more rebirths of imagination... no bursts of creativity, I am awaking to a new world and noticing the beautiful sounds, the beautiful moments that need to be stamped with the permanence of celebration by turning Time into an ally of preservation. We have the capacity to capture Time in the bottle of creation, transforming the moment into an enduring presence.