previous months: 1/1/2008 -- 7/18/2008 

7/30/2008   7/31/2008   8/7/2008   8/15/2008   8/26/2008   8/31/2008   9/11/2008  
9/21/2008   10/22/2008   11/20/2008   12/1/2008   12/9/2008   12/15/2008   12/16/2008  
12/24/2008   12/26/2008  
1/3/2009 -- next page  

beginning   latest entry


We're in northwest Montana! The Big Family Vacation this year is to Glacier National Park. I bet I'll have stuff-to-type-about once again. Amazing natural beauty really brings out the "life is good!" platitudes in me. But ya know what? It is.

I've been going like gangbusters on my sabbatical book-project. It's at the point now where I even like some parts. I think I may actually meet the sabbatical-end deadline.

Coming here has reminded me that one of my childhood dreams was to live on a huge parcel of land in northwest Montana. Somewhere in my young papers there may even be a map with a penciled square showing my private estate. I suspect it was on the order of 10,000 square miles. I'm not sure what inspired this future-brad vision in elementary-school-brad; maybe National Geographic had done a feature on Glacier National Park. And now here I am.

It may be that nascent dream that formed the foundation of my love for mountain areas. For some reason, I've always been attracted to the sharp light, the sound of wind in tall pines, the smell of crisp air. Although I've never done (and now never will) any 'serious' climbing, I love to hike around as much as I can. Jill also is a mountain-lover, I figure it's her Swiss genes. Our kids have certainly been steeped in this. Lian is hiking here and there, and today Daniel picked out one of the highest, most forbidding and jagged peaks, and said "I want to climb that one, Dad."

But probably the thing I like most is when the mountains form silhouettes against a deep blue, twilight sky. At that moment, you can hear the water in streams and rivers, you can catch each individual star as it appears. And the wind -- the world seems perfect. I wish I could carry this feeling constantly.


Sometimes you don't know if you will have certain feelings again, you can't predict if emotional washes you remember will flood again. You wonder: did I really feel that way?

There is a time of night, just past the full throat of twilight when the silhouettes I described yesterday appear. I'm sitting outside our "Glacier Cabin", and I'm watching this happen to the mountains across the river from me. The sound of the river, a line of filigreed noise. And the sense of quietude, of dissolution into something so much more vast and time-defying, it flows again. Here I sit, and it seems forever.

I tried to take a picture of it:

but it can't capture it. These silly words sure don't, either. Maybe music will for me (it has happened), but that takes time.


I've been thinking again about this blog-activity, and noticing the increasing gaps between entries. Some of the blame, as I noted before, is due to the push to get my book-project finished. Some of it is because I honestly don't believe I am dying as quickly as I was when I started the blog. The pressure to produce is not the same. This is a good thing, even if it may not be true. A fair portion of blame results from sheer laziness. There have been many nights when I've chosen to sleep, or watch the Jon Stewart Show, or read, or... instead of entering text here.

A big part of my blog-writing reticence, however, is because I haven't been sure what to write any longer. When I first started keeping this journal, death seemed very close. As a result, life became all the more transcendent, each moment an immanent point in a luminous continuum of existence. I wanted to communicate this feeling, to write it for my friends and family. I wanted my postings to matter in some profound way. I imagine that we all want our lives to have meaning, and my writing here was a selfish attempt to exploit my personal situation and concomitant feelings to endow my remaining time with a little more significance.

What does confer significance, though? Nothing, really. Except perhaps the minutiae of life, our daily activities and interactions with others. The initially acute awareness of mortality that drove me to start this blog made it easy to project upon these mundane activities a preciousness, an almost metaphysical eloquence because they all suddenly seemed so rare. As that awareness subsided, the significance I was ascribing to my self-centered observations did also.

So what am I left with? A whiney, "dear diary" confessional? A communications vehicle for people I know? A way to sort, through writing, some of my own personal demons and emotional problems? I don't know, but I think I want to continue with this. If I do get caught again in downward health spiral, at least I won't feel as caught 'short' as I did with the first news of myeloma. I will have left some traces of who I was, what I did, and the thoughts I carried through a particular span of living. This is maybe the best we can hope to do, and ultimately maybe the best way to impart any 'advice' to Lian and Daniel, or pass along my hopes and fears for the future.

When I first started this blog, I wrote: "I bet this will exhibit a lot of the worst aspects -- random connections, wandering thoughts, bogus assertions, self-centered, self-serving and maudlin texts, the whole gamut", and now I am sure that I have accomplished all these things. But I plan to continue, and I think the best strategy is to report on the prosaic happenings of everyday existence. Who knows, maybe I'll even go back and fill in a few of the I'll-say-more-about-this-later blanks I've left in earlier postings. Maybe contemplation through text will help me recapture a portion of the feelings of presence, the 'freeze/flow' experiences that no longer visit me as frequently. They weren't bad.

