The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living
(link to main page of novel)
David J. Keffer
January 1, 2018
On the first day of the year, Hebeloma Crustuliniforme assumed the role of President of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living. Her election was the fruit of a hard-fought battle, waged over several years, against the forces of inertia, entropy, male chauvinism and apathy. Having assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief of the organization's archival journal in October of the previous year, in what ultimately amounted to a bloodless coup, she had been hailed as a long-sought savior, one with the right mix of authority, determination and lack of regard for historical convention necessary to right the ship. Since that moment, her ascension to the presidency had been only a matter of time. That it materialized within three months was largely a consequence of the lack of resistance, indicative of the overall state of the deterioration within the administration of the congress.
The five other editorial board members, who jointly constituted her executive governing committee, awaited the president's annual address, traditionally issued on January first. Despite her enthusiasm and her eagerness to make her mark, Hebeloma chose to have them wait a little longer. In a matter as sensitive as exploratory meta-living, one could not risk damaging the process in a reckless rush toward, ostensibly, the common good. On the contrary, Hebeloma, while admitting that much in life, which transpired without planning, came to a good end, had decided nevertheless to exercise meticulous care in discharging the duties of her office.
written while listening to: Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger - Lily (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1060, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
January 2, 2018
"The other members of the editorial board have repeatedly suggested that this document requires a more succinct title than Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living. One among them, who has extensive experience writing proposals to federal funding agencies, suggested adopting an acronym. 'Successful proposals always have clever acronyms.' Unhappy with PICEML, he suggested the rather unusual capitalization: Proceedings of the IntErnational Congress on Exploratory MEtA-Living, or PIECEMEAL. All of the other members of the committee congratulated him for his ready wit.
"As president, I was tempted to exercise my veto power, for I objected to the term piecemeal, which seemed to me to possess a derogatory connotation. In fact the word is defined as 'characterized by unsystematic partial measures taken over a period of time.'* Of course, I did not want my tenure as president to be perceived as one lacking in a coherent, over-arching plan, given instead to incremental, Brownian stop-gap fits.
"'But that's life!' another member said to me. The committee did not relent until they had extracted from me the concession that, indeed, a non-negligible component of life could be accurately described as piecemeal.
"'Fine,' I acquiesced, 'but I will not have it on the cover!' This rather meaningless provision on my part was allowed to stand unchallenged, for the time being. All understood the tentative nature of the agreement. It was, regrettably, a telltale symptom of a piecemeal process."
*Oxford English Dictionary, link.
written while listening to: Alexandra Grimal - Andromeda (Ayler Records, AYLCD-127, 2012, France, cd, discogs.com)
January 3, 2018
We have been asked to provide a physical description of Hebeloma, although it is not our natural inclination to do so. Arguments against providing such a depiction rely on the irrelevance of the physical manifestation of the individual to the conceptual principles, which they attempt to advance. On the other hand, the primary rationalization for a physical description is that it aids the reader in providing a mental image of Hebeloma and allows them to attach to her their own pre-existing associations with her characteristics, making her more tangible while creating distinctions in her from the mind of one reader to another.
We capitulate to this request not because we see the superiority in the latter argument. On the contrary, we yield because, in this age of individual strength, there is a lost pleasure in yielding, especially over matters of little consequence, in which the difference between the two competing justifications is slight.
Hebeloma was of Mediterranean descent, a classification introduced by anthropologists in the late nineteenth century. She had allowed her thick, black hair to hang past her shoulders. Her slender build was neither as tall nor as graceful as she would have liked. Her thin face presented a slightly aquiline nose and narrow, dark, lustrous eyes. We imagine her too vividly and betray our fondness for her. Hebeloma would not approve. She would chastise us saying, "Don't sexualize my presidential portrait." She wished that a smile came more readily to her face.
written while listening to: The Angelica Sanchez Trio - Float the Edge (Clean Feed, CF410CD, 2017, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
January 4, 2018
Of course, we are fully aware that we have yet to define meta-living. We put that off for another day; there are three hundred sixty-one days remaining in the year, in which such niceties can be properly accomplished. Today, we address the remarks made earlier this week by the forty-fifth president of the United States.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the "Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times." Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
During his campaign we thought that the president's insecurity regarding the size of his hands was juvenile.† Here we see the same anxiety projected about his Nuclear Button, while the security of the world hangs in the balance. For those of us who grew up in the Cold War, the possibility of "mutually assured destruction" was part of our routine existence. Now, the president toys with its return.
If there be any purpose in the pursuit of exploratory meta-living, it should be to thwart the destructive impulses of our "mentally deranged U.S. dotard", lest we all be tamed with fire.‡
*"Trump Says His 'Nuclear Button' Is 'Much Bigger' Than North Korea's", Peter Baker & Michael Tackett, New York Times, January 2, 2018. full text: New York Times.
†"Donald Trump on Why He Defended the Size of His Hands (and More)", Ashley Parker, New York Times, March 4, 2016. full text: New York Times.
‡"Full Text of Kim Jong-un's Response to President Trump", New York Times, September 22, 2017. full text: New York Times.
written while listening to: Max Johnson - Quartet (Not Two Records, MW 889-2, 2012, Poland, cd, discogs.com)
January 5, 2018
We have no desire to repeat what has come before, unless there is either a virtue or a pleasure to it. In this case, we provide verbatim the definition of meta-living, flawed though it may be, which has appeared for several years on the site of the International Journal of Exploratory Meta-Living.*
† By straight-forward analogy, meta-living is the existential term describing a manner of living that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between existence and reality, using irony and self-reflection among other devices. These other devices include, but are not limited to, scientific inquiry, ontology, various theologisms, sophistry, rhetoric, tomfoolery, transcendental perspectivism and, of course, the omnipresent specter of post-existential relativism.
