The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

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


May 1, 2018
The spell takes hold when both casters are dead. No matter if the time between their deaths is mere instants or decades, their spirits shall be drawn to each other as a honey bee to the flower's pollen. Though they stumble blindly in an endless, impenetrable gloom, they shall unerringly progress toward the other, approaching in great looping spirals. The design of their joint trajectories, when viewed from afar, shall constitute the symbol of a great, inevitable destiny.

This fate too, shall Poppy and Iris know, and all who cast this spell. One moment they move with arms out-stretched, in a reflexive attempt to avoid blundering into unseen objects. In the next moment, there is a juxtaposition of energies, as if a cool palm rests upon the smooth cheek of the other. The electrical impulses channeling through each nervous system mingle in a shared current. There can be no mistaking the other; in this eternal expanse of darkness, where no meetings are pre-ordained, they have been reunited!

The rejoicing of angels upon trumpets and tambourines will not be heard. It is at most a personal victory, if side-stepping the natural course can be considered a triumph at all. Each recognizes themselves in the other and is, for an instant, placated. They exchange the phrases, "You have found me in the darkness."

"As I said that I would."

But this posthumous renewal of vows does not signify the end of the spell.

written while listening to:  Cecil Taylor Feel Trio - 2 Ts For A Lovely T, disc 10: Peat (Codanza Records, Codanza One, 2002 (originally recorded 1990), United Kingdom, cdx10,

May 2, 2018
Because the afterlife is conceptually different than existence in the physics-based reality, much of what we know is useless at best and often detrimental in understanding what lies beyond. Thus, one must accept that the shared history, which served to reunite Poppy and Iris, is rooted in a flawed reality and serves no further purpose other than to anchor them to an incomplete realization of themselves. The spell is not finished until the couple seeks out a great, cleansing fire, capable not only of the combustion of matter but of the utter irradiation of the spirit. It is too black to perceive, destroying light as all else. The pair must enter the flame blind, engaging in a joint self-immolation in which the outcome is uncertain.

To be sure, all earthly memories are incinerated. Each individual in the pair that emerges is bound to the other, but neither can they recognize their mate. They have to start over again. If the spell has been successfully cast, they become in death that which they were unable to achieve in life, a harmonious whole, the likes of which is ridiculed as fantasy in the world of the living. Such is the work of a necromancer, who holds the limits of the physical world in low regard.

As those upon whom the spell has worked its magic have no reason to report back of their transformation, there is no evidence for the efficacy of this spell. The world is thus divided into two vastly unequal portions. Those who consider this spell a puerile fancy and those who admit the possibility. Much can be discerned about a person based on their choice of the camp in which they prefer to keep company.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson Quartet - Paimon: Book Of Angels Volume 32 (Tzadik, TZ 8356, 2017, United States, cd,

May 3, 2018
The entirety of the spell was relayed to the executive governing committee, letter by letter, via the chat box. It fell to Poppy to collect the pieces and assemble them into a single document, which he promptly did before distributing it to the other members. Each individual read the passage in solitude, contemplating if they should immediately commence casting the spell or, in some cases, begin the process of identifying a companion, who would indulge them in an act of wild, speculative fantasy.

Only Poppy recognized this passage for its significance in terms of the totality of the fractured portrait. As the fifth passage, it meant that each author had contributed one piece. Already hints of the emerging portrait could be identified; in particular its texture, based on the choice of media, was now evident. He thrilled at the thought of the completed work, but the timeline bothered him. Three days more than four months of the year had already passed, yet he held just five of twenty-five passages. At this rate, there would only be fifteen passages by the close of December. While there was nothing essential to completing the portrait in 2018, a new year brought new resolutions and potentially a change in priorities. Poppy felt it prudent that the generation of the portrait be finished in the calendar year. He did not explicitly convey this concern to the rest of the committee. Instead, he resolved to urge the committee to a more rapid pace by subtle means. "Perhaps cajoling," he mused. Was he capable of subtle cajoling? Did such a thing as subtle cajoling even exist? He was surrounded by people who would certainly know the answer to his question. Typically, Poppy preferred a direct approach. However, in this case, he refrained from addressing his question to the committee, due to the common reluctance to be laughed at.

written while listening to:  Map - Fever Dream (Taiga Records, TAIGA 9, 2010, United States, lpx1.5,

May 4, 2018
Instead, Poppy went home, where he passed the time idly until Iris arrived. He rose unsteadily to his feet to greet her. They exchanged pleasantries, each inquiring of the other how their day had gone. By coincidence, both days, it seemed, had gone well.

Standing in the living room, Poppy declared, "My wife, my wife, the ode I promised you is materializing."

Iris appeared to have no idea what her husband was talking about, prompting him to remind her that some years ago, he had planned a pentalogy describing a family of four and the last book was to be dedicated to her.

"Hmm," said Iris coolly, "I thought my father told you not to do that?"

It was not exactly the response for which Poppy had been hoping, but he chose not to allow the lackluster reception to dampen his enthusiasm. "No," he corrected her. "Your father told me to be careful."

"And are you?" She arched a doubtful eyebrow. It was a fetching expression and Poppy was tempted to fall in love with her all over again.

"You don't have to read it." These words would have been better off left unsaid. Of course, she had no intention of reading it.

No reader should be surprised by this turn of events. Although it may be redundant for the attentive reader, we repeat the words of Hebeloma on this matter. "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."*

*Manuscript Submission Guidelines, Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2016, link:

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson Trio - Ghost Loop (For Tune, 0010 010, 2013, Poland, cd,

May 5, 2018
Poppy need not have worried about the progress of the fractured portrait for cosmic forces seemed to ally with him.

