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Friday January 4th, 2008

Asking a Better Question

'The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions
which have been hidden by the answers.'
James Baldwin



Happy New Year Folks!

This is the sixth year of my newsletter and thank you to all who have hung in there with me through Thick politics and Thin spaghetti. All the best for 2008 - and the long overdue end of the George W Bush neo-con religio-idjut regime!


I don't know how many of you do annual goal setting and review of previous year's activites but I have been doing this since 1976. On the first day of every New Year, I do an analysis and review of the goals I have set for the previous year, marking off which ones I have hit and which ones I have missed - and, more importantly: WHY. I then reset all the important goals and cross off all the ones that no longer interest me.

One of the benefits of periodically reminding yourself of the things you tell yourself that you want is that every now and then you look at something and say, 'why the fuck have I been writing that one down? I dont really care about that.'

For instance, for years, I was writing down one of my 'heart's desires' - a Lambourghini 4-wheel drive, in candy-apple red, two feet taller than a Hummer, 12 cylinders, accelerates from 0-100 pmh in 10 seconds, and comes with optional machine-gun mounts! No joke. They only make a limited number of these for Arab sheikhs. After several years of looking at this written down goal - complete with photographs of this beast, I decided it wasnt such a priority in my life. So I crossed it off. I haven't missed it since. One goal that I havent crossed off over for the past thirty years is wanting to be instrumental in ending world hunger in my lifetime. (I guess when it comes down to it, I can do without the car but eating is still important!)

One of the most valuable and creative ideas of goal setting, dreambuilding, and continually reminding yourself of what you want, even though some things may appear totally out-of-reach, is that you start to focus on what REALLY matters to you, and cut loose all that superficial rubbish that is clogging your daily brain activity.

Here's an interesting ritual I do before I start every year's goalsetting tuneup. It's unorthodox but a great way to clear the imagination:

I write a page or two of every Fantasy or Compulsion that is going through my mind - following these rules:


Write down all the nasty stuff that goes through your mind, including people you want to rape, murder, torture, rob and mutilate. People you hate so much you want to kill, beat to death with a baseball bat, or are so envious of their success or achievements, you wish they would die of an impacted wisdom tooth or prostrate cancer. Every sexual fantasy you motor through your mind, whether it's sex with your mother or your daughter, or the boss's wife or the wife's boss - even the most immoral and illegal ones - include animals and household machinery - things that if your boyfriend or wife or children, the people you work with, or friends ever read, they would most likely never speak to you again. I'm talking about the DARK side of the soul here, folks. The stuff that Ted Bundy and Hannibal Lecter drool over. Write it all down in glorious detail.

Read it over and think about it. Imagine it all happening.

Now write down all your fantasies about wealth, property, fame, immortality.

If ANYTHING was possible, what would you like?

Eternal youth. A perfect body that never grew old. Perfect teeth. Hair. A twelve inch cock. The skin of a baby. To be forever eighteen years old. To have a wife who was forever eighteen years old! To have billions of dollars of net worth. To be a famous movie star, more popular than Tom Cruise or Matt Damon; to stick George Bush in a cellar and feed him wombat poo; to be another Mahatma Gandhi for peace; to play guitar better than Jimi Hendrix, to go back in time and fuck Jimi Hendrix, (while he was alive I am assuming but not necessarily . . . ) to go back in time and assassinate Hitler. To be George Clinton and have Monica Lewinsky suck your cock. To BE Monica Lewinsky and to suck George W Bush's cock. (Ok, I know I'm asking for a bit of a stretch there. . .)

Then, on a separate page, make some notes about all these things and whether you really want them to happen - whether you would be prepared to trade your life, your career, your relationship, your family, do some prison time or even face execution to achieve them - or if they are just fantasies flittin' around through your head.

See, a writer is allowed to visualize the illegal and the immoral in great detail without actually having to go out and act on these things in the real world. It's called FICTION and without this facility, which the layman or family members might find offensive or repulsive, there wouldnt be half of the great works of art we have today.