I'm just now putting on-line the 7/31/2008 posting, because I wasn't able to get good net-access in Glacier National Park (we were actually staying on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation on the east side of the park). If I'm not too lazy, tomorrow I'll write more about the wonderful trip we had.


(started writing this on 8/13...)

Time again for my bisphosphonate (bone-protecting) infusion, so here I sit once more at Weill-Cornell. Another good check-up, too, Faiza tells me that all the stats still look fine. I'm listening to Beethoven; the odd juxtaposition of his music upon the "infusion suite" scene seems strangely appropriate, like it was a scripted movie. Definitely heightened reality, somehow. And the music itself, bouncing from the extroverted heroism of the 9th Symphony to the personal courage of his Op. 132 String Quartet. Life can be well-lived. I need to remember this, and Beethoven surely helps.

I thought this might be a good time to recap our recent trip to Glacier National Park. The following is a "we went here, we went there, did this, did that, saw amazing stuff" narrative, so it is probably relatively boring for most everyone. But we did indeed see and do these things. I exist, ha ha. I'll reference portions of the (over 400!) photos I took, but the whole corpus is here.

Day 1: We flew into Denver, changing planes there for our flight to Kalispell, MT. No significant delays, and the weather was sparkling. The only difficulty is the schedule of flights to/from Kalispell (which is Salish for "water on the plain" or something like that). We arrive after midnight, which is about 2 AM New Jersey time. But the car rental person was there to get us, and was very nice. Most everyone we will meet out here will also be very very nice. This is more than just an interpersonal impression: our instructions for returning the rental car are to park it in the main (and only) parking area for the airport, and leave it unlocked with the keys in the glove compartment ("We'll pick it up eventually" our friendly rental agent says). Yeah, try that in Newark, or even Indianapolis. We get to our hotel and sleep.

Day 2: This is the day we enter the Park. On the way to the west entrance, we take a short diversion and drive up to Whitefish, MT to see if it is worth staying over our final night here. It is a lovely town, just on the cusp of significant high-endiness development. It lies at the foot of "Big Mountain" which has a relatively new ski area. We discover a chocolatier downtown with wonderfully delicious treats, so we do plan to stay here next week.

We get to the park, and stop for lunch at the Apgar village campground area. Bison burger! Huckleberry salad! A lot of warnings about bear activity. We chat with a very nice ranger who recommends some good trails for us. Jill is a big fan of always seeking ranger advice in the National Parks, and I am a total convert to doing this.

We drive into the park, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It is all we can do to keep from stopping every 0.5 miles to take pictures. Rather than attempt to describe it, here is a link to the photos.

We were warned of extraordinary winds (80+ mph at the top of Logan Pass), and the warnings prove to be true. In one of the photos above is a picture of a waterfall that, if you look closely, appears to be falling up! The wind is blowing the water back up the mountain.

Our main reservations are in the St. Mary Lodge at the eastern side of the park. We didn't realize it, but we will be staying on the Blackfoot Indian reservation. Stopping by the ranger station, we learn that there is to be a demonstration of Native American singing and dancing that night. We attend later (pictures here (scroll down to the bottom of the page, and also check the top of the next page)) and it was wonderful. The energy was amazing. A lot of ironic Indian humor, too.

One more tale from this day: the St. Mary Lodge advertised a stay in a "luxury tipi". Flat-screen TVs, individual sauna-like things, a lot of tipi luxury to be sure. We decided against it because of the price, and this turns out to be a really good decision. Apparently the winds were so strong that at 5:30 AM a large group of the luxury tipis blew over. poof! went the flat-screen TVs...

Day 3: We go to hike around Two Medicine Lake, seeing several waterfalls and (by now) typically gorgeous (pictures start partway down the page). After hiking about 8 miles, we decide to take the boat back across the lake. Waiting for the boat, feet in the glacier-cooled water. Life is very good.

In the evening, we go to a hard-core sales pitch that the hotel concierge invited us to attend. The poor sales-guy trying to interest us in a time-share-like resort package had no idea how far from 'normal' our vacations usually are. They should probably ask where people work and just ban any professors, especially flaky computer-musicians. After politely saying "no" (many many times), sales-guy Alfredo finally gives up on us. The result: we got a free $50 dinner and a free tank of gas for our car. Even professors can recognize a good deal sometimes.

Sitting out on our porch, watching the stars come out. I described this earlier. I see several shooting stars, making wishes. One lasts about 5 seconds; it even splits in two at the end.

Day 4: Fortunately we are going on our whitewater rafting trip today. I say "fortunately" because for us humans who don't normally hike 8 miles or so every day, our feet and legs tend to, um, complain a little. Once we get moving, however, it all works out. On the way to the raft trip we see mountain goats at Logan pass (pictures on this page), and we take a short hike through the Trail of the Cedars.

