Saturday, January 1, 2022

Books Read in 2021

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Here are the books I read in 2021. A total of 20. Of course I read more than that, but it's impossible to find some texts on IndieBound or even on publishers' web sites. Seven books by Nietzsche: five of them were rereads, and the other two (Dionysian-Dithyrambs and Twilight of the Idols: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer) were new to me. Finished only one novel by Toni Morrison, though I'm nearly done with another. The Wojnarowicz was a dear traveling companion across the country, from Dallas to Seattle, from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. The Michel Leiris book was inspired; the Édouard Glissant, equally brilliant. Some really great poetry and shorter novels and hybrid works. Only eight of the twenty were originally written in English. The only book that I didn't care for at all was The Iliac Crest. I have no idea why people liked it. It's not the first time my tastes differ from others (please see the other books I read).

Friday, December 31, 2021

Your 2022 Resolutions

Instead of writing personal resolutions for myself this year I decided to write resolutions for you. Here are eight impersonal resolutions guaranteed to make you a better person and the world a better place.

  1. Acknowledge that goodness is already your nature and that the world's nature is goodness as well. There is no need to strive, to resolve, to make better.
  2. Nurture someone/something else. With all the care-giving you already do, accept another object under your care. A person. A pet. A plant. A highway median. In this way you will learn that your care is boundless.
  3. Disappear from yourself and your obligations/preferences/habits. This might be tricky if you haven't done it before. Start out disappearing for an hour. Work up to disappearing for a day. Or two. And never ever tell another soul where you went and what you did. This is your most precious gift to yourself. Treasure it.
  4. Cultivate unconditional forgiveness and love. In that order. Especially for yourself.
  5. Challenge yourself, your thinking, your talents. Push yourself. Not to be better but to stretch beyond your comfort. There's plenty of other opportunities to be comfortable.
  6. Practice seeing every cherished object broken and every cherished person gone. Feel what that feels like without feeling it. Hold those things and people more dear than you did before. Repeat. Forever.
  7. Divest from evil corporations. All corporations are evil, but some are more evil than others. Stop spending money at at least five corporations that harm the goodness of your world. There are a few apps and web sites that can show you where corporations spend money and which politicians and policies they support.
  8. Spend money and time on a political campaign. Spend money and time on a nonprofit organization. Share your goodness and the goodness of the world with others.

And a bonus resolution, because people like bonuses: Notice when resistance arises and then resist it.

Happy 2022.

Monday, December 20, 2021

My Chemex Recipe


I've been making my own Chemex for the past few years. Originally I was curious about the process, but soon it became another way for me to slow my morning or afternoon down and to ground myself in the present. Here is the recipe that I currently use. It's a blend of a couple of different recipes from various sources, one of them being Blue Bottle, which offers some good advice regarding technique.

Supplies

Coffee beans (I suggest light or medium roast.)
Water (filtered), 1 liter
Grinder
Chemex carafe
Chemex filter (unbleached)
1-liter goose-neck electric kettle
Kitchen scale (metric)
Timer
  1. First a prayer: Acknowledge the Native lands you are living on. Acknowledge the slave labor that your practices and purchases support. Acknowledge the environmental destruction that results from this cup of coffee. Express gratitude to all who allow you to live your life as you do.
  2. Boil water. In the meantime, grind your beans to the coarseness of sea salt. A little finer than sea salt is also okay. I recommend starting with about 41 grams of coffee beans. As you get used to the process, you can adjust the amount to taste.
  3. When the water is ready, set the filter on the Chemex carafe (the filter's 3-layer side lays over the spout) and pour a small amount over it to dampen it. Pour that water out. (Remember, it's hot!) Set your Chemex with a damp filter on the scale. Reset the scale to zero. Dump your ground coffee into the damp filter. Shake the coffee to level it. Confirm the coffee amount (41 grams). Reset the scale to zero.
  4. The Bloom. Begin your timer. You'll pour twice the amount of boiled water (82 grams or milliliters in this example) over the coffee in a spiral motion, making sure that all the coffee is wet. Let the water drain through for about 45 seconds. During the bloom, the wet grounds will look like they're breathing. Enjoy the aroma. Remember to breathe yourself because this process is to slow you down a bit in order to enjoy the time you have at present.
  5. Second Pour. At 00:45 pour 200 grams of boiled water over the coffee in a spiral motion. Let the water drain through for about a minute. (Scale should read 282 grams. Don't worry if you're off on your pours. Just adjust on the next pour. You're not going to ruin your coffee if it's a little off, either during the brewing or at the end. Experience being here and being now.)
  6. Third Pour. At 1:45 pour another 200 grams of boiled water over the coffee in a spiral motion. Let the water drain through for about a minute. (Scale should read 482 grams.)
  7. Fourth Pour. At 2:45 pour another 200 grams of boiled water over the coffee in a spiral motion. Let the water drain through until the timer reaches 4:30. (Scale should read 682 grams.) All the water should be drained at this point (in the bottom of the Chemex carafe as coffee). If not, then you may need to adjust the grind of your beans: finer coffee will allow the water to flow through more quickly; courser coffee will make the water flow more slowly.
  8. Pour the remainder of the boiled water in your coffee cup(s) to warm. (This serves the same purpose as chilling your cocktail glass for a cold beverage.) Dump the water and pour your velvety Chemex coffee into your mug(s) and enjoy. You should have enough for two people to have 2 medium-sized cups of coffee, so be sure to share your time and experience with a friend.
  9. Compost the filter and coffee grounds in your garden.

