Happy 9th Anniversary, Master!

9th Anniversary

A long time ago, in a sim far, far away,

Walter took Camryn as his submissive.

Nine years have passed since that day.

The Force is strong with this couple!

Master, may the Love be with you, always!

Happy 9th Anniversary, Master! Thank you for 9 fabulous years!

To Be Content

A news article I read today — the topic of which is not germane — reminded me of an observation.

I have observed that people who have everything often find it impossible to be content with what they have.

Conversely, it seems that those who have little are much more likely to feel and express gratitude for whatever they do receive.

An old proverb says, “The sated appetite spurns honey, but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.”

Right now, for example, I am grateful simply to be on the internet so that I can write this blog. We take connectivity for granted… until we don’t have it.

I am fortunate.

Add Violence: My Journey With Nine Inch Nails

Challenged by friends, I set out to answer the question: “Why do I love Nine Inch Nails?”

It is a puzzling question, for sure. Anyone who knows me would never guess my favorite band. I am a classical musician by training, and a quiet person by nature. Even more puzzling is why I like Nine Inch Nails, but have never found a single other band in the same genre that I can tolerate. For me NIN is, apparently, unique.

[A note: This is NOT an overview of Nine Inch Nails, or a Greatest Hits compilation. Let me just note that although I am a decent musicologist in my own field, I am 100% not qualified to judge rock music. So I am only offering my own subjective reactions, not opinions.]

First I’ll tell you how I discovered Nine Inch Nails. That will probably reveal some things about why I like this music.

Picture it: Second Life, early 2007. I was a few months old and had fallen in with a community led by an artist and builder named Baron Grayson. Baron’s creativity fascinated me. The things he could pull out of his imagination were amazing. He was sort of Goth, which was a new thing for me. The worlds he created were dark, beautiful and rich with narrative.

Baron Worlds Collage

 

Baron and Trent smallBaron streamed NIN as the background music on his sims. The music was a perfect match. As you can see, he even modeled his avatar after him.

So NIN was the soundtrack of my life in 2007. This also tells you at what point in Trent Reznor’s evolution I joined the stream. It was firmly post-sobriety. I love all music by NIN but for this discussion I’m going to focus on music from 2002 on.

When I first heard NIN, I admit I recoiled from the more violent, screaming stuff. But Baron also played the moody ambient NIN and the acoustic and stripped down songs from the album Still. All the music on Still is pretty quiet, so it was easy for me to listen to.

[Adrift & At Peace – Still, 2002 – 2:52]

I remember thinking how much it reminded me of Arvo Pärt: meditative, hypnotic, and gently repetitive, like a mantra. The gentle repetition gives the music a feeling of stasis, of being suspended in time. At the same time, one can sense a subtle sadness underneath the serene sounds. I think I connected with that sadness, even more than the serenity.

Then Year Zero came out. At the time,  my life was in a place where the album’s message that “the world is fucked” totally resonated with me. All that despair in the lyrics, and the more violent sounds, started connecting with the darker places in my head.

Drawn by the darkness, gradually I found myself more willing to listen to the louder songs. And I was surprised by what happened. It was almost as if the music created a container, and instead of trying to push away my black thoughts and emotions, I discovered I could pour them into this container… and they wouldn’t destroy me.

For example, the last half of this next song just explodes in a violent tidal wave of noise – and somehow I found that instead of shrinking from it, I could fucking swim in it. I felt this exhilarating mix of primitive rage and elation.

[The Great DestroyerYear Zero, 2007 – 3:17]

I can barely tell you how liberating it was, after 50 years of trying to deny my dark side, to finally embrace it.

When The Slip was released the following year, I was embroiled in a really twisted relationship in Second Life. I was massively depressed, and one song on The Slip seemed to have been written especially for me. I played it over and over. Like many of Trent Reznor’s tortured torch songs, it’s very bleak and yet very tender.

[Lights in the SkyThe Slip, 2008 – 3:29]

So that’s the emotional underpinnings of my love of Nine Inch Nails.

But there are also some more objective things I like.

I like that the music sounds transparent, even when it’s loud; the various electronic sounds are separated so that it feels like there’s space between them, and you can hear them, instead of having it all blend into one big soup of noise.

I like how he layers all the sounds, building layers and then stripping them away. If the sound was full out all the time, I would become numb. But he controls the level of intensity, letting it rise and fall so it’s never too much for too long. That actually serves to make the intensity even more intense. It is really true that nothing is so loud as when it is surrounded by silence.

[Copy of aHesitation Marks, 2013 – 5:22]

I like his use of dissonance and distortion, not gratuitously, but sparingly, to make a point, like the pain represented in the opening notes of Hurt, or the distorted bending as the world begins to come apart in the second verse of The Great Destroyer.