Margherita Lotti came to visit Stuart and Equinox and the two dogs, who bayed at her arrival. They approached and sniffed at the hem of the nun's habit, trimmed in brown lace. "What are their names?" she asked Stuart, while he brushed the horse. Her voice possessed a musical, Italian lilt.

"Margherita!" Stuart exclaimed in greeting. "I wondered if I should see you soon."

"I made time for you," she said sweetly.

Stuart observed the woman. In age, she appeared exactly as a woman of thirty-six, when she had entered the order, save for one feature. She bore a wound in the center of her forehead, which according to historical records, had not appeared until she was sixty.

No special element of mystery is required to explain the bloody wound. Margherita had joined an Augustinian convent, in which various forms of mortification of the flesh were practiced. In addition to abstinence and fasting, the order also engaged in several modes of self-flagellation. Although such an object was not paraded before the public, there was rumored to be kept within the convent walls more than one woven crown of thorns, in imitation of the one set atop the head of Jesus of Nazareth during his crucifixion. The nuns who donned these crowns, as a sign of reverence and devotion to their Lord, bore, as a result, injuries upon their heads, which were regarded as a partial stigmata. Such a ritual may seem unproductive, even unhealthy, by today's standards, but was interpreted in a more positive light in 1417, when Margherita first took her vows.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson, Kirk Knuffke & Matt Wilson - Sifter (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1014, 2013, United States, cd,

May 6, 2018
For those unfamiliar with the tale of woe and redemption of Margherita Lotti, we briefly recount it here. Born in Cascia in 1381 to noble parents, she was married at the age of twelve to a man of wealth and ill temper. Margherita bore him a son within the first year of marriage, and a second soon followed. Paolo's violent nature had earned him numerous enemies within the region surrounding Cascia. His wife too could not escape his insults and physical abuse. For this reason, she later became known by a rather unglamorous title. She ignored her husband's various infidelities and worked through kindness and humility to instill in him a measure of restraint or, at the very least, to raise her children in a manner in which they perceived the error in following their father's path. Her efforts to rehabilitate her husband came too late and he was killed in a feud, resulting from a long-standing vendetta. Although she pardoned her husband's murderers at his funeral, her brother-in-law took her sons from her and, raising them in his own manor, nurtured in them a thirst for vengeance. Rita feared that her sons would jeopardize the fate of their immortal souls, should they succumb to the teachings of their uncle. Seeing no other recourse, she prayed to God to claim her sons before they committed a mortal sin. It is said that God answered her plea and that both sons died of dysentery, a type of gastroenteritis with the primary symptom of blood in diarrhea, before they wrought their revenge.

Great is the misery of a mother who seeks peace only in the death of her children. While readers of the modern day may imagine that such events are consigned to ages past, there are undoubtedly within our midst others who have secretly made a plea not so very different from that of Saint Rita of Cascia, Patron Saint of Abused Wives or Otherwise Distressed Women.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson Septet - Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-017, 2013, United States, cd,

May 7, 2018
Margherita's travails did not end with the death of her husband and sons. Although she applied to be admitted to the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalene in Cascia, her request was denied. By offering her refuge, the nuns rightly feared being drawn into the feud that had claimed her husband. Margherita's persistence was repaid with a seemingly impossible condition. She would be granted admission to the order only if she were able to bring peace to the warring families--Mancini and Chiqui--in Cascia.

Margherita again put her trust in the power of prayer, enlisting the aid of several saints, among whom are recorded John the Baptist, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the Italian mystic, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. Her pleas to her brother-in-law, Bernardo Mancini, who had corrupted her sons in his pursuit of revenge, predictably fell on deaf ears. However, when Bernardo contracted the bubonic plague, which had peaked in Europe about 1350 but which still lingered and reappeared sporadically even sixty years later, he renounced the feud.

This turn of events, widely attributed to divine intervention rather than the work of the bacterium Yersinia pestis, proved sufficient to convince the monastery to admit Margherita, at the age of thirty-seven. She remained there until her death of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson, Reuben Radding & Nate Wooley - Crackleknob (hatOLOGY, 662, 2009, Switzerland, cd,

May 8, 2018
Saint Rita of Cascia had come to help Stuart write a prayer. Just as Saint Patrick had aided him in the composition of his first contribution to the fractured portrait, he gladly accepted Saint Rita's offer to guide his hand on a second passage. However, he imposed some constraints, which he felt were necessary, given his knowledge of her historical account.

The nun listened politely as Stuart began. "First," he said, trying to be polite, "I need to communicate to you that the prayer that I am writing is intended to describe a particular woman, the wife of a friend."

"Is she distressed?" Saint Rita asked, "Because that's my speciality."

Stuart grew silent. Knowing Poppy as he did, he could imagine a certain variety of distress that one who had bound her life to his might experience. On the other hand, he was fairly certain that Saint Rita referred to a more vociferous and vehement experience. He replied, "Not really," but his hesitation revealed much to the ever-perceptive nun.

"Second," said Stuart, "the prayer cannot contain any requests for dysentery or the plague or any kind of disease of the medieval or modern world."

"What other kind of prayer is there?" asked the saint in an offended tone.

Stuart frowned, concluding that he had made quite a blunder in thinking this saint appropriate to the task at hand.

