XXX. 25 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
A cooling day, a lowering sky, with streaks of rain handing underneath,
sweeping across the Rio Grande Gorge towards us; but only a little
rain so far. After sunset now, I'm sitting and reading and listening
to The Bobs ("Be My Yoko!"), wrapped around a dinner of pasta
and tomato sauce made with my new pots on the camper stove. Now,
mellowing out by the heater's virtual fire, nibbling on chocolate
and sipping tea, planning an evening of just lounging about and
doing nothing, I am content.
I re-listened to the first part of Caroline Myss' seminal audiobook,
Spiritual Madness, while cooking dinner. This is not the first time I've listened
to these teachings, nor the tenth. She reminds me that the things
that I have been dealing with all weektraps I fell into, even
knowing at one time that they were presentare lessons about non-attachment;
and that God does not play by our human rules; and that we make
the mistake of wanting the Divine, when we ask what our purpose
is, to give us a job description. Spirit operates on a need to
know basis, and we rarely get to know.
I am reminded: I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.
Lessons of trust: assume that you will be taken care of, no matter
what. Choosing and surrendering. You assume miracles are happening,
and get past the awe that they are happening. The fear of being
alone, and how it determines the choices you make, are at the
core of this: it is the time of wandering in the desertsomething
that Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed all did. Accepting
the difficulties and being present anyway. As did all the prophets
in all ways.
Faith is letting go and letting be, rather than trying to control
and direct things. The Separation is necessary; it is an essential
part of the path. It brings out the Mystery, the part of myself
that does not yet know God. So, I enter into Mysteries that I
did not see comingand the way to deal with them is to trust Divine
order rather than human order (which is illusory anyway).
The part of us that talks to us in fantasyYou can have it all!
You choose your own reality!has been seduced. It wants there
to be logical, rational answers to spiritual question; but there
may be none. Maybe I never will get anyone to carry my artwork
in their gallery; maybe I never will again be financially solvent.
I honestly don't know. Non-attachment means, I honestly can't
afford to care. This doesn't mean you just sit back and do nothing,
and fritter away every day (as I see plenty of stoner post-hippy
types do all over here in New Mexico), but it does mean: I have
to let go of outcomes. I have to stop trying to manage my spiritual
path. Yes, you keep applying for jobs, and going to galleries
and collecting rejection slips.
(Sidebar: Objectively speaking, my art is unusual and different enough from the norm that I spend a lot
of time educating, explaining, and convincing people that it is
really is art, an artform, a fine art. And more than just photography.
And not just "illustration." Have you visited many galleries lately?
Photography itself is still only a small percentage of the work
you see: there are still plenty of people who believe that if
it's not a painting or a sculpture it's somehow "not Art." Well,
fine: call it UN, then. My art seems to be UN, because it's not
this, not that, not anything that fits into easy categories or
quickie labels. If you've wandered around this website, you've
seen that, at least. So, first I have convince people that photo-based
manipulated imagery is a legitimate artform, then I have to convince
them that my shamanic, visionary art is worth their while to look
at and into. Feels like an uphill battle most of the time.)
Even not-knowing what I'm doing, why I'm here, whether it's all
worth it (who can know that in advance?), I have to keep at it.
Persevere. Slow down. Be unattached to any outcome whatsoever.
And still keep showing up to keep at it. Truly, as Seferis wrote
once, you might as well accept the fact that your life is disorganized,
and always will be. The chaos never goes away.
At the Taos Public Library, a small room of used and discarded
books, which cost a quarter for a paperback. So, after the farmer's
market this morning, I picked up two books for a quarter apiece
directly relevant to topics I'd written about earlier this week:
Jacques Barzun's Classic, Romantic and Modern (1960) and Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (1981). I find it synchronistic that each book is about something
I've been thinking and writing about all week.
Barzun was a historian, and historian of art and culture as well,
a Berlioz scholar and something of a philosopher. I was talking
earlier this week about one of the distinguishing traits of Modernism
is its self-consciousness. Barzun had this to say: The first striking trait of the modern ego is self-consciousness.
I say self-consciousness rather than self-awareness, because I
believe that in spit of much heart-searching, the modern ego is
more concerned with the way it appears in others' eyes than with
learning fully about itself and admitting its troubles fearlessly.
The romantics were introspective, too, but they did not fear ridicule
as we do, which is why we accuse them of indecently exposing their
innermost souls. They were often wrong about the value of what
they had to say, but they were unafraid of being wrong, of being
themselves, and of being duped. The modern ego is desperately
afraid of all three. In his critique of Modernist poets such as Eliot, Pound, and
even cummings, he points out: most of the important work of Ezra Pound, Cocteau, Eliot, and
Apollinaire, and other representative moderns is a reiteration
that things are not what they seem. This may be worth saying because
reality must always be rediscovered, but the modern ego is so
perpetually hurt by this need that it hides its wounds under an
affectation of toughness and expresses its uneasiness by bravado.
In this ubiquitous, almost automatic response to life it betrays
one quality which will not keep: youth. The self-disgust implicate in the continuous self-monitoring,
self-editing Modern self will eventually lead to the reactionary
irrational of French Surrealism, which was also the earliest ?ism
in Western art history to employ chance-based, aleatoric automatisms
in creation. We become prepared for the doctrine of André Breton,
the legislator of Surrealism: To compare two objects as remote in character as possible, or
by any other method to put them together in a striking fashion,
remains the highest task to which poetry can aspire. But early Surrealism was itself a Modernist tide, and dominated
by conscious (and self-conscious) techniques that, even in their
seeming irrationality, were well-planned and well-thought-out.
At the time it seemed a breakthrough, indeed something radical;
but in retrospect, the Surrealists produced works that were largely
intellectual games. The derangement of the sense that Dali advocated
was still consciously willed, an intellectual technique, not a
spontaneous production of vision.
It is the lack of willingness to take risks, because of the fear
of being wrong or foolish, or of offending, that cripples so much
criticism in the Modern era. (Poet Conrad Aiken, whose Collected Criticism is essential reading, is a major exception, in that he was willing
to speak plainly and clearly, and call a spade a spade.) Barzun
continues: No doubt, to admire what is false may corrupt judgment, but to
admire nothing at all, for fear of being duped, is a progressive
disease of the spirit. It is, in fact, acedia.