I like that he uses motifs that appear in several songs. They are like clues that connect ideas. Sometimes he will invert the motif, or harmonize it differently, sort of teasing the listener into following him into the maze. He refers to it as a “trail of breadcrumbs.”

I like that the music is intelligent. It’s emotionally raw, for sure, but it’s not mindless. It rewards thoughtful exploration.

As a singer, I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and I find his lyrics very affecting.

And I love the energy and the pure physicality of the hard beats. It’s part of what creates the container for my darkness, capturing my body and making me get involved. I can’t sit still while listening to Nine Inch Nails. It compels me to respond.

I’ll stop talking now and simply offer three songs that illustrate these points.

[Less ThanAdd Violence, 2017 – 3:30]

[While I’m Still HereHesitation Marks, 2013 – 4:02]

[Just Like You ImaginedThe Fragile, 1999 – 3:49]

to be continued…

 

in time of

In memory of my beloved friend Mike, 1954-2018

 

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

 

e.e. cummings

 

forego
The mighty Forego, Mike’s favorite horse

 

Living With Ambiguity

The older I get, the more I know just how much I don’t know.

There are countless things in this life that we simply cannot know. The best we can do is guess. What is the best path for my life? What will become of me? What will happen tomorrow? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Who is right? Who is wrong? The answers to these and more questions are obscured by the “cloud of unknowing” of which contemplatives speak.

And that’s okay.

I listen with quiet bemusement when someone explains to me “how things are” with the confidence of someone who has it all figured out. I know better than to contradict them; confident people are usually quite entrenched, and either unwilling, or unable to visualize any reasonable alternative to what they consider to be the hard facts. So I just listen and smile and nod and save my breath.

Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

But I know from experience that very little in this world is clearly one thing or another. Most questions have multiple answers. Two apparently opposite things can both be true. A thing can be wrong and right at the same time. You can love and hate someone in equal measure. You can laugh while you’re depressed. Ideas that we always assumed were fundamental can turn out to be fictitious.

Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to live with.

Our culture is not very tolerant of ambiguity. We tend to admire people who are confident. We are, perhaps, reassured by their conviction that they have everything figured out. It would be a lot easier to think that we know all the answers.

It takes a lot of strength of character to be able to admit that we might be wrong. Especially when we think we have it all figured out. When we are absolutely certain. But that’s the time when it’s most important to take a mental step back, and consider… just consider… the possibility that we might be wrong.

To be willing to live with ambiguity is considered by some to be a hallmark of maturity. I don’t know whether it is maturity or not. But I do know that certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty can be an impediment to truth.

Embracing ambivalence is not easy. To consider a question and see that there might be more than one valid answer is challenging. And yes, sometimes we have to take a stand. But maybe if we admit that our stand is based on a best guess, and keep open the possibility that it might turn out to be wrong, it would create just enough of a crack in our armor to let the truth leak in.

Southern Lane Cake

Bourbon. Butter. Sparkles. What’s not to like?

And now, for something completely different.

I do realize that it’s Thanksgiving, but a dear friend just asked me for this recipe, bringing up all the very rich memories that go with this very rich cake. And I just felt like sharing it here. I will be celebrating Christmas quite early this year, so it’s not too soon to think about it.

Lane Cake is one of those things that is as much an event as it is a dessert. It is an incredibly rich butter cake, almost a pound cake, with an intense bourbon filling. This cake is not for the faint of heart! But it always wows the crowd.

This cake is not for the faint of heart! But it always wows the crowd.

My mother was from the deep South, and this cake was a tradition in our family at Christmas. Before my best friend, whose birthday it is today, moved away, he always asked me to make it for Christmas dinner. My mother used to make the amazing decorations shown in the photo: red and gold roses made from white chocolate. But that is almost gilding the lily. I’m no good at fancy decorating, so I just make plain white boiled frosting and sprinkle it with edible white glitter.

This Southern tradition gets its name from Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, who won a prize for it in the state fair. She first published the recipe under the name “Prize Cake” in her 1898 cookbook Some Good Things To Eat.

Notes: This cake MUST be made from scratch; you cannot substitute a mix in any way. And if you substitute anything else for the bourbon, don’t call it a Lane Cake.

Equipment Notes: You must use 8-inch round cake pans which are smaller than the standard size, so you may need to buy them (you need three); Williams Sonoma carries them. A stand mixer is necessary; hand-held mixers generally don’t work on the frosting. A candy thermometer is helpful for the frosting. For decorating, buy edible white glitter and/or red/green/gold Luster Dust or Shimmer Dust where cake decorating supplies are sold.