"Just kidding," said Saint Rita with a laugh. Chiding him for his dour expression, she added, "Lord have mercy! You must think saints don't have any sense of humor at all." She smiled kindly, as blood trickled from the wound on her forehead.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson Quintet - Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-013, 2010, United States, cd,

May 9, 2018
"There is nothing wrong with praying to God to take someone's life," Saint Rita explained, "if it prevents them from engaging in mortal sin and saves their soul from an eternity of torment." She observed the skepticism on Stuart's face. "Besides," she added, "the historical records show that I prayed only for my sons to be saved from evil. I did not explicitly request their deaths, especially not by a means as unpleasant as dysentery." Still, Stuart persisted in his doubt, prompting Saint Rita to add, "The same goes for my brother-in-law, Bernardo." She waited patiently for Stuart to compose his thoughts in response to her words.

"When I have prayed to God for one or another person, usually someone generally regarded as a great annoyance, to die, I don't feel good about it afterward," Stuart admitted. "Sometimes, I have taken it one step farther and prayed for the annihilation of the whole human race, myself included."

Saint Rita frowned but said nothing.

Stuart continued, "Much good could come to the other species on this planet, if the destructive activities of Homo sapiens came to an abrupt end." He glanced at the nun. "Even though, I don't expect any response to such a prayer, I nevertheless acknowledge that the voicing of the prayer contains its own judgment. It isolates me further from my fellow human beings."

Stuart paused, then brightened, "That's why there is to be no death in the prayer we create together."

"Upon what subject shall we pray?"

"I am thinking of something toward the beginning of Poppy and Iris, perhaps 'A Prayer for Diametric Courtship'."

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek & Tomas Fujiwara - Thumbscrew (Cuneiform Records, Rune 365, 2014, United States, cd,

May 10, 2018
Lord, you created a world in which two
individuals are called to seek out the other,
to contemplate a shared future, to bind
themselves together in the living of a common life;
But you, from whom nothing is hidden,
know better than any statistics can tell,
the sundered fate of many vows. Here,
we beseech you to invent and distribute
a new kind of courtship, to improve the odds,
to allow the well-intentioned pair to more likely
approach the ideal to which they aspire.

Let the young, in love, see each other
for what they are. Clear infatuation
from the maiden's eyes. Let her rightly perceive
in her groom-to-be the extent of his temper,
held in check during these preliminary overtures.
Erase desire from young man's mind. Grant him
the foresight to observe in his future wife
the dissatisfaction that will grow within her
as she realizes the ambition of her husband
is less than that for which she had hoped.
With this knowledge, let them make their choice.

O Lord, our request that fiancée and fiancé
be openly exposed to that which lies in wait
seems now, once voiced, a terrible, misguided prayer!
Instead, allow the couple to woo each other
in utter ignorance. Let them perceive
in the clouded vision of love illusory
distortions of their mate. Let uncertainty
be mistaken for tenderness. Let inexperience
be interpreted as compassion. Let them
jointly dream of a romantic fantasy
never to be realized in earthly days.

written while listening to:  Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson - Crop Circles (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1045, 2017, United States, cd,

May 11, 2018
No, this prayer too seems an error.
Because both extremes appear unwise,
let a compromise be struck. Ration
your wisdom to only one member
of the couple. Grant the maiden alone
insight into the future dissipation
of the man with whom she now contemplates
walking along an inseparable path.
Grant her, too, the imagination to perceive
beforehand, the comfort of a callus
hardened through wear, for she shall herself
develop such growths, while her husband
remains oblivious to all but his own needs.

Or, reverse the roles. Let the man
be filled with preemptive empathy
and his prospective bride bereft
of all concerns save the finery
of her bridal gown and the quality
of the silver at the wedding banquet.
Let him observe in the shadow
of his betrothed the spectrum of her qualities.
Grant him, too, patience and abundant humor.

Still, all these recipes seem wrong,
for, as mortals, we cannot see the
end of all things, as you do. Perhaps,
the right request is to change nothing.
Let everything at once be realized!
Let just exactly what already happens persist!
Let a mixture of truth and fancy prevail.
Let the reality of the future remain
indistinguishable from the fiction of desire.
Let the common passage of time and shared
error bind this woman and man in ways
impossible to have predicted ere they wed.

written while listening to:  Tom Rainey Trio with Mary Halvorson & Ingrid Laubrock - Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 199, 2012, Switzerland, cd,

May 12, 2018
Margherita Lotti had come to pray with Stuart. Having accomplished her task, she bid him and his animal companions farewell. "It's not my best prayer," she confided to Stuart. She smiled shyly. "You have to remember that my parents arranged my own marriage for me when I was a girl of twelve. There was no courtship to speak of."

Although Stuart had not anticipated the role of providing reassurance to a saint, he nevertheless offered what comfort he could. "I think we pulled off a very capable prayer. The world may be in need of it. In the future, when a solitary voice, reciting those verses, echoes up through the floorboards of heaven, it will fall to you to make sure that their plea reaches its destination." The horse whinnied, as if in agreement.

"Stuart, you have a good heart," said the Margherita Lotti. "It's too bad that the American Catholic Atheist Party is not a path that leads to salvation."

Stuart shrugged.

"It's not my place to convert you, for I know your mind is set. Still, I remind you that the mercy of the Lord knows no bounds. It is impossible for you to fall so far that you are beyond the reach of his grace." She smiled again and took a step away. She paused and turned back once more. "I shall pray my own prayer for you, Stuart. I shall call it 'A Prayer for Accidental Evangelization'."