One useful avenue leading toward an understanding of the term meta-living is through analogy, particularly by considering meta-fiction. Wikipedia, the oracle of all contemporary knowledge, defines meta-fiction as "the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality, usually using irony and self-reflection."
*An International Journal of Exploratory Meta-Living, accessed January 5, 2018. full text: IJEML.
†Wikipedia, accessed April 16, 2014. full text: Metafiction.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - That / Not disc 1 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-02-005, 2007, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
January 6, 2018
Traditionally, the holiday of Epiphany occurs twelve days after Christmas, corresponding to the historical arrival of the Three Magi at the cradle of the Christ Child. Symbolically this event represents God's first overture toward extending his covenant with the Jews to the Gentiles as well.
To be clear, the International Congress of Exploratory Meta-Living is not associated with any established religion, Christianity or otherwise. At the same time, ICEML no more embraces the tenets of atheism or any other secular philosophy than it does religious belief systems. The ICEML recognizes the fundamental truth that each individual is charged with the duty of identifying a framework in which one can come to comfortable terms with the premise of their existence and with their functional role in the world. For many individuals, established belief systems, spiritual or otherwise, play an essential role in this identification process. We therefore welcome all perspectives.
The value of words of principle increase when those principles are put into practice. To this end, the executive governing committee of the ICEML typically reserves one seat for a member of such an organization. At the current time, this seat is filled by the leader of the American Catholic Atheist Party (ACAP). Some may experience the impulsive reaction that a Catholic atheist is an oxymoron. In the following pages, we will allow Stuart to present his arguments, justifying ACAP as a natural arrangement in harmony with the world.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - That / Not disc 2 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-02-005, 2007, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
January 7, 2018
If you, Gentle Reader, suppose that someone such as Stuart, representing a seemingly contradictory organization such as ACAP, has in his possession a lengthy treatise explaining the origin and purpose of ACAP at a minute level of detail, in which no one can be expected to have any sustained interest, then you are correct. We have seen this tome, bound in the spirals of a copy center franchise long gone out of business. We shudder at its thickness and indefensibly small font size.
Do not be alarmed; we would not allow Stuart to monopolize these pages with esoteric matters of questionable interest to any of us. However, we anticipate that no such intervention on our part will prove necessary for we know Stuart rather well. Evangelization is not among his priorities. That the premise of ACAP would be found untenable by many is beyond dispute. Promulgating its message, therefore, will not forward the fundamental truth it serves. To the contrary, knowledge of ACAP may destabilize whatever belief system the reader brings with them. We are not in the business of destruction. It appeals to us not even in an esthetic sense.
With that disclaimer behind us, we allow Stuart his moment at the podium in order to recite a single paragraph from his unholy text.
The Catholic Atheist is not an oxymoron. The argument goes that humans are not defined by their thoughts but rather by their actions. A person who dreams of murdering is not a murderer until the act of murder is committed. Daydreaming, imagining, or wishful thinking of a murder does not make one a murderer. Similarly, ACAP is founded on the notion that belief in the Catholic Trinity does not make one a Catholic. Rather, the execution of Catholic actions in one's daily routines confirms the title of Catholic to the person. If there is a flaw in this analogy between murderers and Catholics, I do not see it.
*"The American Catholic Atheist Party versus My Cousin Stuart", Keffer, D.J., unpublished, August, 1998. Request for link to full text of manuscript refused by author.
written while listening to: Mario Pavone - Blue Dialect (Clean Feed, CF319CD, 2015, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
January 8, 2018
"One paragraph is not enough," said Stuart, "to describe ACAP. I need two, maybe three." The rest of the committee folded its arms or shifted in their seats. Such a development was not unanticipated.
Moreover, the idea of a Catholic atheist is predated by that of the "non-religious Jew". In the World News section of the papers, one can frequently read of the component in Israeli society composed of "non-religious Jews", who are in constant ideological conflict with the right-wing factions of their society. The non-religious Jew and the Catholic atheist are brothers in arms.
"But," said Stuart, "this historical precedent is not the most important point yet unsaid." He leaned toward the camera on his computer, his face fully occupying his portion of the screen, duplicated before all of the committee members present in the video conference.
"The most important thing to know is that membership in ACAP will not make you any friends. If pursuit of friendship has led you to ACAP, turn away immediately! It has been my experience that mention of ACAP is the surest way to ruin a friendship, for those who believe in God find it an intentional mockery for an atheist to profess that he shares in their Catholicism. Not a one of them is interested in fellowship with such an individual. At the other end of the spectrum, professed atheists reject a fellow atheist inclined to prayer. Again, they perceive only weakness, a contamination of the purity of their own disavowal of God. Few find happiness in the muddled middle.
"Membership in ACAP is a lonely call and, therefore, one that I voluntarily bring up as infrequently as possible."
*"The American Catholic Atheist Party versus My Cousin Stuart", Keffer, D.J., unpublished, August, 1998. Request for link to full text of manuscript refused by author.
written while listening to: Paradoxical Frog - Union (Clean Feed, CF262CD, 2012, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
January 9, 2018
Of course, many philosophers, more learned and well-read than ourselves, could present a plethora of rote objections to the idea that actions define an individual. Here we provide only a single example, though we choose it carefully, from an exemplar of meta-fiction no less, the American writer, Donald Barthelme (April 7, 1931--July 23, 1989).
I don't believe that we are what we do although many thinkers argue otherwise. I believe that what we do is, very often, a poor approximation of what we are--an imperfect manifestation of a much better totality.
