I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken

Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
-Bertrand Russell

What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell

March 13, 2012 - 10:41 a.m.

The Good, the Bad, and the Original

I did not get a chance to edit my photos from the weekend tonight and I'm off being busy again tonight and taking more pictures so they will just have to wait.

I had another bad night's sleep and the reason is disturbing. I had a symptom of Crohn's that I should not have when I'm taking 40 mg of Predisone a day, joint pain. That shows an active inflammation. It doesn't happen often but it hit last night It isn't like arthritis where things hurt when you move. It feels different than a joint injury. It's severe but not sharp pain usually in my knees. I woke up with it and couldn't get back to sleep. I took Tylenol and that might have helped but it still took half an hour to go away. I was able to get a bit of a nap between 8:00 and 8:40 AM.

I finished grading the questions on the test. I still have to add things up and calculate the grades. I don't want to do that as it was a debacle. I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about how to deal with it. I still haven't decided. I'm thinking of adding quiz questions to the test and letting them raise their grades that way as it will force them to learn things. I just hate the idea that I have to force them to learn. My problem with last semester's calculus 2 class was that they were unprepared before they started. None of them should have passed calculus 1; they shouldn't have passed precalculus. This class is also unprepared but even more so the problem is their reluctance to learn. I can't even get them to memorize things they know will be specifically asked let alone practice using them. It's half time pep talk time and I need to inspire them. They have to win one for the Gipper.

What else did I do yesterday. I had a culinary failure. I bought a green plantain early in the week and waited for it to turn yellow. It didn't it got black spots and lightened a bit but never turned yellow. When I baked it, it came out unedible. I had to make French fries to replace it, not quite as healthy. The main course came out wonderful. I made Cajun steak out of the cheap round steak. That's always good but this time I put it on garlic cheese cibiatta. I sliced it into little pieces first. It's a bit too tough to eat as a sandwich otherwise. That was amazing and efficiency made it even better. When you blacken steak you are supposed to coat it in butter or olive oil first. I used the residue of the garlic butter I used on the cibiatta. This is going to be my new standard recipe.

It looks like I left a note to myself about what to write today. I better follow that. I don't want to lose my trust.

A meaningful division of artists are those that are universal and those that are idiosyncratic. The example of a universal artist, that is so well accepted that it's become a source of many jokes is Shakespeare; you know the guy whose plays are all clichés. That's the ultimate mark of being universal. Shakespeare quotes often don't sound like quotes; they are just parts of the language. They are well phrased truths. Shakespeare isn't great because of the originality of his ideas but because of their unoriginality. He says what most people in believe in ways that make them sound divine not mundane. Shakespeare may very well be your favorite playwright or poet or writer of any type but he is not personal; you know that he belongs to the world. James Branch Cabell preferred Marlowe. He acknowledges that Shakespeare wrote better but Marlowe was the original thinker. His writing is idiosyncratic. That means it will never be as popular, even if he wrote just as well. I haven't read much Marlowe, just Dr. Faustus so to me the better comparison is Tom Stoppard. He's had commercial hits but I don't think anyone would deny that his world view is not common. Stoppard is mine, not the world's. Our minds work alike.

The artists who started this line of thought for me were Paul Simon and Loudon Wainwright. Do I have to tell you which is which? If you ask me who is the greater songwriter I wouldn't hesitate, it's Paul Simon. Loudon is more personal for me but I doubt that he thinks he's better than Paul. But here's the thing. Let's say that there were two other artists Lesser Paul and Lesser Loudon and that their talents were in proportion to the originals but pitched lower so that instead of being at the far end of the bell curve they were nearer the meaty part. I'd prefer Lesser Loudon and I'm guessing he might even have a better career. Why? Because there are a zillion guys that can say what everybody thinks somewhat better than average. They are all competing with each other. If you don't listen to one you can get almost the same thing listening to someone else. Supply and demand does not set the value high. Lesser Loudon is going to get you thinking in ways that nobody else can so for the small subset that appreciates him he is of more value. This is the essence of cult artists.

Actually this line of thought might have started with a conversation I had with Aviv about They Might Be Giants and We're About 9. Yes that is where this started.. My experience talking to people is that either they are bigger TMBG fans than I am or they aren't very familiar with them. There isn't much of a middle ground. If they connect you love them, if they don't they aren't even on your radar.

I'm partial to the idiosyncratic artists, James Branch Cabell, Terry Pratchett, Loudon, We're About 9, Tom Stoppard, M.C. Escher, etc. One of my most common compliments that I give to songwriters is that nobody else could write what they did. Right now I'm listening to another one, Honor Finnegan. I sing their praises the most but that doesn't mean that I think that's the only road to success. As much as Tom Stoppard is mine I don't think he's greater than Shakespeare. I don't think that Todd Snider is better than Paul Simon. But I'll enjoy them far more than generic artist that isn't a super genius. When I'm at NERFA or Falcon Ridge I see a lot of generic artists and then a few whose talents put them in the narrow part of the bell curve and a few that are getting me to think things I wouldn't otherwise think.

What sets Dylan apart is that he somehow manages to see things with a unique perspective but have it people feel that he has "A voice that speaks for you and me." He says something original and we think we felt that way all along. Is that what separates Dylan from the New Dylans?

I don't think that I'm going out on a limb much when I saw that my thoughts are a bit off the beaten track so it makes sense that those are the artists who I find myself attracted to and writing about the most. It would be interesting how many musicians I call virtuoso and how many quirky. I pretty much demand one or the other to become devoted to their work.

Can this be used to make yourself a better artist? I think so. You can't make yourself quirky, at least I don't think so. What you can do is to set your sights on being TMBG or Todd Snider, or Loudon Wainwright, not Paul Simon or Paul McCartney. Don't force yourself to be quirky but don't be afraid of it because you want to be "commercial." I very much suspect that for any level of career success you'll be happier that way. You succeed or fail as yourself not living up to other people's expectations.

Now I have to eat breakfast and catch up with emails. I have important ones. I'm making the grand slam breakfast with French toast today. I haven't had that in ages.

I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.

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Horvendile March 13, 2012
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