The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
David J. Keffer
(link to main page of novel)

January

January 1, 2017

"Every day of your life that you waste daydreaming about magic is one less day you will have spent productively contributing to the improvement of the world," said the father to the son.

There were other opportunities that morning for parting words before the father's truck pulled out of the driveway, but Oscar did not take advantage of them, so these words were forced to suffice. The boy sat quietly in his bedroom, listening to the echo of his father's boots on the wooden floors of the house. It cannot be said that the boy devoted all of his energies to sulking. There was, in addition, a degree of ambiguity born of his own uncertainty.

Oscar wanted to do both: fantasize and make the world a better place, though he did not know how. As many do on the first day of the year, Oscar made a new year's resolution. He took an oath, no less solemn for the absence of external witnesses, that he would consciously waste every single day of the year daydreaming about magic in an attempt to improve the world.

Such was the gravity with which the vow was made, that Oscar further resolved to have no regrets, should he fail in this undertaking. If at the end of the year, he had accomplished nothing, he would find his father, wherever he had gone, look him in the eyes and declare, "I wasted every day of two thousand seventeen." In his solitude, it seemed a grand gesture.

So it is that this record chronicles one year of a young life lost in an ameliorating fantasy.

written while listening to:  Lê Quan Ninh - Le Ventre Nègatif (Meniscus Records, MNSCS 011, 2003, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 2, 2017

Even a boy of eleven or twelve (we don't remember his age exactly) understood that, if he were to base his magical spells not on any supernatural phenomena but on the ordinary mysteries of biological existence in a physic-based reality, he would have a much better chance of success. Having the forces of nature implicitly aligned in his favor would allow the inanimate world to make progress when he was waylaid by one obstacle or another. In his isolation, he needed allies dearly. Although he could not blindly trust the natural world, at this stage, he had no better alternative.

Having given the matter no small thought, Oscar similarly acknowledged that ignorance played a formative role in the properties of magic, since much of what could not be explained was traditionally interpreted as manifestations of the supernatural. Just as Oscar numbered the natural world among his allies, so too did he place ignorance among his dread enemies.

He crept to the window and pulled the curtain aside. Peering through the gap, he observed a car speed down the street and disappear from sight. Soon the thrum of the muffler also vanished.

Oscar asked himself, "How can I avoid the errors of those who have come before and build a magic free of ignorance?" Of course, Oscar was only a boy of an indeterminate age; it was not a reasonable presumption, on the part of either the protagonist or the reader, to expect him to have figured out everything by day two of his great experiment.

written while listening to:  Kazuo Imai - How Will We Change? Solo Improvised Works (PSF Records, PSFD-70, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)

January 3, 2017

In body, Oscar remained a boy. Among his classmates in the sixth grade, he was perhaps a bit shorter than average, just shy of five feet tall. The skeletal structure of his face fell somewhere in the midst of the transition from a round, cherubic appearance, the source of much praise in his younger years from his mother and her friends, to the hard, angular countenance that would later come to identify him as the son of his father. Unlike his parents, his complexion was inordinately pale. This particular combination of pigmentation and facial geometry had prompted his mother to choose for him, at a very early age, the endearment, 'my little barn owl'.

For those unfamiliar with Tyto alba, males of this species do indeed possess a circular face of ghostly pale hue. However, there the similarity between bird and boy ended. The eyes of the owl are an impenetrable black, whereas the irises of Oscar were a pellucid gray. The plumage of the bird is a pleasing tapestry of tawny shades, buffy on the underside, with the marks of dark bars and flecks of white scattered across the wings. In contrast, Oscar was relatively plainly adorned, covered as he was in the same pale skin, topped by a mat of honey-colored hair.

One must concede that people--professed ornithologists and casual observers alike--find a regal beauty in the appearance of the barn owl, despite the low state of its common name. So too, did I, the narrator, find an undeniable appeal in the boyish face of Oscar. In it one detected both the silent scrutiny of the owl and the unmistakable impressionability of a child.

written while listening to:  Motoharu Yoshizawa, Takehisa Kosugi & Haruna Miyake - Angels Have Passed (PSF Records, PSFD-22, 1992, Japan, cd, discogs.com)

January 4, 2017

School resumed on Wednesday, a day named in honor of Wōden, or Odin, the One-Eyed Wanderer. Reflecting on this fact as he dressed in his school uniform helped Oscar make a connection between the practical demands of his daily life and an on-going, mythological epic, which, to his great consternation, seemed to lie just outside his perception.

Sixth grade was his first year in the Catholic school, though it ran from kindergarten through eighth grade. Previously, he had attended the local public school, until his parents had made the decision for him to transfer. He had been consulted in a perfunctory manner, after the decision was finalized. As a result, he had been compliant and raised no fuss.

In retrospect some objection should have been given because his parents routinely reminded him of the great sacrifice the family made so that he might attend private school. Perhaps, they would not have relied so heavily on this argument if the move had been clearly against Oscar's will. In fact, he cared little for one school over the other. Academically, the private school proved more challenging, which suited him. Socially, he remained a misfit, which also suited him.

In any event, all this was a moot point. Sixth grade was also to be his last year at the Catholic school. With the separation of his parents, the monthly tuition payment would now go to his father's new apartment. It was only by dipping into their life savings that they were able to allow him to finish the school year.

