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Catherine loved Charlize (Theremin) and Charlize loved Catherine!

Woke up this morning and the whole place still smelled like fresh baked cookies – gave me a lovely feeling and reminded me of one of my favourite bits of CG Jung, as bounced off the exuberant mind of Alan Watts. Like me, Watts spent years seeking into all kinds of exotic traditions which offered clues and illumination his own tradition seemed to lack. But in reading Jung, he was at once rebuked and humorously reminded that we are made of what we are made of, and there is no shame in understanding our own sources honestly, even with their inevitable limits. We can always learn and grow, add to what we are already are. Replace the past? Not so much.

Of course Watt’s originating tradition was a rich and scholarly Christianity. My folks were both raised Catholic, but the only times I ever went to church as a kid were when my dad couldn’t find a babysitter, and he had to play the organ for a service (we’d hang out in the organ loft reading comics, or sometimes peer mystified, at the congregation below).

The philosophy of the commune/cult in which I was raised was so contradictory as to be unintelligible (at least as harmful as helpful, though many remain weirdly pleased with the help they got, and entirely unashamed of the cost to others).

So when I reach back for my core tradition of virtue I find myself left without a text – but by no means empty. Not at all. The good true things I learned when I was young, often despite the madness around, truly have held up for me.

Really understanding other people, making playful and courageous art, learning to be less foolish and more useful as we go. Friends – love – art – learning. Awfully simple code, perhaps, but I never regret putting my weight on any of those.

And before I skip past it, let me assure my friends who do have profound texts that I adore the word and wisdom, and I’ve also been profoundly moved by many key religious texts from near and far, it would just be fraudulent for me to pretend any of them was my tradition. I am a lover and enthusiast, but neither a supplicant nor one favoured by that consolation.

Thing is, I’ve done enough reading to find those central pillars strongly reflected in all the great traditions of overcoming self and reaching further. The one bit which seems to be especially vital in my own wonky and minute tradition, is my lifelong emphasis on play. Play in learning, in art, in love, in friendship, in every part of life – the hard bits especially.

“We don’t stop playing because we get old. We get old because we stop playing”

  • Ben Franklin

Had a really invigorating visit with a dear old friend last night. It must be almost thirty years since Graham and I first met, back when I was still fixing recording equipment, at the busiest music store in the city. We hit it off right away for a whole array of shared enthusiasms – funky and obscure synthesizers, in particular, but we soon realized we shared not only a dizzying range of subjects, but a quality of curiosity (insatiable and omnivorous) which makes every conversation we have a playful dance across hundreds of years and at least a half dozen academic specialities, with perhaps the odd off-colour quip here and there, for pomposity-busting and general mirth-leavening.

I sometimes think of Graham as the ‘straight’ version of me – but I mean him no disservice in saying that (sane, would be as good a word as straight). He is a family man, honourable, hardworking, a skillful and dedicated helper in his law office and also a freelance entrepreneur (that is, the kind of self discipline to be both a safe pair of hands for others and a captain of his own ship – a rare range, and rarer every year).

His kids are flourishing, he has a nice place in the heart of the city where he can walk and enjoy life even when he is ready to ease into retirement, and the family retreat to a lovely cottage every summer (so sorry Catherine and I were never well enough to go). Steady effort and much sacrifice for decades, rewarded with the kind of basic lifestyle goods to which we can all relate and aspire.

He is also one of the best connected people I know, when it comes to the underground music scene in the city – but he has earned that in an honest way, by virtue of his generous spirit and kind heart. Creative people really are weird (working in a music store gave me a hilarious number of extra models, to help me understand my own weirdness, along these lines).

As I explained to a new friend recently “I’m good at all the completely useless shit. I can write a poem, or a song an essay or a book. I can do a decent drawing to explain an idea, I can teach the obvious to the obtuse. I can raise a smile in a painful moment. But when it comes to making money I am an absolute idiot.” Not proud of that, just not good at it.

So to have a guy with so much intelligence show a willingness to look at the craziness of your financial life on paper, and then help you figure out how to best present this to the omnipresent tax man, is not just a practical boon, but also a great emotional consolation for many fearful and chaotic creatives, all over the city.

He is, I should hasten to add, a doctor with a full patient list – not looking for any more clients, and we feel very grateful every year that he decides to plunge into that pile of extra work for months on end. (And hope sincerely that the other eccentrics on his long route continue to amuse and inform him actively, just as we always try ourselves).

Finally, the top photo explained – Catherine and Charlize (Theremin) had a real love thing going there

Catherine’s hospitalization was followed soon after by the huge sustained wave of Covid fear which has set us all back quite a’ways, in optimism and cheerfulness especially.

But early in the lockdown, our friend Graham really came through. He brought over a whole tub full of lovely fun things to play with, including a theremin! One of the really frustrating early side effects Catherine was experiencing was the inability to raise her arms and hold them up for any length of time. So as soon as Catherine’s eyes lit up and she named the Theremin Charlize, I set her up in the bedroom with my tiny practise amp. For the next couple of years, every single morning after breakfast, Catherine would go and play Charlize, and every day she played a little longer.

Now, without the invested effort ever feeling like a grind, Catherine has almost her full range of motion back – plus she had a chance to really explore one of the instruments she has always most wanted to try! (and I got to do all my crazy writing bathed in the ambiance of a fifites George Pal science fiction film – yay!)

Of course, she does still have to be careful about getting things in her lungs (even seemingly innocuous stuff like flour), so when it came time to pay Graham with proper affection for his help with our taxes this year, Catherine was unable to bake her own perfected chocolate chip pecan cookies for him. Und zo – time for me to train up in yet another new and playful skill.

And hey BTW – remember all those stretchy neck gaiters that we hoped might help? They are GREAT hair nets for baking! Of course, not everyone can pull it off the same way. Catherine’s makes her look like a pirate or a fierce biker chick. Mine made me look like I was working in the prison kitchen – but one must take care (and models enjoy looking silly, anyhow).

Also hilarious, Catherine showing me something about baking is like me showing her something about computers – she knows it all so well and instinctively, it was visibly hard for her to slow down enough to let me do it! ;o) OMG fun though – and yowza – I can now add baker of fine cookies to my list of non world-conquering talents!

I really enjoyed Charlize myself – and discovered the key trick with a Theremin while I was at it – brace your chest – or at least your waist. If you stand, your whole body drifts in and out too much to hold pitch, but if your torso is stabilized, so your shoulders maintain a precise distance from both antennae, your pitch accuracy and ease of play increases dramatically.

But the toy in the box which brought me the most joy was the OTT phaser, which I used on the funky bass track for this song-in-a-day “Dance Monkey” – also unquestionably my silliest ever video. (Again, so grateful – to find this kind of spontaneous cheer in the middle of lockdown, quite surprised me)

THANK YOU GRAHAM!

Truly dude, you always help more than you can know (and many more should say this, than ever will), and with that spontaneous toy-box offering, you brought us more fun at a choice moment than we can ever properly say.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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I am always curious about what you are thinking

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