"It sounds good," Stuart agreed. "How does it go?"

"You'll know it when you hear it." With that the nun waved and walked off. As they had at her arrival, so too did the dogs bay at her departure.

written while listening to:  Aych - As the Crow Flies (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1004, 2012, United States, cd,

May 13, 2018
Stuart presented 'A Prayer for Diametric Courtship' to the executive governing committee of the ICEML. After he read it, someone on the committee asked for them to pray the prayer again, together. This was an unusual request. None of the members of the committee seemed especially religious. It also introduced the awkward prospect of having to discuss the separation of one's religious beliefs from one's role on the committee. Still, in the realm of exploratory meta-living, the intrepid adventurer cannot expect to get anywhere if they shy away from a challenge, simply because it appears forbidding.

The prayer was prayed. Later, no one would admit to having made the motion or seconded it. How many marriages were saved as a result of this act? No one knows because no one was keeping track. In fact, in this world, there appears to be no means to quantitatively tally the efficacy of prayer. Perhaps not a single instance of the rupture of wedlock was averted. Or, perhaps, only exactly one. Maybe the distribution of those words has facilitated marital bliss in the outside life of a Gentle Reader. Maybe, the prayer--retroactively, since the ceremony was many years before--impacted the marriage of the author of this document. Or, maybe it just made life a little easier for Poppy and Iris.

Even if there was no consequence at all, one shouldn't be too disappointed. After all, it is unreasonable to expect that every prayer be answered. In any case, it is advisable, in the bustle of daily life, to pause from time to time, and engage in activities, which do not explicitly forward the conscious agenda. This is the luxury of all great beasts who, having evolved beyond the compulsions of the insect, occasionally wallow.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson - Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1025, 2014, United States, cd,

May 14, 2018
To the extent that Hong Samud wallowed, he preferred a literary approach, in which he surrounded himself with shelves of books and was able to breathe in the scent of old but well-preserved paper. However, at the moment, Hong Samud could not sit idly. He had two pressing concerns, both of which had to be addressed in an adroit manner. First, his second contribution to the fractured portrait lay before him. That matter would be easily resolved, or so he thought. He had merely to step into the portable library and discover a book, which revealed the habits and conditions of Iris and, by reflection, Poppy. The existence of such books was, of course, a manifestation of the fact that the collection held within the portable library included contributions from many universes. In at least one of these variations, Iris herself had entered the library.

It slips our mind if this particular property of the library has been conveyed to the reader, but at the risk of repeating ourselves, we shall describe it here. Each patron to the portable library brings with them every book they have ever read or ever will read. Upon their initial arrival, whole rooms sprout up, unobserved, along the central corridor of the library. Given the infinity of perturbations within the continuum of realities, some representation of each of us has invariably ventured inside. In this way, all of us are catalogued within its walls, even if we don't remember visiting.

No, generating an insightful passage regarding Iris was a triviality for one with the knowledge of all universes within his reach. With this cornucopia of information, the challenge lay in the exercise of judgment required to select some tidbit, worthy of mention but neither invasive nor embarrassing.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson - Meltframe (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-08-021, 2015, United States, lp,

May 15, 2018
The second pressing concern that occupied Hong Samud took the form of the five-year-old daughter of the librarian, Sulin, who was of an age of endless questions. Her most recent line of inquiry regarded his home. Hong Samud had no desire to have known the fact that he retreated each night, alone, to the portable library, which provided him all the nourishment of the body, mind and spirit he required.

The pair confronted each other in the beach library. The old man pushed the book cart through the aisle, replacing items returned that morning. His young assistant served as navigator. She held one book at a time, reading the number on the spine and guiding him to the appropriate destination.

"Where is your house?" she asked again.

"Not far," Hong Samud assured her.

"Can I come over?"

"There is little of interest for children there," Hong Samud answered, trying not to think of the infinity of endlessly entertaining children's books in the portable library.

"What color is your house?"

"How can a girl who is only five-years-old have so many questions?"

"Five and three-quarters!" Sulin exclaimed. "I'll be six on the third of August."

"Sulin," called her father, drawn by her raised voice. "Don't bother Old Hong while he's working."

"She's helping me," he assured the director.

The director also did not like his daughter's repeated inquiries into Hong Samud's residence. He assumed that the old man refused to provide any information out of embarrassment over the humble nature of the dwelling, which he could afford, based on the meager pay the director was able to provide.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 1: Titan (Leo Records, CD LR 794, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 16, 2018
That night, as on all nights, Hong Samud was left to put the last books away, empty the garbage cans and lock the library. He did not linger on the front porch to welcome the arrival of nocturnal visitors from the forest. Instead, he stepped back inside the library and, unbeknownst to the director, locked it from the interior. He then proceeded to the closet, otherwise known as the "Special Collections" room, through which he returned to the portable library.

Standing upon the smooth stone floor, Hong Samud breathed again the air which illuminated itself. He walked a few cycles around the spiraling central corridor with no particular intent. No sound resonated through the hallway, save the soft fall of his footsteps. He found this solitude comforting, for it simultaneously allowed him to collect his thoughts while surrounding him with an infinity of personalities, each recorded within one volume or another, each waiting patiently to be called into service. Certainly, Hong Samud could not be said to be lacking for companionship.