The whitewater raft trip is great fun. I only have one picture from it, taken by the company who does the trips:

Looking at the photo you will see why I didn't take my camera along. Jill, Daniel and I are all visible, barely. Daniel has a blue jacket on, I'm in front of him and Jill is on the opposite side. Steak dinner is served at the end of the trip along the river, and then back to the uncrowded east side of the park.

Day 5: This is the day of our big hike, 12 miles along the "Garden Wall". Unbelievable! Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, snowfields, waterfalls, amazingly colorful rocks and mountain flowers, a perfect-weather day... What more to say? Pictures here. It was hard not to take more. All I had to do is randomly aim the camera and shoot.

We opt not to take a small side-diversion to overlook the Grinell glacier (about a mile hike). It was good we didn't, for the last 4 miles of the trail is a long, hot slog down a very steep trail. We were hurting at the end.

Once you start hiking away from the main attractions, though, any sense of a crowd vanishes. I suspect that most people traveling through many of our national parks don't get away from the known sights too much. Good for us, I guess. There were a few people we met along the trail, all very friendly.

Returning to the cabin, a nice couple next door recommended a place to eat: "Go about 10 miles up the road until you see the 'Cattle Baron's Supper Club' -- you can't miss it!" They were right, it was a strange building pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We probably wouldn't even have guessed it was a public restaurant. Being on the Blackfoot reservation, it is owned and operated by a Blackfoot family.

The decor, the music, amazing. But the food! Oh my! My vegetarian friends will cringe: we have the best steak (beef and bison) we have ever eaten. I would have to compare side-by-side with the Uruguayan food I had 15 years ago. This was incredible. We go back the next night -- I rarely eat this much meat in a week. The second night I ask the server why it is so good. "We're carving the steaks in the back" and indeed I can hear the whine of a bandsaw. Yikes!

I mention the decor and the music of the restaurant. The music was put together by one of the owner's sons, who is a local Native American DJ. Really unusual mix of music. I wish I knew what some of the pieces were. A large wall-sculpture of a traditional Indian buffalo hunt fills most of one wall. The materials used are blackened, discarded styrofoam and aluminum. There is a frieze around the interior top depicting the history of the Blackfoot nation. It's not a particularly pleasant history. Four colors represent the four seasons of the tribal history. We're in winter now, but there is a pictogram of a computer terminal at the end with a bit of light. Hmmmm.

Pictures here from our second visit (I didn't bring the camera the first time). Also the glorious sunset on the way home.

Day 6: Again it seemed our pacing was good -- today is the day of our 4-hour horseback ride. Fun fun fun! On the way over to the Many Glacier area (where the ride will start), we take a short hike up to the Apikuni Waterfall. The trail is much steeper than we realized, so Daniel is the one to walk clear to the falls. Jill and I rest. We're old, our feet hurt.

The horse ride is terrific, like everything else on our trip so far. The horses are very well-trained, and Daniel picks it up straightaway. He rides "Coffee", Jill rides "Jasper" and my horse is named "Smoke". Here (down at the bottom of the page, and on the next page) are the photos. We see a black bear and a female moose with her young (moosling? moose cub? moose foal?) moose.

What I had forgotten is the unknown leg-muscles that get used when riding. Our feet no longer hurt, because our legs are screaming. I took a few pictures of the Many Glacier Lodge after our trailride. Apparently it is booked at least a year in advance. We like our place, though.

Back to the 'Supper Club' for dinner. We're wranglers, yeah.

Day 7: Our last day in the park. Our legs and feet are nicely recovered, so we do a short hike up to Avalanche Lake on the way out. This is a much gentler trail, very popular. There are quite a few people on the lower part. In fact, I don't think we realized how crowded parts of the park become during the day (we're usually hiking early). We can't even find a parking place at Logan Pass.

Oh, we did see a grizzly bear from the car on the way over to the Pass, though.

People aren't quite as friendly on the Avalanche trail, probably a function of a larger number there. But the lake is beautiful, and not as many go the whole way. I bet many of the longer trails that we can no longer do are really something.

We stay the night in Whitefish, good Italian dinner and fabulous chocolate for dessert at the chocolatier. Daniel likes the hotel, it has a fairly intense water-slide in the pool.

Day 8: Today we go home. On the recommendation of one of the staff in our very first hotel stay, we visit the Conrad mansion in Kalispell before heading to the airport. Really interesting -- William Conrad founded Kalispell, quite an individual. Pictures here (bottom of page).

The only minor snag in the whole trip is a delayed flight home from Denver to Newark. We wind up back in Roosevelt at 3 AM. What a trip!