We state these facts plainly. Oscar interpreted them with greater elaboration. His days at the private school were numbered; if he was to learn anything about magic from Catholics, he would have to do so quickly.

written while listening to:  Ellen Fullman - Body Music (Experimental Intermedia Foundation, XI 109, 1993, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 5, 2017

The distinction between miracles and spells is a delicate subject.* To those who believe, miracles are real aspects of a divine presence in the world, while magic is a fantasy embraced by children and juvenile adults. To others who, for one reason or another, do not share this belief, miracles and spells are one and the same, and neither is an appropriate topic for polite society. For those who have come to accept that our well-being as humans residing on planet Earth results from a combination of our physical circumstances and our perception of our situation, the interpretation of phenomena as either miracles or spells, depending upon one's point of view, possesses great, functional value. Such an interpretation can play an integral role in the trickiest of maneuvers, namely the lifting of spirits.

There is at least one historical example, where the same language is used to describe mysteries of the divine and arcane. In the Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom, it is recorded, "Know, therefore, that the Perfection of Wisdom is a great spell, a spell of great illumination, a spell without superior, and a spell without equal. Truly, it can do away with all suffering.

"The mantra of the perfection of wisdom spoken: Gone, gone, gone beyond, completely gone beyond! Awakened! So be it."

How could Oscar, young in years, have been exposed to this sutra? Of course, in the age of the internet, all of humanity's oldest and most sacred secrets have been indiscriminately reproduced in some electronic facsimile and lie within the push of a button. For this reason, Oscar experienced a keen disappointment when his mother informed him that, in a measure of belt-tightening, she had discontinued the internet service to their home.

*If, in writing this passage, I offend the sensibilities of one reader or another, I offer only the honest admission that there yet remains room for growth in the development of my faculties for sensitivity.

written while listening to:  Susan Alcorn - And I Await The Resurrection Of The Pedal Steel Guitar (Olde English Spelling Bee, OESB-05, 2007, United States, lp, discogs.com)

January 6, 2017

A grimoire is a book of magical spells. Some of the earliest grimoires that remain today hail from the Judeo-Christian tradition. One of the texts central to the understanding of modern, ceremonial magic is The Key of Solomon the King,* attributed to the biblical king but likely originating in the thirteenth century A.D. Chapter 5, Prayers and Conjurations, begins as follows

O LORD God, Holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One, Who hast created all things, Who knowest all things and can do all things, from Whom nothing is hidden, to Whom nothing is impossible; Thou Who knowest that we perform not these ceremonies to tempt Thy power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things; we pray Thee by Thy Sacred Mercy to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things, of whatever nature they may be, by Thine aid, O Most Holy ADONAI, Whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

The Prayer being finished, let the Exorcist lay his hand upon the Pentacles, while one of the Disciples shall hold open before him the Book wherein are written the prayers and conjurations proper for conquering, subduing, and reproving the Spirits.

It was an explicit responsibility of the librarian at the Catholic school to monitor the student usage of the computers in the library commons. Peering over Oscar's shoulder, she read these words and debated only briefly whether to confront the boy directly or to relay her findings to the priests, allowing them to tend to this matter. She chose the latter course of action, since it seemed to her best to leave questions of theology in their able hands.

*The Key of Solomon The King, (Clavicula Salomonis), translated by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers, 1888, full text: sacred-texts.com or esotericarchives.com.

written while listening to:  Albert Ayler Trio - Spiritual Unity (ESP Disk, 1002, 1965, United States, lp, discogs.com)

January 7, 2017

Saturday, named in honor of Saturn, the God of Time, arrived, as usual, at the end of the week. In this particular instance, he was accompanied by snow--not a tremendous amount, just a few inches. But the first snow of the winter was worthy of some small celebration, if not a full blown Saturnalia. So his mother seemed to believe, as she ushered him outside.

A few, sparse flakes continued to drift down from the white-washed but dingy sky. At 8:30 AM, his mother waved to him from the car as she drove off. She had an interview for a second job, to occupy her evenings and weekends. If she did not land this job, or another one with similar pay, there would be no way for them to remain in this house. From the sidewalk, Oscar wished her good luck in the interview one more time. She had left him a lunch waiting in the refrigerator, just in case she was gone longer than expected. She had a few errands to run as well.

As a result, Oscar had the first part of the day to himself. This neighborhood was home to other children as well. Living along the same street, Oscar had occasion to see them, at least in passing. He knew their faces by sight. Some he could put names to, but none of the children could be counted as friends. In any case, all neighbors were apparently sleeping in this weekend. The snow bore no footprints or signs of having been disturbed.

Oscar wondered if there was a name for divination by the path of falling snowflakes. If they still had internet access, he would have run inside and looked up the word. As it was, he stood alone, in the early morning light, with his neck craned upward. He imagined into existence an interdisciplinary field of study composed of ice chemistry, crystallography, fluid dynamics and prognostication.

written while listening to:  Roscoe Mitchell Quartet - The Flow of Things (Black Saint, 120090 2, 1987, Italy, cd, discogs.com)

January 8, 2017

What the falling snow would not reveal until the following day was the arrival of a moving truck at the house that had sold across the street and down one lot. As the snow ceased, a man armed with a shovel cleared a path along the sidewalk and up the front steps to the porch. Professional movers unloaded a complete houseful of couches, beds, dressers, tables, chairs and other assorted furniture. Boxes upon boxes soon followed.

From the window of the living room, Oscar observed the repeated procession of the men between the house and the truck. He reflected that it must have taken another house to contain all of the contents that were now being relocated. The man who had first cleared the pathway stood on the front porch and watched the progress. Several times his eyes fell upon Oscar, who continued to watch from across the street. Eventually, Oscar became uncomfortable with the man's gaze and went inside.

All of the houses in the neighborhood approached one hundred years old. Oscar's house and the house across the street, into which the boxes were being carried, were no exception. It was a modest neighborhood of mixed professionals. Residents tended to stay for decades. Long-time homeowners were welcoming and expected newcomers to embrace the local community. He had often heard his mother, in exchanges with other women of the neighborhood, claim how lucky they were to live in such a place.

