Work & Play

A common form of contemporary violence

How jam-packed are your days?

Where is the space and stillness in your life? Where is the quiet? Where is there room to linger? To think? To be?

Is there any?

I recently read this quotation from Thomas Merton…

The rush and pressure of modern life ... is perhaps the most common form of contemporary violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.

I’m doing a daily retreat with my fellow Zen freaks and so I’ve recommitted to my long lost afternoon meditation session.

What a difference it’s making to sit still for 10 to 30 minutes every afternoon. And by afternoon, I mean anything from 2pm to 4pm to 8pm (yes… sometimes the day gets going and my “afternoon” happens at 8pm… which is the whole f*cking point of that quote up above!)

“To surrender to too many demands, to commit myself to too many projects”… that about sums who I’ve been and who I often am.

It does feel like violence to my being.

And when I interact with other people that are overcommitted and full of too many concerns, I see my reflection.

It’s right there in front me. I am them. They are me. No wonder I feel so weird around them, feel their lack of presence, and, basically, want to get away right away.

I am quite sure that is how people feel around me.

Right. Time to stop the violence towards myself and the world.

Life takes time and effort

Productivity porn.

It’s on the rise.

These days it’s not enough to just do something for the sake of doing it, for the sake of exploration, for the sake of fun, for the sake of being a good person, for the sake of your soul and what feels good to you and makes you satisfied on the inside.

No, everything we do these days, it’s all got to have a point. Got to lead to a dollar bill, a side hustle, a business or a something that the outside world (and your inside self-hating voice) deems “the point.” What ever you do, it’s got to make money or make you famous. That’s what the voices say.

Life takes time and effort. And most things worth doing don’t have a “point.”

The time and effort IS the reward.

I spent about 4.5 years (1643 days +/-) with my mom. Seeing her from cancer diagnosis to death (and beyond).

Yesterday, I spent 24 hours with my dad. Hanging out, taking him to doctor appointments, caring for him, talking to him, helping him — with all the humor and love and calmness inside me — through some very basic health issues (having to do with toileting).

What’s the point of all of that?

No one ever saw all the things I did with and for my mom. No one sees all these moments I spend with my dad now, being present, being with him (not just “checking in,” or waltzing through, or asking someone else about how he is doing).

You can’t phone-in the time and effort life takes. You can’t delegate it to someone else. I observe, though, that lots of people fool themselves into believing they can. It always leaves me wondering how their souls feel.

There is no point to all of those hours and days I spent with my mom and now spend with my dad. No point other than love and being witness to life and aging and death and change and my own minute-by-minute practice of becoming a conscious, compassionate, unconditionally loving human.

Saying No Never Gets Old

It never gets old because I am so bad at it.

Recently, I read this blog post by Rohan that reminded me that one of the reasons I am not present in my life, or TO and IN my life, is that I have such a hard time saying no.

I say yes when I don’t want to (or even when I want to say yes, but know — deep down — that saying no is better for me).

You will do for the love of others what you would not be willing to do for yourself
— Cheri Huber

This takes me out of the present moment. If not immediately, then it definitely pulls me out of the present moment when the yes I agreed to comes “due,” so to speak.

I am — humans are — notoriously bad at imagining what our future self wants and needs. We think everything will be exactly as it is in this moment.

But I am overwhelmed in this moment, too.

There’s the rub.

Will I ever learn?

I am starting to.

Now I keep a list of the things I’ve said no to. So I can remind myself — prove to myself — that I can, in fact, do it and am getting better at it.

NYC gig -- February 25, 2019 -- 7pm @ Rockwood Music Hall

Back at my fav spot …

Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3
>> entrance to Stage 3 is on 185 Orchard Street <<

Monday, February 25, 2019
Doors @ 6:30pm
Downbeat @ 7pm
Show is over @ 8pm … it’s a school night, right?

Get your TIX HERE. $15 bucks.

Intimate listening room vibes!

And, as always, an attempt to answer some fundamental questions of metaphysics through song.




Reading in swarms

I finally figured out a name for this thing I’ve done for years.

The thing is this: simultaneously, or in very quick succession, reading a group of books about one topic or theme.

I call this weird little habit of mine “reading in swarms.”

I suppose you could also call it “research,” but that would be too clinical and would give me too much credit.

Is it “curiosity”?

Sure it is. Of course. I’m curious about something or someone and then read not one, but five or seven or ten or more books about the topic. But there is something about reading five or ten books (and not, say, two) that tips this — at least in my mind — from curiosity towards some other kind of activity.

Is it mania?

Maybe. But a benign mania.

I don’t know what it is. It’s just what I do when I read.


I don’t do it exclusively. O, god no.