The trip was almost perfect (I"m running out of adjectives "wonderful", "fantastic", "amazing", etc.), but there was some sadness. The first was that Lian was not with us. This was tempered, however, by her starting her new job on Monday ("Day 7"), and it seems to be going really well. Plus this is now Daniel's time, and his exuberance and enthusiasm was indeed a happy thing. What a guy!

The second related to the park itself. Before we left, I would joke with people "gotta go before glaciers all melt!" Little did I know. I figured that we can elect Obama, reverse the worst of global warming and all will be fine. No, no, no. All available computer models show it's not a matter of if the glaciers will melt but when. The stunner is that most models now predict the glaciers will be all gone in about 10 years. In 1980, over 170 glaciers populated the park. Now there are fewer than 25. This does make me sad.

Real sadness, however, came from news I received partway through our trip. We had very limited phone and e-mail access, and during one of the short periods when I could scan through e-mail I learned the terrible news that the father of one of my closest friends had died. He (the father) was expected to die (lung cancer), but not quite so quickly. I felt very far away from my friend. What can I do or say to help? I don't know. I've never had to face a close family death yet. Oh, oh! Sadness.

I've written far too much, but what the heck. I've left a lot out, but perhaps this quickly-scribbled text, and the photos, will help reinforce future remembering.


My sabbatical is ending. Tomorrow I go up to Columbia to participate in the "academic resources fair" as Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Music Department. I'll be meeting with my teaching assistants to flesh out our class syllabi for the year; classes start in six days.

At times like this, it is difficult not to think back on things intended, things you wanted to do and accomplish, those that you did and those that you didn't. The past year was fairly intense, pretty good timing for a pre-planned sabbatical.

Recovery, remission, restart, rethinking. I guess those are the main items, although I'm not sure they are things you accomplish. More coming, but it's late. I'm a political-convention-watching junkie right now, and it's late.


I'm living in the future again, and I guess this is a good thing. There is a near and a far future that is occupying my thoughts, so I suppose I have a belief in survival for awhile.

The near-term future results from an acute case of 'news addiction'. After two weeks of spell-binding Olympic coverage, watching elegant athletics every night, and a week of intense and stirring speeches from the Democratic National Convention, I sit now with nothing on the TV, nothing new on the news websites, only speculative stories in the newspapers. But a hurricane is bearing down on New Orleans! The Republicans are going to have a convention! Classes start in two days! I'm living next week already.

The longer future directly relates to the Democratic and Republican conventions. I want the election in November to be over already, and I want to know that Obama and Biden have won. I have tried not to be 'too political' in my blog here, but too much is at stake for me to ignore. The election is one of the most common topics of conversation with friends, and (like I said) the past few weeks have fired an unhealthy desire for news-news-news. Heck, I even listened to a lot of the silly pundits after the convention speeches. I've sunk so low that I read the "reader's comments" on web-site articles. I have to stop.

But the addiction is fueled by a self-serving investment I have in the outcome of the November election. When I say too much is at stake, I'm talking about a very personal stake, beyond the significant general interests we all share in our democratic choices.

It really bugs me when people talk about John McCain's 'experience' and maverick leadership qualities. Experience with no judgement is just stupidity. One of his primary decisions, to continue the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq, has a direct and selfish impact on me. This is it: 32 million dollars in federal funding for multiple myeloma last year. What is that? Two-and-one-half-hours in Iraq. How can anyone stand in front of us and say that continuing to spend $10 billion a month on our fun in Baghdad is something we should do? How can anyone tell me that 150 minutes of a misguided military adventure is worth more than the total annual expenditure on the cancer that is killing me? What kind of insanity is this?

Now McCain has put together (with Sarah Palin) one of the most anti-science, anti-research, anti-education and anti-knowledge teams in recent history. I think even Dick Cheney has more enlightened views about research spending than Palin does. Bear in mind that when politicians speak about de-funding stem-cell research, that they seem to be looking directly through the television to say "we mean we are not going to fund research on YOUR disease, Brad Garton!" -- multiple myeloma is a stem-cell cancer (yes I know the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells, but just watch any stem-cell program get loaded with money in this kind of willfully ignorant environment). Jill's Multiple Sclerosis? Let's write that off, too. War is much better (and I bet God prefers it, too, for the religious backers of McCain/Palin).

Yikes, now I see why I can't write too much about this in my blog. I start ranting and raving far too quickly. Like I said, I get very selfish about this, and that doesn't make for a tolerant discussion, or for pleasant reading. I need to direct my anger-energies elsewhere, to work positively for change. I feel that I didn't do enough to convince those I know and love not to support George W. Bush in 2004, and I don't want to make that mistake again. I plan to work as hard as I can to get Obama/Biden elected. Far too much is at stake, for the world, for our country, for my family and friends, and for me, selfish me. I literally don't know if I can survive four more years of diminishing medical research.