Neither Stuart nor any other member of the ICEML executive governing committee intends to rebut this counter-argument. The sentiment is so sweet; none of us has a desire to spoil it. Besides, it does not fall to the ICEML to champion a particular cause or way of living, although we, at times, succumb to the temptation to decry attitudes and behaviors that are, within the limits of our mental faculties, judged obviously detrimental to the common good. Rather, we seek to present alternatives and allow the internal discriminatory processes of the individual to determine which ideas best resonate within themselves.
*Barthelme, Donald, from the short story, "Jaws", collected in Forty Stories, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1987.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - Oblique-I (Pi Recordings, PI40, 2011, United States, cd, discogs.com)
January 10, 2018
Even before we began to receive email at the ICEML requesting that we apply the same standard to both male and female members of the committee, we had already resolved to provide a physical description of Stuart.
Stuart stood just over six feet tall and weighed nearly two-hundred fifty pounds. His Epicurean tendencies were evident in his ample belly. His round face bore characteristics that many would not hesitate to describe as pudgy. His curly, sandy blond hair was cut short and a smile, always at the ready, complimented the invitation in his light brown eyes. Of course, any man can be perceived as handsome and any woman beautiful if there is a tenderness toward the subject in the heart of the observer.
We, on the committee, often find fault with one another. We disagree vociferously. Yet, we share, for the most part, a fondness for each other, which imparts a tolerance for our various faults and a generosity in these written portraits. To be sure, no one, encountering Stuart for the first time, would identify him as the leader of the American Catholic Atheist Party. None of the internal conflict that might consume a man and drive him from the comforts of either God or godlessness was evident in his bearing. We liked Stuart very much, precisely because he took such a sensitive, serious subject and made it seem as natural and ordinary as preferring coffee over tea in the morning.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy (Pi Recordings, PI56, 2014, United States, cd, discogs.com)
January 11, 2018
We have already begun to receive negative feedback. One reader wrote in to ask, "Hebeloma, why did you allow Stuart to hijack your inaugural address with his ACAP nonsense?"
Hebeloma spoke to the committee on this matter. "Our readership thinks that I have shown weakness as a leader. Perhaps they attribute this weakness to the fact that I am a woman, passively pushed aside by a more aggressive man. I choose to think of it in a different light. I have allowed Stuart to express himself under only a modest constraint of brevity. Later in my tenure, I may have the opportunity to rely on Stuart to reciprocate this courtesy or another.
"This temporary delay has cost me nothing and perhaps engendered some good will. The year is long. For you, Gentle Reader of the Future, resting comfortably with this book in your hands, a matter of hours may pass from the first page to the last. Pause for a moment and imagine us, here on the committee, meeting remotely on a nightly basis. For us this year contains three hundred sixty-five days, five hundred thousand minutes, over thirty-two million seconds, countless moments of irritation and disappointment interspersed with flickering joy, all amidst endless uncertainty. Be patient, for the nonlinear manner in which time was contracted in this recording process does not preserve with perfect fidelity the transient sentiments, which constituted the original agenda."
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables disc 1 (Pi Recordings, PI65, 2016, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
January 12, 2018
There are six of us seated on the executive governing committee of the ICEML. This same body also serves as the editorial board for the archival journal of the organization, IJEML. Of the half dozen members, we have, thus far, introduced only its president, Hebeloma, and its spiritual liaison, Stuart. The other officers have waited silently in the shadows during these first twelve days of the year. Some, in fact, have asked to remain anonymous until a need for their functionality in this narrative arises. The president is of two minds regarding this suggestion. Part of her prefers a conventional model in which the principle characters are introduced at the beginning of the novel. Another part perceives some appeal in abandoning tried and true recipes in favor of allowing the various protagonists and antagonists to appear unannounced. It is impossible to declare that one method is superior to another, as it falls ultimately to a matter of taste. When half a dozen people gather, invariably their individual proclivities do not precisely align. Choices, which may seem either arbitrary or, worse yet, misguided, result from a process of navigating many simultaneous constraints. Sometimes an unexpectedly delightful course of action emerges from this multiplicity of opinions.
It is fortunate therefore that we hold our president in high regard. "Hebeloma," we say, "guide us with your deliberate wisdom!"
Hebeloma rolls her eyes. She knows that among our number there dwell those who exercise sarcasm without discretion.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables disc 2 (Pi Recordings, PI65, 2016, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
January 13, 2018
It snowed today in the city in which Poppy Hortie resided. It was the first snow of the year, or if there had been another, Poppy Hortie had already forgotten it. This one was a mere dusting. Before dawn, the lawn reflected the porch light in a sheet of white giving the illusion of a full covering of snow. However, as the sun rose, hidden in an overcast sky, it provided sufficient light to reveal that patches of white were frugally scattered among the familiar greens and browns.
Gentle reader, you have not met Poppy Hortie yet, nor has his city been revealed to you. We are scattered around the world. The rest of us did not rise to new snow.