Inside, Oscar turned on the bulky, hand-me-down laptop he had received from his father. Their house sat on a corner lot. Oscar could detect the wireless internet signal of the neighbors to his left and behind him. He tried both signals, but they required passwords. He was locked out.

written while listening to:  Fred Van Hove - Piano Solo (Free Music Production, FMP CD 143, 2011 (recorded 1981, 1986), Germany, cd, discogs.com)

January 9, 2017

Mondays at the Catholic school began with Mass. After Mass, as the students filed back to their classrooms, Oscar was pulled aside by one of the school secretaries, who led him to the pastor's office. Oscar recognized the man in his black suit and white collar. Sometimes he celebrated Mass, although this morning an associate pastor had led the congregation.

The priest was in his mid-forties. He was clean-shaven and made a conscious effort to project goodwill through the expression on his face and the tone of his voice. His meeting with Oscar proved no exception. Oscar wanted immediately to like him, though he did not lower his defenses.

The meeting lasted only ten minutes and there was no punitive aspect to it. The pastor genuinely loved his role in the formation of young people. He saw Oscar as another soul for Christ, through his words and actions, to redeem.

This inviolate faith threatened to overwhelm Oscar like an intoxicating perfume. This man wielded his magic with uncanny precision and flawless confidence. Despite his great desire, Oscar could not find the courage to ask him how he had come about this great power. Instead he agreed that he would not seek knowledge from apocryphal documents, as the priest called them, until he had fully read the Bible. It seemed a reasonable agreement.

Importantly, when questioned as to who had led him to The Key of Solomon the King, Oscar kept the most crucial information to himself. He admitted that it had been his older brother. He also assured the priest that no further influence could issue from that quarter since his brother had died over a year ago. What he did not confess was that his brother had himself been a great wizard of another tradition.

written while listening to:  Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis - Deep Listening (New Albion, NA 022 CD, 1989, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 10, 2017

The arrival of Tuesday, the day of Tiw, a god of Heroic Glory, always inspired Oscar to seek his own student-sized version of Heroic Glory. Often the impulse to do so arrived only as an aid to get him out of bed. For the rest of the day, it was forgotten. That the urge ultimately remained unsatisfied was largely irrelevant; its primary purpose lay in motivating the boy.

One advantage of the Catholic school was its proximity, only half a mile away. Oscar no longer had to ride the school bus. In the mornings, his mother dropped him off on her way to work. In the afternoons, she originally had asked him to stay in after-care. However, he had persuaded her that he was old enough to walk home by himself after school. In any case, beginning in January, his mother had let the payment of the additional monthly fee required for after-care lapse.

So it was that Oscar arrived home on Tuesday afternoon. As he stood on the front porch, he fumbled with his mitten for the key to the front door, tucked in the small pocket of his backpack. He observed an SUV pull up at the house across the street. He watched a family emerge from the vehicle--a father in a long, gray winter overcoat, a mother in a feminine version of the same garment, and a boy in a bright blue coat with matching stocking cap and gloves. From what little he could see, they appeared to be of Middle-Eastern origin.

Their attention was focused on the icy steps. The husband offered his arm to the wife as she passed over the dangerous patch. After his father issued a warning in a language other than English, the boy, who appeared about the same size as Oscar, navigated on his own. They disappeared inside the house without the slightest inkling that they had been observed, almost as if Oscar was subject to a spell of invisibility.

written while listening to:  Tristan Honsinger & Olaf Rupp - Stretto (Free Music Production, FMP CD 148, 2011, Germany, cd, discogs.com)

January 11, 2017

Invisibility belongs to the school of magic known as Illusion. In some taxonomies, it is further categorized within the subschool of Glamour. The terminology, glamour, derives from grammar, or rules governing scholarship from an age when the pursuit of knowledge was closely associated with occult studies. Origins aside, invisibility is not conventionally an entry-level spell. Oscar doubted that he should have been able to master the spell so naturally at such an early stage of his indoctrination into magic. He therefore decided to test the extent of his newfound invisibility.

On the following day, he again returned home from school as soon as the final bell rang. He positioned himself in the living room, where he could observe the house in which the new family lived. He then occupied himself with homework. When he had completed all but his reading assignment, the SUV pulled up in front of the white house. The mother was driving. The son was seated in the passenger-side of the back seat. They were apparently returning from the grocery store, as they carried bags from the back of the vehicle into the house. Someone, presumably the father, had salted the stairs, melting the ice and making safe their passage.

Noting that the rear door of the vehicle was left open, Oscar quickly donned his coat and ran out to sidewalk on his side of the street, while the mother and son were inside the house. The pair soon returned for a second load of groceries. Although he must have been directly in their line of sight, they paid him no mind whatsoever.

The mother closed the rear door, a clear sign that they had collected all their groceries. They left Oscar standing on the sidewalk, unseen and unknown.

written while listening to:  Mats Gustafsson - Windows: The Music Of Steve Lacy (Blue Chopsticks, BC4, 2000, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 12, 2017

Biological organisms have invented a variety of ways to remain undetected. Famous among them, chameleons possess cells in a layer of their skin that orient nanocrystals so as to reflect different wavelengths of light. The resulting color changes can be used to attract potential mates, intimidate rivals, or, of most interest to Oscar, to disappear into the surrounding jungle. Oscar understood that camouflage and invisibility were not identical phenomena, but at least functionally, they shared some commonality.

He took a jar of iodized salt from the kitchen and crushed some of it with his mother's mortar and pestle. This served to reduce the crystallite size and to perhaps create a broader distribution of sizes. In that case, he hoped all wavelengths of light would be reflected. Once he covered himself in a layer of these crystals he would appear white and would be virtually invisible amidst the snow.