Ok - now that you have written down the wild and dark stuff, and made copious notes, - on a separate page, answer this:

If everything I have just written down came to pass, and I could have it all, what other FIVE WISHES would I like to come true?

In this stage, when you really push yourself, you will find that the things that you REALLY care about start to manifest. Seemingly unrealistic things like: the end of war, or the end of world hunger, etc. To be financially independent. Good health and success for my children. The end of the Australian drought. To own your own house. Sane things. Things that might benefit others.

Paradoxically, after one has satiated oneself with compulsions and fantasies, one tends toward altruism. Probably the same reason that the super-wealthy eventually become philanthropists, after a lifetime spent chasing power. But I digress . . .

Ok. Here's the most important part of this goal setting exercise. After you have written all this poisonous and acidic stuff down, read it over, made notes, and come up with the five additional wishes, DESTROY THE DOCUMENT. No trace. No backup copy. No way for any living soul - including yourself - to ever read it. I'm talking permanently shredded, burnt and scattered.

Then go somewhere quiet, by a river or lake, and dream some serious dreams for yourself and set some serious goals for your life and your New Year.

This is an incredibly freeing and cathartic thing to do - it feels scary, dangerous and exciting - and it always works! The cobwebs get swept away. Everything you care about becomes crystal clear.

I always hit the goals I really care about, although not always in the year I set them. But the idea is to keep writing down the CRUCIAL ones year after year so they are always in front of you - even if it appears there is no way to achieve them. Miracles happen. Plans manifest. Focus allows you to see things and notice subtle opportunities - those little overlooked glittering keys covered in mud in the gutter - that the distracted miss.

Someone once gave me this bit of valuable advice:

'I never reach my important goals on the date that I set them,
But I always
reach them on the date that I set them.'



Hey Joe,
Did you know there was a passing reference to Shaddup-a-Your-Face
on The Simpsons last week Now you've made it Baby! Bernie

(Note: I've always admired Homer's writing and it is gratifying to know he is familiar with some of my oeuvre.)

Dear Joe,
. . . As for why it makes me cry, I don't know. This reaction has puzzled me for years. I believe it made me happy and elated at the same time. I will try to figure this out before the day is over. Maybe by Friday, I'll have an answer {smile].I will be looking for your latest release in the record stores. Adrienne

(Note: In a previous letter, Adrienne mentioned that sometimes listening to Shaddap You Face made her cry, so I was curious why. I know it makes a lot of people cry - but mostly out of pain. boom boom!)

Thanks for the (English) lyrics for 'Lynetta'
- . . . also for the newsletters - Alan said to tell you that he believes that "the dark lord uses black toilet paper". Love, Suzanne

(Note: Does that mean the Evil one's poo is white? In any case, I want a roll of this black toilet paper! I sounds like fun. But do I have to sign away my soul forever to get it? I mean: this is the 21st century, not the middle ages. How about 30 days with an option? Here are the English lyrics to my french song, 'Lynetta': here

Flavius Josephus,
Re: Two Excerpts from GT somewhere in France:
" . . . My French - which I had stopped learning 25 years ago - is OK, but I hate the fact that European languages persist with giving genders to things with no genitals. It peeves me that in French my leg is feminine, as is my hand... but my arm and knee are masculine. It's just dopey, and it MUST change or I will protest. . . "
". . .Truffle pigs are highly sought after, but in the south west they use dogs. The pigs are too smart - once they figure out that you steal the truffles they find, they will pretend not to find them, hoping to return at a later date and ramass (sic) the truffles for themselves. Dogs are eager to please, and are satisfied with a little teensy bit of truffle as reward for handing over their entire findings (a bit like Liberal voters). " GT

Merry xmukah to you too, from a jew. here in canada where i live, i'm well-known for having irritated the entire country with my limericks from time to time. here's one i wrote at a christmas past. . . joy, Joan

Santa's deer herd is now somewhat thinner
Since the year was no financial winner--
He laid off forty gnomes,
Several elves lost their homes,
And they had to eat Donner for dinner.


