Willie the White-throated Wood Rat (aka, Pack Rat)

The Year of the Ox continues, this time with the uncelebrated creature pictured above and much much more in my new post on the Squirrel of the Week blog. At least here we have a rodent! I hope you enjoy it.


Turns out it’s the Year of the Ox, and how happy a coincidence that an issue of Ranger Rick explored in a new post at my Squirrel of the Week blog features one—a Musk Ox in Canada—on its cover! I hope you enjoy it.

with a Hip


Bits of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “My Kingdom” looping in my mind while a sequence of overbearing buzzes, alarms, whirrs, and beeps, reminiscent of 1980s Atari games—the Combat cartridge springs to mind—take their turn. It ends with mighty, stabbed organ chords that are really impressive and appealing. It’s my right hip MRI, the quest for diagnosis making headway.

Afterwards, I played the rest of the Cure tape my sister had given me long ago by way of introduction to the group, over 30 years ago, driving down Ogden past vacant stores now torn down replaced by vacant lots bringing who knows what. It’s much-changed, even Ogden Avenue. Other than the familiar looping of the street, parts are becoming unrecognizable even though I traverse it often. At least I know where I am going even if there’s few places I want to stop along the way.

I head directly to the snowscape of Arrowhead Park, home to park district soccer games as a kid. I park with windows all down slightly to hear any birds. No sound, just the empty snowy field and hill and creek, with what looks like a raft of flood ice in the distance. Now I see it’s traversed by two sleek, bundled up figures. No sound, but my head pictures my sister and her best friend as those two out on the icy snowfield. The latter lived a block away from this park, and she’s the reason my sister can’t return here when I want to walk it for bird and nostalgia. How has 30 years passed? The breeze blows into the rolled-down window, I view the field through a snag of hair the color of the gray sky and think of that time, their friendship, what they might have been talking about. I drive home to “The Perfect Girl.”

A week later, back for the left hip MRI, this time spent singing the guitar lines of Will Sergeant and insistent, urgent, defiant choruses of Ian McCulloch in my head—”Over The Wall,” “Show of Strength”—thinking of just re-viewed Donnie Darko and a more than pleasant dream I had of a friend. And back to Arrowhead, with one finch sweetly singing somewhere in the trees behind where I parked, the ones you see below.

But this blog is called Music and More, so I will get back to music soon. More music, less more: A Promise.

Arrowhead: A Week Later

Pain’s embrace

This past year, for me, has been a year defined by pain: physical pain that has nothing to do with the pandemic. 

I had become used to mental pain, emotional pain, heart pain, and I had like anyone suffered bouts of malady- and injury-induced pain. The pandemic did, with my life compressed in one place, bring concern for scratches and other tiny injuries to occasional hypochondriacal levels, but this year’s claim is seven months of chronic physical pain only speculatively diagnosed, one that would heal some and then lapse, would be treated to no effect, with inconclusive tests, irresolute specialists, and still no resolution—if any resolution is to come.

The mental and emotional pain I feel have been mellowing, numbing maybe, fading, and they are always there, just usually suppressed beyond registering, infrequent in rearing of head. Lost loves, friends, places, times, ambitions. My expectations mostly dashed in that realm as layers of life situations go unchanged. But, as I declared last year at this time, this has only led me to embrace myself and original activities, not dependent on others, and there is much delight in that.

And this past year has added the layer of physical pain; I don’t heal like I used to and maybe some of this will never heal. I’ve come to realize that this physical pain is also just part of things, always somewhere. But it can be alleviated and its limiting influences embraced. As my athletic endeavors (such as they were) and ability to lift things for gardening and other household activities have been curtailed, and even walks now have become something I pay for afterwards, I am fortunate when I can push past the pain, look at it, embrace it.

Wisdom in pain.— There is as much wisdom in pain as there is in pleasure: both belong among the factors that contribute the most to the preservation of the species. If pain did not, it would have perished long ago; that it hurts is no argument against it but its essence. (Niet. p. 252)

I think of Christina Rossetti in torment, screaming through nights in cancer’s throes, the agony of intense pain and the accompanying mental unhinging caused by its treatment with opium. I am thankful mine is not so acute, more one to wear me down, force me—if I am to accomplish anything—to overlook it when I can, or look at it with toleration and a Charlie Brown, scraggle smile when it won’t go unnoticed. Not to worry that no one seems to be able to define or remedy it, not worry what’s causing it, not worry if it will ever go away. Just accept it and keep going. Sometimes I can do this.

