Thursday 30

More on sight, sight, meditation and the power of prayer. In today's

Wednesday 29

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill. Ever since I took my Aunt Jessie to New York City last Friday I've been whistling, humming, and singing songs from The White Album, which I listened to the entire drive home to Northampton. The Beatles sang

Hey, Bungalow Bill/What did you kill?Bungalow Bill?/He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun/In case of accidents he always took his mom/He's the all American bullet-headed saxon mother's son/All the children sing/Hey, Bungalow Bill/What did you kill/Bungalow Bill

and I sang with The Beatles and whistled Martha my dear though I spend my days in conversation/Please/Remember me Martha my love/Don't forget me Martha my dear/Hold your head up you silly girl look what you've done/When you find yourself in the thick of it/Help youself to a bit of what is all around you/Silly girl and then

I sang again singing I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink/I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink/I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink/No, no, no whistling next

Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly/All your life/You were only waiting for this moment to arise still whistling

I look at you all see the love there that's sleeping/While my guitar gently weeps and I just can not stop singing or whistling and humming as I walk up Sixth Avenue in New York City after leaving Nicole's office at Maxim and this comes to me

Half of what I say is meaningless/But I say it just to reach you, Julia/ Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me/So I sing a song of love, Julia/Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me/So I sing a song of love, Julie and I'm walking north when suddenly I am over-taken by a couple, a man and a woman, and I am singing, I am whistling

Who knows how long I've loved you/You know I love you still/Will I wait a lonely lifetime/If you want me to I will/For if I ever saw you/I didn't catch your name/But it never really mattered/I will always feel the same/Love you forever and forever/Love you with all my heart/Love you whenever we're together/Love you when we're apart/And when at last I find you/Your song will fill the air/Sing it loud so I can hear you/Make it easy to be near you/For the things you do endear you to me/You know I will/I will and this man and woman look like artists I can only see them now from behind and she is finely dressed in a matching skirt and jacket, fishnet stocking and he is dressed in baggy blue slacks and sport coat with his collar turned up and he is wearing blue sneakers and then I notice people are walking past them and then smile and turn to look and then he turns and then I see it is Paul McCartney and then the construction workers call out "We love you, Paul," and he turns and waves but i can't catch up to them, the city is so crowded today and they are walking at a brisk pace and I wonder what song they are singing to each other and the women in their beautiful winter coats turn and smile heavenly and I hear them say "Paul" and then they jaywalk and they are gone, into the doors of a restaurant and I think, I sing, I whistle


Tuesday 28

I can see for miles and miles. Interesting story in today's Wall Street Journal, which got me thinking about sight, sound, meditation and prayer. I quote (The Wall Street Journal is available on-line here: The first 30-days free, thereafter at a small charge.

ZURICH -- Nothing looks good to eat at the Blind Cow restaurant.

It's not that the pan-fried trout with boiled potatoes and the red snapper with green lentils are bad. It's just impossible to see the dishes or the plates they are on.

Or the silverware.

Or anything at all.

That's because patrons at this eatery in this pristine Swiss city dine in total darkness and place their trust in the hands of bartenders, cooks and waitresses, almost all of whom are blind.

[Blind Cow]

Named for the Swiss game of blind man's bluff, Blind Cow is the brainchild of the Rev. Jorge Spielmann, a 37-year-old blind pastor who has been known to blindfold his dinner guests just for fun. Mr. Spielmann was inspired to open the restaurant while volunteering to tend bar at a 1998 public exhibit in Zurich where sighted people groped their way through various dark rooms to catch a glimpse of what it means to be blind. After serving up drinks in the dark, Mr. Spielmann saw the light.

"For once, you couldn't tell the difference between the hobby blind and the professional blind," he says. "I wanted that feeling to continue."

Dark Motives

Mr. Spielmann and four blind colleagues set out to establish a restaurant that would provide jobs for blind and visually impaired people while giving the sighted the chance to appreciate the skills required to cope in the dark. After raising an initial 300,000 Swiss francs (about $170,000) in donations from local businesses and charities, Mr. Spielmann found space in an unused Lutheran church.