Christmas? Show Me the Sedatives and a Dark Room
Catherine Deveny
The Age

A time for kids? Rubbish. They're all just spoilt brats who want more crap.

CHRISTMAS? Kill me now. Season to be jolly? Not this little black duck. Wish I was Jewish. Or in jail. Or dead. I s'pose it could be worse. Come to think of it, no it couldn't.

But seriously, you know what I want for Christmas? To be a kid or a bloke. Having children and a vagina basically means being a slave and an emotional potty for the last two weeks of December. If the silly season had a motto, it should be: Christmas: It's the Reason Alcohol was Invented. Or Christmas: Turning Back Feminism 150 Years. . . (article)
(thanks to Cinzia Ambrosio)

Something You Might Need to Know Someday
Duelling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors.

Hydrogen Beer Disaster

(Tokyo) The recent craze for hydrogen beer is at the heart of a three-way lawsuit between unemployed stockbroker Toshira Otoma, the Tike-Take karaoke bar, and the Asaka Beer Corporation. Mr. Otoma is suing the bar and the brewery for selling toxic substances, and is claiming damages for grievous bodily harm leading to the loss of his job. The bar is counter-suing for defamation and loss of customers.
The Asaka Beer corporation brews "Suiso" brand beer, in which the carbon dioxide normally used to add fizz has been replaced by the more environmentally friendly hydrogen gas. Two side effects of the hydrogen gas have made the beer extremely popular at karaoke sing-along bars and discotheques.
First, because hydrogen molecules are lighter than air, sound waves are transmitted more rapidly, so individuals whose lungs are filled with the nontoxic gas can speak with an uncharacteristically high voice. Exploiting this quirk of physics, chic urbanites can now sing soprano parts on karaoke sing-along machines after consuming a big gulp of Suiso beer.
Second, the flammable nature of hydrogen has also become a selling point, though it should be noted that Asaka has not acknowledged that this was a deliberate marketing ploy.
The beer has inspired a new fashion of blowing flames from one's mouth using a cigarette as an ignition source. Many new karaoke videos feature singers shooting blue flames in slow motion, while flame contests take place in pubs everywhere. "Mr. Otoma has no one to blame but himself. If he had not become drunk and disorderly, none of this would have happened. Our security guards undergo the most careful screening and training before they are allowed to deal with customers," said Mr. Takashi Nomura, Manager of the Tike-Take bar.
"Mr. Otoma drank fifteen bottles of hydrogen beer in order to maximize the size of the flames he could belch during the contest. He catapulted balls of fire across the room that Godzilla would be proud of, but this was not enough to win him first prize since the judgment is made on the quality of the flames and the singing, and after fifteen bottles of lager he was badly out of tune."
"He took exception to the result and hurled blue fireballs at the judge, singeing the front of a female judge's hair and entirely removing her eyebrows and lashes, and ruining the clothes of two nearby customers. None of these people have returned to my bar. When our security staff approached Mr. Otoma, he turned his attentions to them, making it almost impossible to approach him. Our head bouncer had no choice but to hurl himself at Mr. Otoma's knees, knocking his legs from under him."
"The laws of physics are not to be disobeyed, and the force that propelled Mr. Otoma's legs backwards also pivoted around his center of gravity and moved his upper body forward with equal velocity. It was his own fault that he had his mouth open for the next belch, his own fault that he held a lighted cigarette in front of it, and his own fault that he swallowed that cigarette."
"The Tike-Take bar takes no responsibility for the subsequent internal combustion, rupture of his stomach lining, nor the third degree burns to his esophagus, larynx and sinuses as the exploding gases forced their way out of his body. Mr. Otoma's consequential muteness and loss of employment are his own fault."


