WELCOME to Summitlake.com’s Writing page. New writing since 2006 is generally posted in WordPress format here in Writing. As listed in the sidebar index, we feature original works by Alex Forbes and our Guest writers. This page was formerly called Writing Notes. It is also home to all our benchmark and legacy writing archives, written mostly since 1990.
A shattered night sky ripples and oozes ominously overhead. Strange glowing orange doughnut holes open up in the fabric of the heavens. Pulsing domes of dim red light glow somewhere over the horizon, flicker slowly, and finally fade from sight again. Our commander gets word this attack comes from no nation on Earth. Space aliens? He says we may as well try to get home. Let’s get out of this place. Wait, a dream? What a weird nightmare!
CD: “Get Happy” (Jenny Lin, 18 tracks, Steinway & Sons, 2012)
Frances and Iggy are celebrating their 50th anniversary in our local restaurant. They are both good, solid characters who worked their entire lives, Life probably beat up on them at some point along the way. Frances paints her purplish-red lipstick on with an angular sash and trim brush, Her smile has grown lop-sided over the years. Iggy’s rugged hands are bent and arthritic from decades of heavy work, with which he cups Frances’ hand over the table. They are still both deeply in love. They share decanters of a modest house red. The dining area sound system is playing a melange of old traditional favorites like “Begin the Beguine” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”
Frances rolls her eyes in ecstasy. “Oh, Iggy, ain’t it lovely ta hear these again after all these years?”
Iggy concurs. “Frannie my love, it’s like we was back again at the old high school dance where we was first introduced at.”
Well, no, not really. It isn’t like that at all.
Jenny Lin was born in Taiwan, educated in the United States and Europe, and is an internationally known pianist of considerable talent and some renown. Amazon lists a number of her classical CD’s and “MP3 albums” promenading works of several obscure composers and three I have heard of: Liszt, Schumann and Shostakovitch. I sampled a couple of those. I’d rate her performance as noticeably talented if not enchanting. Sometimes in her keyboard work I hear traces of Debussy. Her published listings also include a number of attempts at popular and movie tunes.
The problem with “Get Happy” is it’s part music and part metaphor: not quite like anything you want to hear again.
It isn’t quite traditional. It’s not trad jazz. It’s not jazz improv, I don’t believe music needs to conform to strictly enforced centuries-old standards. Most of all, music of any genre needs to have integrity, and here “Get Happy” doesn’t quite have what it takes.
In the signature song track “Get Happy,” we keep expecting Lin to segue into “What’s It All About Alfie.” There are too many skipped and rushed notes, too many transitions for transition’s sake, and, worst of all, enough unwarranted show-off embellishments, frills and irrelevant musical lace to make Liberace blush.
One of many problems with this album is that occasionally Lin gets it right, as In the best-remembered bars of the title old favorite “Get Happy,” Lin makes you want to shout “YES!” as she re-creates the core feeling you remember even if you had not heard that song for forty years. But then Lin shatters it with mindless “look at me, I can play good, huh?” riffs that broadcast how she just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone. She doesn’t know when to play and when to quit.
In that wonderful old Gershwin favorite “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” from Porgy and Bess, Lin’s keyboard work is so good that you really want to believe she’s going to make it work! Here is an incredible love story that listeners of all ages know and depend on for a memorable emotional experience. Lin turns it into sanitized piano lounge music, showing off the pianist’s skill, not the heart and soul of the composer’s gift to us, It’s just music that never distracts the attention of patrons sharing house wine in their own private worlds.
Those of us lucky enough to remember Rogers and Hammerstein’s wonderful musical “The King and I,” or the Yul Brynner movie of the same name, can immediately recall the dramatic contest of wills between the King of Siam and his children’s British tutor, Anna. The story line develops into an electrifying romance. Lin almost turns this song into a “March of the Wooden Soldiers.”
The delightful “My Favorite Things,” from The Sound Of Music, prompts us all to remember Julie Andrews teaching the Von Trapp children the disciplines and joys of harmonized song. Here in particular, in my opinion, Lin ruins that magic with a Niagara of trills, frills, and randomly improvised little embellishments. In monitoring this track I had to re-check iTunes to make sure Lin was still playing the same song I’d selected.