I also read one-off books, so to speak: a single book by an author.

For example, while I am reading a swarm of books about the Arctic, say, I might also be reading the novel Mating by Norman Rush. In fact, I am never not reading Mating, but that is a different mania of mine. I’ve never read another book by Rush except a book of his short stories.

Maybe this impulse to read in swarms is an impulse towards mastery.

Perhaps. That’s more like it.

A swarm of books about the Arctic


In reality, it’s probably all of those states along some sort of continuum. The impulse to read a book about death, for example, starts off as curiosity or a straight-up need. As in, I needed help in figuring how to deal with the impending death of my mother, so I looked toward literature for that help. Then, having read one book on death, I got curious as to how other minds thought about it, so I started searching for and reading more books on the topic. And then it became a bit of fixation and a what… hobby? obsession? race? hunger? (See my blog posts: Death, A Reading List part 1 and Death, A Reading List part 2.)

That’s more like it: hunger.

What I know is that for a while I was insatiable about the topic of death in book form. I was desperate to find some aspect of my experience described by another person. I wanted words for the unutterable grief I was enduring at my mom’s side during those years of her dying. That’s why Christopher Hitchens’s perfect phrase “living dyingly” spoke to me when I first read it. It physically rearranged something in my brain and body. I read that phrase and something that slid into place inside me. That’s why I picked up his slim, piercing book Mortality in the first place. A writer like him would surely be able to help me articulate what I couldn’t.

While my mom was dying, I picked up book after book about daeth. (Well, there was that period of time when neither she nor I could read anything, but that’s for another blog post.)

A fraction of the swarm of books I’ve read about death

And each book added another window to the metaphorical dark house I was living in.

Now, I don’t read as much about death anymore. My mom’s been dead for more than three years. Things aren’t so urgent. I’ve metabolized the writings of the authors in my death swarm. I’ve written my own book about death. It’s a songbook.

I occasionally add books to the swarm, of course. People send me things to read. I’d never swat these words away.

New swarms have appeared or old, forgotten swarms have reappeared: the Arctic swarm, the Shakespeare swarm (the Ur-swarm for me), the Jamaica Kincaid swarm, the William Faulkner swarm (I took a whole semester on Faulkner at Harvard, so this is another old one), the Rachel Cusk swarm, the Elena Ferrante swarm (this one is fraught and frenzied), etc. There are also nonfiction swarms (the income inequality swarm) and self-help-y swarms (time management).

Beekeepers, I’ve heard, consider themselves lucky when they come upon a swarm. Catching a swarm is exciting and unpredictable and somewhat (or a lot) chaotic.

I think I understand.

Don't stop at 20

If you are struggling with something, say coming up with a title for a book or a blog post or a song, don’t do the minimum amount.

Don’t come up with one title and think you’re done. You’re not. You’ve not even started.

Come up with 20 titles.

And if 20 is hard, do 30.


To come up with 30 ideas you won’t self-edit. You won’t have time to. You need to get to 30 so that the ideas flow.

And that’s the point: find the killer word or phrase that would’ve never been found if you’d stopped at 1 or 5 or 20 or 25.

Make a list of everything you've said yes to doing

Write a quick and dirty list of everything you’ve said yes to doing.

The list’ll include things you’re already doing, things you’ve said you’d do but you haven’t started yet, things you started long ago but haven’t finished yet (unclosed loops), etc.

Try to get it all down. Even if the categories are broad and overwhelming. Like category “Dad.”

He’s an entry on my list. I do need to show up for him. I’ve said yes to being a loving daughter so that means I show up more than I don’t show up.

What happens when you see your list?

Does it tell you something about why your life looks and feels the way it does?

Yeah. I know.

Now — what can you cross off, punt, say no to, get rid of, decide you’re not going to do now or ever?


It is hard, I know. But buried in all of that is the one or two things you really want to focus on, the one or two things that would really make a difference for you.

What would be possible if you created more space for that one thing to flourish?

Are you willing to find out?

“It is much easier to put a laundry list together of all the possible things you need to get done each day than it is to actually choose your one most important task” and then work on mastering it. — Organize Tomorrow Today by Dr. Jason Selk and Tom Bartow

Quotes on being brief

  • “It was a delightful visit;—perfect in being much too short.” —Jane Austen

  • “My liege, and madam, to expostulate
    What majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
    Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
    Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
    And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
    I will be brief.” ― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

  • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” —Thomas Jefferson

  • “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” —Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, 1657, (translated from the French)

  • “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche

  • “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” ―George Burns

  • “This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do —not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit." —Stephen King, On Writing 

  • “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated.” —Franklin Delano Roosevelt