The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living
David J. Keffer
(link to main page of novel)

January

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.*

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." † 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.

*An International Journal of Exploratory Meta-Living, accessed January 5, 2018. full text: IJEML.

Wikipedia, accessed April 16, 2014. full text: Wikipedia.

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)

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