One of my favorite groups put out a new song not long ago, “Ways,” and it happens to ring with as fitting a lyric as any for my year: “Aren’t you afraid of eternal Hell? Well, it’s not the end of the world” … “I can’t find any ways to change the pain to something else,” Frank sings. I admit that one of my primary goals for this year is to get rid of this pain. But if it can’t be diagnosed, or can be diagnosed, but simply won’t go away, I am creeping towards an acceptance of that, layered atop the other pains I’ve managed to set aside.

To Consider
Double pain is easier to bear
Than single pain: Will you so dare?
(Niet. p. 49)

Concluding ridiculous postscript.
Distraction has been one of any alleviations of this year’s pain. The sweeter pain of nostalgia. I got into an exchange with my sister and others about old favorite lost or utterly changed businesses of our hometown: Sports Bowl, Graham Crackers, Cee Bee’s, The Mole Hole, The Chocolate Key, Alton Drugs, Cock Robin, Tong Inn, Someplace Else, Old Peking, that old sports card shop run by Ernie.

Place Beside Me

As a kid I played the standard football, baseball, and basketball with my friends on the block, and was in the local soccer league through the park district, complete with reversible shirt, allowing us to be the yellow or blue team as needed. Gym class, a tiny bit of track, tennis lessons, and then softball and misc in college and after. Most of what I played in did not attract a crowd.

My parents I am sure did a great job cheering me on, and my dad certainly ran to my rescue when I was kicked in the jaw by my own teammate, but I can only think of two occasions when I noticed being cheered for while playing.

The first was in junior high, a day when for some reason we had to run laps around the school—state fitness standards or track tryouts? A certain tall, curly-haired KJ made a point of yelling my name and encouraging me, something immensely more inspiring than the binomial equation she wrote when she signed my yearbook. It must have been our Project Idea ties and general camaraderie in sharing a bunch of classes throughout our careers. I hope I cheered her on when she was similary forced to lap the school.

The second, still more treasured, a certain blonde-haired and blue-eyed BD in college cheering me on by name from the sidelines in an intramural basketball game. (Not the greatest basketball player, but I had my strengths.) We were most likely playing the fraternity whose members she hung around with, so her mentioning me from the sidelines was especially exciting and inspiring for me. Thank you, B.

What effect it can have when someone on the sidelines is there for you, especially unexpectedly. BD also majored in English, but, not surprisingly, we didn’t see much of each other as I seldom saw much of English majors and there was no apparatus tying such majors together.

Such tiny slices of memory taking on such a relatively large shape. The mind and heart are amazing. I could catalogue moments like these.

* Musical Interlude *

Two trios of songs joined me yesterday.

The first started with me listeining to Document after ages away from it. R.E.M.’s “Central America Triptych” has some of their best music and more intriguing lyrics and concepts, all seemingly inspired by Noam Chomsky’s Turning The Tide and the general 1980s anti-Reagan vibe I remember fondly.

Document offered “Welcome To The Occupation,” with “The Flowers of Guatemala” and “Green Grow The Rushes” from their previous two albums. The third has quite possibly my favorite R.E.M. guitar hook, the second a rousing solo, and the “Welcome…” just an all-around vibe and melody that easily lands it on my best of R.E.M. which should one day exist. Until yesterday I’d barely connected any of them to 1980s U.S. intervention in Central America. Oh well. Layers of meaning?

In the evening I played Dionne Warwick and pleasantly remembered she had recorded the Bacharach-David “This Empty Place.” Is it somehow only my third favorite version of this excellent song? I think so. I first heard it by The Searchers as an extremely catchy album track, backed up with their smoothly great instrumentation. Then, it came again later as a highlight album track for Swingin’ Cilla Black who has a way with the drama and nearly veering out of control, and this song is no exception. Her version’s modeled on Dionne’s and I can only say, woo-weee!