Details will follow. The important information to be shared now is this: Poppy Hortie believed that we are only alive once. We can choose to give into our natural inclinations, which in his case tended, unfortunately, to depression, anxiety, despair. When that life is spent, we can observe that we were true to our nature. On the other hand, we can strive to become something other than our natural state, to rise above the limits of our brain chemistry. This idea appeals to some, who reject the demands of the physics-based reality as obscene, brutal or cruel. But it is not an easy attitude to maintain on a daily basis, because the fight itself is unnatural. It requires daily nurturing and rejuvenation lest the resolve wither. Becoming part of an organization that shares this resolve seems to be one recommended way of maintaining perseverance against an indefatigable foe.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - Koan (482 Music, 482-1069, 2009, United States, cd, discogs.com)
January 14, 2018
One seat on the governing committee is traditionally reserved for a parent, because, for many of us, a significant component of our life's purpose is either the education of children or the more general improvement of the world for the benefit of the next generation and beyond. Historically, the parent seat was occupied by a mother. However, in an attempt to open all positions within the committee, including the presidency, to all members, regardless of gender, that restriction was removed. Thus Poppy Hortie, a father, has come to occupy the seat and he is not at all happy about it.
"Yes," he insisted, "I absolutely do want to be on the committee, but not as the parent!"
"It's the only seat currently available," we pleaded with him.
"That's not true!" he shouted.
"As you know very well, we are not currently entertaining the notion of filling the other vacancy."
Poppy Hortie huffed and puffed but he has desperate. None of us denied that Poppy Hortie was a demonstrably bad parent. There was plenty of documentation to support that position. Moreover, his two children could have testified with lurid detail, had we felt the need. Fortunately, we did not. We offered Poppy Hortie the parent chair.
He grumpily accepted and barked at us, as if to emphasize the error of our judgment, "I'm going to start dabbling with alcoholism!"
"You can't dabble with alcoholism," said the tanager. "That's like dabbling with cholera or leprosy."
"Exactly!" said Poppy Hortie, before he signed off for the night.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey - Solo Guitar Volume 1 sides A & B (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP200, 2017 (originally recorded 1971, 1972), United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 15, 2018
Prior to holding the parent seat, Poppy Hortie was president. His ascension to this position resulted not from any political acumen but rather from the juxtaposition of the ICEML governing committee and the IJEML editorial board. His interest in the journal far exceeded that of anyone else and his rise to leadership occurred exclusively as a result of his literary activities.
It is true that in electing him president we candidly discussed the separation of the board and the committee, the decoupling of these two functions. Ultimately, there is some element of multiplicity inherent in meta-living and the simultaneous performance of two, at best peripherally related, tasks appealed to our esthetic senses.
Poppy Hortie existed in many seemingly incongruous roles. He was an accomplished author and he was the deposed president. He was father and husband at the same time as he was subject to a deep and abiding depression. Poppy Hortie did not occupy any of these roles especially well. He was the kind of person who simply did not fit in with this world, though he seemed to try. We felt a sympathy for him because everything he did was, at the same time, well-meaning and wrong-headed.
We sacked him and elected Hebeloma, she of the aquiline nose and lustrous eyes. Poor old Poppy Hortie never stood a chance.
Today, on MLK day, a holiday for those of us residing in America, Poppy Hortie began our meeting with a reading from one of King's letters and we remembered why we were fond of him. He finished:
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers?
*"Letter From Birmingham Jail", Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 16, 1963. full text: link.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey - Solo Guitar Volume 1 sides C & D (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP200, 2017 (originally recorded 1971, 1972), United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 16, 2018
An astute, if not calculating, reader wrote in to ask us, "Why keep Poppy Hortie on the committee at all? The work of the committee could be accomplished more effectively if all members are actively working toward the common goal. It's self-defeating to keep around dead weight."
Of course, the reader has a valid point. Once the success of our work has been identified, shouldn't we put all of our efforts toward that goal? If one of us contributes for a while, then, due to indecision or age, becomes less useful to the mission, should we not cast him aside, to be replaced by a more efficient member? When we restate the question in these terms, the objection becomes plain to see. If we abandon virtue in our pursuit of success then, even if we achieve our original goal, it will not be what we sought, tarnished as it is by the means with which it was attained.
Although it sounds cliché, it is the process that matters. We live in a population in which there is great variation in the distribution of talents across all axes: strength, intelligence, charisma and every other trait. If we are to serve the common good, we cannot choose a definition of success that benefits only those who fall very far to the self-serving end of the spectrum describing altruism. We need Poppy Hortie, though he may slow us down.
Poppy Hortie joyfully exclaimed, "Somehow, I have come to no longer regard utility as a virtue!"
written while listening to: Derek Bailey - Solo Guitar Volume 2 (Incus Records, CD11, 1992, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
January 17, 2018
In a business decision that has been the source of much regret, the IJEML decided, nearly a decade ago, to sponsor a literary endeavor in meta-living. There were grand plans. Of course, we did not appoint a recognized writer of popular fiction to be the standard bearer for this new imprint, because we accepted that much of our value was to be found in our roles as local examples of practitioners of non-idiomatic creativity, laboring in relative anonymity.
Poppy Hortie seemed an ideal candidate. He came to us with a vision. "Three books is called a trilogy," he said, "but five books is called a pentalogy." We had not heard of this term and only later discovered that he had not, as we suspected, simply made it up.
Poppy Hortie provided a general outline of the five books. They were to describe the comings and goings of a family of four. The first book would introduce the family as a whole unit. Each of the following four books would focus on one member of the family. Perhaps the simple organization of the project appealed to us. Certainly it was not any great eloquence on the part of Poppy Hortie, who had never been much of a salesman, as he pitched the project.
The first book was published in 2010. The second and third books appeared in 2012 and the fourth in 2013. Now, five years later, the fifth book has yet to be published. The project was put on hold indefinitely, pending a reassessment of its merits. Resources of the ICEML were redirected toward better uses. To be clear, Poppy Hortie's single-minded purpose on this committee is to see the fifth book written and published, the pentalogy completed.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey - Royal Volumes 1 & 2 sides A & B (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP201, 2017 (originally recorded 1974) United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 18, 2018
It has to be said that not all of us had read the first four entries of the Hortie pentalogy in their entirety. To help us better understand the necessity of finishing the fifth volume, Poppy Hortie embarked on an effort to educate us regarding the events that had transpired already.
