Rendered Fat Content


Stuart Davis: Art Theory Text with Diagrams (c. 1932)

" … employing the magic of SetTheory"

My first career, more than fifty years ago now, was that of a songwriter, an admittedly made-up career choice attractive because it required only informal study. My high school guidance counsellor declared me Not College Material, a designation I later learned actually meant Not High School Material, which cut me off from a common birth family exit. Further, I had declared myself a pacifist in the face of the Vietnam war, so the military didn't offer me an offramp, either. I pursued music, though to be fair, I really should declare that the music pursued me first, and my response was at least half defensive. I, like many in my generation, acquired a guitar addiction while still in grade school. I fell in love with the thing and dreamed in chords and rhythms. I'm convinced that it altered my DNA. Unlike most, I came to write my own songs and, through that high school within which I never belonged, I nurtured my identity performing on a tiny stage in front of an actual brick wall in a church basement coffee house replete with tiny tables and flickering candles. I later even learned to hitchhike.

I encountered my first sets in that basement.
These were lists of songs I intended to perform, organized according to some mysterious and emergent formula, intended to produce something more like a show, something a little better organized than merely playing off the top of my head with lengthy pauses between tunes. I'd sometimes include little prompts to remind me of which story I wanted to use to introduce which tune, all very mysterious and experimental at first. I felt fortunate that few frequented that place so that I could mostly just practice my budding stagecraft in peace, sharing it only with the young woman who oversaw the coffee urn, worked on homework, and managed the Phil Ochs records between my sessions on the stage. This was a good Congregationalist church basement, secular for all intents and purposes, set in a time before Jesus Freaks emerged. I discovered a workable identity there.

Over time, I came to possess what I considered to be my standard set. It consisted of mostly my own tunes, with a fresh one added almost every month. Then, I held myself to writing at least one song each month. Songwriting's intricate, very complex, especially when attempting to compose something simple or profound. Pedestrian crap's easy but hardly satisfying. About a million and a half budding song writers already independently discovered the twelve bar blues progression and even adding a questionable boogie-woogie baseline hardly distinguishes it, regardless of the clever lyric attached. Something unique and truly personal comes like birthing a baby. Even the joyful ones come through genuinely painful experience. Their performance adds another layer of complexity and inconvenience to the equation. One might have to perform each one several dozen times to really master it, beyond the point where it might naturally seem fresh. The set list attempts to provide a context within which those essentially individual efforts might come to make coherent sense together. It's high wire trapeze work.

Fifty years later, I'm out of practice. I've written dozens of songs, so many that I cannot remember many of them, let alone coherently perform very many. I fell out of practice living through a time when I couldn't quite face this great asset. A song is not a possession as such. Each was first an obsession or it would have never been finished. Later, each becomes a sort of a store of wisdom, an induction. It can feel embarrassing to watch myself spouting off as if performing when actually just fiddling around. I sometimes crank up my mixer and condenser microphone and pretend to also be a sound producer, but the knobs and switches confuse and frustrate me. I fiddle for a few days before setting aside those confusions in favor of something I might hope one day to master. Writing, performing, and recording turn out to be three orthogonal activities only distantly related to each other. The set list might anchor the relationship between them.

Feeling distanced from my own wisdom, then, and also feeling in need of renewing that relationship, I look into creating a set list. A set, call it thirteen songs, properly organized into beginning, middle and end, with a curtain call finish tagging along behind, might serve as the medium for a fellow like me to reconnect to his preexisting wisdom and, perhaps, to discover some fresh wisdom in the process. So this quarter, I've decided to pursue precisely that purpose through a series of approximately ninety SetTheory Stories. I will be writing about my experience. I will not be just dredging up my past, but framing up my future with my once-upon-a-time wisdom. I might even find some secular church basement with an unused brick wall to perform up against at the end of this adventure. I will be reintroducing myself to my guitar, to my tunes, and though them, employing the magic of SetTheory, to myself. You're welcome to witness, work on your homework, or juggle Phil Ochs records through the upcoming performances, and to snap your fingers for applause.


Being Tended By Angels
The exit from Summer came with drama. The Muse spent that final hour enrolling in a clinical trial within which she would be randomly assigned to one of three possible treatments ranging from traditional to bordering on radical. She hoped for the greatest departure from traditional techniques because she was vying to help advance science, not just to get cured of her cancer. Her dream came true in the first hour of Fall when the doctor called, thrilled for The Muse and for herself, as she'd long hoped to work a little closer to the cutting edge of her field. This will be both of their first experiences with monoclonal antibody immunotherapy. No better way to begin any treatment than filled with promise and well-founded hope. She'd side-stepped Chemo! The Schr
ödinger resolved into something tangible, perhaps even into something more tolerable than anticipated! The cat lives! We feel as if we are being tended by angels. So goes the backstory to my budding exploration of SetTheory. One Hell of a New Beginning!

I began the final week of Againing Stories by
WindingDowner. "Each landing occurs as if into fog, feet reaching for an imagined tarmac at an emergent destination."

Considering the ending of my Againing Series seemed to highlight my backlog of
UnfinishedBusiness. "It screams that a man, any man, might be better known by his UnfinishedBusiness than by the sum total of even his loftiest accomplishments, and that there will very likely be no figuring out a resolution, for resolution must emerge just as invisibly as did the UnfinishedBusiness. It arrived not by effort, not by plan, but as unintended consequences of something actually accomplished."

I next experienced a powerful reminder of how to induce a future by
CreatingContext."If one really wants to create a certain future, it's almost never done by directly creating. It's most often achieved by CreatingContext within which that future will more likely manifest. It's a standard application of the If You Built It, They Will Come Development Model. Give that future a reason to appear and suddenly it's there."

*I wrote a piece praising just how
Incompatible The Muse and I seem. This story proved to be the most popular this period. "The purpose of faults might be to teach us how to see right through them, to acknowledge their presence but to greet them with loving indifference, to become masterful at not taking them too awfully god-damned seriously. God-damned serious can only be the death of us. We could chuckle at our foibles, lest they become defining and tragic."

I explained how some acts, even of courage, resolve nothing, and how my life resolves into serial
ReMounting. "I seem to need to talk myself into even doing what I enjoy. I deeply doubt that I possess much native talent for anything, so consequently, for me, faking it constitutes doing. My pretend competence has been the rather open secret of my such-as-they-were successes, fueled by reluctance. I need to talk myself into ReMounting each time."

It seemed as though I spent this whole last week anticipating, including counting a
FinalFullDay. "I acknowledge now that I never became rich or especially famous. Left to my own devices, I became myself instead, a character largely living in my head."

I ended this writing week and also my Againing Series, with a right and proper
CodaMysterious. "I do not engage to gain a sense of accomplishment, for I play a more infinite game, one not played to win or lose, but to improve my play. In any infinite game, closure's not the purpose."

Closure not being my purpose here, either, I celebrate a fresh beginning, one promising daunting challenges and reassuring rewards while just beyond a fresh WindingDowner. We cannot determine yet which and in what measure the emerging future might deliver. This might serve as motive force to entice us to continue engaging in a fresh adventure even when we can reasonably expect it to lead us into yet another CodaMysterious. This is always another Remounting exercise, somewhat Incompatible with our intentions. SetTheory promises to reintroduce me to a different me than I ever knew before, one certainly colored with memories, but also situated leaning into a future, Creating Context as well as some fresh unfinished business. Thanks for following me along, through, and into. Thanks much!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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