1. 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country.' JFK
2. 'Stop looking for a simple answer and learn to ask a better question.' Anon
3. 'It's not so much discovering the meaning of life as it is living your life so it has meaning.' Anon



More Funny Simultaneous Chess youTube
(thanks to Frank Dolce)


: COLONCLEANSE! Mr. Dolce - do you remember eating this?


(Thanks to Joe Creighton)



Pen, Pencil or Keyboard

Lately, several people have asked me why I compose music in longhand rather than using computer music software such as Sibelius or something like that. I think its because I don't do that much of that kind of composing and when I do, I like to force myself to focus on what I have written which helps me to finetune it and find mistakes. I don't know about the rest of you, but I need occasional reality checks when I write in different clefs and do transposing. Sometimes I space out and start writing the viola part in the violin clef ­ especially after a few drinks. When I have to write the whole thing out by hand note-for-note - including parts ­ I SEE and HEAR the music again as though for the first time and spot weaknesses I might have overlooked and just plain lazy writing.
If I just had to hit a key and the whole thing reproduced itself automatically, it would be too easy to miss these kind of problems.
However, if I was writing out scores for a living daily I might consider using music software to save time. But at this stage, I actually get more self-education out of doing it the longhand way.

I was reading the letters of Ted Hughes over the weekend. I have always considered Hughes a B-grade poet at best. (Yes, yes . . . I know he was Poet Laureate of England and the Queen bestowed the Order of Merit on him. Tie a tinkling bell around the neck of a ferret. It's still a ferret. The benefit is at least now you can hear it coming. It is also completely logical that Hughes should be made Poet Laureate by the same Queen who made Knights of Mick Jagger, Elton John and Bob Geldof. The Monarchy ain't what is used to be, folks. Maybe when Prince Dumbo is King, things will start to look up. Don't hold your breath. . . . History Lesson for Those Attracted to Tinkling Bells: ROBERT SOUTHEY, friend and associate of Coleridge, Wordsworth and Lord Byron, was chosen over all of them, as Poet Laureate in 1813. His work has been almost totally forgotten.)

I have always felt that Hughes letter writing was much more interesting than his poetry. The main reason being is that he allows himself to be somewhat confessional in his letters. More of the real frustrated man leaks through. But he wrote an enormous amount of letters. You think he might have stopped once and asked himself, 'What if I am wrong? What if, in fact, I, Ted Hughes, was instrumental, unrepentant and unchanging, regarding the deaths of both of my ex-wives, through the way, amongst other things, that I isolated them, made them dependent on my high opinion, kept their artistic vision always within the realms of my own limited understanding, and discouraged anything that might truly threaten me or even demonstrate superiority to my own writing. That I have mistakenly and continually justified my behaviour as being for the benefit and protection of my children, when if fact is has always been for my own benefit. And, if this is the case - if I have been mistaken and I have been a selfish and delusional fool all these years, wouldn't this vast body of letters I am leaving behind, ultimately lay bare the person I really am? Maybe I should take the advice of that well-known Australian philosopher, Josephus, Poet Exhumis of Austrawlia, and just shaddap-a my face and hope nobody connects the rather large dots.'

My own verdict, and the verdict of many other thinking people, is: that in order for Hughes to have proceeded the way he did, leaving so much 'evidence' as it were, he clearly WAS delusional.

And whatever psychological problems existed in the women he married - leading to the suicide of TWO wives in a row - an all time record - the shadow side of these selfsame problems was also equally present in Hughes - only he was able to use it to his advantage. You might have a couple of equally damaged people living together in a relationship, but, in the patriarchal paradigm, the deck of opportunities, and even survival, is always stacked in the man's favour.

The greatest tragedy, to me, is that Ted Hughes wasn't the one who stuck his head in the oven leaving Sylvia Plath and second-wife, Assia Weaver (also a remarkably gifted translator and diarist) ALIVE to realize their full potential as women and artists. (Here's an excerpt from one of Assia's translations, from the Hebrew, of the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai:)

' A pity. We were such a good
And loving invention.
An airplane made from a man and wife.
Wings and everything.
We hovered a little above the earth.