"The writing of the first volume was begun in February of 2009 and completed in December of 2010. It was titled 'The Horties' and subtitled, 'an invisible novel'."
"What attribute do you intend to invoke by the use of the metaphor of invisibility?" we asked.
"Hmm," answered Poppy Hortie. "Not the property of being inconspicuous, nor that of being ignored. I wrote this a long time ago; I can't remember precisely what was intended. Perhaps, I thought to call to mind the receptiveness of Emerson's transparent eyeball. On the other hand, I could have hoped to impact the reader with a metaphorical sonic boom generated by Wonder Woman's invisible jet, as it soared by overhead, oblivious to the events unfolding beneath her."
We frowned, collectively. We did not appreciate mixed metaphors.
Poppy Hortie ignored us. "In the future," he recited, "when Darwin's laws of evolution are judged insufficient by the minds of the creatures they have produced, an artificial intelligence is assembled to seek out a new set of characteristic traits suitable for perpetuating human life."*
"That's already been done," interrupted the tanager. "Octavia Butler covered that in the Xenogenesis trilogy."†
Poppy Hortie blushed. To be compared to Butler he considered a compliment of the highest order. "In truth, I am embarrassed to admit that I didn't discover Butler until some years after this novel was finished."
*The Horties: An Invisible Novel, Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2012, link to: promotional flyer.
†Xenogenesis trilogy, also titled the Lilith's Brood trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), Imago (1989), Octavia E. Butler, Warner Books, New York.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey - Royal Volumes 1 & 2 sides C & D (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP201, 2017 (originally recorded 1974) United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 19, 2018
Poppy Hortie continued his description of the first volume of the Hortie pentalogy. "'The Horties' brings a happy American family of four, average in every respect save that they are all invisible, into the focus of the investigation of the ideal criteria for evolution. The members of this family, known only as Dad Hortie, Mom Hortie, Girl Hortie and Boy Hortie, each have their own ideas regarding the merits and drawbacks of invisibility."
"Wait," said the tanager. "Their last name is Hortie, which is bad enough, but their first names are Dad, Mom, Girl and Boy?"
Poppy Hortie nodded. "It's allegorical," he said somewhat defensively.
"It's idiotic is what it is," said the tanager, who had a well-earned reputation for speaking her mind.
We waited patiently for Poppy Hortie to either respond to the tanager or ignore her and continue. He chose, it seemed, a middle path. "These books were meant to be created, I guess, not to be consumed." Poppy Hortie looked around sheepishly before adding, "One understands that theoretically there may be metaphysical value in both the execution of the creative act and the reception of the product resulting from the act. However, it has been a time-honored tenet of our organization to focus almost exclusively on the first component."*
This last sentiment he quoted from a letter written by none other than Hebeloma herself.
*Manuscript Submission Guidelines, Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2016, link: http://www.poisonpie.com/publishing/text/contact.html.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey - Duo 1 (Emanem, 3313, 1975, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
January 20, 2018
It is our intent, when possible, to provide a physical description of each member of the governing committee of the ICEML. Poppy Hortie was a big human being. In countries where the nutritional needs of children are met or exceeded, it has been historically observed that the average size of individuals in the population has increased. Much like the giant dinosaurs of old, Homo sapiens have discovered the physiological fact that there is an enhancement in metabolic efficiency as the size of the organism grows. The underlying mechanism behind this empirical observation is the surface to volume ratio, which decreases with increasing size. The metabolic processes required to sustain a living temperature within the organism scale with the volume but the rate at which heat is lost to the surroundings scales with the surface area. Since their ratio falls with increasing size, larger creatures lose a smaller fraction of their heat. Thus we admire Poppy Hortie, very tall, solidly built, paragon of metabolic efficiency. He had shaggy brown hair and a moustache and beard that were shaved into what was more or less an oval shape located at the bottom of his face. He had a dark, ambiguous complexion and wore sunglasses much of the time. Once, when he had gone to the fair, his wife had paid for a caricature to be drawn of him; he looked exactly like the result. More than once, based on nothing more than visual inspection, it had been said that he looked like a person who enjoyed reggae music, even though he did not have dreadlocks. "I really do like reggae," Poppy Hortie admitted.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey - Duo 2 (Emanem, 3314, 1975, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
January 21, 2018
Poppy Hortie had every intention of continuing his description of the events in The Horties, but the tanager dissuaded him, saying, without apparent ill will, "Spare me. I'm so not into your book reports today."
The video conferencing software that they employed for these meetings provided a common, central desktop around which the feeds from six cameras were displayed in two rows of three rectangles, one at the top of the monitor and one at the bottom. Each camera was supposedly trained on one member of the committee. Poppy Hortie had dutifully activated his camera. The tanager flitted in and out of view of the field of vision of her camera. Although she was migratory, most of her path lay within the same time zone as that shared with Poppy Hortie. Thus it appeared to be night where she dwelt as well.