The 60-seat restaurant opened in September 1999. Poetically situated at the crest of a blind curve in a quiet residential neighborhood, the restaurant has stained glass windows that are ablaze in the evenings and a spotlight that shines over the heavy wooden doors. At first glance, the well-lit reception room looks like any other, with a menu written on a large chalkboard, and a receptionist seated in front of a telephone and cash register.

But any similarities end when a blind waitress arrives with bells on her toes to usher diners into the darkness. One guest is told to place both hands on her shoulders, while other members of the party follow in kind. She leads them through blackened curtains to a dimmed holding area where they get a rundown of the rules: no smoking, no iridescent watches, no flashlights and, above all, no wandering. Guests who need to use the lighted restrooms must wait for her to lead them, to and fro. Any requests during the meal are to be made by shouting to summon the bell-wearing staff.

The bells also serve to allow the wait-staff to avoiding colliding with each other with plates of hot food. "We still bump into each other a lot," says Christine Wegmueller, a 29-year-old music student who has been a waitress at Blind Cow since it opened.

Once the ground rules are explained, guests parade through the pitch black to their tables, as the waitress explains where the chairs and place settings are located. The staff says there is no more breakage at Blind Cow than at any other restaurant, since customers are extraordinarily careful not to knock anything over.

Once seated, customers place orders and then sit back to feast on their remaining four senses. When the meal is over, diners tread lightly to a lighted reception desk, where people blink their eyes, pay the bill and stuff tips in a piggybank shaped like a blindfolded cow.

"It's very noisy in there," says Blind Cow patron Patricia Sennhauser, who heard about the restaurant from a friend and decided to make a reservation for lunch. "It was so loud, it was difficult to hear my companion. I found myself leaning forward as if I were blind."

Another first-time customer had a hard time remembering what she ate, since she spent so much time concentrating on how to eat it. "It was easier than I thought it would be, but I kept touching my eyes to make sure they were still there," says Iris Voegelin, who came to dine with a group of co-workers. "I'm happy I still can see."

Most customers agree that the menu of modestly priced German specialties is secondary to the atmosphere -- or lack of it -- and that they come mainly for the experience. Mr. Spielmann says his biggest fear was that the novelty would wear off, and Blind Cow would close down in three months. Instead, every seat is booked for dinner through March.

"At this point, customers have seen it all," says Blind Cow's manager, Adrian Schaffner, who thinks that the concept could be a hit in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where sophisticated diners hunger for new experiences. "To be successful in the restaurant business, it's not just food and drink; you need a message."

And an open mind. In order for the Blind Cow concept to catch on, experience junkies will need to check their table manners at the door, since dining in darkness invites the temporarily blind to eat like cavemen while avoiding any social repercussions over poor manners. Some diners confess to wiping mouths or mustaches on sleeves. Nobody worries about being seen using the wrong fork, either.

Others take short cuts. "It's hard for people to use knives, especially when they order meat," explains Ms. Wegmueller. "Lots of times, they pick it up and eat it by hand. It's easier that way."

Some customers use the cover of darkness to have a little fun. Consider three couples who sat down for dinner recently. When the women left to go to the washroom, the men changed seats. When the women returned, each man leaned over to plant a kiss on the lips of his unsuspecting companion. "One woman said, 'Stop! You're not my husband,' " laughs Ms. Wegmueller. "But another one couldn't tell the difference and those two just kept on kissing."

Inevitably someone would use the restaurant for, yes, a blind date. The woman came in first; she nursed her drink in the dark, and the man was led in to meet her a half-hour later. To the disappointment of the staff, the couple left separately, without having laid eyes on each other.

Mr. Schaffner sees a bright spot in the story -- and a way to market Blind Cow. Starting next March, he plans to make Monday night "date night," complete with guest speakers to discuss sex and relationships. "People can ask all kinds of questions in the dark," he says.

This story got me thinking about a conversation I had this weekend at Daryl's indoor soccer game. I was sitting with a dad of one of his friends who went on a 10-day meditation retreat at which he could not speak. He went to the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts I was curious about his experience as I had heard he wasn't aloud to speak for the ten days and to meditate in seclusion for a significant period of time has always intriqued me.

He explained to me that Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. The technique of Vipassana Meditation is taught at a ten-day residential course during which participants learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results. There are no charges for the course--not even to cover the cost of food and accomodations. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit. There are 60 centers around the world--six in North America--where the technique is taught and practiced.

more to come

Monday 27

Susan calls.