XXIX. 25 September 2004, Taos, NM
Yesterday, drove into Santa fe to deposit a cheque and to do some
long-needed and long-delayed shopping. A new friend here came
along for the ride, which helped immensely. We had dinner in Santa
Fe at a place that features Mediterranean cooking: excellent meats,
toasted onions and peppers, rice, and pickled eggplants, buffet
XXVIII. 24 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Are these emotional storms I've been experiencing since I drove
here real? Are they holdovers of the sturm and drang of leaving
Minnesota, those difficult, exhausting weeks? A holdover, as it
were; a remnant. Have I been so traumatized by the past few years
of unemploymentwhich has been a blow to self-esteem as much as
anything else, in that my self-confidence about job-finding and
generating income has never been so lowthose months of daily
worry about lack/abundance around money and paying bills, etc.,
that I have more there to clear out of my system? Yeah, probably.
I need to move on, anyway, and not wait for it all to be cleared
beforehand; I'll work on it as I go.
Today I feel too tired to maintain any drama. I've done drama,
I've been a drama queen. I can still do my own drama, even though
I have little time for other peoples' drama anymore. Selfish?
I suppose. Or change of perspective.
I am having to learn, as though I had never done it before, how
to do a job interview, how to organize a portfolio, how to write
a resumé, how to dress up and make a good first impression. These
are skills, not innate gifts. Job-hunting is no more than a skillset
I can re-learn. I am telling myself this to boost my own confidence
about it. Reminding myself that I can succeed as well as fail
in this world. It's been a long time, hasn't it? Well, good: now
we know how some people live whole lives of scrambling desperation.
No more "starving artists" archetypes! From now on, we will just
be Artists. Or, if you will, starting artists. A one-letter change
and the whole world looks different.
A stanza from a Czeslaw Milosz Ars Poetica:
That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimon,
Still only human after all, ennit? Still only scrabbling to survive,
just like everyone else, gifted or not.
It's been said that genius is a gift for seeing patterns where
other people don't; and that pattern-recognition is a fundamental
building block of human consciousness, one of those tools that
make us human, so commonly do we use that we don't even think
Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote, in the 1930s or so, I desire to be a creator of myths, which is the highest mystery
that any human can perform. Pessoa wrote more than once that he felt inhabited by a whole
crowd of invented personalities who dictated what he wrote, but
none of whom were the authentic man inside; further, that even
that idea of an authentic core was to him an illusion, since who
he was was so changeable, he could never know who he was. This
reminds one of Paolo Ferrucci's psychological theory of subpersonalities,
brilliantly laid out in his book What We May Be. This theory describes how we are a collection of at times warring
sub- or micro-personalities; the goal of human growth, in this
model, is to integrate all the conflicting and warring elements
of self into one overarching and unified personality. Integration
and union of opposites. Ferrucci is occasionally as poetic in
his descriptions of this process as his contemporary, Jung, also
They both saw patterns where few others did before, and recognized
in historical roots that others in the past had also seen patterns
yet labeled them in the language of their own eras. Hence, Jung's
interest in Medieval alchemical texts, astrology, and the symbolism
of the mandala; hence also Ferrucci's interest in literature and
What is an astrological chart wheel but an arrangement of subpersonalities?
When we arrange our subpersonalities on a wheel, ignoring astrology
and its millennia of baggage, and name them and start dialoguing
with them, we see that they are none other than our sacred contract
archetypes, our guides and inner voices, and out higher selves
and basic selves. I find it intriguing that all the dialogues
I have had, in meditation and vision and in ordinary consciousness
with each of these sets of Self, they have spontaneously arranged
themselves into circle and wheels with 12 segments. There is no
doubt some archaic sacred numerology involved here. I am not the
first to notice this, I know; Jung looked into it, and so have
others in other eras. Yet, the symmetry of the arrangement, when
you stumble across it yourself as I did, seems numinous and magickal
and perfect: as though one had stumbled across one of the Universe'
fundamental laws of Spirit.
How do you know when you stumble across such things? Firstly,
they are numinous: they have an aura of the otherworldly, as though
you just stepped across a threshold into a different light and
atmosphere. But perhaps more importantly: they are elegant. After you have discovered them, and looked at them for awhile,
they seem to have always been there, as though you always knew
this on some level, even if you had never described it before.
It becomes a part of the established worldview with no effort
and no trace of shoehorning. And, in retrospect, they seem as
if they had always been there, as if their discovery was rather
a matter of you alleviating an ignorance.
XXVII. 23 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Last night, a first frost. Ice on the truck roof at dawn. P. pulled in some of his plants last night; we sat their admiring an echinacea plant that was so symmetrical and long-stemmed that it looked like a stereotpyical child's drawing of a flower: is it real, or is it a plastic flower? Thanks to a borrowed little electric heater that ran all night long, I slept warm inside the camper. Morning, already clear and hot and sunny again. With the cold outside, I watched the first half of Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.
Sometimes you have write sideways, writing around something that
can't really be said, or which is too delicate to kill with words,
or too discreet to be laid bare. Then, writing obliquely, you
cast a butterfly net, and catch what you catch in it.
Thinking about IQ: as a friend wrote to remind me, it's true that
numbers don't matter. No more than intellect alone matters. Mensa
is full of people who have tested as very high IQ but have zero
social skills, and no real ability to cope with everyday life.
(I speak from personal experience.) I don't really care about
the numbers, and there is more than one kind of smarts. Ideally,
the person is well-rounded, well-balanced: they may be very intelligent,
but they also need to be socially functional, and be willing to
continue to learn. I think the original intention behind IQ tests
was to locate potential that could be nurtured and taught; nowadays,
like everything else, it has become a badge of identity, a way
of labeling and categorizing people in ways that are convenient
for the governmental bureaucracy, but do not in any way support
actual growth, be it intellectual or spiritual or just plain common
In reponse to a question someone asked: What keeps you alive?
Honestly, I don't know what keeps me alive. I have been asking
myself that every day for the past several weeks, which have been
among the hardest of my life. I completely uprooted and dislocated
myself from my old stagnant life, and found a spiritual cliff
and took a leap. I still haven't landed, and I don't know when
or even if I will. There has been more than one day where I honestly
didn't care if I lived or died. Some of that's just exhaustion.