A sunset illuminated Stuart who resided two hours earlier to the west. The other three cameras showed no activity. Hebeloma dwelt six hours later; it was past midnight for her. Her camera presented a still-life study of a shadowed room, though Poppy Hortie had spotted her briefly when she logged on at the beginning of their meeting. It was one of the other two cameras in which Poppy had hoped to find approbation for continuing his book report. The official ICEML librarian should have come out in support, but the current librarian communicated with them from a remote island, thirteen hours in the future relative to Poppy Hortie. For the librarian it was already late morning. Quite possibly there were tasks, which he was obligated to complete before lunch, thus necessitating his absence from the meeting and contributing to a dearth of encouragement on Poppy Hortie's behalf.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Han Bennink - eponymous sides A & B (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP202, 2017 (originally recorded 1972, 1973), United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 22, 2018
Hebeloma chided the tanager, saying, "Unless you have some urgent business of your own, let Poppy Hortie have his say." She knew that the tanager had no pressing topics of her own; she was merely playing the role assigned to her seat in the committee, namely that of devil's advocate.
According to the by-laws of the ICEML, the devil's advocate was charged with exploring the positions and perspectives counter to those embraced by the majority of the committee. Even if the advocate personally sided with the majority, it was all the same her duty to investigate the salient arguments against their pending decisions. This seat had been established many sessions ago, in order to more thoroughly vet rulings of the committee.
Not just anyone could occupy the seat of the devil's advocate. It helped greatly if she possessed a naturally contrarian disposition. In the case of the tanager, she had many traits, which made her suitable for this seat. Among the other members, the tanager was the youngest, the most beautiful, the most undisciplined and the least inclined to either reticence or discretion.
"Whatevs," said the tanager good-naturedly.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Han Bennink - eponymous sides C & D (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP202, 2017 (originally recorded 1972, 1973), United Kingdom, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 23, 2018
Poppy Hortie began to describe the second book in the Hortie pentalogy. "It's titled, 'The Sutra of Reverse Possession' and subtitled, 'a novel of non-idiomatic improvisation'." Poppy Hortie looked up, expecting another outburst from the tanager. Just to spite him, she remained silent. He suggested for her then, "Perhaps, for the benefit of our readers, I should explain what non-idiomatic improvisation is."
"Perhaps," said Hebeloma, in a conciliatory role.
"Improvisation," quoted Poppy Hortie, "is not knowing what it is until you do it; composition is not doing it until you know what it is."* He frowned, hoping to express to the others that he was not intentionally being clever, a bourgeois trait if ever there was one. "Non-idiomatic describes a creative act falling outside any conventional genre or idiom."
"What he means," clarified the tanager, "is that no one read these books."
Poppy Hortie agreed, "These books are practically virgins."
"Practically virgins?" said the tanager. "What exactly does that entail?"
Hebeloma interrupted and encouraged Poppy Hortie to continue.
Poppy Hortie gratefully obliged. "'The Sutra of Reverse Possession' was written from December, 2010 through May, 2012. It runs about one hundred twenty-four thousand words. It deals with the rare phenomenon of reverse possession, in which a person traps spirits within themselves, rather than ordinary possession, in which the spirit maintains control. In fact, the novel follows the character of Dad Hortie, who invites three spirits inside himself in a series of experiments intended to discover superior approaches to being a husband and father."†
*Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation,, Ben Watson, Verso, London, 2004, p. 440.
†The Sutra of Reverse Possession: A Novel of Non-Idiomatic Improvisation, Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2012, link to: promotional flyer.
written while listening to: Han Bennink & Derek Bailey - Post Improvisation 1: When We're Smilin (Incus Records, CD34, 1999, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
January 24, 2018
"So," asked Stuart, "when we're talking about possession, people naturally think about demons and exorcists and all that. Does your book have demons?"
"Well," answered Poppy Hortie, "Yes and no."
"Are they spiritual demons, like the minions of Lucifer, or are they personal demons, like alcoholism?" This seemed a fair question, coming from Stuart, who occupied the seat previously known as the priest's seat and now generally referred to as the sacred seat.
"Some of both," Poppy Hortie agreed ambiguously.
"Tell us about one," urged Stuart.
"The first spirit that Dad Hortie drew into himself lived when the Shang Dynasty gave way to the Zhou Dynasty circa 1100 B.C. The legendary Taoist, Jiang Ziya, served as Military Minister for King Wu, the first Zhou Emperor, gathering around him numerous Taoist disciples to aid in the overthrow of the despotic last Shang king. One of these disciples was a dwarf, surnamed Sun, four feet tall with a face the color of earth, ugly and unimposing. His origin was uncertain; Sun himself was no more specific than, 'I come from some island in the sea.'
"Sun studied Chan (Zen) Taoism as a disciple of the Immortal Krakucchanda, who lived in Flying Cloud Cave on Dragon Squeezing Mountain. Followers of Chan Taoism were destined to break the prohibition against killing. Although Krakucchanda would later become a Buddha, Sun was destined for a far different fate. Under Krakucchanda, Sun studied the Way for about 100 years. As a Taoist disciple, Sun gained a variety of supernatural powers. First, Sun learned to travel on foot 1,000 li (300 miles) per day. Sun also mastered the martial arts, specializing in wielding the iron cudgel. Later, Sun learned to travel 1,000 li per day underground, magically burrowing without leaving a trace behind. For this reason, he was known among Taoists as Earth Traveler Sun."*
*biographical synopsis based on Creation of the Gods (Feng Shén Yanyi), unknown Ming dynasty (c. 1368-1644 A.D.) author(s), English translation: Gu Zhizhong, New World Press, Beijing, 1992.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Han Bennink - Post Improvisation 2: Air Mail Special (Incus Records, CD35, 1999, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
January 25, 2018
Poppy Hortie continued his description of Earth Traveler Sun. His pleasure in describing the dwarf was evident to the other members of the committee, for Sun was a historical and literary figure with great appeal to Poppy Hortie.