Sunday 26

A Russian Proverb. Most Spirited. Peter quoted a Russian proverb today in church and also used it as the title for his sermon; Every Day Is A Messenger From God.

Saturday 25

Friday 24

Aunt Jessie in New York City. I last saw Aunt Jessie when I was twelve, some 38 years ago.

Thursday 23.


Wednesday 22.

Bless Kaycee.

Tuesday 21

Things Imagined.

Monday 20

Computer scientist. Poet. My son, Daryl wrote:

I am a person who loves to read and write. Every night I read. I usually read for thirty minutes a day. When I read, it encourages me to write more too. In my stories I always think of what Mark Twain or another writer would put in that spot. I also get a lot of my ideas from books.

My favorite place to read and write is in my room, while sitting at my desk. My favorite book is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was written by J.K. Rowling, who is a my favorite writer. She also wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harrr Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. All of them were excellent books. What I love about J.K. Rowling, is that she never wrote a novel before she wrote the Harry Potter series, and when she wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it was number one on the bestseller list. She really inspires me.

When I grow up, I want to be a video game designer, but if I don't get the job I want to be a famous poet. I got inspired from my dad after I saw that he wrote a hole book of poems every year.

Sunday 19

Thanksgiving. Cleaning the garage. Babar.

Saturday 18

The State Hospital: In Memoriam. I want to make it sing.

Friday 17

A flock of butterflies.

Wednesday 15

Your now is my surroundings.

Tuesday 14

The Four Seasons and Stacy.

Monday 13

Tell me about yourself.

Sunday 12

Life is _______.

Saturday 11

Hot tub.

Friday 10

All my eggs.

Thursday 09

Kaatsbaan. Bridget Riley.

In a 1992 BBC broadcast, Bridget Riley said: "At the end of his life, Monet painted his largest, grandest paintings about virtually nothing; about looking into a huge expanse of water set with a few lilies in which unexpected colors appear in the depths, or elusively in reflections. It is a most mysterious, extraordinary subject in which he invest all his experiences and power. In the end there seems to be hardly any subject matter left---only content."

Wednesday 08

I want you.

Tuesday 07

Prospecting. All You Need Is Love.

Monday 06

Absence. Today I am thinking:

It it not I
Do not enjoy
Watching the children
Grow older. Since 1984
I held you, sung
To you. You will
Remember: she sees
Everything, she hears
Everything -- Pretty girls
In white dresses, angels,
The Space Shuttle exploding.
Electronic music--when the children
On the radio hear it this is
What they see.
Are you a cat?
Are you a dog?
Are you a horse?
Are you a duck?
Are you a cow?
Are you my little girl?
At the airport she coughs
And cries "home, home."
How deeply the cry can move me.
The cry is cried out whole
Into the seamless world
Into which birds' cries fully blend.
And in the dimmed bedroom light
She sees her arm
Cut off in such a way
From the dark her plaster forearm.
How many broken bones
Mighty roughly equal
The missing voice
Of a lost daughter?
Her voice the song of birds
and when she sings we hear it.

Sunday 05

When in Our Music God is Glorified. January and Jessica. Music was on my mind at church this morning. I sat listening quietly, reflectively during the Prelude thinking about the songs I downloaded from Napster last night: the Dutch band Bettie Serveert; Sigur Ros, the biggest band in Iceland; Marvin Pontiac, Bjork, Elevator, Thievery Corporation and Pere Ubu. And then we sung the first Hymn. Fred Pratt Green wrote this text in 1971 at the request of the British editor and composer John Wilson, the distinguished musician and director at England's famous Charterhouse School, who asked for a "festival" hymn to be set with the tune Engelberg, composed by Charles V. Stanford in 1904. . Following WWII, Green (born 1903) served as the minister to Methodist churches in the Fimbury Park Circuit in the north part of London. The congregations he served demanded all his time, so there was little opportunity for literary pursuits. One day while visiting in the home of one of his Sunday school boys, he met the boy's father, Fallon Webb, who welcomed the minister cordially. Webb discovered that he and Green had a keen mutual interest in poetic writing. He suggested that each of them write a poem, and, at their next meeting, they share and criticize one another's work. Out of this meeting with Webb came inspiration and encouragement for Green's writing. Their warm friendship lasted until Webb's death twenty years later. Green became a prolific writer of hymns, producing over 300 hymns and Christian songs. He is considered by many to be the leader of the "hymnic explosion" in England and the most important hymnist in Methodism since Charles Wesley.