Filling:

3/4 c. raisins
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1/2 c. pecans
1/2 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. bourbon
8 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla

Chop raisins and chop pecans finely. Melt butter; add sugar and bourbon; bring just to boiling to dissolve sugar. Beat yolks slightly; add a small amount of hot mixture to yolks, stirring vigorously; then add yolks back to hot mixture, stirring vigorously. Cook over low heat, stirring, until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in raisins, pecans, coconut, and vanilla. Mix well. Cool to room temperature (no cooler or it will be too stiff to spread). While filling cools, make cake.

Cake:

8 egg whites
2-1/4 c. sugar
1-1/4 c. butter, softened
2 t. vanilla
3-1/3 c. cake flour, sifted
4-1/2 t. baking powder
1-1/2 t. salt
1-1/2 c. milk

Lightly grease and flour three 8″ round cake pans. Heat oven to 375º. Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside. Cream sugar and butter thoroughly until light. Add vanilla; mix. Sift dry ingredients together; add to batter alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Fold in whites carefully. Bake at 375º 18-20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Carefully remove cake from pans to cake racks and cool completely. While cake cools, make frosting.

Frosting:

2 c. sugar
few grains salt
1/3 c. corn syrup
2/3 c. water
2 egg whites
1 t. vanilla

In saucepan, combine sugar, salt, syrup and water. Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Cook over low heat, covered, without stirring, for 3 minutes; uncover and continue to cook over low heat until syrup spins a thread from spoon (240º on candy thermometer). Beat egg whites until stiff. Pour the syrup slowly over the egg whites, beating constantly. Beat until frosting begins to lose gloss and hold shape. Stir in vanilla. A drop or two of hot water can be added if frosting becomes too thick.

Fill cake and frost. Decorating ideas: Christmas Ribbons & Roses (see separate recipe below), sugared pecan halves, or white Cake Sparkles glitter.

Christmas Ribbons & Roses

lane cake photoThe recipe below produces a taffy-like pliable material that you can sculpt and cut into various shapes. You can color it (use paste, not liquid food color) and add Luster Dust or Shimmer Dust for a frosted effect. To make the decorations shown here:

20 oz. white chocolate
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. (or less) vodka
Gold Luster Dust (two 2g jars)
Green Luster Dust (two 2g jars)
Red Luster Dust (one 2g jar)
Paste food colors: green, red
1 c. icing for decorating
large silver dragees
toothpicks
small clean new paintbrush

Melt white chocolate in double boiler over low heat. Remove from heat; add syrup. White chocolate will separate. While still warm, divide mixture into thirds, and place the portions in separate bowls. Using paste food color, tint one third green, and one third red. (Do not use liquid food color, or material will be too soft to shape.) Knead each mixture by hand until color is blended in and material is cohesive and elastic. Discard the excess cocoa butter that comes out. Wrap portions in paper towels and plastic wrap and chill 15-30 minutes, or until firm but pliable.

While shaping roses and ribbons, if material becomes too firm, microwave 5 to 10 seconds. If it gets too soft, refrigerate 15-30 minutes, and keep batches chilled until ready to use. Your hands will get very oily; keep paper towels handy to wipe.

Make ribbons: Between sheets of foil or plastic wrap, roll out green mixture to 12 by 8 inches. Cut into eight 12-inch by 1-inch ribbons. Chill until firm. Cut four strips in half and shape into loops. (Important: shape loops first, then paint them.) In cup or shot glass, mix green Luster Dust powder with a few drops of vodka to thin to painting consistency. Brush onto one side of ribbons and both sides of loops. If paint dries as you work, thin with a little more vodka. Set aside or chill until dry (it dries rather quickly).

Make roses: Shape untinted white chocolate mixture into 1/2 inch balls. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap or wax paper; working with 20 balls at a time, flatten balls into 1-1/2 inch discs. To form a rose, first roll one disc into cone shape to form center of rose; attach each of five more discs around bottom of center cone for petals. Make some smaller roses using only five discs. Blend gold Luster Dust powder with a few drops of vodka to painting consistency. Paint roses gold. Set aside or chill until dry. Repeat with red mixture to make red roses, painting with red Luster Dust powder. If desired, place one silver dragee in center of each rose.

Pipe icing shells around bottom and top edge of cake; dot shells with a silver dragee between each. Arrange loops and ribbons on top of cake and flowing out over edge of cake. Top with red and gold roses, using icing as glue, or toothpicks as needed to position roses.

Happy Birthday, Jax!

A fresh coat of paint

When I realized that I had not changed the appearance of my blog since 2010, I decided it was time to spruce up the place a little.

I like this new theme because it is clean, with a very readable typeface. It has all the most up-to-date features, but will take some getting used to.

I will miss the deep blue of my old theme, which, to me, felt like serenity in motion. But without loss, there can be no change; without change, there can be no renewal, no growth. And our ability to change and grow in wisdom is part of our humanity.

Please pardon any awkwardness as I re-format some older posts to help them fit into this new layout.