Standing on the porch, he rubbed his jacket and jeans with crushed salt. Much of it didn't stick. He then placed himself in the yard of the house directly across the street and adjacent to the new neighbors' home. He waited. Initial results were promising; cars that passed down the street ignored him.

He stood until his toes were frozen and he was ready to give up. However, just after 4:30, the mother arrived in the SUV with the son. The boy, dressed in a uniform slightly different than the one Oscar wore, carried a new backpack. Oscar could not help but eavesdrop as they walked to the house. The boy related to his mother, in English, how his first day had gone at the new school. Significantly, of the invisible pillar of salt not thirty feet away, nothing was said.

written while listening to:  Junji Hirose & Kazuhisa Uchihashi - saxophonedaxophone (doubt music, dmf-160, 2015, Japan, cd, discogs.com)

January 13, 2017

Friday the thirteenth turned out to be an unlucky day for Oscar on two counts. First, in the morning as he prepared for school, he discovered that wherever moisture from the snow had gotten on his school slacks and winter coat, a white pattern of dried salt now appeared. He dutifully stepped into his mother's line of sight to receive the allotted sentence of recriminations, followed by an exasperated groan. In response to her repeated queries, "What were you doing?" he simply shrugged, infuriating her further. She found his second pair of slacks in the dirty laundry basket and made him put those on. He owned but one winter coat and had to go to school, looking as if he had stood by the curb and let a dozen cars splash snowy run-off on him. Oscar was dropped off with the following parting words, "You make me look like a bad mother."

Second, after school, Oscar put his invisibility to the ultimate test. He stood on the sidewalk, near where he expected the SUV to park. Again, he waited for more than an hour, barely moving from his chosen spot. When the vehicle arrived, the mother curiously pulled up a few feet further than normal. Mother and son emerged from the vehicle. Once the son looked over his shoulder in the direction of Oscar, less than ten feet away.

As they climbed the front steps, the son whispered to the mother, "Is there something wrong with him?"

"Shh," she hushed him. "If you ignore him, he will go away."

written while listening to:  Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Kent Carter & Han Bennink - Regeneration (Soul Note SN 1054, 1983, Italy, lp, discogs.com)

January 14, 2017

Oscar stayed in his room until late in the morning on Saturday. His mother had left early for another job interview, saying good bye to him from the hallway. He had not gotten out of bed to see her go.

The temperature had risen; he remembered hearing it rain off and on during the night. The snow would soon be gone, at least until the temperature dropped again.

Reflecting on his humiliation of the day before, he moved from castigating himself for his stupidity in thinking he could master invisibility before understanding the premise of magic to other, more reassuring thoughts. In particular, he reminded himself that an essential element of the experimental process was the possibility of failure. If success was guaranteed, then he did not participate in an experiment at all; he merely mechanically repeated the steps in a prescribed procedure. It was important then to accept failure. Next time he resolved to fail in a more interesting way.

Later in the morning, he entertained the idea of a visit to the local nature center, which had about 300 acres of forested land through which trails ran. The trails connected to other parks in the city by a greenway that ran along the river. In order for Oscar to reach the greenway, he had to pass through a vacant but privately owned lot between two houses. Sometimes a large dog roamed the vacant lot. The thought of that dog chasing him was enough to send Oscar back to bed; he wasn't ready to fail in that interesting of a way yet.

written while listening to:  Martin Tétreault & Otomo Yoshihide - 21 Situations (Ambiances Magnétiques, AM 069 CD, 1999, Canada, cd, discogs.com)

January 15, 2017

Oscar's mother suggested they play a board game or a card game together on Sunday afternoon. "I know that I haven't had much time for the two of us," she said. Oscar consented so that he did not upset her, though he did not make a proper effort to hide his disinterest. The kitchen table seemed ominously quiet with just the two of them staring at the cards.

"I know things haven't been easy for you..." By this she meant to encompass both the absence of his brother and the departure of his father. "It's not been easy for me either."

Oscar steadily fixed his gaze on the wood of the cherry table.

"Will you help me out?"

Oscar nodded, though he would not meet her eyes. In situations such as this, he understood that magic from the school known as Enchantment was required. He considered his options. Theoretically, he could choose a spell from the Charm subschool to improve his mother's mood. Alternatively, a spell from the Compulsion subschool, such as lesser geas, could influence his father to return. Oscar did not have the heart to tell his mother that he suspected he was no more suited to be an enchanter than he was an illusionist. His natural talents drew him toward a different school. He kept these thoughts to himself. If he were a more powerful wizard, he would have been able to draw the magic from the cards themselves.

A single, listless game of 'Kings in the Corner' transpired before both parties mutually abandoned it. As she watched her son leave the room, the mother experienced resentment, for she thought the son had made a poor attempt to enjoy their shared time, mixed with guilt. For his part, Oscar felt inundated with helplessness, for he lacked experience in difficult communication.

written while listening to:  Paul Rutherford - The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie (Emanem, 4019, 1997 (recorded 1974), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)

January 16, 2017

On Monday, a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar remained home while his mother went to work. Before she left, he asked her if he could bicycle to the downtown library, for internet access. She might have been forced to say no on her own but the library was closed for the holiday, relieving her of the burden.

In midmorning, Oscar carried the laptop up and down the street until he found a neighbor's house with an unsecured wireless connection. He sat down, cross-legged, in the sidewalk. He didn't have long; the old battery drained quickly.

He discovered that King too was concerned about the relative value of both science and religion, saying, "Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism."* This observation was important to Oscar since the magic he sought was to rely on both avenues of investigation.