For me, Lin’s “Get Happy” release rarely augments the personal listening experience. It invariably muddies and distracts. It annoys in the same manner as when your sweetheart says “they say it’s going to rain tomorrow” but you have just said “I love you.” Where did that come from?
For all her talents, Lin plays most of her 18 track selections like one of those brilliant autistic kids who has never heard a composition before, but can play it – in metronome perfection with a few off-the-wall frills – after hearing a few bars..
For my money, I believe I’m right on about Lin’s overall performance, but I’m baffled about the rationale behind this release. Perhaps the fact the CD was produced and released by a leading piano manufacturer, rather than by normal recording labels, should have been a tip-off. This NASCAR special has been brought to you by Castrol. Only $15.63 for 18 laps.
Not everyone likes the same kid of music, or asks the same kinds of things from it. So, if perhaps you disagree with me, I hope you’ll buy Iggy and Frances a drink. They’re going to have hangovers tomorrow anyway, so the house red would probably still be a welcome choice.
a vignette by Fred Leeds
Talking to oneself is not always plain crazy; it can sometimes prepare one to greet others as selves. It is simply a matter of greeting the whole human from within. It takes no candle or prayer book, just an ear that’s in tune. Greeting calls out to greeting in the core of the human; the one who will hear is, in essence, the one who speaks. Some may refer to the one who speaks here and hears there, the being represented at once in you and in me, as God. I would rather refer to him as home. So greetings alike to you and to me; blessings, dear reader, all blessings from home.
a vignette by Fred Leeds
To retrieve one’s more natural intention, one must contrive to study blindness. Take the pianist, for example, who creates whole worlds by training his hands to overtake him. Or consider the singer, whose long practice carries her off to nnw expression beyond the fixed sense of speech. Or consider the poet, who dives unaided into the evolving word, confronting meanings beyond the printed certainty of the everyday. Each is taken by a sort of willing surprise; each abandons old eyes to see past mere finish and welcome the new.
a vignette by Fred Leeds
Pen and hand and head, get ready. Work together now, but don’t get too serious … You can’t fall out of the universe, but writing’s quite a trip. You never know what will happen when you write. First intentions won’t do, and you might, all at once, find the writing writing you. Writing can be a proud thing, a heavy symbolic act, but it can also be a simple snapshot of the human planet, its own naked yearnings and their constant disguise. Like the rising and setting of the sun, it can be a free and easy ritual, a joy and a surprise. You can find yourself by losing yourself in writing, and find that the writing is and has been writing you. I know because it happened to me.
a vignette by Fred Leeds
Let’s revisit the proverbial chicken and egg. Each is the once and future source of the other, yet each remains itself. This I call the cycle of equality, a trick of nature which extends to you and me. While we share at once in the original Adam, we represent him separately. Rather than be shackled in conformity to each other, we may reflect the first light of our humanity each in his own true light. And so, dear reader, let’s you and I shine on!
a short short story by Fred Leeds
When we last saw Tom, he had summed up the ancient wisdom of the mutual I in the tender phrase “a heart that moves.” While Tom has turned Buddhist priest in the decade since, he has kept to the simple-hearted ways of that earlier time. In his heart’s timeless core, there still beats the wonder of his trips through time and space, mind and worlds. We catch up with Tom now by a temple in Japan, where he sorts out his visions in more ordinary style. The temple stands tall in the near distance, in elegant white stone.
Tom sits on the bank of a stream beneath a bridge. The bridge is crafted in that stunning yet simple way the Japanese have. Beside Tom lies a scrolled painting of Huineng, the historical Zen master whose teachings were transmitted to Tom mentally by Ju Gun. Ju Gun was a medieval Zen hermit with whom Tom had established telepathic contact, across the centuries and beyond Ju Guns death. The painting was Tom’s own rendering. It revealed the figure of a wise and gentle looking Chinese sage. In the margin of the painting Tom had written these words with the same paintbrush: “Mind essence is the source of all at once. This very mind takes flight in any and all things.”