We even flew a little. '

Probably Ted Hughes most honest piece of writing is his letter to A. Alvarez of November 1971. Alvarez was the author of The Savage God, a study of suicide, which included a chapter on Sylvia Plath. Alvarez had also been close friends with the couple. Hughes was outraged at how Alvarez portrayed their relationship. That Alvarez had coloured outside the lines'of Hughes' anally retentive image of himself. Here's an excerpt from Hughes' letter to him:

' You saw little enough of us. Both of us regarded you as a friend, not a Daily Mirror T.V. key-hole rate-hole journalist snoop guaranteed to distort every observation and plaster us with his know-all-pseudo-psychological theories, as if we were relics dug up from 10,000 BC. Of our marriage, you know nothing but you can't even give us the benefit of your ignorance."

Hughes is an aggressive debater and puts a convincing argument for any topic he chooses to defend. But with a little thought and preparation, his positions are easy to refute. Take his following persuasive theory on why handwriting is more creative than typing, in a letter to Nick Gammage, of May 1998, just before he died:

" Have you noticed that you write quite different prose on your word processor than when you're writing by hand? You do. The reason: because handwriting is basically drawing of images (that's how graphologists read it ­ they decode the images in the various letters ­ read them as 'pictures') it engages not only the whole record of your psychological history (as your unique handwriting does) but it engages from word to word all the preverbal activities of your brain (as drawing images does), which then bring the (non-verbal) associative contribution to bear on what is being written about, and therefore help to determine the sequence of ideas and expression, tones & rhythms etc. That is why hand-written letters give you the impression of dealing with the real i.e. the whole person. And why you feel a formality about a typed letter. And why a word processed letter from a friend (word processors are a whole range further removed from that preverbal engagement than typewriters, as typewriters are removed further than handwriting) can seem to be from an unknown person, or even from a robot, and why the writer feels the need to apologise for it (as you did.)"

I was mesmerised by this until I realized that this is shallow thinking and incorrect. He is speaking in absolute terms, One size fits all, when it's clearly different strokes for different folks.

Hughes writes: " . . . word processors are a whole range further removed from that preverbal engagement than typewriters, as typewriters are removed further than handwriting . . .'

To which Josephus parries: " . . . as handwriting is further removed from speaking, as speaking is further removed from grunting, yada yada etc etc."

I can't even read my own handwriting most of the time. The only thing my handwriting engages'is my desire to break my pencil. And has anyone seen Ted Hughes typing skills? I have a letter he wrote me. He's using some kind of old fashioned Royal portable with a missing letter. No wonder he doesn't get pictorially inspired. Here's a scan of a couple of lines:


The main point Hughes overlooks in his argument is that most of the deepest inspired creation, whether writing music, poetry or prose, happens in your imagination before you even get near pen or paper, or the keyboard. Much of the time, it resembles taking dictation: you compose it in your head, turn it over, rework it mentally, over and over - and then simply write it down with whatever is handy: pen, pencil or keyboard.

During the writing of my recent Leadbelly Ballad-Novel, I would get up in the middle of the night and write the lyrics out to five songs that I had been turning over in my mind for an hour or so while I was lying there in the dark. I'd sit up, switch on the light and I'd write them out by hand, then go back to sleep, get up in the morning and then type them out. (So I could read my somnambulant scribbling later!) I wrote the ten verses to one of my best and more poetic and emotionally complex songs, Father, completely in my head, while I was taking a walk through the bush.
When I really get excited, my handwriting resembles something between an EEG machine and Lie Detector graph. Now some people's handwriting is more expressive (and legible!) than others and I can see how that might further inspire them, as Hughes suggests.
But what about Calligraphers in that case? Doesn't it stand to reason that they would get more inspiration that people who simply write in normal script?
And what about the pub scrawlers, like me (and Beethoven?)
I'd waste too much time trying to decipher what I actually wrote down by hand to have any energy left for writing more of it.