King also told him not to worry too much about being a misfit, saying, "There are some things in our nation to which I'm proud to be maladjusted, to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized." Oscar understood that King spoke of social justice, but Oscar was concerned with what he considered to be the more fundamental issue of existential justice and he sensed that one lay not that distant from the other.

*Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr., 1963. full text: thekingcenter.org.

Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered February 26, 1965. full text: americanrhetoric.com.

written while listening to:  Wadada Leo Smith, Kabell Years 1971-1979 (Tzadik, TZ 7610-4, 2004 (recorded 1971-1979), States, cdx4, discogs.com)

January 17, 2017

Of the eight traditional schools of magic, Oscar was not sure which was best suited to render existential justice, but he continued under the assumption that it was neither Illusion nor Enchantment. Sometimes, to solve a riddle, one had to step back to get a broader perspective. From outside the environment in which the problem persisted, one might better be able to perceive its solution. To this end, Oscar spent the hour of religion class contemplating the suitability of Necromancy to his needs.

Necromancy, of course, is the school concerned with the thwarting of the natural relationship between life and death, with particular emphasis on manipulating the inevitability, impenetrability and irreversibility of death.

Oscar intuitively suspected that those who had died might hold a different interpretation of the issues that afflicted the living than did the living themselves. As he sat at his desk beneath the Crucifix attached to the wall at the front of the classroom, he accepted that it was well beyond his meager powers to bring someone back from the dead. He also admitted that he was unprepared to meet his brother again, for if he had indeed possessed such power, there was only one potential candidate. Instead, Oscar merely sought conversation with the dead. He imagined that a few hours shared in solitary dialogue with his brother would prove sufficient not only to put him on the right steps to becoming a competent magician but also to provide guidance as to how to use his magic to make the world a better place.

written while listening to:  Marilyn Crispell - For Coltrane (Leo Records, CD LR 195, 1993, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)

January 18, 2017

Any civilization for which there is a written or archeological record exhibited some degree of interest in communication with the dead. Often the services of a specialist were invoked. This individual, sometimes a priest of the dominant religious institution and at other times an isolated hermit or crone cast out from society, was proficient in the means by which contact with the dead could be established as well as in the interpretation of their often ambiguous responses.

In the Christian tradition, the intermediate between the living and the dead did not have to come from the world of the living. One could pray to ancient saints or to the Virgin Mother herself to intercede on one's behalf. This seemed to Oscar the most readily accomplished approach.

On Wednesday night, after his homework was finished, he went to bed early. His mother asked if he was feeling well.

"Just tired," he told her.

Oscar prayed to Saint Jerome, who was born in modern day Croatia in 347 and died in 420. He famously translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate) from Greek and Hebrew and was designated by the church as the patron saint of librarians, scholars, students and abandoned children.

"Dear Saint Jerome," prayed the boy from his bed, "Please find my brother, who is dead, and tell him that I need to talk him. If you do this for me, I will try to be a better son for my mother."

written while listening to:  Toshimaru Nakamura - Egrets (Samadhisound, sound cd ss017, 2010, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 19, 2017

Barn owls do not hoot in the manner of most other owls. Instead, they make an eerie, drawn-out, raspy call. The local nature center had a caged barn owl that had been delivered to them injured and could not be returned to the wild. Oscar was familiar with its call. He had also seen wild specimens of Tyto Alba on "owl prowls", guided walks just after dusk, when they flew over open fields, with slow wingbeats providing a rhythm to their looping, buoyant flight.

Saint Jerome never provided Oscar any explanation as to why that night instead of putting Oscar in contact with his brother as requested, the saint arranged to have the boy's dreams visited by a barn owl. (Saints, due to their revered status, are generally not called to account for their inscrutable actions.)

In the dream, Oscar flew behind the owl. The sun had set but a purple tinge still illuminated the clouds above the western horizon. The owl, discovering he was being followed, made for the silhouette of a large ash tree, its branches densely packed but leafless this time of year. Oscar managed to find a branch sufficient to support his weight on the same tree.

The owl's black eyes surveyed the boy. He shifted his head from side to side, then glanced several times at the ground, as if he found the visitor only of moderate interest. Observing that the boy did not depart on his own, he asked in a raspy voice, "What is your name?"

"Oscar." Thinking it only polite, he also asked, "What's yours?"

The barn owl hopped from one spot on the branch to another then back. "You may call me White Tito," making it clear to Oscar that he had no intention of trusting him with his real name.

written while listening to:  Floros Floridis, Peter Kowald, Günter Baby Sommer - Aphorisms collected in Discography (Jazzwerkstatt, jw150, 2014 (originally recorded and released 1997), Germany, cdx4+booklet, discogs.com)

January 20, 2017

Oscar woke to a mixture of exhilaration and disappointment. Even dreamt, the experience of flight had thrilled him. However, White Tito had known next to nothing about Necromancy. It was true that there were a few substantiated reports of some species of owl, particularly barred owls, eating carrion when convenient. However, by and large, owls avoided carcasses, so their knowledge of any lore associated with the dead was quite limited.

Divination, on the other hand, was a school historically attractive to owls. Through their association with Athena since the times of ancient Greece, they had come to be a symbol of wisdom and they had not allowed that reputation to wane. Many owls sought to continuously maintain if not expand their claim to the virtue of wisdom. This goal required the pursuit of knowledge, which, while not synonymous with wisdom, was neither mutually exclusive. Study within the magical school of Divination provided an additional means to seek knowledge when mundane sources had been exhausted.

White Tito argued vehemently during the dream that Oscar was ill-suited to Necromancy, pointing out the many unsavory elements, such as grave-robbing and corpse-tampering, that came part and parcel with the field. White Tito also attempted to convince Oscar that he should pursue Divination, because it was knowledge that would best prepare Oscar to make the world a better place.