That was Tom’s summary of the lessons of Huineng. As the stream seems to flow ever more swiftly by, Tom begins to dream. The stream glimmers like something unearthly seeming to lead to a city far away, and he is not sure if it is happening inside or outside his mind. He glimpses in the stream, as in a living mirror, all the persons and faces he has known: faces old and young, male and female, dark and light. They are all somehow his own face, and the face of God.
The horses of the Red Chinese tramp still closer, awakening Tom from his dream. Again there flashes across his minds eye the picture of his own death as he defends the sacred temple. There is a shout and the glint of many weapons. Tom breathes and gets ready to plunge into that other stream, the stream of death and new birth.
“Here I come, Huineng,” says Tom.
a vignette by Fred Leeds
This plain old human being is also something radical. Let me tell you why.
To be radical means to involve the root. To involve the root is to reveal the source. As the sun and the rain cull the plants and animals from the heart of the earth, the sun and the rain, the plants and the animals move still within my human frame. While I remain myself, I am also something radical: a living moment of the whole earth. As all other things come back to me in my time, I bless myself by blessing others and the earth.
A Tribute to Ray Bradbury by Fred Leeds
There was once a weaver who, like Rumpelstiltskin, spun straw into gold. The straw was all the untapped wonder of his living days, and the gold was many a magic tale, and every tale was a journey through the mind’s hidden spaces.
Among Ray Bradbury’s gems is a story about a man who steps on a leaf and changes the course of history. There is one in which a man is tattooed all over with living pictures. In another, earthlings become Martians just by going there. In one funny tale, a man and woman are actually the last people on earth and still can’t get together. In Bradbury’s still living pages we find a quest to the sun to catch a cup of gold, and a man turned bird who is executed for his boldness. In one tale there are two children whose room eats their parents. In another, a guilt-ridden killer keeps hunting for fingerprints until the police arrive. Bradbury’s other characters include a pedestrian charged with thinking for himself, a lady who was never young and girls who would never grow old, a man, forever a boy, who seeks out new parents when the old wear out…
Bradbury saw with fresh eyes all of life’s hidden wonder. He was a true guardian of the imagination. Here’s to Ray Bradbury, wherever he has gone in the galaxy’s vast spaces.
Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012): American fantasy, science fiction, horror and mystery fiction writer. Best known for his novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Illustrated Man (1951). (from Wikipedia)
A Buddhist parable by Fred Leeds
“Come here, Chester, Here, puppy.” He was an animal this time, one of those pug dogs that look like a human boxer, and this time his mind was completely clear. He was Buddha in dog form. “He’s quite a mug,” said Father, proudly. “Ugly and tough as a real fighter.” “But he’s just a cutie,” said Mother.
What purpose was he to serve in this embarrassed form, he wondered, curling his tail into a question mark. It was all about karma somehow, but what a predicament. How did he get to be a dog anyway?
He remembered now. “Give it to him, Gil. He’s got a knife.” He beat the stranger with a lead pipe until the stranger stabbed him in the heart, and both died. Gil was a homeless person, the hated criminal he had been.
Father threw a ball, and Chester’s chasing it now.
“Golly, what fun,” thought Chester. An image of the regal Buddha in blue – his original self – crossed his mind again, but all he could do was wag his tail and fetch the stupid ball.
“Good boy,” Chester,” said Father, pulling the ball from Chester. “See, he’s not so stupid .”
Mother just laughed. Chester found himself wagging his tail again. The Buddha in Chester was mortified, but it kept happening. Oh yeah, thought Chester. Fun game. Apparently I was put in dog form to learn how to give back to the world, thought old Gil in a clear, new thought, as Chester barked to the Buddha within.
After a lifetime of health and simple happiness, Chester gets reborn as a man again. Gil’s karma now restored through him, he assumes the form of one of our great future Presidents, President Asher. Silly? Of course. Improbable? No doubt. As the Tao Te Ching puts it, if it were not laughed at, it would not be sufficient to be Tao.