Friday, November 04, 2005


November 2005 email newsletter
No. 018

If it's true, as I believe, that questions make us dance and that answers make us sit still, then let's hurry over to that honky-tonk to chat with the waitress who, if she were any younger or any older, if her silver eye shadow were any heavier, if her yellow tank top were any fuller, and if she didn't have that hungry look in her eyes wouldn't be as perfect as she is for this very moment.

Let's stand up on the stage with the bright lights in our faces, so bright that everybody can see the tiniest details of our lives. The room is so dark that we can't see anybody in the audience. As we begin to play, quietly, as if it were already after midnight and people were deciding who to leave with, the most persistent sound is the constant sandpaper shuffle of the dancers.

We are on the stage, elevated like a low pedestal, alone together.

We keep asking questions, to keep the dancers moving.

Why do we smile when somebody wishes us "eternal kisses on your face?" Or when they ask us, so young, who are Sonny Rollins and Nina Simone?

Why do we drink so damn much? It's not for the hangovers, is it? Is it, perhaps, for the temporary sense of freedom alcohol (or drugs) gives us before, overdone, it takes control? Or do we seek oblivion?

Why do we suffer drunken fools? Or fools of any kind? Or become one?

Why are our minds so closed, so often?

Why don't we reach out more often, and touch the moments around us?

What is it in the music that connects us, and what is it in life that separates us?

This honky-tonk where people dance is named Plato's Cave. That's a reference to a story in long-dead Plato’s book, The Republic, which says most people - us included, certainly - live in ignorance. The word "ignorance" isn't an insult; it just means we don't know something. Plato’s cave, in the story, opens toward the light but the people inside, who have been inside since birth, "have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets."

Other people, the translation from the Greek says, pass along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, statues, and figures of animals made of wood, stone, and other materials. The chained men and women see only their own shadows, the shadows of those near them, and the shadows of the vessels, statues, and figures. They believe this is reality, because this is all they see. Anyone who escapes from the chains, who turns and sees the light and, eventually, the wonders of the world, gains such wisdom that he or she is undoubtedly shunned as mad by those still in chains, who see only what they’ve always seen.

This is not political comment. It is comment on the human condition.

Plato’s Cave.

The name leads, logically or not, to another thought about caves. It takes a few paragraphs to explain, but it is, nevertheless, a single question.

Somebody once theorized that Neanderthal hunters sealed their wounded in caves so that other animals – hunting, too – would not eat the wounded while they recovered. The ones who never recovered, or who were too weak to remove the sealed stones, died in the tombs. (What we think of as modern truths or myths often have very deep roots in older truths or myths.)

The word "cemetery," loosely translated from the Greek, means "sleeping place."

Historian Lewis Mumford speculated that the first cities in a hunter-gatherer society might have been cities for the dead, and that societies settled around these permanent places.

An ancient saying goes that age is a troublesome guest. (Another is that an old man can see backward better than a young one can see forward.)

Death is part of a journey, according to some religions and philosophies. Dante writes of hell; others speak of release, others of sacrifice. The Richard Wagner opera speaks of the "Twilight of the Gods," when even the immortals die.

Think of a cave where countless candles burn and flicker, making shadows on the walls. Which candle is your own?

Wind blows. Sun shines until it doesn’t. Harvest comes in the fall, and planting in the spring. The coffin is dark, silent, cool, final or not - a room in the paradise hotel.

We finish our songs, and listen to the end of the constant sandpaper shuffle of the dancers.

I step to the front of the stage, alone, and ask, to the dark, why is this country place where I find myself, for the moment, known, if it is known at all, for its magic mushrooms, its meth labs, and its dog fights instead of for something positive, like the feel of you in my hands?

Why do we love unconditionally?

Why does somebody say to me, from time to time, "Thanks for being approachable, and for making me feel accepted enough to be vulnerable."

* * * * *


once a grand hotel
in once a grand city . . .

a stranger stood
on the lobby's worn carpet,

heard the music of ice in glasses
float from the ballroom upstairs,
heard the laughers laugh,
heard the talkers talk,
heard the empty music of the jazz,

heard the silence in his thoughts.

once a grand hotel
in once a grand city . . .

a stranger stood
on the lobby's worn carpet,

watched the lady climb the stairs
with a drink in her hand,
watched her turn and smile,
watched her disappear,
watched the empty space where she stood,

watched the dust settle on his thoughts.

once a grand hotel
in once a grand city . . .

a stranger stood
on the lobby's worn carpet,

touched the wrinkles on his face,
felt a tear on his cheek,
touched the laughter on his lips,
touched the music in his heart,
touched the words in his soul,

touched the myths of his thoughts.

a stranger stood
on the lobby's worn carpet, whispering,
"I am the ghosts you fear when nobody is there."

once a grand hotel
in once a grand city . . .