During the following school day, Oscar ruminated over these arguments. He conceded that Necromancy had lost much of its appeal to him but he did not fully embrace Divination, which seemed to him a practice better suited to idle scholars, poring over old tomes, than to a young man of action like himself.

written while listening to:  Lawrence "Butch" Morris - Current Trends In Racism In Modern America (Sound Aspects Records, SAS 4010, 1985, Germany, lp, discogs.com)

January 21, 2017

With the first full day in office of a new president of the United States of America, the boy across the street formed an anti-establishment gang. He didn't want to be in the gang all by himself, so mid-morning he crossed the street and knocked on Oscar's front door.

Oscar answered it, surprised to find the now familiar face. In the doorway, the following conversation took place.

"I moved in two weeks ago across the street." He turned and pointed at the white two-story house, although he knew very well that Oscar was aware of where he lived. "My name is Omar. What your name?"

"Oscar."

"Wow," said Omar, "Our names are very similar."

Oscar nodded.

"Omar means 'eloquent speaker'. What does Oscar mean?"

"Oscar, close the door! The heat's on," called his mother from the kitchen, prompting him to step out onto the porch, though he wore no coat.

"Deer-loving."

"Deer, as in the animal?"

Oscar nodded again.

Omar could not make sense of that meaning in the current context. He stored it away for later contemplation. "Do you want to join my gang? We're called the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. I'm forming the gang because the president said he was going to make a registry of all Muslim Americans."

"Is it like an Islamic terrorist group?" Oscar asked.

"No," Omar said dismissively. "It's about taking the bad things in the world and doing something good with them."

"Okay," said Oscar. It sounded a lot like making the world a better place. "Count me in."

"Good." Omar stuck out his hand and they shook on it. "Don't tell your mom. My parents explicitly forbid me from recruiting anyone into this gang. They told me it was dangerously provocative."

Oscar shrugged indifferently; conscientious gangsters did not flinch at the hint of danger.

written while listening to:  Phill Niblock - G2,44+/x2 (Moikai, M12CD, 2002, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 22, 2017

On the following day, the two boys met again, for a short while before lunch and then again after for a longer time. It seemed they had much to discuss in these initial meetings. They situated themselves on one front porch or the other. Both porches were covered. The one at Oscar's house contained two old, wooden rocking chairs and, at one end, a porch swing hung at a ninety degree angle. Omar sat sideways on the hanging bench with his legs extended. A year younger than Oscar, he stood a few inches shorter. His hair was black and his complexion, while darker than Oscar's, fell well within the spectrum of olive-skinned peoples. His face was much narrower than Oscar's, his dark eyes smaller.

They discussed titles for their respective ranks within the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. They did not want to call themselves President and Vice President for obvious reasons; those appellations had been recently debased.

Omar floated various suggestions for himself, including "Associate Vice Chancellor of Domestic Integrity", but seemed satisfied with none of them. (His parents were both professors at the local university.)

For his part, Oscar understood that wizards had titles based upon their discipline--Illusionist, Enchanter, Necromancer, Diviner, etc. Since he had not yet identified the school for which he was destined, he could not reach a decision. In his enthusiasm at a new friendship, he explained his dilemma to Omar, though not without trepidation.

"You're a wizard?" Omar asked, once the revelation had been made.

"In training," Oscar explained.

"Who is training you?"

"My brother."

"I didn't know you had a brother. I haven't seen him around."

"Oh," Oscar was forced to admit, "He died more than a year ago." By this means, he communicated to Omar the fact that his training was currently interrupted.

written while listening to:  John Fahey - Womblife (Table of the Elements, 37 Rb, 1997, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 23, 2017

Returning to school on Monday, Oscar found himself impatient for the day to end. The instant he stepped in the classroom, he wanted nothing more than for the full slate of lessons to be completed. It drizzled through-out the day, forcing an inside recess, which only made time pass more slowly. When the closing bell mercifully sounded, Oscar raced home, though by now he knew their relative schedules and he had at least an hour before Omar arrived. His mother left the university to pick him up at 4:00 then worked remotely inside the home until her husband came home. During this time, Omar was expected to complete his homework and then occupy himself.

Oscar finished his own homework. He moved to the front porch where he absent-mindedly read a book from the school library that counted toward the required reading for the quarter. He stood when the SUV pulled up but otherwise did not move.

Halfway up the steps to his house, Omar turned and waved to him from beneath an umbrella. Oscar waved back. This drew the attention of the mother, who, behind dark glasses, glanced briefly toward Oscar. She did not wave before turning and ushering Omar inside.

Omar was not allowed outside that evening. His mother said, "You spent enough time with that boy over the weekend." She did not permit him even to run across the street to briefly explain his unavailability. Instead, Omar practiced violin for twice the normal duration.

Left to his own devices, Oscar contemplated the school of Evocation, famous for such destructive spells as fireball, lightning bolt and ice storm. In his disappointment and irritation, he felt strongly the lure of mindless, self-destructive cataclysm. The late afternoon passed in daydreams of infantile omnipotence, a common enough spell among those possessed of such limited wisdom as to cast it.

written while listening to:  Julius Hemphill - Dogon A.D. (Mbari, MPC 501, 1972, United States, lp, discogs.com)

January 24, 2017

After school, Oscar sat in his brother's bedroom, a place he visited only when he was alone in the house. He was reading from one of his brother's many grimoires, seeking the right spell, when he heard a knock at the front door. There he found Omar, smiling.

Omar quickly explained that his mother had not allowed him to keep their meeting yesterday. "I thought she might make me stay home again today, but she changed her mind."

"Why?"

"I'm not sure," said Omar, discounting the notion that it was merely his youthful persistence, which had carried the day. "Did you cast a spell on her?"