With only a brief spell of intense rain from Tropical Storm Hanna last weekend, we've had a span of exceptional fall weather. Sparkling days, pleasantly cool nights, not the 'dog days' of late August/early September that I recall from my youth. But the weather has paradoxically prompted a set of those time-shift moments that I now truly savor. I'm driving along a back road in the early evening, I hear a chorus of crickets while at a stop-sign, and bang! I'm instantly back in high school, with the mixture of anticipation and anxiety that bubbled up every fall. I sit in back at twilight, watching the silhouettes of pine trees become more sharply etched against the sky, and boom! I'm a kid again, at home by our lake, a whole undetermined future stretching out from that moment.

What's going on here? Is my life 'passing before my eyes', a very slow (hopefully!) prelude to death? If so, this isn't bad. Again I am reminded of younger Daniel's religion, the eternal persistence of each moment of existence. I know how cliched this sounds, but when I have these memory-flashes, these moments of immanence, it stops my time for an instant as I think how precious it is to be alive, just now. You don't know what these moments of remembrance will be, and they fold back upon themselves, each one linking to the others. It is a life. I was there, then.

Here it is, September 11, 2008; seven years after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Thousands died -- I watched it on TV from home. I sat in the CMC office this afternoon talking with one of my best friends about the recent death (lung cancer) of his father. When the flow of moments gets stopped, especially when the flow gets stopped prematurely, it is an almost unbearable tragedy. How can we cope with these things? Live the moments now, visit the good often. And maybe hope, hope that time is in fact set firmly somewhere, waiting for the eternal action of memory.


So much seems to be happening, and so often I think of writing it down (for whatever reason: posterity, my own memory, who "brad" was on 9/21/2008...), but then I get lazy and I don't. The world is changing, we're (USA! USA!) now in hock to the tune of at least $700,000,000,000.00 -- yes a lot of zeros. There was a great neighborhood 'end-of-summer' gathering down at the Ellentuck's last night; I was reminded how much I like our town. Jill, Daniel and I had a wonderful dinner (happy birthday, Jill!) Friday night at The Ferry House restaurant in Princeton. Last weekend I sat next to a good friend (Judy Klein) watching Doug Geer's opera Calling at LaMama in NYC, classes going well, Lian calling from Seattle, what life this is!

How to gauge all these things, align them into coherence? Dinner with Dan/Monica (Mollie/Otto), Paul/Hannah and friends, e-mails with my brother-in-law John, discussions with Terry, the political race between Obama and McCain tightening, phone with my mom and sis, cancer stories with neighbors, possible trips to Portugal and China, finishing software, squishing grapes for wine, so much... so much...

... and then I hear that one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide. Following a link from a New York Times story about him, I read this evening an article Wallace wrote about Wimbledon -- one I hadn't read -- and he does an amazing job of describing the "beauty" in how Roger Federer plays. Earlier in the article, though, talking about how the final match started, he described the 'honorary coin-tosser', a seven-year-old boy who had recovered from liver cancer and was representing the UK Cancer Society. Then, several pages later, he takes time out from his description of the tennis to write:

According to reliable sources, honorary coin-tosser William Caines's backstory is that one day, when he was 2-1/2, his mother found a lump in his tummy, and took him to the doctor, and the lump was diagnosed as a malignant liver tumor. At which point one cannot, of course, imagine... a tiny child undergoing chemo, serious chemo, his mother having to watch, carry him home, nurse him, then bring him back to that place for more chemo. How did she answer her child's question - the big one, the obvious one? And who could answer hers? What could any priest or pastor say that wouldn't be grotesque?

Towards the end of the article, in the last of one of his 'trademark' footnotes, Wallace writes:

By the way, it's right around here, or the next game, watching, that three separate inner-type things come together and mesh. One is a feeling of deep personal privilege at being alive to get to see this; another is the thought that William Caines is probably somewhere here in the Centre Court crowd, too, watching, maybe with his mum. The third thing is a sudden memory of the earnest way the press bus driver promised just this experience. Because there is one. It's hard to describe - it's like a thought that's also a feeling. One wouldn't want to make too much of it, or to pretend that it's any sort of equitable balance; that would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever deity, entity, energy, or random genetic flux produces sick children also produced Roger Federer, and just look at him down there. Look at that.

I wish I could have known David Foster Wallace. I wish I could have talked him out of his decision to kill himself. I wish I could have said how full life can be. I read what he wrote, though, and I think he knew this. Why did he die, then?


Well. today is a day. It's been a bit longer than the ever-lengthening 'usual' since I've written here, but today I need to resume. A lot has happened lately, good things, and I'm finally semi-caught up with the start of the term onslaught, so I hope to write down recent and not-so-recent reports soon. Why? That, too, later.