I'm not going to actively do anything about it, but more than
once I have put myself in situations that could have been harmful
or fatal, and left it in the hands of the Powers That Be whether
i would survive or not. So far, I am still here.
A lot of people in the New Age say that we choose our own scripts,
our own stories, that we create our own realities, and so forth.
This has become an article of faith for many in the New Age, to
the point where it often gets recited, but rarely questioned.
Even more rarely, actually thought about.
The difficulty I have with the concept is that: 1. it is often
used as cop-out explanation to avoid helping one another through
stewardship and caritas. It sometimes comes across like blaming
the victim. Oh, we can't really help him out, he chose where he is meant to
be. Oh no, nothing we can do about it. 2. It's glib. The second half of the formulation is: So you don't like your story? Change it! But almost no one ever says how to change it. They tell you what to do, but don't give you practical
tools for self-transformation. The end result being, even if you
want to change things, you don't know where to start, or how to
begin. And when you get stuck, if you get stuck, there is no manual
or assistance, just more glib repetitions of truisms. This can
be enormously frustrating, especially to someone starting out
on a spiritual quest without support or tools. 3. There is a confusion,
caused perhaps by the glib recitation of the formula, as to on what level of being we might have chosen our realitiesand on what levels the spiritual
part of life supports our choices. It is clear to me that most
people who recite the formula do not really understand that the
level on which we choose our own realities is in no way the ego-level,
ther personality-level, the mental level, the physical, or emotional
levels. I believe it is a choice made on the soul levelnot the mental/ego/personality levels. The soul level is
both higher and deepr inside the person than the ego leveland
most people never see it during their lifetimes.
So, why do we choose on the soul level, then? Because of the lessons
we choose to learn this lifetime, that we incarnate here in Earthschool
to learn and grow from.
Let me just say that I don't disagree that we choose our own stories. But how and when we choose them, according to the most common formulations, I do disagree with. Most reciters of the cant are still thinking inside timebound consciousness: they tend to assume cause and effect, linear results, and very often also have no real understanding of the true, original meaning of the word karma and how it actually functions as a spiritual principle. They too quickly assume that personal, biographical events are of any significance whatsoever. Let me tell you right now, that the Divine does not care what you do for a living: your spiritual growth is Their concern, not how you pay your bills.
I knowin a way I can't explain adequately in words, like a logical
argument, but in fact it's soul-deep Knowing that can lok like
faith but isn'tthat we all choose lessons we want to learn this
lifetime in Earthschool, before we incarnate. (Caroline Myss calls
them sacred contracts, although she's not the only source of that
terminology.) I like the term sacred archetpyes: parts of ourselves
that are timed to come forward as complexes to be faced and learned
from at various times in our lives, when we are ready to deal
with them. Why do we incarnate? To learn. To teach. To love. To
grow. To Remember the Beloved, and to make the journey of the
So, while it may be true that we choose everything that happens
to us, this little ego-self that is the interface with the universethe
computer's viewscreen, if you willcannot and does not have all
the information at its fingertips that we do when we are between
incarnations. The ego thinks it knows everything: but it only
knows what it, in its limited capacity, can know. Like a computer viewscreen, it thinks it's the most essential
part of the computer, because it's the user interface; but in
fact, without hte support of hardware and software of which it
is largely unaware (the unconscious mind and the transpersonal
and collective unconsciousness levels, for example), it could
not even exist. We just don't know why everything is happening
to us, even though it may be an archetypal situation that we contracted
to experience before we were born. The ego does not and cannot
know what's going on, a lot of the time: hence, our confusion
and suffering, and the questions, Why is this happening to me? and What keeps you alive?
The personality-level ego just never has all the information.
It suffers because there remain mysteries beyond its experience
and comprehension. One of the fruits of long-term meditation is
that the personality-ego eventually begins to shut up with its
constant yammering, and quiet downand then the alert and aware
meditating person can start to hear those other parts of the Self
that have been previously hidden. The Voice of the Silence. The
voices of guidance and intuition and the Dabhar within. Listening
practice is meditation is deep consciousness diving.
(Sidebar: One of the reasons that I am drawn to the Jungian model
is that Jung left room in his models for the Mystery, for the
transpersonal, for the collective unconscious, and so forth. The
Freudians tend to suffer from the same disease of overly rationalzing
and categorizing everything that afflicts mainstream science.
It kills Mystery, and leaves one no room to breathe.)
So, maybe this is what keeps me going: I Know that not one soul
shall be lost. If not this lifetime, there are an infinite number
available in which to "get it" later. There are many roads Home.
Whenever I have a really really bad day, and I've had several
lately, I have discovered that for myself, there is only one sure
way out of the dark night of the soul: I make something. I take
a walk with my camera; I make some art on the computer; I write
something; I write a poem, maybe, or one of these rambling essays.
It gets me out of myself, out of the claustrophobic bounds of my personality-ego, so that
I can move to the soul level, which is a transpersonal level,
and get some perspective. it doesn't always make me "feel better,"
and it certainly does not always resolve whatever life problem
is getting me down, such as pying the bills or finding a place
to livebut it does allow me to rest (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) for awhile.
I'm not presenting this worldview as a way of soliciting converts
to my beliefsmy beilefs do not require that anybody else share
themor as a way to incite controversy. I am just trying to clumsily
answer the question as posed.
XXVI. 22 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico
shock and process
I ought to feel serious and desperate this cold clear morning,
I suppose, but I can't help it, I don't. Instead I feel enlivened
by this streak of sunlight that slashes through the curtains over
my bedstead. I should be feeling alone and lost, but I don't.
Momentary respite or corner turned, I don't dare know or care:
what I fear most is the rollercoaster of high-amplitude waves
of feeling, so up you soar, so down you die, all in the space
of a day or less. Tragedy followed by ecstasy.
What's to fear, though? Losing a mind that was always an illusion
anyway? The recital of ego-level excitations and little fears
from the basic self level: nothing but recordings, habits, transitions,
and tithes. What I tithe to the eternal is something basic self
can't grasp, so it shouts louder and wants my attention. You don't
shut it off with suppression; you have to listen to it, let it
speak, then tell it okay, thanks, I hear your concern, now we're
going to do this anyway. "Fear is the mindkiller."