He closed his eyes and concentrated. Somewhere, in one of these rooms, not so distant, a book was calling to him. He could almost hear it through the sheer force of imagination. This book, written by an Iris, who either had been or would yet be, asked to divulge an innocuous secret or two. She promised only an episode, which would pass pleasantly and, afterward, would leave no traces of regret. Old Hong, as he was sometimes called, gratefully accepted the offer.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 2: Tarvos (Leo Records, CD LR 795, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 17, 2018
Hong Samud's footsteps led him to a room in the library, which, based on the titles embossed along the spines of many of the books, appeared to be filled with treatises on the chemical sciences. He thought this an odd place to discover insight into Iris but, trusting his intuition, he did not immediately depart.

There is, of course, a field called neurochemistry, which concerns itself with the relationship between neurons, the primary components of the brain, and chemicals, those molecules that trigger functionality within the organism, including memory, emotion, pain response and all other behaviors of the biological entity, both somatic (voluntary) and autonomous. So, it seems no great stretch to connect neurochemistry with interpersonal relationships. In fact, some thinkers would argue that interpersonal relationships are merely a subset of neurochemistry, since they could not exist without it.

This train of thought likely does not take the careful reader by surprise. Poppy has already established an antagonistic relationship with neurochemistry. When he advocates, that we strive "to rise above the limits of our brain chemistry", he acknowledges the essential role of neurochemistry in the existential nature of our being. That he finds it unsatisfactory and in need of improvement is perhaps only an idiosyncrasy arising from an imbalance in the molecular soup of his own brain. Certainly, such an esoteric opinion is not widely held. We cannot expect Iris to share it. Naturally, some strife may arise between two who hold such opposing views, even should they be husband and wife.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 3: Pandora (Leo Records, CD LR 796, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 18, 2018
The book had a curious title, Destiny and Control in Human Systems Volume IV: Studies in Chromoneural Topology and Dynamics. Interestingly, this monograph was not the work of the same author, Charles Musés, who had penned volume one, Destiny and Control in Human Systems: Studies in the Interactive Connectedness of Time (Chronotopology). In fact, the connection between the two works seemed tenuous at best, their relation lying in a rather ambiguously defined and presently unverifiable chronotopological network.

The initial chapters of the book provided somewhat deceptive introductions to the lay reader, setting forth the mathematical tools necessary to understand and advance the subject. Like many such treatises, it began with a page or two of elementary mathematics in order to lull the reader into a false sense of ease, then, despite encouraging language, abruptly transitioned into a vocabulary of advanced mathematics, accessible to only a rarefied audience.

Hong Samud frowned. He accepted that the structure and activity of the brain provided some window through which the behavior of Iris and Poppy could be interpreted. However, if he were to present such an abstract and generalized description in his portrait of Iris in terms of invariants, k-dimensional polytopes and diverging spectra of Betti numbers, his efforts would not be appreciated.

Knowing it was a dangerous gambit, Hong Samud flipped forward to Chapter 7. Modulated Maintenance of Metastable Equilibria. He thought the title an appropriate topic since healthy personal relationships require careful attention and marriage is, like life at large, a transient phenomenon of relative stability.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 4: Hyperion (Leo Records, CD LR 797, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 19, 2018
In both the male and female anatomy, the adrenal glands rest above the kidneys. In their role within the endocrine system, they produce numerous hormones. Cortisol, is produced in an interior layer of the adrenal glands, from which it is secreted. Cortisol influences many internal processes within the organism, the full extent of which remains unknown; it increases the circulation of glucose in the body, which makes energy more readily available. At the same time, cortisol plays a part, direct or indirect, in weakening immune response, wound healing, bone growth, digestion, and patterns of sleep. The body's clock is connected to such cosmological phenomenon as the rotation of the Earth, through the production of cortisol, which typically peaks in the morning, just after waking. Stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which, not surprisingly, impact the sundry physiological processes, which rely on cortisol as a control mechanism.

Thus, when Poppy rises from the bed and feels a protest in the middle of his back, it is only the grunt of adrenal glands resuming their work. That they have been abused by a pattern of living, which has not been optimized for endocrinological equilibrium, is taken for granted. One must not wonder overmuch at the various responses that Iris employs to placate her husband, with whom she has no desire, in the morning, to quarrel. How does one assuage the adrenal glands when the breadth of its influence extends to virtually every part of the body? Iris experiments with different approaches, including the preparation of meals to send covert messages to the digestive system, cleaning of the house as an offering to the immune system, the occasional preparation of bandages to aid wound healing, and, just once we are told, a prayer to divine powers to cease the rotation of the Earth, if only temporarily, to provide an additional hour of sleep before the metabolic machinery of her husband rouses from slumber.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 5: Rhea (Leo Records, CD LR 798, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 20, 2018
The body possesses a veritable laboratory of biochemicals intended to counter or to mediate the effects of stress in the body. One class of hormones with a role in this regard is comprised of endogenous morphines, or endorphins. An example is
b-endorphin, a chain-like molecule containing thirty-one links, each an amino acid. This endorphin originates in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized feature located at the base of the brain. Although it would require the pituitary glands of roughly one thousand people to weigh a single pound, the diminutive gland has an out-sized influence. By binding to opioid receptors in the brain, b-endorphin regulates such important functions as the perception of pain, hunger, exhilaration, and many others. It can be released during or even in anticipation of stressful situations in order to dampen the effects of cortisol, as a kind of self-regulatory mechanism.

Of the various roles, the relationship between b-endorphin and pain is perhaps best understood. Numerous synthetic opioids have been introduced into the medical industry to mimic selected effects of the naturally occurring hormone. The risks of treatment with opioids have been well-known, though not always well-publicized, and include hyperalgesia (an increased sensitivity to pain), tolerance and addiction.