But today. October 22. How can I frame this date? I suppose I could attempt a pale imitation of the indirect but powerful way Barack Obama with his preacher-in-front-of-the-Lincoln-memorial speech masterfully acknowledged Dr. Martin Luther King when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for the presidency: There is a chapel in the middle of the Rutgers University campus. Inside are pictures of retired Deans and past Presidents of the University. Imagine two people coming in separate entrances, leaving together...

Or I could relate a factual story: On the inside of our wedding bands, Jill and I have the number "06646" inscribed. What does this number mean? It comes from page 440 of Introduction to Probability and Statistics (4th Edition) by William Mendenhall; the listing of random numbers in Table 13. Back in the early 1980's, before the contemporary age of ubiquitous computers, using these tables was a common technique for generating random numbers. At the intersection of column 10 (October!) and row 22 (22nd!) is the number, "06646". Jill and I considered it a symbol of the order we had chosen to impose on the randomness of life.

That's it -- this day, October 22. Twenty-five years ago, October 22, 1983, Jill and I stood together in Kirkpatrick Chapel and committed our lives to each other. Today is our 'silver' wedding anniversary! Yay!!!!!!!

What a time it has been. Although we did indeed choose a kind of ordering for our lives, the best it could do is to shift the subsequent randomness (and concomitant decisions/attempts-to-order) for the quarter-century-past unfolding of our time together. We pledged our love to each other, but honestly we had no idea what we were doing. Only through the years have we learned what love truly is, a depth and expansion of an initial intensity that now floods our existence with meaning. Lian, Daniel, our family and friends, our work, our colleagues, I had no idea how rich and wonderful it all would be. I think of Jill, and the thought brings with it an ineffable "correctness" to the universe. I realize this is the typical wedding anniversary cliche, but I absolutely love my wife more than ever. This is the life of goodness and light people desire, the hope I have for our children, the dream of the future. How in the world did I get to be so lucky right now? I ask again: what did I do to deserve all this?

I sit here typing this in the ambulatory oncology waiting room at Weill-Cornell (I have a check-up scheduled today) and I am the happiest man in the world. Again a cliche: I would not trade this for anything. Jill, I love you!

Also, the appointment with Dr. Pearse was fine! Yay again! Still no sign of the myeloma returning. My stats are good.


Well, I've definitely become a lazy blogger now! It's been almost a month since I last posted here, and the timing between texts was beginning to stretch even prior to the October entry above. To my amazement there are still people who read this and contacted me wondering what was happening. All is well, I just got wrapped up in work/life/etc. I had forgotten how much space a sabbatical can provide: space to think, to compose, to write, to recover from cancer (ha ha!). Now I'm back at Columbia full-time, and life is still good.

When I say "all is well", I mean really well. Ever since my stem-cell harvest (and in fact ever since it was apparent I had gone into remission) my 'stats' have been good. No evidence of cancer activity, and my body seems to be tolerating the low-dose Revlimid well. Dr. Pearse still sees me once a month, so I know this is probably borrowed-time (but also unknown-time) territory. I apologized a few weeks ago for being a very boring patient, and Roger's reply was: "that's a really good thing." I hope the boredom continues.

So many things have happened, so much I should have written! The best I can do is start to list a few random items, and then pick up the narrative from there:

These things all happened, and much more. Our students are terrific this year, I've really enjoyed working with my friends and colleagues again, the pace of life has quickened, resumed. But every once in awhile, the slant of light is just so, maybe some dry leaves rattle in the wind, perhaps a few cold November snowflakes sidle through the air, and I remember. I remember exactly how it is to know that life is finite, that the time I feel enveloped within will end, I realize anew the full meaning of the word impermanence. That's what makes this transient condition so powerful, so marvelous. How can this all be? I said above, I say again -- life is good.


Sometimes that synchronicity thing kicks in with a link between what I'm reading and something real that happens. We just returned from a really nice trip out to Indiana to spend Thanksgiving with my mom and dad. Lian was also able to arrange to be there, yay! has several large warehouses ("fulfillment centers" -- such pleasant names they use) in central Indiana. Lian's supervisor said "why don't we plan a trip so you can see your family?" I like that supervisor.

I spent most of the weekend eating, relaxing and reading. One of the books I took with me is a recent collection of essays by Umberto Eco titled On Literature. In one of the essays ("On Symbolism" -- Eco is an 'on' kinda guy) he describes (from Goethe) a symbol as an image that either evokes or is invoked by a larger phenomenon. Eco seemed more attracted to the idea that the symbol evokes the broader image, thinking it a more "poetic" move.