There's no shortage of eye-candy in hot northern New Mexico, but
it's all look but don't touch, rough trade. I don't want to have
to work that hard, play those stupid macho games just to get laid.
And I honestly fear assault, even in these enlightened postmodern
times. Careful asking leads to fists or acquiescence, either way
a risk or delight. I'm not the prettiest boy on the block, I know,
but I have more to offer than most. I'm not trying to kid anyone.
I'm just jealous of those pairs of mates that live up here with
me, those couples who spend all their time together, and talk
to each other daily: the pair of ravens who live on the hill,
the bluebird pair who live in the trees at the edge of what is
national forest but to my Midwest eyes looks like scrub, and the
canyon wrens that serenaded me for an afternoon of sunlight and
planting, last week. All lovers want to be loved, too.
Do I dare risk it? Do I dare feel better today? Isn't it a risk
that life will throw me down again, that famous other shoe will
drop, not near me, but on me? Of course it's a risk, and a rush,
and an unstable waveform. I collapse into it anyway, because I
can't help it. You are not your feelings: they're something we
experience, but they're not what or who we are.
I can't help it. I feel happy this morning. No reason for it,
nothing's changed. It just is.
What I won't do, though everyone tells me I ought, and it's for
their relief, rather than mine: I won't pretend this is any more
real or lasting than any other feeling. The Buddha said it's all
a ride, and the journey is to get off the rollercoaster. You just
have to remember that neither peak nor valley are any more real.
(And crap: no cheque in the mail yet. Scraping the bottom monetarily.
Okay, I admit, this rocks me a little. Money worries remain my
biggest bane in life. You try being unemployed for several years,
and see how well you handle it. Working on it, it's a core issue
for me: second chakra well-being: so, oh well. Not going to let
it rock me too much today, though. I may be pissed when stuff
like this happensmore infernal, pointless delaysbut I'm also
too tired of it to get too excitable today. Cynical, maybe. Whatever.)
Why this cult of personality that has grown up around the interview
with poet or writer? In the (post)Modern era, everyone has become
more self-conscious about what they do, not excluding poets. But
one thing you get from reading interview after interview is that
most poets are inarticulate ordinary people pretending to speak
eloquently: a lot of it is masks and games. Of course, that's
also the academy's influence, since most poets nowadays teach
at universities or writing seminars: poetry is not a profession,
but teaching is. Most of these poets will claim that their teaching
duties do not affect their art: but I disagree, I see the evidence
of it everywhere, in little poems that are about nothing but personal
details, or playing with words, or pushing form to its limits
in a display of literary gymnastics. You read that stuff side
by side with poets who never taught, or at least not till later
in life, who continued to observe life while living it; who, even
if their poems are about personal moments, you know those moments
aren't imaginary but actual. Real records of real life lived.
The academy is dominated by fear; well, so is most of life, but
the rest don't talk about it. Write a poem, get it published somewherethere
are seemingly infinite "little magazines" nowand sinks without
a ripple into the Buddha's breath and still mindfulness.
I feel no ambition to be a famous poet. I may in fact be better
at essay; at least it's easier to spew. Each poem, even if I write
it down in minutes, can take weeks or months to ripen inside,
before I can write it down. These daily essays are quick, facile,
flowing as fast as I can type as I follow the thoughts that arise;
I don't entirely trust them. Perhaps that's because I want to
revise and edit later; perhaps it's that they don't seem like
work to create. They just go.
I've heard poets say, the Beats predominant among them, as if
emulating the Buddha, "First thought, best thought." But most
poems I read that are first, unedited thoughts, are little better
than prose arranged crazily on the page. And the Slam poets, those
young (usually horny) poets of microphone and hip-hop beat? They
can get you excited when they read, but it's all performance,
it's all show, it's all how they read: their words, transcribed, lie limp and boring on the
page. Sometimes a poem can be achieved in one draft: I've done
it myself. But that's not the norm, that's the exception. It takes
a rare mind, and a practiced one, to get it out in one pass, with
no rewrites. I think most poets who claim to never rewrite are
probably liars; then again, the wheat from the chaff, perhaps
that's true as most of what they write is not incandescent or
transcendent. Even Ginsberg, late in life and career, as much
as I loved and admired his chutzpah, fell into the trap of thinking
he didn't need to edit.
And what of the poets who over-edit, who turn out only a few poems
in a long lifetime of revision, polishing their few gems to mirror
brightness? I think of Xavier Villaurrutia, I think of Edwin Denby,
and a few others. Villaurrutia's nocturnes, and everything he
wrote was in some ways a dream poem, are like dark wine, rich
and thick and slow as the tide before a hurricane on a moonless
night. Denby's seem colloquial on their surface, ordinary in tone
and phrase, but they make sudden sharp turns, and you end up without
realizing it facing the other direction, and how did you get there?
You can't tell. His sonnets are the most interesting to me since
Rilke; not for the same reasons, except for how they both disrupt
the form from its centuries-old straightjacket and breathe new
life into it. Both Denby and Villaurrutia produced only small
or moderate-sized books; neither as effusive or prolific as a
Ginsberg. I'm not sure that it's the small output, or the polish,
that I find attractive; I really don't know how hard they hard
to work at writing and re-writing, or how often they turned their
attentions that direction. What each achieved, though, stands
apart from the flood as a body of self-coherent work, self-contained,
living by its own rules, and memorable. Being re-read is what
poets want: not that first pass, but the savoring, the returning,
the tongue remembering what it already knew.
Okay. Time to get out of the cocoon. Stuff to do today: print
artist biographies, finish up the fine art portfolio, make some
phone calls. Resist the entropic tide that wants to pull me back
down into itself, and keep me from simply doing.
XXV. 21 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico
You Know You Might Be In New Mexico When:
You're standing in downtown Taos, a block from the plaza, having
a conversation with someone, about an hour after sunset, and not
twenty feet away from you, a skunk calmly saunters across the
road, under a fence, and into someone's yard. I have seen and
smelled more skunks at night here than I have anywhere else, in
years. (Skunk in Native American medicine folklore is about caring
for one's reputation, and also about self-respect.)