Betsy's student helpers at Smith College, Jessica and January, came over for dinner tonight. Jessica is a Russian major and spent last year studying in the country (she's now taking Chinese). January is a Political Science major. Both will graduate this Spring, 2001. I love it when they visit us. They are both so filled with enthusiasm, knowledge and it is, quite simply, a lot of fun to be around them. Toward the end of their visit January and Daryl played two games of pool, each winning one, while the Smiths played in the background.

Saturday 04

Cathy Song. And still thinking about Yoko Ono. Another book of poems I have been looking for is "Frameless Windows, Squares of Light," by Cathy Song. Found it--at Gotham. Here are the first few lines from The Age of Reptiles:

The day you are born,
your brother swings himself
high into the air.
So high, in fact,
that the rope wobbles slack
in his fall back toward earth.
To an imaginary crew he yells,
"This is the captain speaking.
Turbulence! Fasten your seat belts!"
His hair, straight and brittle,
a magnet to static electricity
and linty knots is still very yellow.
He thinks he is alone in the yard;
the world, for all he knows, is spring.

Yoko Ono, whose work draws from Zen Buddhism as well as from the minimalist poetics of haiku and Noh theater, communicates certain Japanese aesthetics that have transformed the course of contemporary art. Presenting works that express a kind of metaphysical intelligence and poetic beauty, she creates an art that distills everyday things into pure, up-close experiences of contemplation. I was thinking about her work today and was struck by something that I read in The Christian Science Monitor:

The "Cliffs Notes" for F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" explains that the most of what Fitzgerald wrote he cut. In a relentless search for perfect form, he wrote, rewrote--and cut some more.

"One features that distinguishes the classics of our literature," writes Phillip Northman, "is the conscious artistry that fuses a work into a unified whole; every detail contributes to the unity of the final product, and nothing superfluous is permitted to remain."

The musician friend who shared this with me said it reminded him that art is an act of intelligence, not whimsy. It reminded me that artistic excellence involves purity of expression. As in working with gold, creating art involves a refining process.

So does living life. A pure, whole life requires eliminating the impurities of human character in order that the gold of goodness may appear. This includes purifying conversation, career ambitions, innermost desires, and even your opinions about yourself and other people.

Friday 03

"Wise Men Fish Here." Patricia Beer, a British poet concerned with death, theology and the mysteries of everyday existence, died on August 15. She was 79. I had not heard of her until I read her obit in The New York Times. She was born on November 4, 1919, in Exmouth, Devon. She was brought up by members of the strtct Plymouth Brethren sect; her first poems were hymns. She went to Exeter University and received a degree in literature from Oxford University. She taught English at the University of Padua in Italy from1947 to 1949, and at the British Institute in Rome from 1949 to 1951. She returned to England in 1953 and taught at the University of London. She also reviewed books for The Daily Telegraph in the 1980's and contributed to The London Review of Books. In addition to her books of poetry, she wrote one novel, a childhood memoir, and a study of the female characters of Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Elliot.

I have been searching for her books to buy since I read about her in the Times. I suppose I could have looked at Amazon, but I wanted the thrill of discovery, of walking into a store, looking through the stacks, and finding her books, any book. And I had such a thrill yesterday at Gotham Book Mark. Located in the heart of the Diamond District, on East 47th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues (the store with the small wooden sign out fron that read "Wise Men Fish Here") this wonderful haven for out-of-print titles, first editions, rare books, and new books, was first opened in the 1920s by Frances Steloff. Gotham was one of the leaders in the fight against censorship, stocking banned books by James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. It's a dusty store and it's delightful.

Here, from Patrica Beer's Driving West (1975), Middle Age:

Middle age at last declares itself
As the time when could-have-been
Is not wishful thinking any more,
Is not, say: I could have been at Oxford
If my parents had been richer
Or if the careers mistress had not thought
Exeter was good enough for me.
It is not misunderstanding either
As when at night in the first year of the war
Bombs could have been thunder
And later on in peace
Thunder could have been bombs.
Sights and sounds are more themselves now.
There have been real alternatives.
They have put on weight and yet faded.
Evening walks go past
Where we could have lived:
The coach-house that the mortage company
Said had too much charm
And not enough rooms.
Everywhere I look it is the same,
The churchyard or the other side of the bed.
The one who is not lying there
Could have been.