As I was reading this, my mom came over and asked if one of the lamps mounted on the wall was shining in my eyes. It really wasn't too bad, but mom had a piece of foil stashed behind the couch to hang on the lampshade to prevent any eye-shining terribleness. And that was it, that was the symbol of my mom's unbelievable thoughtfulness (even in the face of ungrateful-child thoughtlessness), her care for the well-being of others, her willingness to do what she can to make life nicer for those around her. This symbol then expanded, a token of parental love. I saw Lian and Daniel sitting across the room, my hope being that Jill and I also have given them the unselfishness that we learned from our parents. DNA? Tribal/familial love? Species-perpetuation? Who knows, but it lies at the core of our being.

There is a sense that I think Eco/Goethe are wrong in this case, though. Identifying the symbol or symbolic gesture as a token that then evokes a universal image of some kind misses the primary point, at least as I experienced it, of my mom shading the lamp. It was the act of placing the foil on the lamp in order to make life a tiny bit better, the thousands and thousands of these small-but-thoughtful acts through the years that becomes the universal entity itself. When I think back on my life, when it 'flashes before my eyes' in various ways, it is formed by particular moments, remembered individual instances, all strung together as almost independent points connected only by the fact that they happened. My life seems not defined by some universal theme or set of over-arching principles, it is instead the sum of the parts. Perhaps a larger truth can be teased out of the sequence of events, but that overlay is at least one step removed from the pure elements of existence. It truly is the 'little things' that matter. They are what I remember.

Earlier I said I hoped we gave some good childhood moments to Lian and Daniel. As long as I'm in a hoping mood, I hope we can make my dad happy...


During my first attempt at graduate school in the Speech and Hearing Science program at Purdue University, I learned about a phenomenon labelled 'echoic memory'. This was a pre-conscious ability to hold a short-term memory of a very recent sound, a memory that perhaps didn't seep much beyond the periphery of the nervous system. The echoic memory model was used to explain certain behaviors observed in psychoacoustical experiments.

I've noticed that my memories also hold echoes for a far greater expanse of time. Driving up to the airport to fly to Indiana today, I passed the rotating radar-dish-thing on the south side of Newark Airport. Instantly in my head I heard the voice of a 5-year-old Lian saying "Look! There's the airplane guider, Daddy!" Instantly I was there, then, again.

I am bombarded by these sonic traces, the music of life past. They seem so important, they seem so solid. What do they mean? Why do I write them down here? They form a big portion of my self-constructed awareness, but what's that about? What is their substance? Where lies the power I feel in them?


Back home again, from Indiana this time. Rick Thomas had invited me out to do some workshops with his music/theater class and participate in a concert this past Saturday night. Gregory Taylor (the "T" in "PGT") was able to drive down from Madison, but Terry had obligations back in NY that prevented him from flying with me.

Rick has had a profound influence on my life. He and I were business partners and house-mates for years while I was an undergraduate and then grad-student at Purdue in the late 1970's and early 1980's. He and I founded Zounds Productions, the recording studio where I learned most of my analog music-technology skills. His influence runs deeper than that, however, because it was through him that I was exposed to the world of musical possibility, including the possibility that I might be able to make my life in music. Rick is one of the seminal figures in live theater sound design. He now holds a faculty position (and former Department Chair) in the Theater program at Purdue.

Dave Fulton also came over from his home in Whitestown, Indiana for dinner Friday and then again with his wife (and another great friend from the 'olden days') Sherry. Their son Rob (I still called him "Robbie") is a junior at Purdue, so he also joined us. Speaking of profound influences, visit here:

and realize that most everything there I did in collaboration with Dave. Chapter 2 of My Music Book has a description of travels with Dave during a particularly fluid time of my life. Rick showed me what was possible, Dave helped me explore some of those possibilities.

The memories! Driving along I-65 from Indianapolis to Lafayette was pretty intense. I used to make that drive twice a day during recording-frenzies. Rick and I had rented a house in West Lafayette to build Zounds, and Rick wound up purchasing the house after I left to go back to school at Princeton. Thus I stayed this past weekend at the same place where I spent a large part of my early adulthood. Reliving it all with Dave and Rick, there, in that place, oh my. I had an uncanny feeling that I could see my younger self, good AND bad, hanging around in the kitchen (probably not doing the dishes), upstairs in the shower, thinking what to record that night. How was I ever to know that life would turn out like this? It was utterly unimaginable to me back then. Lian and Daniel have no idea what may lie ahead. and of course neither do we. I was thoroughly aware of the unfolding linearity of time, but this awareness was compounded by an intersecting, fixed thing that has been. With Gregory there -- intersections from other points in my life -- it all became a really bizarre infolding of my life-trajectory. It seemed like it was a good curve, though. There is nothing I've blotted from my mind because it was so awful, or no real my god why did I do that? recollections. Also, here I am.

What an egoistic entry this is. These things happened to me. This was my life. I guess I can't really write much else. It got even more ego-soaked in the bar in downtown Lafayette (which is much much nicer than when I was living there). There were quite a few younger musicians who somehow discovered that "Mr. Science" from the ancient punk-synth band "Dow Jones and the Industrials" was in town. They seemed impressed, ("you guys are like gods to us!"). but then again they were at an impressionable age.