"Unfortunately for Earth Traveler Sun, a fellow disciple, acting against the will of Heaven, revealed to him, 'You have no hope of becoming an immortal, but you may be able to enjoy riches and power in the world of men.' Thus was Earth Traveler Sun corrupted. Stealing the Celestial Binding Ropes, Earth Traveler Sun ventured forth from Flying Cloud Cave. With this marvelous tool, Earth Traveler Sun first battled the Zhou army, going so far as to capture the Military Minister, Jiang Ziya, himself.
"Earth Traveler Sun was not fond of dogs; when he saw the Sky-Barking Hound of Yang Jian, he twisted his body and disappeared into the ground, fleeing from the battle unseen. However, Earth Traveler Sun's greatest weakness was lust; he was captured naked in bed with a general disguised as King Wu's concubine. Having witnessed the prowess of Earth Traveler Sun, Jiang Ziya convinced him to join the righteous forces of the Zhou army. Once converted, Earth Traveler Sun was a dedicated general. He even married the woman General Deng Chanyu, in order to convince her father, General Deng Jiugong, to ally himself with the Zhou army. Earth Traveler Sun and his wife, skilled in the slinging of stones, often fought in battle together."*
"Who among us," asked Poppy Hortie, "hasn't dreamt of riding into glorious battle beside one's beloved spouse?"
From this last remark, the committee members were first introduced to the notion that Poppy Hortie entertained wild fantasies involving his wife.
*biographical synopsis based on Creation of the Gods (Feng Shén Yanyi), unknown Ming dynasty (c. 1368-1644 A.D.) author(s), English translation: Gu Zhizhong, New World Press, Beijing, 1992.
written while listening to: Keiji Haino & John Butcher - Light Never Bright Enough (Otoroku, ROKU018, 2017, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
January 26, 2018
"As a general of the Zhou army, Earth Traveler Sun distinguished himself in battles against such powerful Taoist enemies as Ma Yuan, the Winged Celestial, and Luo Xuan, the Burning Flame Immortal. Alas, Earth Traveler Sun was destined to die on the battlefield. His Master, Krakucchanda, predicted:
Skilled in traveling underground,
You must be careful on the way.
Before the cliff a pool of blood,
a beast will bite you to death in surprise.
This meant that Earth Traveler Sun was fated to lose his life at the hand of Zhang Kui, garrison commander of Mianchi County, before a landmark known as Fierce Beast Cliff.
"Meanwhile, Earth Traveler Sun continued to distinguish himself in battle. He challenged Kong Xuan, who said, 'That poor dwarf is doomed to die; I can just kick him to death.' Thus distracted, Kong Xuan was struck in the face with a stone from the arm of Deng Chanyu.
"The list of Earth Traveler Sun's escapades is long. He battled Chen Qi and Qiu Yin at Green Dragon Pass. He coveted Yu Yuan's golden-eyed five-cloud camel but his attempt to steal it failed. He battled Fa Jie at Jiepai Pass. He convinced Deng Kun and Rui Ji to join the Zhou army at Lintong Pass. But against Zhang Kui, Earth Traveler Sun was fated to die. Also able to travel beneath the Earth, Zhang Kui ambushed Earth Traveler Sun and cut off his head. It hung on a pole in Mianchi County as a public warning. When Deng Chanyu sought revenge, Zhang Kui's wife, Gao Lanying, blinded Deng Chanyu with forty-nine Golden Sun Needles, then sliced off her head as well.
"Earth Traveler Sun and Deng Chanyu were deified as the God of the Earth Mansion Star (Saturn) and the Goddess of the Six Combinations Star, respectively."
*biographical synopsis based on Creation of the Gods (Feng Shén Yanyi), unknown Ming dynasty (c. 1368-1644 A.D.) author(s), English translation: Gu Zhizhong, New World Press, Beijing, 1992.
written while listening to: Nazoranai - Beginning To Fall In Line Before Me, So Decorously, The Nature Of All That Must Be Transformed (W.25th, W25-02, 2017, United States, lp, discogs.com)
January 27, 2018
"And that," said Poppy, "is the story of Earth Traveler Sun, who was the first of the three spirits that Dad Hortie invited inside himself in 'The Sutra of Reverse Possession'."
"Thank you, Poppy," said the librarian, who had quietly joined the video conference. "I enjoyed your description very much. As always, you have quite the talent for ekphrasis."
Only later did Poppy look up the meaning of the term, with which he had been unfamiliar. He discovered ekphrasis meant a vivid, often dramatic, verbal description of a work of art, either real or imagined.*
"It reminds me," continued the librarian, "of the Sun whom I once knew."
Everyone accepted that the librarian was old. Still, Earth Traveler Sun had lived about 1100 BC, which seemed a tad too distant, even for the librarian. However, no one, including the tanager, challenged the librarian on this point; it pleased them to allow him this small self-aggrandizement, if indeed that is what it was.
"What can you learn from a Chinese dwarf that has been dead for 3,000 years?" asked the tanager to the committee.
"A better question is, 'What can't you learn?'" said Poppy incredulously.
"How to magically burrow?" she replied in a tone not entirely free of sarcasm.
"That," agreed Poppy, "and how to enter the world, ugly and unimposing, and yet, despite failures unto death, find your destiny among the stars."
*Wikipedia, accessed January 27, 2018. full text: Ekphrasis.
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi, Jim O'Rourke & Keiji Haino - This Dazzling, Genuine "Difference" Now Where Shall It Go? sides A & B (Black Truffle Records/Medama Records, BT030/MR08, 2017, Australia/Japan, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 28, 2018
"Well, Earth Traveler Sun was the first spirit," Stuart said. "What about the other two?"