It therefore falls to Iris to reduce the level of stress strictly through the application of behaviors that increase the natural production of b-endorphin in her husband. The direct approach is inadvisable since the primary effects of pain or anxiety outweigh secondary benefits. Instead, she must walk a fine line, a kind of behavioral game of cat and mouse. It is a ticklish business, to be sure. One especially hopes to avoid hyperalgesia, because, as the reader is already likely aware, husbands such as Poppy are already sufficiently sensitive without additional provocation.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Volume 7: Dione (Leo Records, CD LR 799, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

May 21, 2018
Serotonin is described by scientists as a monoamine neurotransmitter, a name which provides insight into both the structure of the molecule and its function within the body. In the popular press, serotonin is regarded as a substance governing feelings of happiness or well-being. Indeed, pharmacological products intended to treat psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, often do so by regulating or otherwise interacting with serotonin. However, only a small fraction of the serotonin in the body is located in the central nervous system. The vast majority--over ninety percent--is present in the gastrointestinal tract, where it serves to manage appetite, sleep and mood. Of course, there is no contradiction between a biochemical thought to influence happiness and its location in the digestive system. One need think no further than the conventional adage, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

While it is true that Iris had a natural talent for culinary endeavors, it was not this skill upon which she primarily relied to counter the effects of cortisol in her husband. Rather, she used diet as a control mechanism only sparingly, often as a last resort when other measures had failed. The relationship between serotonin and mood remains unclear to science, and the opportunity for error on Iris's part was non-negligible. Of course, the balance between biochemicals is, as always, delicate. The physiological consequence of an excess of serotonin in the stomach is to empty the organ by inducing diarrhea or, in extreme cases, vomiting. These side-effects Iris, in her pursuit of domestic harmony, diligently sought to avoid.

written while listening to:  Carl Ludwig Hübsch's Drift - Drift (Nur/Nicht/Nur, BERSLTON 115 10 06, 2015, Germany, digital files,

May 22, 2018
Oxytocin is a peptide hormone produced in the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain, located roughly in the middle of the head, at a height about the bridge of the nose. The hormone is said to be used in the communication between neurons. The list of physiological functions associated with oxytocin is long and seemingly grows with the publication of each relevant scientific report. Its importance during childbirth and nursing is well established, but these are only two manifestations of a broader category of behaviors, all centered on forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships, with which oxytocin is associated.

Oxytocin promotes generosity by increasing empathy, instills trust by reducing the perception of the likelihood of betrayal, and modulates fear by encouraging the avoidance of questionable social stimuli. Curiously, oxytocin has also been demonstrated to increase dishonesty, when the goal of the subterfuge provides a perceived benefit to those with whom the prevaricator has bonded.

Through a process of trial and error, Iris has developed several approaches to manipulate the levels of oxytocin in her husband. One tried and true technique is gently nuzzling the tip of her nose along the bridge of Poppy's nose. We can only speculate that the proximity of this physical contact provides an allure that the hypothalamus is unable to resist. Of course, given the number, complexity and somewhat contradictory nature of the various functions of oxytocin, the desired effect cannot always be guaranteed. In this matter, as in most regarding human relationships, there remains an irreducible element of chance.

written while listening to:  Derek Bailey & Tristan Honsinger - Duo (Honest Jon's Records, HJRLP204, 2018 (originally recorded 1976), United Kingdom, lp,

May 23, 2018
Dopamine is a biochemical, synthesized in the brain, derived from an amino acid, L-DOPA, which originates much lower in the adrenal gland. Like most other biologically active molecules, the full extent of its functionality remains unclear to science. However, the role of dopamine is clear with regard to one specific subject, which is well known to all of us, though the label with which it is referred by scientists, namely incentive salience, may not sound familiar. Dopamine exerts an influence over the cognitive process that creates interest and therefore motivation, either positive or negative, with respect to a particular object, person or action. Dopamine does so in two ways. First, the level of dopamine present lowers the threshold for initiating action; motor activity is catalyzed by high dopamine concentrations. Second, dopamine is capable of restructuring the circuitry of the nerves to respond more favorably in subsequent exposure to a situation, which previously prompted an increase in dopamine activity. Even the anticipation of a dopamine-producing experience can result in an elevation in dopamine levels in the brain. For this reason, dopamine is regarded as a crucial component of reward-motivated behavior, both beneficial and detrimental to the long-term well-being of the organism.

What can one say about marriage except that it is an extended exercise in dopamine modulation? Iris manages the behavior of her husband through the intimation and delivery of behaviors that express biochemicals, which calm his being and induce affability if not docility. She did not recognize, when she married Poppy, how valuable a good footing in neurochemistry would prove. She harbors a quiet sympathy for those wives who have yet to arrive at this realization.

written while listening to:  Craig Taborn - Avenging Angel (ECM Records, ECM 2207, 2011, Germany, cd,

May 24, 2018
On the one hundred forty-fourth day of the year, Hong Samud returned to the executive governing committee of the ICEML with his second contribution to the fractured portrait in hand. Again, he had transcribed from memory as faithfully as possible selected contents from the volume of neurochemistry, which he had studied in the portable library.

It is no mean feat to render nonplussed a veteran of exploratory meta-living, as all the committee members undoubtedly were. Still, the tanager asked for additional time to read the document a second and then a third time, before providing any comment. Stuart and Hebeloma exchanged meaningful glances through their respective cameras. Neither had ever been married but they wondered at the accuracy of its reduction to neurochemical constituents and reactions. Aun wee, who had been married for many years, expressed no opinion. Her silence carried no special significance, since she seldom shared her thoughts.