The concert featured Rick and his students for the first half, very talented kids. Gregory and I played the second half, with Rick joining us on guitar for the last piece. Here is a link to the material:

In his recent book After Dark, Haruki Murakami has one of his characters say this:


Sometimes after class, or a day of meeting people at Columbia, I enjoy eating out alone. There is a Thai-Chinese-Japanese-etc. restaurant near my apartment where I get dinner, usually the same item ("Thai Saute Chicken") with the same drink ("Kirin Ichiban"). I think even the waiters now know what I will order. Usually I get to the restaurant late, and it isn't too crowded. Occasionally I go at a more normal mealtime, and I sit with a crowd, reading a book, strangely alone.

Tonight was like that, and I didn't mind. The magical thing was that it started to snow outside. I watched the thousands of white dots arc softly down onto Broadway. During our performance at Purdue this past weekend, we talked with the audience about what we were doing, how the computers were making and processing sound. I mentioned that we use a lot of echo-type effects, audio delays that keep the sound recirculating as we add new musical embellishments. Gregory then said this: "Repetition is the mirror of infinity."


Two years ago, Christmas Eve then, I mark as the anniversary of this blog and the circumstances motivating its creation. Compared to the intensity of the first entry, and even the lived-through experience of that first year, life now seems 'normal'. Perhaps that's why I don't write here as much. What is there to say about normal life? "Hey, I drove to New York today, taught some classes, I answered some (probably backed-up!) e-mail..."

The potent mortal knowledge is still there, but now more of an undercurrent than the defining surface. I suspect that's as it should be, although the strong desire to do things before it was too late sure gave me a powerful local purpose. I need to remember that "too late" can happen very quickly (more on this thread tomorrow).

In the meantime, it's just Christmas Eve now, and here I sit. Lian is home, Jill's asleep, Daniel is trying to get there... this is just as I would like it to be, hopefully to be repeated again and again. Merry Christmas Eve!


Yes, "too late" can happen quickly. On the eve of Christmas Eve (the 23rd), we got a call that Jill's father had been taken to the hospital. He had fallen, couldn't swallow, all sorts of strange things were happening. It turns out that he had suffered a stroke, although not a 'massive' one, the doctor reported to us after tests. On Christmas Day all had settled enough that he was taken back to Medford Leas, the extended care facility where he and Jill's mother live. He has lost the use of his left side (unfortunately he is left-handed), and his speech is a bit slurred. However, he seems to be recovering his speech competency quickly and we expect that physical therapy will help him regain or accommodate to his left-side deficit. All in all, the outcome could have been much worse. Roy will be celebrating his 90th birthday next May.

We're amazingly lucky: all of our kids' grandparents are still alive. This includes my sister's in-laws, too. But that doesn't mediate the sting of life changing, a stroke, a heart-failure, MS, cancer. Change will happen, how we've lived up to the point that it does is probably what determines how life will then unfold after-the-event. Roy is a truly happy person, a guy who has been genuinely delighted by life. I think he'll be ok, at least for a while.

I really want him to be all right, not only for Jill, but because I want to embrace all the 'everything will be ok' new-agey platitudes again. Reading through the past blog entries here, and realizing that life has become much more normalized, I don't feel the ferocity of linear existence as I did just a year ago. This is fine, except that some of that intensity was channeled into an acute awareness of life changing, life flowing. I think it made me a better person. Now I flounder and flop a bit again. A sort of stasis. Other people are doing stuff, accomplishing things. Lately all I do is I poke around at this and that, some coding here, some sound-making there, but I worry that when change comes again I will be flat on my feet once more. Here is my quasi-religious yearning: I want life to be fabulous again, I want to marvel at the simple act of walking down the street and seeing a particular slant of light. I'd prefer it not to be kindled by a belief in imminent death, though. I want Roy's happiness, for all of us.

We try to do this. Here are a few activities we engage during this season to inject some extra-ordinary magic into our little world: First, we bring several evergreen trees into the house and decorate them with lights:

We also put lights outside our house. This year's theme was conceived by Daniel, "periodic functions":

Lots of other random decorations get dispersed around the house, too. One of my favorites is a set of wood-block letters that we put onto a window sill or the piano that spell out "MERRY CHRISTMAS". A few years ago, Jill, the kids and I started rearranging them on-the-sly to different anagrams, so that it mutated throughout the holiday season to sayings like "MARS CHERRY MIST" and "ARTY MRS CHIMERS" (no fair looking on the internet, by the way). Right now it says: I hope that all the wish carts are indeed Merry this Christmas. Happy Boxing Day, too!

1/3/2009 -- next page