Poppy was embarrassed. He maintained no illusions that the books of the Hortie pentalogy were great works of literature, which demanded study from serious, academic minds. He already felt that he had dwelt far too long on the description of Earth Traveler Sun, content which appeared in the preface to the novel. Therefore, he omitted mention of the second spirit altogether and condensed his description of the third spirit into a single, brief sentence. "The last spirit was a personification of non-idiomatic improvisation."
The brevity of Poppy's portrayal reassured the other members of the committee. They shared a core set of unwritten principles regarding esthetics and etiquette. They were pleased to avoid the awkward situation where one, oblivious to the desires of the others, dominated the proceedings with an unwanted exercise.
Poppy withdrew to his own thoughts. He explicitly felt that reading should be done on the basis of a one-for-one exchange. If he desired for one hundred people to read one of his books, then he should first read a book by one hundred other people. That such an egalitarian proposition was impossible for authors of books that sold in the millions only served as an indicator of how out of whack the publishing industry was with the creative needs of the populace, which it ostensibly served. Moreover, Poppy did not know of any sort of online exchange where such information could be transmitted between potential readers. It was another, trivial example of the incompatibilities between the individual and the physics-based reality. Intrepid entrepreneurs could have found a way to exploit this incompatibility to improve the lives of their fellow humans while making themselves obscenely wealthy. Poppy choose a different path, which he has offered to share with us here, free of charge.
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi, Jim O'Rourke & Keiji Haino - This Dazzling, Genuine "Difference" Now Where Shall It Go? sides C & D (Black Truffle Records/Medama Records, BT030/MR08, 2017, Australia/Japan, lpx2, discogs.com)
January 29, 2018
The tanager, as we have mentioned, migrated seasonally. She was one of those travelers who adopted a different name, depending upon her local address. Her formal name, Piranga olivacea, was almost never used, at least not in her presence. When she dwelt south of the equator or within a few degrees north of it, she answered to Escarlata. However, farther north, she was known as Scarlet Tanager or, to those familiar with her, the tanager.
Hebeloma took advantage of a break in the account of the Hortie pentalogy to provide a physical description of the tanager. She paraphrased a passage that she had found in a book for which no more than ten printed copies had ever existed. It was not clear how many years had transpired since the writing to the present day. Thus, we cannot guarantee that the description provided is a contemporary one.
Escarlata was a young woman standing in a clearing surrounded by trees. She was possessed of an intense curiosity, which she directed in a silent scrutiny at friends and strangers alike. Her complexion was pale and her eyes a cool blue, her hair bright copper curls. Birdlike, she had a slender build and diminutive stature. In this book, Escarlata is said to wear a dress cut from the length of an enormous snakeskin. The front of the dress, which reached only to her knees, was dyed in a vivid shade of crimson. However, in the back, at the shoulders, it was embroidered in black with the pattern of wings.*
*The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv: A Flight of Fancy in 201 Parts, Keffer, D.J., Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2016, p. 137. link to: promotional flyer.
written while listening to: Makigami Koichi - Koroshi No Blues (Eastworld, TOCT-6496, 1992, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
January 30, 2018
Those readers among us who fancy themselves amateur ornithologists will have already identified an inconsistency in our description of the tanager. We have specified her gender with the use of feminine pronouns, but we have garbed her in the colors--the brilliant red breast and solid black wings--of the male scarlet tanager. In actuality, the female scarlet tanager has not a dab of scarlet in her plumage. On the contrary, the female dons greenish-yellow feathers with dull olive wings. Her face can appear bright yellow when struck by the afternoon light.
"Maybe she is secretly a man," suggested Stuart, trying to be helpful. "A convincing transvestite."
Poppy studied the tanager carefully; he detected nothing remotely masculine about her face, her figure, her voice or her mannerisms.
Aware of his acute attention, the tanager posed, resting one hand on her hip and the other on the back of her neck. She winked coyly and asked Poppy, "Like what you see?"
Poppy blushed. "I'm a married man," he stammered. Apparently, he thought she had made a pass at him.
The other four members on the committee joined the tanager in laughing good-naturedly at Poppy's discomfort.
written while listening to: Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönnimann & Lucas Niggli - Kalo-Yele (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 261, 2016, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
January 31, 2018
"We've come to the last day of the month, Hebeloma," said Stuart. He paused to take a sip from a cup of hot tea. "And we have yet to hear the president's annual address."
"I haven't forgotten," Hebeloma calmly admitted. "I don't view its absence as an intentional dereliction of duty, nor had I hoped that you all had forgotten that you were due a yearly address." She folded her hands on her lap. "Still, I don't feel an urgency to set the agenda for the year. In some sense, I am allowing the agenda to set itself, rather than imposing my own needs or sense of order upon it. Does anyone have an objection to this?"
"It's six of one, half a dozen of the other to me," said Stuart, champion of an ambivalence that occasionally bordered on nihilism.
The tanager, apparently preoccupied with something going on outside the view of the monitor, did not respond. As for Poppy, he hoped to conclude as quickly as possible his synopsis of the four existing books of the Hortie pentalogy, so the current absence of an alternative agenda suited him. The librarian was not present at the moment. The remaining committee member, while present, spoke very little; Hebeloma did not expect a reply from that corner.
"I'm not in a hurry," said Hebeloma. "I like where this is going. I want to see where Poppy leads us. Will you continue?"
"With the third book?"
"Indeed," said Hebeloma. "What is it called?"
"The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Revisited. It's a modern adaptation of the novella by H.P. Lovecraft."
written while listening to: Okkyung Lee - Ghil (Ideologic Organ, SOMA012, 2013, Austria, lp, discogs.com)
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