Wendy's also has a Green Chile Double Cheeseburger on their
99 cent menu. It was pretty good, too.
New Mexico time is slower and more laid back even than Radical
Faerie time. Faerie time here is a triple threat. Think really
really laid back Pagan Standard Time. Mañana, baby. People really
don't care what you look like, either. Some of the wealthiest
people in Taos look like unwashed bums as they wander from store
to store here, and no one bats an eye.
What's that ticking on my roof tonight? Could it be snow? Yes,
it could. The forecast said snow at higher elevations, which I
thought meant in the mountaintops, not here at a mere 7400 feet,
We haven't had a frost yet, but it won't be long now. Oh well:
turn on the heater, tuck it in, and watch Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.
One can only shake one's head, lay back and think of England.
Or perhaps California.
Reiki works: my finger looks like it was burned a week ago, rather
than last morning. And no pain, even when you press hard on the
subcutaneous blister. In a day or three, it will just be a rough
patch of skin, although it might dry out and peel later on. I've
been through this before with Reiki and even second-degree burns.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live by the computer ...live
by the computer. No compromises: I'm damn good at what I do; the
trick is just to convince the right people of that. Well, ignorance
I outed myself to some new friends a couple of weeks ago, as they
were going through my artwork and so forth. Outed myself not as
gaythere wasn't a non-gay person in the room that nightbut as
smart. I still am timid about letting people know my IQ, and so
forth; I still hesitate to be so open about it. Cultural background
of Norwegian Lutheran tribal childhood notwithstanding, I'm still
not comfortable standing out from the crowd. I force myself to
get over it, though, as I can no longer to hold myself back. The
past year or so has been practice in not hiding my candle under a bushel; it's been a hard set of lesson
to learn. But the result is I just get to be myself more often,
and not have to hide any part of myself anymore. Still, coming
out as smart and as spiritual has been a longer, much more trepidatious
process than coming out as gay. And most gay people I know are smarter than the average: I think maybe
they've had to be, just to survive.
I think again of Lorca and Villaurrutia. But still more relevantly,
I think of the word acedia. Octavio Paz, in his long essay on Villaurrutia, wrote this:
The true name of this "indolence" is acedia, the sickness of the spirit described by theologians and doctors
of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is the disease of those
who are contemplative and religious, the melancholy of Hamlet
and of Dürer's angel Ficino's bile or black humor, Baudelaire's
The demon of midday, who appears at the moment when the sun pauses
for an instant in the center of the sky, was, according to the
Church Fathers, the creature who inspired the visions of acedia.
The medieval demon of midday was transformed into the romantic
demon of midnight. Diurnal or nocturnal, the visions it instills
are at once erotic and funereal; Nerval's melancholic tenebreux is the eternal widower: his love is a shadow and the constellation
shining in his lute is disputed by Saturn and Isis. Possessed
by images which are alternatingly lascivious and mournful, the
victim of acedia falls into a stupor that is interrupted by spasms
of rage and raptures of enthusiasm. Sufferers of melancholy are
both irascible and imaginative. For these reasons, it is a mistake
to confuse acedia, a disease of the spirit and of those who are
spiritual, with simple laziness. Acedia paralyzes its victim and
yet does not permit him a moment of rest. It is both stupor and
anguish, a pride that petrifies us and an anxiety that forces
us into ceaseless motion, an immobility broken by bursts of creative
activity. The victim of acedia cannot touch the reality that is
in front of him, but he can converse with ghosts and make stones
This hits very close to home. All too often, nowadays, in this
post-psychological world, we ascribe psychological causes to states
of being that are really spiritual. Spiritual direction, the guidance
of the soul experiencing all the stages of the mystic's path,
has fallen by the wayside, in favor of psychological explanations.
We confuse acedia with chronic depressionthen prescribe little
white pills to alleviate it. Remember, the goal of traditional
Western medicine is to alleviate the symptoms, not actually locate
and cure the causes of suffering. You can't give someone a pill
for either happiness of spiritual emergencyso they don't try.
It became worse at the advent of the HMO, when the bean-counters
began dictating to doctors what kinds of medicine they were allowed
to practice: pills are always cheaper than therapy, and they do
in the short run seem to alleviate suffering. But there is no
pill for acedia, and I would never consult a doctor with the expectation
of getting one.
But there is another, more dangerous side to acedia. Matthew Fox,
in his section on the Via Creativa in Original Blessing, says some strongly-worded, gauntlet-throwing words about it:
Where art has no role to play in education, religion, science,
the media, and where it has been replaced by entertainment, sin
abounds. Sins of unemployment, boredom, and the violence that
accompanies boredom. Loss of art is a social sin. With that deprivation
our work life becomes distorted and violent, and so too does our
leisure time. Life becomes uglywithout meaningand acedia or
boredom sets in. Or titillating sex. Or titillating news. Or titillatin
anything. Life can no longer be lived orcelebrated in depth. Superficiality
reigns.... Just as obsessive control is a sin against the Via
Creativa, so is the obsessive preoccupation with security. Security
becomes an idol when creativity is banished. For, as we have seen,
vulnerability is the matrix for creative birthing. Security obsessions
become sources of killing the artist. As Jung puts it, "Security
and peace do not lead to discoveries." Boredom and acedia do not
lead to breakthroughs.
Again, this strikes close to home. Fox is using the term "breakthrough"
in a multi-layered way here, which includes Meister Eckhart's
usage of the term as a technical term describing breaking through
to a new level of oneness with the Divine: living the life of
the practical, ordinary mystic. Eckhart said, "We are all meant
to be mothers of God. For God is always needing to be born." This
is the fecundity, the Divine creative impulse, that lives in each
of us, that is our birthright: in that we are creative, we are
co-creators with the Creator of the ongoing Creation that is the
Universe always coming into being, always expanding, always inventing
new ways of being. Eckhart also said, "What good is it to me if
Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and
I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and my culture?"
Breakthrough is that realization, wherein we at last experience
and know in our blood and bones, that we are not separate from
the Divine, but in fact each and every one of us, and of everything,
partakes of the outward-flowing Immanence that is the Divine spark
within. Tat tvam asi: Thou art that.