Let me know if you have any questions. When you come to visit, I'll make you a fresh cup of coffee.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Review: The Hairy Ape | The Classics Theatre Project | The Core Theatre

Scene from The Hairy Ape
Drew Maggs (foreground) as Yank in The Classics Theatre Project's production of Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Lloyd Harvey and Louis Shopen in background. Photo by Kris Ikjeri.

Richardson, Texas – Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape effortlessly prefigures some of our ongoing sociological and ecological disasters. It was only a matter of time before The Classics Theatre Project, whose mission is “to produce socially relevant classic works” brought to stage the almost 100-year-old play.

In the dimly lit, sepia-drenched black box of Richardson’s Core Theatre, bare scaffolding lines three sides, caging in the actors. To the far left a house band made up of a drum kit and guitars provides a soundtrack to the drama. The original music by Braden Socia and Petra Milano ranges from reverb-driven lo-fi garage rock to plaintive folk and even Native American-inspired war drumming.

Director Joey Folsom imaginatively highlights the sound design throughout his new adaptation of the show, which he co-produced with Bren Rapp. One way he does this is by emphasizing the workers’ chanteys. The use of music lends a dynamic, multimedia element that both softens the sharper edges of the show’s expressionistic technique while also fleshing out the typically two-dimensional quality of expressionistic action in general. It also helps to bridge the lull between scenes. Stylized choreography supplements the work songs as the men shovel coal into the ship’s belly, though one actor near the back clearly hadn’t learned the moves.

The play opens onto a steam ship’s forecastle before moving on to the promenade deck, the industrialized hell of a stokehole, a corner of New York City’s Fifth Avenue, a prison on Blackwell’s Island, a waterfront union meeting hall, and finally the monkey house at the zoo. The protagonist Yank spends much of the eight scenes of The Hairy Ape questioning where he belongs. The audience easily grasps that even though the scenes may change, the cages of Yank’s mind—and his position in society—never do.

Drew Maggs’ Yank deftly modulates between the gruff and grumble of his lowly position and a cocky self-regard bordering on megalomania. The fluctuations come across all the more powerfully once the wind is successively knocked from his sails by the moneyed class, the police, the union workers, and the gorillas at the zoo.

Jackie Kemp strikes all the right notes in his performance of Paddy, especially in his wistful recollection of life on a sailing ship when “a ship was part of the sea, and a man was part of a ship, and the sea joined all together and made it one.” Paddy’s reminiscence, no matter how brief, is one of the few moments in the play that offers an alternative vision of the world, and when it’s flat out rejected by the others, he’s visibly dispirited.

Jon Garrard stands out as the agitator Long. And Devon Rose and Janae Hatchett smoothly convey the vapid affectation of spoiled heiress Mildred and her aunt.

Luisa Torres, Rhonda Rose, and Folsom contributed to the set design, and the scene change during intermission was both simple yet really nice. The choice to have Jim Finger’s hazy watercolor mural of the New York cityscape behind the scaffolding makes even clearer that the city, too, is its own type of cage, perhaps just with better grooming.

A favorite scene was the masked crowd clad in funereal black as they come from church, lending the action notes of surrealism peppered with the absurdist repetition of “I beg your pardon,” which registers less as an apology and more as a threat. The prison scene, on the other hand, seems too dark.

In this captivating adaptation, only one thing seems out of place: Yank’s practically omnipresent silver flask, which comes across as a bit too fancy and appears too many times on stage—admittedly a minor quibble for an otherwise strong production.

The show runs through November 6.

Frank Garrett
American Theatre Critics Association, Member

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Without Night

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Asleep, I recited or imagined myself reciting lines (to be exact: though I was saying nothing, I was nonetheless in the same emotional state as someone reciting his lines); but upon waking (already half-conscious), discovering that I will truly have to invent my lines instead of merely acting as if I were reciting them, I come up with a compromise. I continue to speak, but only in order to speak about speaking my lines. (150-151)
Michel Leiris' Nights as Day, Days as Night made me smarter. (And I was already pretty smart.) Though I'm not sure just how much I would appreciate Leiris' book had it not been for the inspired choice to use Maurice Blanchot's "Dreaming, Writing" as a Forward.

I've read a lot of Blanchot in my life. I wrote a dissertation over him. But I can't say that I knew this work before. Now I can write that the eleven-page "Dreaming, Writing" is one of my favorite works by Blanchot and one of his most astute. To summarize: dreaming is a kind of writing; writing, a kind of dreaming.
 
In Blanchot's words: "Dreams are a temptation for writing because writing may well also deal with this same neutral vigilance that the nighttime of sleep seeks to extinguish but that the nighttime of dream awakens and maintains, even as it perpetuates being by a semblance of existence" (22). I have no idea how anyone who's never studied phenomenology can get anything out of that, but as someone who's studied phenomenology—I wrote a dissertation over that—I can say that this blows my mind with its simplicity and insight.
 
Blanchot writing on Leiris writing on dreaming as the dream of dream-writing. This is the book that Jacques Derrida tried to write with Of Grammatology. And Writing and Difference.
 
This morning I was reading without a pencil, and since I didn't want to disturb the cat who was asleep on my lap, I dogeared page 145 to remind me to go back to this page for something else I'm working on. As I continued reading on to page 148, the morning sun shining through the window made the page translucent. I could see the fold on the previous page through the page I was currently reading: a lambent-trace of a shadow-mark remaining, shining-through in writing's unnightly dreamreading…