Think pink cover from Cilla’s 1965 U.S. album. (from Discogs.com)

Some old Sandie Shaw stuff is next.
We’ll see how that goes!
Long long live love.

Noted Lyrics

My junior year independent study advisor—a Scot who taught at Leeds, but was enjoying a visiting year with us in Ohio with our “fortress in the middle of a cornfield,” as he described it—wryly informed me that I should have titled my work, Don’t Quote Me On That, as it was indeed an artfully strung together melange of quotations from Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey, scholars’ comments, and a little me thrown in.

Continuing in that tradition, with even less reliance on my words, let’s start a list of some favorite lines in songs that always make me sit up and take notice, relish the singing along with, and hit the rewind button:

Beelzebub is aching in my belly-o
My feet are heavy and I’m rooted in my wellios
~Kate Bush, “Kite”

Suddenly my feet are feet of mud
It all goes slo-mo
I don’t know why I’m crying
Am I suspended in Gaffa?
~Kate Bush, “Suspended in Gaffa”

All my colors, turn to clouds
All my colors, turn to cloud
~Echo & The Bunnymen, “Zimbo”

It’s been cold,
This vein of blue is seizing me
~Shelleyan Orphan, “Century Flower”

The note I wrote, as she read
She said, “Has the Perrier gone straight to my head?
Or is life sick and cruel instead?”
~The Smiths, “I Won’t Share You”

Like a liar on a witch trial
You look good for your age
~Hole, “Plump”

Ranger Rick: NWF

Who remembers the National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick?

Three of my Ranger Ricks!

Although I’m not ready to start filling it with squirrel and nonprofit ideas, I do plan on reading each of the above three issues and offering my reactions to them on my in embryo Squirrel of the Week blog.

So, keep your eyes open for that, and consider subscribing to both blogs, by using the sign up on the upper right of each page. I’ll get reading, and for now leave you with some images of other important books in my upbringing that are also likely to appear here again.

Return to MacNeice

I used to read Louis MacNeice in my birthday month, tracking his published poems with my age. I gave it up several years ago, but decided this year to catch up, starting with reviewing some poems MacNeice published in his late 30s and early 40s. In a couple of years, we’ll meet in age again as I catch up.

I’m not sure why I stopped with the annual reading of him. Maybe I got bored; more likely poetryboth writing and reading itwas lost in pain to me. But now maybe I have found the strength of sane return in my late 40s while MacNeice found it in his late 20s. 

Before I turned to catch up with my reading with the poem “Plurality,” I took up Louis MacNeice’s pinnacle, “Sunlight on the Garden” and “June Thunder,” poems I remember from the old Norton anthology, my Oxford anthology, and now my worn Faber Collected Poems.

Set amid some poems with a similar theme, this is MacNeice at age 29 or 30, ushering in a new era of his life, with looks to nostalgia, loneliness, and how youth experience the world, turning to experience the world in a new phase of maturity. “Taken for Granted” and “The Brandy Glass,” are two other excellent poems in his 1938 collection, The Earth Compels, capped off with “Bagpipe Music.” (I notice I pencilled in that 1939 was his annus mirabilis, but 1937 makes a good case at quick glance.)

“Sunlight on the Garden” has the hard coziness, sunlight on pavement, that characterize this time in MacNeice’s poetry. Read it on renowned poet W. S. Merwin’s (palm tree forest) conservancy page. It’s a poem of maturity, a reconciliation to death’s more tangible reality, a relishing of beauty through a new lens: “And not expecting pardon, Hardened in heart anew, But glad to have sat under / Thunder and rain with you.”

June Thunder” too, a return to a place not in thought alone. He returns to the old fields, his old room, a “cleansing downpour / Breaking the blossoms of our overdated fantasies.” But in this poem he is alone, not sharing the garden with someone: “If only now you would come I should be happy / Now if now only.”  

It’s wonderful to experience these poems again, reaching a deeper delight in them at an age much more advanced than MacNeice’s when he wrote them. And I have not experienced a good thunderstorm in some time, either, maybe because the seed took hold that being out in thunderstorms might get me struck dead by lightning, plus the fact there is no one to run around with in the weather with anymore. (More here.