Oscar did not want to admit that he had been researching spells from the school of Evocation, such as meteor swarm, rather than a more appropriate spell like suggestion.

Both persistent and curious, Omar did not let Oscar off the hook so easily. After some prying, Oscar admitted that he had been studying from a grimoire left behind by his brother.

"What spell?" pressed Omar.

The last spell that Oscar had examined was mydriatic spontaneity, which created before the target alternating flashes of light and darkness, inducing a seizure of rapid dilation and contraction of the pupils and leading immediately to debilitating headaches and nausea.

"That's a terrible spell," said Omar. In one fell swoop, he severed Oscar from the school of Evocation by adding, "Violence is not the way of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry." After a short pause, he asked, "Can I see the books?"

Oscar provided a flimsy excuse. "My mother doesn't allow anyone in his room." The room had been cleaned once, then left as it was on the day of his brother's death. Oscar's excursions into the room were thus clandestine.

Omar was not to be put off so easily. He argued for a while longer before he relented, conceding that further quarreling would spoil the day.

written while listening to:  Eliane Radigue - Triptych (Important Records, IMPREC260, 2009, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 25, 2017

His mother shared the good news with Oscar when she arrived home from work on Wednesday afternoon. One of the managers with whom she had recently interviewed had called her back and offered her the job. It was part time, three nights a week and all day on Sundays, but it might just provide the money they needed to stay in the house.

Oscar congratulated his mother and returned her hug with genuine emotion. At the dinner table, both mother and son were unusually quiet. Each privately imagined a new Sunday routine, detached from the other. Certainly, they both greeted the second job with ambivalence.

"You'll have to rise to a new level of responsibility," said the mother to the son, who nodded dutifully.

Saint Jerome was in the neighborhood and he observed the somber proceedings with some distress. He further noted that a powerful spell of alexithymia had been cast over the house. For those unfamiliar with this particular hex, it renders the subjects incapable of expressing their feelings. The spell had been flawlessly cast and resisted Saint Jerome's efforts to dispel it. Before he wandered off, the saint searched the house for the culprit. Since the boy clearly lacked the necessary training to cast the spell, another wizard must have been responsible. Saint Jerome looked for the obvious suspect but, after close inspection, declared the dead brother's room empty. That lost soul was nowhere to be found.

written while listening to:  Maurice McIntyre - Humility In The Light Of Creator (Delmark Records, DS-419, 1969, United States, lp, discogs.com)

January 26, 2017

Oscar sat on the front porch of Omar's house. He had a homework assignment which required research on the internet and access to a class document in cloud storage. When Omar had seen his friend fretting over his inability to get the work done, he had innocently invited him to use their internet. The 12-digit security password to access the wireless service was pinned with a magnet to the front of their refrigerator.

Oscar gratefully accepted the offer. He had installed himself on a wicker chair next to an exterior power outlet. For a while, Omar had sat out with him, but, growing cold and bored, he wandered off. Oscar briefly heard violin music resonating through the windows.

So it came to pass that Omar's father arrived home from work and found Oscar alone typing on the porch. Oscar greeted the man with some nervousness. The father nodded curtly and stepped inside his house, immediately seeking out Omar. A partial explanation was provided by the son: his friend had homework that needed internet. Of course, the father drew his own conclusions as to why Oscar couldn't do his schoolwork at his own home. The father upbraided first the son for sharing the security without his admission--"We're not a charity." He then upbraided his wife for allowing all this go on right under her nose, which drew a sharp retort, "I was revising a manuscript in my office!" Lastly the father forbade Omar from sharing the code with anyone else in the neighborhood.

Significant to understanding the character of the father, he did not forbid Oscar from doing his schoolwork on their front porch. In his home country, the father had often been forced to resort to ingenious and unconventional solutions to pursue his education. Although he did not admit it, he felt a sympathy for Oscar and, as an academician, an admiration for the boy's determination. How his opinion would have changed if he had known of the arcane field that so attracted Oscar!

written while listening to:  Barry Guy - Fizzles (Maya Recordings, MCD 9301, 1993, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)

January 27, 2017

"What's there to do around here?" Omar asked Oscar on Friday afternoon.

Oscar proceeded to regale his friend with tales of the hundreds of acres of nature preserve that lay not far south of their neighborhood. It offered endless opportunities for exploration. The two walked to the nearest intersection and over two blocks until they faced the row of houses with backyards that led down to the river bank. A thin sliver of wooded land separated the manicured yards from the sluggish water beyond. Oscar explained that, hidden in that margin, a paved greenway, maintained by the city, followed the river. That path could get them to the preserve in just over a mile. He knew the distance because there were greenway mile markers placed every quarter mile.

"How do you get on the greenway?" asked Omar, who easily succumbed to Oscar's excitement.

Oscar explained that one had to walk nearly three quarters of a mile in the wrong direction to find a point where they could directly access the greenway. The alternative was simply to cross the one vacant lot in the row of houses.

"That's easy," said Omar. In winter, it was already growing dark at the early hour. They couldn't go today, but he already imagined them walking to the nature center tomorrow morning.

"There's a catch," Oscar revealed. "Sometimes there's a big dog that roams the lot. The people in the house next door own the lot and the dog.

"I don't see it," said Omar, searching the shadows in the fading light.