Thursday 02

Lunch with Nicole to plan Holiday Party. Yoko Ono. I had lunch today with Nicole, the circulation director for Dennis Publishing, to start planning for the FMA Holiday Party. The FMA is the largest organization in New York City of magazine circulation and fulfillment directors. This will be the third (and probably final) year I have organized the Holiday Party. It is a big event with well over 300 people in attendance. Last year I hired a piano player, magician, and two psychics to perform throughout the party. I plan to hire them again this year. I spent $10,000 on presents, ordering from such stores (over the internet) as J.Crew, LL Bean, Martha Stewart, Sharper Image, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, Anthropologie, Lands' End, Flax Art & Design, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel, Wolferman's, Grundig, Hold Everything, Tiffany, Coach, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Dean & Deluca. The only regret I have about last year's party is that I was so pressed for time I never gave my annual Holiday Speech (This year I'll make time!).

I said goodbye to Nicole and walked to The Japan Society on East 47th Street to see the Yoko Ono retrospective. "We see her as...a mischievous, wry, conceptual artist with a canny sensibility, cool but not dry, sometimes sweet, even corny--and way ahead of her time in giving acute visual form to women's issues...Her background party explains radical performance works like Cut Piece (1965), for which she sat impassively, a kind of bodhisattva, while people slowly cut off her clothes. It was an amazing feminist manifesto before most people knew what feminism was...Ms Ono's art is a mirror. We see ourselves in our reaction to it. A Box of Smile (open the hinged top and find your reflection in the mirror inside) may be a simple, hokey idea but it's emblematic of her best work. Smile into the mirror. It is a tiny prod toward personal enlightenment, very Zen." (Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, October 27, 2000, B35).

I loved this exhibition. I smiled. I stopped to think. In a speech she gave at Wesleyan College (1966) she said:

After unblocking one's mind, by dispensing with visual, auditory and kinetic perceptions, what will come out of us? Would there be anything? I wonder. And my events are mostly spent in wonderment. People talk about happening. They say art is headed towards that direction, that happening is assimiliating the arts. I don't believe in collectivism of art nor in having only one direction in anything. I think it is nice to return to having many different arts, including happenings, just as having many flowers. In fact, we could have more arts: smell, weight, taste, cry, anger. People might say that we never experience things separately, they are always in fusion, and that is why the happening, which is a fusion of all sensory perceptions. Yes, I agree, but if that is so, it is all the more reason and challenge to create sensory experience isolated from other sensory experiences, which is something rare in daily life. Art is not merely a duplication of life. To assimilate art in life is different from duplicating life. The mind is omnipresent, events in life never happen alone and history is forever increasing its volume. At this point, what art can offer (if it can at all--to me it seems) is an absence of complexity, a vacuum through which you are led to a state of complete relaxation of mind. After that you may return to the complexity of life again, it may not be the same, or you may never return, but that is your problem. I think it is nice to abandon what you have as much as possible, as many mental possessions as physical ones, as they clutter your mind. It is nice to maintain poverty of environment, sound thinking and belief. It is nice to keep oneself small like a grain of rice, instead of expanding.

Wednesday 01

Updated past week, taking notes from day planner and writing here at birchlane.

My son, Daryl, in his Halloween costume. "Boy, am I a cute girl," he said.

Our house was also visited by (in order of appearance): a hobo, monster, cinderella, monster, a 9-foot-tall ghost/monster, an angel, blue-haired punk (female), unidentifiable costume, kung fu person, baseball player, old lady, a gypsy, Merlin-like person, Elvis, Gold miner, another unidentifiable, a dog, a playing card (my favorite), a few princesses, 3 little girls dressed as hippies (cute), a baby devil, a baby witch, four girls together (another favorite) as 2 movie stars, director, and agent, scream, a terrorist, 2 girls in roaring 20s-like outfits, South Park mask, hillbilly (female), Ninja, 4 kids in unidentifiable costumes, 2 draculas, 2 hobos, scream, no costume, witch.