The mistake most Church-ensconced mystics still make is to confuse
asceticism with spiritual growth and practice. This is mere spiritual
athleticism, spiritual arrogance. When did we create the myth
that you have to be a vegetarian to be a genuine spiritual being
and an effective healer? Who decided that? It's a ridiculous idea,
for healing flows through us creatively by Grace, not because
of spiritual athleticism. It's a mistake to think that you can
become a clearer channel for healing by depriving yourself. Asceticism
is not helpfultaking care of one's body is one thing, but the
belief that one must do this or that in order to purify the body/mind
is often a chimera. As Eckhart said, "Asceticism is of no great
importance for it creates more, rather than less, self-consciousness."
If you want to be a veganor a breathatarianbe a vegan because
you want to be a vegan, not because you think it will make you
a better person or a better healer. What nonsense!
If I were God, and I wanted to pick an effective healer, do you
think I would pick someone who spends all their time obsessing
about food, exercise and their own health? Who spends most of
their time preparing themselves to be strong enough to be a healer,
rather than just going out and doing it? No way: I would pick
someone who doesn't think about that at all, who is humble and
plain and ordinary, and doesn't even consider what it might take
to be an effective healerbut rather, just goes out and does it.
The more time you waste on thinking you have to do this or that
to be prepared, before you can even begin to see any clients,
the less time you actually have in which to see clients.
Again, this doesn't mean that you don't take of yourself. What
it does mean, though, is that it's useless to obsess about it
and spend all your energy in self-absorbed preparations that may
or may not make you a better healer or a more genuinely spiritual
Acedia is the enemy of ambition: it saps the will, it has all
the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, but it is a difficulty
of the spirit, not the body. I fight off acedia best by going
out and being creative: taking a camera walk; writing for the
sake of life and soul and sanity, as I am doing now; making a
circle on the ground out of whatever is lying about, twigs, rocks,
leaves, deadfall branches. By just being creative. It gets you
out of yourself, and out of your self-absorbed circle of reflection
and inwardness. This can be harder for a natural introvert, like
myself. But the effort is not wasted, and may be the very thing
that saves your sanity: today, each day, every day, day by day,
choosing it over and over again, having to constantly and exhaustively
keep choosing to make today a work of art. Not tomorrow, not yesterday:
just today. One day at a time.
Which is where I am today. Choosing to persevere, past all exhaustion,
frustration, disenchantment, and delays.
XXIV. 21 September 2004 (Mabon), Taos, New Mexico
I feel disjointed and disorganized, not sure that anything I am
thinking or writing makes sense. I'm going to continue with it
anyway, on the frail chance that it might make sense to me later,
or to somebody, someday.
What I'm Reading, Continued:
I have maintained for some time, and plan to write and publish
an essay on it soon, that the true heights of literary Surrealism
occurred not among the French writers who founded its movements
and techniques, but among the best writers of the Spanish-speaking
world, especially in Latin America. Lorca was the main success
in Spain, in my opinion, although he was not truly a Surrealist,
and was ousted from being labeled as such after his split from
Dali and Bunuel; their film Un Chien Andalou is a thinly-disguised mocking attack on Lorca. Though Dali may
have been the more gifted theorist, in the long run Lorca was
the deeper artist.
So, I turn to a book that helps me prove my thesis, and which
will be cited later on in that as yet unfinished essay: Xavier Villaurrutia: Nostalgia for Death, his most mature book of poems. In the English translation edition
by Copper Canyon Press, there is also included a long essay by
Octavio Paz (himself one of the keystones of my thesis), titled
Hieroglyphs of Desire, which is a long exegesis and memoir on Villaurrutia, his contemporaries,
and his achievement. Paz himself was one of the greatest poets
of the 20th Century, but his criticism was also top-notch; his
book Marcel Duchamp is laden with insights, artist to artist, and necessary reading
on Dada as well as on Duchamp.
Of course the truth that Lorca and Villaurrutia were both gay
poets is part of my attraction to them. But while Federico lived
a mostly closeted lifeso common among Hispanic men who do not
wish to upset that most weighty of social cornerstones: their
familiesVillaurrutia was openly gay even in the face of the absurdist
macho Mexican culture, whose machismo is largely defined by its
hatred and fear of all forms of effeminacy, whether they appear
amongst women or men, straight or gay. It is rabid to this day:
I have already met Latino men here in New Mexico for whom their
gayness, which is an open secret to all, can never be formally
acknowledged by coming out, until after both parents are deceased.
As long as you don't talk about it, it can be ignored. Of course,
the result is a lot of skulking about in the shadows, never being
open or proud, and never openly talking about it. It is reminiscent
of pre-Stonewall America mainly in that everybody knows but no
one talks about it. Furtiveness and shame.
Villaurrutia was, by Paz' account, who knew him personally, a
man enamored of traditional social values and roles, while at
the same time being openly gay. His plays are beyond conventional:
they are mostly bloodless rehearsals of manners that were antique
even during his lifetime, in which the dramatic hinge was the
disruption of the family order by some social-sexual calamity
as adultery, bastardism, or incestalthough the worst of these
are never more than talked around, rather than openly described.
But his poetry! His poetry is incandescent. His territory was
the realm of sleep, dreams, and wakefulness. (Wakefulness I need
to rediscover myself.) At his most homoerotic, he reminds me somewhat
(in Eliot Weinberger's lucid translations) of Cavafy: not explicit,
but erotically charged and laden with signs and encoded symbols.
But at his very best, he is unique, for example, in Nocturne: Fear:
Everything lives at night in secret doubt:
And it's useless to close your eyes in the shadows:
Then, with the shuffle of the suddenly woken,
In the shadows of a deserted street, on a wall,
The fear of being nothing but an empty body
These last two stanzas, and especially the final one, speak to
me very directly right now. That place where you're not sure what's
real and what isn't, what is dream and what is not, whether you
are connected to the source, or not. All tangled together in vines
made of red lightning and bleak wind. Villaurrutia's belief was
that all good criticism was self-criticismthat is, self-explorationI
think is borne out often enough among gay writers, be they poets
or critics or both. I think of Edwin Denby's writing on dance,
and his surprising, lucid sonnets, as another case in point.