"Oh," said Oscar, "it likes to ambush people. I know from experience."

written while listening to:  Jeremiah Cymerman - In Memory Of The Labyrinth System (Tzadik, TZ 8049, 2008, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 28, 2017

On Saturday morning, both boys rose before the sun had risen. They ate breakfast and dressed and waited impatiently for the late winter dawn. In its soft light, they surveyed the vacant lot separating them from the greenway. On the count of three they sprinted the distance, between sixty and seventy yards. Oscar, older and bigger, proved the faster of the two, but matched his pace to that of his companion. No sign of the dog appeared. Oscar had recommended an early departure for precisely this reason; it seemed the dog spent some portion of its time inside the adjacent house. They had crossed before the residents woke and let the dog out. Safe amidst the leafless birch, boxelder and wild cherry trees, Oscar and Omar exchanged a triumphant high-five.

A magical day passed for the nature preserve included land reclaimed from no less than three marble quarries arranged along the length of a small chasm. These quarries had lain idle for more than a century though a small cemetery of workers and their families remained secluded on a bluff in the surrounding woods. Work in the first quarry ceased when they struck an underground spring and the pit filled to form a lake. The other two quarries provided a surreal playground in which enormous cubes of stone, eight feet to a side, were scattered haphazardly among sloping land reclaimed by the forest. Entrances to a network of caves appeared both along the river and the chasm. The better known openings were sealed with a grid of metal beams to protect the habitats of the bats that dwelt within from infection. Secret entrances remained. In short, Oscar and Omar passed a day in an unsupervised and unrestrained fantasy of exploration, such as is available all too infrequently to children of today.

written while listening to:  Ganesh Anandan & Hans Reichel - Self Made (Ambiances Magnétiques, AM 192 CD, 2009, Canada, cd, discogs.com)

January 29, 2017

Left to his own devices for the first time on Sunday, due to his mother's new, second job, Oscar replayed in his mind the events of the previous day spent with Omar. The pair had clambered over piles of stone and weaved between trees that had managed to find a crooked path from soil to sunlight through the gaps in the blocks. Oscar had shown Omar a favorite place, a deep grotto where a carpet of damp, impossibly vivid and velvety moss covered the faces of abandoned stone cubes taller on a side than either of them. That grotto spoke of the patience of the forest to reclaim what had been taken from it and the long, unyielding memory of stone, which had refused to change the shape in which it had been left, although it might prove a stubborn, meaningless testament. Oscar had not shared with Omar his long-held intention to honor the testimony that he might by his own admittedly meager contribution give meaning to the protest of stone.

Having a friend was magical indeed, though Oscar was frustrated that it had come about in a random, unsystematic way, making it impossible to describe the method by which it had occurred and therefore unlikely to successfully reproduce in the future should the need arise. He studied two spells in his brother's grimoires--hidden diplomacy, which makes the target friendly toward the caster, and euphoric tranquility, which makes the target peaceful and friendly in general. Both of these spells seemed woefully inferior to the experience still echoing within Oscar.

written while listening to:  Jim O'Rourke - He Who Laughs (Neon Records, Neon001, 2002, Sweden, 1-sided 12"ep, discogs.com) and Jim O'Rourke - Please Note Our Failure (Some Records, some 08, 1998, Iceland, 10"ep, discogs.com)

January 30, 2017

In class on Monday, Oscar fretted that, with only two days remaining in the first month of the year, he had yet to determine the school of magic toward which he should apply himself. Conjuration focused on the summoning of creatures, beasts, angels and devils, either to reveal well-guarded information or to perform some onerous task. The practice often involved considerable peril, proportional to the knowledge and might of the subject of the conjuring.

Traditional grimoires, such as The Key of Solomon the King, in their intent to summon and control entities from the spirit world, were firmly grounded in the principles of Conjuration. Oscar had been banned from further investigation of apocryphal documents by the school's pastor until he read the Bible in its entirety. In that task, he had managed no further than Leviticus, before he was overwhelmed by a collection of antiquated rules deeply rooted in a seemingly alien culture; he felt sure that continuing to read served only to lead him away from his true purpose.

In any case, Oscar did not desire succor, aid or wisdom from a supernatural citizen of the Great Beyond. Instead, he sought within himself the natural instruments with which he might make the world a better place. He believed such a thing was possible, though, certainly, his conviction was not entirely free of doubt. In this way, Oscar convinced himself to eschew the practices of Conjuration. This decision left him only two remaining schools in which to find a home. He must be close!

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton, Milford Graves & William Parker - Beyond Quantum (Tzadik, TZ 7626, 2008, United States, cd, discogs.com)

January 31, 2017

"The school of Transmutation," Oscar explained to Omar, as they wandered lackadaisically along the sidewalks of the neighborhood, "concerns itself with the transformation of matter or form. Spells like stone to flesh and the related flesh to stone are prototypical transmutational spells, changing matter from one type to another. Form can also be changed. A living form can be changed through one of the many elaborations on the polymorph spell. Similarly, the form of the inanimate can be altered through such spells as stone shape or wood shape."

Oscar looked over to find Omar listening with rapt attention. The younger boy had still not been permitted to enter the room with the spell books. Thus this second-hand information was as close as he could come to the original source.

Oscar continued. "Transmutation also manipulates time, via advanced spells such as time stop, and gravity, via a range of spells beginning with telekinesis, continuing through levitation and fly, and culminating in reverse gravity."

"It sounds pretty useful, if you want to change the world," Omar said, trying to be helpful while his friend faced a tough decision. He imagined life as a crime-fighter swooping down from the sky upon a would-be robber, caught in the act, and turning him into a statuesque, gun-wielding pillar of granite. Hovering, Omar the superhero reversed gravity and watched the hapless statue float up into the air, eventually drifting out of the Earth's atmosphere, never to be seen by human eyes again. "Spectacular!" he said aloud. Gradually, he too was developing the desire to become a wizard.

written while listening to:  Harry Bertoia - Gong Gong/Elemental (Sonambient, F/W 1026, 1978, United States, lp, discogs.com)

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