The other member of the committee, Poppy, clutched the print out of Hong Samud's fragment tightly. He seemed unable to tear his gaze from it.

When the tanager had finished her third reading, she asked, "Poppy, what do you think?"

He lifted his gaze. His eyes were wet with tears, as if he had just looked upon an angel in all its heavenly glory. "This is..." he started before finding himself unable to complete the sentence. Eventually, he composed himself. "Exactly so!" he managed. "How could it have remained hidden from me for so long?"

written while listening to:  Craig Taborn - Daylight Ghosts (ECM Records, ECM 2527, 2017, Germany, cd,

May 25, 2018
Hebeloma did not dwell long on neurochemical mysteries, for the following day she was contacted by Lefteris, who announced that he had located a new side passage to the cleromantic chamber, one that he felt she should make all haste to observe firsthand. The excitement in the voice of the Cretan was contagious.

It was not a trivial matter to travel from Piedmont to the Greek island. There were no direct flights from the Torino airport. Hebeloma booked a flight through Munich for the following day. So impatient, it seemed, was Lefteris that he agreed to pick her up directly at the Heraklion airport in the afternoon.

In the meantime, Hebeloma indulged in what might be best described as a bout of speculative daydreaming. Certainly on an island as famous for its historical architecture and artifacts as Crete, the discovery of an additional crude chamber in an abandoned, ancient mine (or even the entire mine itself) merited little attention. All the same, Hebeloma relished the fact that this particular find, as insignificant as it might be, was one in which she was the sole investigator, aside from Lefteris, who seemed to be motivated strictly out of a sense of amateur interest. She wondered briefly if the guide had shown the mine to other visitors, tourists even. While she could not recall him ever having explicitly stated that he shared this information with her on an exclusive basis, Hebeloma had nevertheless arrived at that assumption all the same. She resolved to plainly question him on this matter upon her arrival in Crete.

written while listening to:  Roscoe Mitchell - Composition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (ECM Records, ECM 1872, 2007, Germany, cd,

May 26, 2018
Hebeloma did not remember Lefteris as congenial and solicitous as he now appeared to her. He apologized in advance for the state of the car, in which he picked her up. His own vehicle was in the shop and he had borrowed this compact car from his brother-in-law, who had three children, the youngest of which had unexpectedly urinated in the backseat only the day before. "It happens," said Lefteris, shrugging almost happily, as if the accidents of children could not be viewed outside the scope of a larger joy. A thick, dark moustache curved over his smile.

In fact the interior of the car smelled overwhelmingly of antiseptic. They rolled down the windows. Once they were on the highway, heading into the mountains, Hebeloma observed the wind whipping at Lefteris' unkempt wavy hair. In the hassle of picking up the car, Lefteris hadn't eaten lunch. Outside the city, he stopped at a roadside cafe and ordered a plate of pies, stuffed with greens. Apparently, it came with half a bottle of tsikoudia, a Cretan brandy made from grape pomace.

"You are driving," Hebeloma reminded Lefteris.

"Only one," he promised, though later he added a partially filled second glass, which he described somewhat inaccurately as "only a half more." She limited herself to one small glass. While she was eager to see the chamber, Hebeloma could not entirely ignore the congenial company of her host and the clear, gorgeous sky and the breath of the cool, island wind against her face when they had returned to the mountain road. The combination of alcohol, the warmth of the sun and the rhythm of the engine lulled her to sleep.

Lefteris allowed her this nap, waking her only when the car ground to a halt in the gravel at the closest point to the mine. From here they would continue on foot.

written while listening to:  Evan Parker & the Transatlantic Art Ensemble - Boustrophedon (ECM Records, ECM 1873, 2008, Germany, cd,

May 27, 2018
They arrived at the site as the sun was beginning to set. It made little difference, as they had brought electric lanterns to illuminate the subterranean chambers. Still, in the fading light, the gap in the earth, hidden behind a boulder and a curtain of vines, seemed especially modest. Had she really gotten so excited over this hole in the ground? This thought flashed across Hebeloma's mind and she quickly dismissed it.

Again, she followed Lefteris down what must have once been the central shaft of the mine as it descended into the mountain. She made a conscious effort to keep her eyes trained on the wall to her left to identify for herself the nondescript shadow through which a careful observer would find a path to the cleromantic chamber. However, the floor of the tunnel was littered with fragments of stone. In order to secure her footing, Hebeloma found it necessary to keep her attention at her feet. In this way, she was once again surprised when Lefteris held up his lantern and announced, "Here it is."

They removed their packs in order to be able to slip sideways through the slit-like passageway. Carrying a lantern before and dragging their pack behind, each managed to reach the chamber. There, Hebeloma breathed again the ancient atmosphere of bones trapped by the minotaur and buried in his labyrinth. The stale air held no memory of the panic in their last moments. She approached the stone surface where the fourteen circles were inset and the partitioning lines engraved. Knowing better this time what to do, she had prepared herself with two small round stones, which she had brought with her from Italy. Lefteris watched as she cast them. She leaned over and read the faint characters engraved in the circle nearest to the first stone. "Melanippe."