As for Surrealism, I like to believe that André Breton, who was
very much the enforcer of the code of Surrealism, he who was the
designated voice of authority when some poet or artist stepped
out of lineI like to believe that Breton matured towards the
end of his life, for example, during his exile in North America
during the last years of World War II, when he lived in remote
seacoastal Canada and wrote Arcanum 17, for example. Changed and deepened by suffering, Breton finally
came into his own real self, and was the better writer for it.
I like to believe that.
Then I turn again to Villaurrutia, and read his Nocturne: The Statue, and know that he arrived in those dry lands long before any of
the French Surrealists imagined them:
Dream, dream of night, the street, the stairway
Run to the statue, and find only the scream,
This poem can give you the same nightmares as a de Chirico painting.
What is present, is absent. What is absent, lingers obsessively
with you, the echo of a shout down the hill. But it also demonstrates
how the maturity of Surrealism, its full blooming, came not from
intellectualism but from edxperience. Something most French philosophers
suffer from is rather too much intellectualism and theorizing,
and a surfeit of living and doing and being. Irregardless of the
source of Villaurrutia's depth, be it personal experience, rebellion,
or the Surrealist tradition of oneirism, his mature voice is consistently
more convincing than virtually all of the French Surrealists added
together. I feel this to be true of most of those Latin American
poets who ventured in this direction, among them: Paz, Neruda,
Vallejo, Borges, Cesar Moro (coincidentally another gay poet?),
I'm also reading Lorca's Poet in New York. With its darknesses and themes of blood and mire, this book is
not always appreciated by those prefer the more delicate Lorca
of the folk songs, gypsy ballads and children's verses, strange
as they are at times, and upon which he made his early reputation.
The single best-known poem of this collection is the Ode to Walt Whitman, which, following the example of the poet who is its inspiration,
is a celebration. It is in some ways Lorca's most openly homoerotic
poem, wherein nothing is coded or hidden, where a fairy is called
a fairy; there are obvious ties here to the Calamus poems in Leaves of Grass. But it is also a dark celebration: a warning to the masses who
cringe before the unknown that these men who are hated and feared
and suppressed, will not be destroyed because of the Love in your
eyes, Walt Whitman. You are their champion and guidepost, and
savior, and Friend. So, out of the filth that Lorca sees in New
York everywhere he turns, there arises a specter of redemption.
And What I'm Watching
I brought a few cases of CDs with me: somme artwork, archives
of my own creative work; some music to listen to; and a few DVDs
to watch. Knowing that I would have times when watching a movie
(on my laptop) would be all I could stand to do. I never thought
I would avail myself so much of this option, though.
So, with my meager resources, not totally broke but by no means
solvent at the moment, I still have made an effort to acquire
one or two necessities for my mental health: one or two DVDs,
and an album. The album, predictably, since you know how much
I care for the show, was Mark Snow's The Best of MilleniuM, over an hour of original music from the show. This was the first
download I ever paid for from Apple's iTunes download MP3 store.
(Since I see they have most of Caroline Myss' audio series, too,
I will be downloading the ones I don't have, and burning them
to CD so I can listen to them in the car.) Actually cheaper to
but the album this way than in a store; actually, this is the
only way to get this terrific music, since it isn't released on
CD. So, that's what I listened all day yesterday as I drove through
the cold, grey landscape, in between bouts of rain. Mark Snow's
music is atmospheric, fluid, and evocative; it repeatedly captures
that sense of existential loneliness that was a hallmark of the
Since I arrived here, I've watched several movies on DVD, including
those I brought with me: mostly science fiction and fantasy, although
Lawrence of Arabia is high on my list now that it's available, Gee, what a surprise,
watching a movie about a guy in a desert. Sound familiar? Anyway.
What I've been watching: Deep Impact; The Day the Earth Stood Still; Stargate. All three are terrific movies.
Stargate was a movie I went to in the theatre when it first came out,
not expecting much. I expected a typical boy's adventure story predictable sort of thing, and instead I got a really excellent
script, well-acted and well-directed, about very interesting people.
It was a movie that had adventure, but the characters were memorable
Deep Impact came out the same year as that other "we're going to get hit
by an asteroid" movie, Armageddon. Deep Impact was by far the better movie of the two. It had both epic scale
events and small-scale human stories, neatly meshed together in
a story that had perfect pacing and excellent subplots. The other
movie, by contrast, really was a boy's adventure tale; it was predictably macho, had predictable
plot twists, and a totally predictable ending.
Compare the two: the better movie, like better poetry, like better
literature, had depth and a slower pace that didn't try to dazzle
you with blindingly obvious witty commentary. The terrifying elements
of the story were just presented, so matter of factly that you
just took them as real. Simply presented, and simply absorbed,
and so they got under your skin. It had character moments where
nothing happenedexcept that you came to care about these people.
It had only instances of snappy repartee in its entire duration;
its opposite number by contrast had no end of snappy dialogue:
the ironic wisecracking that passes for rhetoric nowadays I virtually
every forum from movies to talk radio to TV sitcoms. Just more
pointless series of wise-acre putdowns by everyone of everyone
else. A lot of sentimentality, but no real depth of feeling. The
characters in Deep Impact spoke like real people, rather that TV sitcom stereotypes. The
dialogue difference was the like the difference between those
flashy 1980s ultrahip, ultracool novels by such hacks as Bret
Easton Ellis, as compared to the genuine wit and weight of E.M.
Forster. Those flash novels you can read once and forget about;
but Forster stays with you for years.
The Day the Earth Stood Still is simply one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Its
tone, its characters, and its message, delivered in a dramatic
speech by the lead character at the very end of the movie, hold
up to the present day, and do not look at all dated. The writers
and director wisely followed the dictates of Clarke's Law ("Any
technology sufficiently advanced as to be incomprehensible is
indistinguishable from magic") and did not try to explain everything.
Consequently, the sets and designs of the alien ship in particular
look just as fresh today as when the movie was filmed, fifty years
There are also layers of meaning in this film that make it resonant
and timeless: lowkey and intimate moments about freedom and the
necessity to choose wisely; the moments of tension and terror
are brilliantly underplayed. Nobody chews the scenery here, which
makes it all the more realistic. The only real didactic moment
comes with that final speech, but it feels natural as it has been
so well set up. You want to hear the speech by this time; and the speech itself is shocking:
a warning to the peoples of earth that it's time to grow up some,
and stop hurting ourselves. The same message is also delivered,
as a similar warning, by the aliens we meet near the end of The Abyss, in my opinion still the best of James Cameron's films. Grow up,
folks: learn to live together in peace. Or else.