Here’s a lesser-known poem of the same time, directly following “June Thunder” in my Faber book, a fading echo of the previous poem:


The heated minutes

The heated minutes climb

The anxious hill,

The tills fill up with cash,

The tiny hammers chime

The bells of good and ill,

And the world piles with ash

From fingers killing time.


If you were only here

Among these rocks,

I should not feel the dull

The taut and ticking fear

That hides in all the clocks

And creeps inside the skull

If you were here, my dear.


I usually don’t have anyone specific in mind anymore to think of as “my dear,” but the sentiment still exists. I wrote a short story based on “June Thunder”; I wonder if I have the daring to turn to look at it.


I got a lot done yesterday, accompanied by the music of three 80s gals.

Starting out with Annie Lennox’s Eurythmics, the 1985 album Touch. Who’s That Girl?

Then Suzanne Vega’s Retrospective, with this awesome 1986 single. Left of Center.

And winding things up with Tina Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club, eponymous first album from 1981. She just so happens to have some French-Breton heritage. L’Elephant.

In the outskirts and
In the fringes
In the corner
Out of the grip



My Reading Calendar

My reading calendar has been consciously in place longer than my music one, which is still driven only by feeling until maybe my last post, where I codified my feelings, for better or for worse.

I’m not sure how it started, but it must have been feelings like my music ones, and then a decade or so ago I looked at all the books on my shelf and decided to enjoy the carousel that was my mind, for once. Some of these monthly selections arose very naturally, long before I was conscious of anything, some came when I saw I had a mess of worthy books that were not being read. 

You might wonder where the nature books are; well they have been declared an ongoing concern, with readings in that vein taken up throughout the seasons. 


Russian, or Continental, fiction. This clearly arose from my working world days, taking the train to work in bitter weather and enjoying soaking up every phantasmagoric page of bedraggled, disgruntled, gauche civil servant fiction.


Brit hist, Vicky, Boney, Scots, &c. This started in an era of a lot of reading of the eras and lives of Napoleon and Queen Victoria, branching into general British history, including and especially the more alienated nations, plus the rest of Europe. The 19th century doesn’t loom as large as it once did, although it is still immense.


Presidential bios/U.S. history. Having collected two sets of presidential biographies, this seemed requisite. One president a year in at least one short book, and history related to his era.


International history (non-U.S., non-European). Adventures in my smattering of history books set in Asia, Africa, South America, Caribbean, Central America, the Middle East, the Pacific, the Arctic, Siberia &c.


Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series. In order written, as series should be read. We’ll see if I live long enough. I have a couple of translations of some of the books and have enjoyed comparing them to the originals when selecting.


Children’s fiction, Very Short Introductions. Summer away from school, why not read the old favorites? I have pairs of Oxford’s “Very Short Introductions” books and this an opportune time for summer study fun!


Thick novel. Sometimes not so thick. Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.


Music, art. A small group of classical music books (scores, lives), plus a lot of books about 19th-centure painters, mostly. 


Greek, Classical World, ancient, Louis MacNeice. A return to my heady first year of college where I delightedly delved into Classics. Greek Epics, plays, and poems, maybe history and art, what have you. Other ancients have been added to the mix. I began reading my collected Louis MacNeice (born on a date near mine) poems whose publication dates matched my age. I abandoned this habit several years ago, but am rectifying that this catch-up year.


Poetry, ghost stories, Irving-Chew. More loving return to schooldays, and what other month could be most poetic of the year, Keats’ birth month? On his birthday I read Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” annually for a decade or so. This gave way to Ruth Chew books about witches and magic. I also read a biography of A. C. Swinburne this month a while back. I never liked his poetry, but dug his life, and decided he’d make the ideal Hallowe’en persona if I ever put a lot of effort into ever wearing a costume again. 


Philosophy, religion. November weather must make me think, or want to. Paving the way for celebration and change?


Mystery, comics, roleplaying game rules/worlds. This started with reading a volume of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books per December along with Wodehouse or something akin. Now I have some comic book collections and roleplaying game guides lying around, so might add those. We’ll see.