Leaning over the second stone, Lefteris replied, "Idas."

written while listening to:  Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn - Ljubljana (Clean Feed, CF400LP, 2017, Portugal, lp,

May 28, 2018
Melanippe had attended school, for her father, Pyrrhus, had insisted that both his sons and daughters should contribute to civic life, a responsibility endowed by the privilege of a good education. At school, the class, which was predominantly boys, had called her Medippe, or Whispering, in recognition not only of her soft voice but of her gentle disposition as well. At home, her mother's secret name for her was Melippe, or Melting, for the way she conformed to her mother's arms when beckoned to embrace her. Her mother was a reserved woman who found need of routine reassurance from comforts as ordinary and powerful as the hugs of her children.

Both whispering and melting were to prove useful in the labyrinth. While her father had never imagined that her civic obligation would be to march as tribute to the minotaur, his lofty principles could not be denied when she was chosen. "Melanippe, your selection is both," he told her in the presence of the rest of the family, "a great honor and a great sorrow."

"Yes, father," she dutifully replied. She was young and, while she had been taught to fear death, she was not of a mind to dwell on morbid thoughts. Thus her fate yet seemed distant and detached.

When the two were alone and Melanippe was clutched in her mother's arms, she whispered, "What shall I do when I meet the minotaur?"

"If the minotaur is a true monster," said the mother, "then its black heart will crave something more dearly than flesh and blood. We have only to prepare you with the appropriate gift to buy your life."

written while listening to:  Paul Bley, Evan Parker & Barre Phillips - Time Will Tell (ECM Records, ECM 1537, 1995, Germany, cd,

May 29, 2018
It was not gold that Melanippe and her mother wrought for the minotaur, for though their family was possessed of modest wealth, they did not believe that the minotaur desired gold, dwelling as he did in a mine lined by glinting veins of metal. They also understood that, as a sacrificial victim, Melanippe would not be given the luxury of bringing anything but the essentials with her.

Thus the mother and daughter embroidered two patches of fabric, which they were to sew together into the front and back of a sheer shift.

"Why two?" asked the daughter. "There are not two minotaurs."

Her mother ignored her. When they were finished with the simple designs, the mother bade her daughter leave her. In the morning the two pieces of fabric had been joined. Upon visual examination, they appeared no different than when Melanippe had left, but she smelled in them traces of her mother's love on one side and fear on the other. It occurred to her then that the mother devised two gifts because she did not know the precise appetite of the monster.

Melanippe was allowed to don the shift beneath the virginal gown in which she was adorned for the ceremonial delivery to the entrance of the labyrinth. She walked second among maidens, behind another whose name she did not know. In this position, she fell in place beside a plain-looking young man, Idas, which means 'the same'.

Confused by the scent of both fear and love that emanated from the girl beside him, the thoughts of Idas were transported to fantasies far flung from the morbid fate to which he obediently trod.

written while listening to:  Barre Phillips - Mountainscapes (ECM Records, ECM 1076, 1992 (originally released 1976), Germany, cd,

May 30, 2018
The fourteen youths, scarcely more than children, huddled together in the cavern after the entrance to the mine was sealed, cloaking them in darkness. A single beam of light slipped through a crack in the opening, though all avoided it for fear of being discovered. They listened nervously for the approach of cloven hooves. For a while, the only intimation of sound was the grinding of the deep earth against itself, carried by low frequency reverberations up from the mantle through the crust. These vibrations, simultaneously microscopic and tectonic, registered with their feet, rather than their ears.

"It is coming," said a girl's voice in the darkness.

Melanippe thought to flee. Turning she bumped into Idas, who had the same idea. Identifying her by scent, they joined hands and stumbled to the edge of the cavern, where they circled, groping at the stone until, finding a gap, they slipped away.

Having given the others no warning of their intentions, it was natural for those who remained, upon realizing their number had dwindled, to assume that the minotaur possessed a stealth that belied its size and had already claimed its first victims from their midst.

In their separate chamber, Idas and Melanippe listened to the echoing cries of terror and despair from those whom they had left behind. When the howls and shrieks and sobbing had ceased, there seemed little alternative but to conclude that they were the last remaining pieces of the minotaur's tribute.

"It will come for us next," said Idas.

"Don't worry," Melanippe replied in a whisper. "I have not come unprepared."

written while listening to:  The Space Between with Barre Phillips - The Space Between (482 Music, 482-1007, 2001, United States, cd,

May 31, 2018
In an air just shy of utter darkness, Melanippe removed her gown and then her shift. She tore the inner garment in twain. Her mother's stitches parted easily at the seams. Although Melanippe did not know which half would appease the monster, she gave a piece to Idas, that one of them might survive.

She had intended it as a means of protection for the young man, that he might himself offer it to the minotaur in exchange for his life. Surely, the monster craved love and knew little of it. It might deem the gift precious.

But the young man misunderstood her intentions. He breathed deeply of the love sewn into that garment, taking it for himself. He observed her nude form and believed that the maiden was offering herself to him as a comfort to them both before the inevitable end. He removed his own garment and drew Melanippe close to him. Although she held only the fabric of fear, she did not resist. Alas, Idas, though of good intentions and tender demeanor, ultimately proved much the same as the minotaur.

So it was with Iris who bestowed her love on Poppy, that it might ward off the intimations of doom which so threatened him. She kept to herself several kinds of fear: that her gift might prove insufficient, that their relationship was based in a misunderstanding, that the gift had originally been intended for someone else, a monster no less, and yet it seemed to rest so well, with the one to whom she had chosen to bind her life.

written while listening to:  Barry Guy & Barre Phillips - Arcus (Maya Recordings, MCD 9101, 1991, Ireland, cd,

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