I also propose that the type font you use when you compose on a typewriter or computer makes a difference. After all, fonts are pictures too:

Set your font size to 48 and watch the difference in how you think!



Caribbean Okra Salad

This recipe comes from The Abyssinian Baptist Church
, in New York.

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lb. fresh, small, tender okra
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. water
1 tbsp. strained fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, finely minced
pinch ground allspice
1/4 tsp. Caribbean or other hot pepper sauce to taste
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro (coriander)
Semi-dried tomatoes, for garnish

1. Rinse okra; pat dry and trim the caps.
2. In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add okra and saute 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Add water, cover, and cook over low heat for about 7 minutes or until just tender. (Add more water, if needed.)
4. Transfer to a serving plate. Combine remaining tablespoon oil, lime juice, garlic, allspice, hot pepper sauce, salt, and pepper. Pour over okra.
5. Sprinkle with cilantro and semi-dried tomato.

Makes 2 servings



The lives of many men are
Shorter than the years since we have
Seen each other. Aldebaran
And Antares move as we have.
And now, what night is this? We sit
Here together in the candle
Light. How much longer will our prime
Last? Our temples are already
Grey. I visit my old friends.
Half of them have become ghosts.
Fear and sorrow choke me and burn
My bowels. I never dreamed I would
Come this way, after twenty years,
A wayfarer to your parlor.
When we parted years ago,
You were unmarried. Now you have
A row of boys and girls, who smile
And ask me about my travels.
How have I reached this time and place?
Before I can come to the end
Of an endless tale, the children
Have brought out the wine. We go
Out in the night and cut young
Onions in the rainy darkness.
We eat them with hot, steaming,
Yellow millet. You say, "It is
Sad, meeting each other again."
We drink ten toasts rapidly from
The rhinoceros horn cups.
Ten cups, and still we are not drunk.
We still love each other as
We did when we were schoolboys.
Tomorrow morning mountain peaks
Will come between us, and with them
The endless, oblivious
Business of the world.

~ Du Fu ~
(One Hundred Poems From The Chinese,
translated by Kenneth Rexroth, New Directions Books, 1971)





Chinese Torture

A young man was wandering, lost, in a forest when he came upon a small house. Knocking on the door he was greeted by an ancient Chinese man with a long, grey beard. 'I'm lost,' said the man. 'Can you put me up for the night?' 'Certainly,' the Chinese man said, 'but on one condition. If you so much as lay a finger on my daughter I will inflict upon you the three worst Chinese tortures known to man.' 'OK,' said the man, thinking that the daughter must be pretty old as well, and entered the house. Before dinner the daughter came down the stairs.   She was young, beautiful and had a fantastic figure. She was obviously attracted to the young man as she couldn't keep her eyes off him during the meal. Remembering the old man's warning he ignored her and went up to bed alone. But during the night he could bear it no longer and snuck into her room for a night of passion. He was careful to keep everything quiet so the old man wouldn't hear and, near dawn, he crept back to his room, exhausted but happy.

He woke to feel a pressure on his chest. Opening his eyes he saw a large rock on his chest with a note on it that read:

'Chinese Torture 1: Large rock on chest.'

'Well, that's pretty crappy,' he thought. 'If that's the best the old man can do then I don't have much to worry about.' He picked the boulder up, walked over to the window and threw the boulder out. As he did so he noticed another note on it that read:

'Chinese Torture 2: Rock tied to left testicle.'

In a panic he glanced down and saw the line that was already getting close to taut. Figuring that a few broken bones was better than castration, he jumped out of the window after the boulder. As he plummeted downward he saw a large sign on the ground that read:

 'Chinese Torture 3: Right testicle tied to bedpost.'
(thanks to Jim Testa)