XXIII. 20 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico
I swear I do not know what I'm doing, or what to do anymore. After
a totally sleepless night, because in the hard wind and rain yesterday,
the camper leaked water all over my beddingwool aside, cold wet
bedding is not conducive to falling asleepwhich meant I could
not get comfortable or warm or dry. Finally, I just fell asleep,
I guess, out of exhaustion. This afternoon, I feel groggy and
and out of it, and know that I have to caulk up the holes in the
camper before the weather turns cold and winter sets in.
It's rained all night and all day and all night again. Now, after
midnight, the wind is picking up again, rocking the trailer, and
seeping through the places where it's not airtight. Am I prepared
to winter over in here? I don't know. I think part of October
will be spent in California, visiting friends but also shopping
my art around and taking photos. I've been reading John McPhee's
Assembling California, part of his series of books about geology with the overall title
Annals of the Former World. McPhee is a terrific writer about geology, in part because he
chooses to accompany on their peregrinations some of the best
living geologists across the USA. The books are all fascinating
reading, and take me back to my days in college when I considered
declaring for a geology major.
But can I live all winter in this fiberglass can? I doubt it.
If I can find a job here, it may not be essential that I do. I
might be able to rent a place with real walls, real heat, and
I'm not so quick to give my nomadic status, though. I require
some proof and guarantees that signing another apartment lease,
even here, is worth it.
XXII. 19 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico
What I'm Reading Today, Always, Again
Glad that I brought along certain books, even though the mass
was a pain to haul at times. Things I have read, or am re-reading,
that are relevant to yesterday's long essay, are:
W.H. Auden: The Enchafèd Flood, or, The romantic iconography of
the sea. In the book's first section, The Sea and the Desert, Auden makes a long contrasting study of three pairs of symbols:
1. The desert and the sea.
When you read this book in combination with Paulo Coelho's The Valkyries, a story of a pilgrimage of self-knowledge that takes place in
California's Mojave Desert, you realize anew that the real contrasting
archetypes involved, or at least the ones relevant to my own pilgrimage,
are Wilderness and City. City stands in for all those things we
accrue in a technical civilization, banded together in group-housings
ranging in size from little pueblos to metropolitan megacities.
Wilderness stands in for those areas of the world that citified
people have no use for, generally, except as they realms to be
crossed between Cities, and/or play-parks to be enjoyed and/or
exploited for recreation. I have almost always preferred small
towns to big cities; the notable exceptions are San Francisco
and Chicago, which for reasons I don't fully understand, I feel
totally at home and comfortable in. I can stand about 4 days of
New York City before I want to leave, and Los Angeles about the
same. I can be a monk at times, an anchorite in the wilderness
needing only my connection to the Divine, which I continuously
feel whenever I am making art. But I'm also gregarious, and crave
human company as often as I crave solitude; daily, in some cases.
I sometimes miss my closest friends back in the Midwest; miss
them painfully. But I also can get in the truck, drive out into
the desert here, and make art; which never fails to shift my mood.
In a poem written some years ago, I thought of myself as a roving
wolf, who travels, who goes over the mountain to see what's there,
but also likes to know where the old den is, and has the pack
to return to when I want company. I do indeed accept the labels
of waymaker, pathfinder, wayseeker, and explorer.
Note that, in Auden's symbol-pairs, the wandering exile is someone
who exists between Cities, unable to roost, or even enter, therein.
Someone who travels but can never find a homeplace. This person
lives instioctually, creatively, footloose, by his or her wits.
The contrasting person is one who is a civilization-builder or
restorer: the Apollonian archetype (solar divinity) or organizer.
I find that Auden's meditations on sea and desert as both being
placed of change, of growth, of renewal, and of danger and opportunity
both, to be particularly relevant. I am currently working through
this book in the light of the archetypal life-journey work that
I find in many Jungian writings, and which I also get from Dr.
Caroline Myss' teachings.
The Sea is that chaotic fluid out of which "God made the firmament,
and divided the waters." What is this but the archetype of man
creating civilization out of chaos? Symbolically, there is nothing,
then there is something, and the Creative Force (Creator, God,
Divine Man) establishes order. So, the Sea is the symbol for primary,
undifferentiated Chaos: always in flux; the raw material building
blocks of nature out of which from is made manifest. Some recent
physics talks about how the smallest level of existence that can
be still be considered to be a part of our Universe, a level smaller
than subatomic particles, is a zone where particles arise out
of the sea of energy and fall back into it spontaneously; this
has been called the quantum foam. (Any particle smaller than 10 to the minus 33 dots per centimeter
can be considered as not really in our Universe; this is our Universe's
dot-matrix limit, or limit of resolution, if you will.) So, the
Sea also stands for what is unmanifest, and in the social arena,
that barbaric vagueness (anarchy) and disorder out of which civilization
arose and into which, unless saved by the efforts of gods and
men, it is always liable to collapse.
The Desert is the Sea's opposite in many ways: it is the place
where water is lacking, the valley of Ezekiel's dry bones. It
is also a place of exile and punishment for those evicted from
the City. But it is also a place of voluntary retreat, or hermitage,
where a soul goes to strip away everything unnecessary and inconsequential:
to find out what really matters; to discover who we really are,
at core. It is a place of essentials. Of essences. "The perfume
of the desert is the rarest and finest of them all."
Butand this is what most interests me at the momentboth Sea and Desert are symbolically placed in opposition to what
we call civilization, specifically, human-created order. Both
are seen as untamed Wilderness. At best they are zones of terror
to be crossed between Cities, places with fortressed walls wherein
we are to be safe.
But what of those of us, outsiders all, who choose to live outside
City? Who make Wilderness our home? Of course, we are seen by
the agents of Control and Management as dangerous, not because
we oppose those social systems of control that City embodies;
but rather, because we are indifferent to them. Because we do
not care about them. Because we feel free to ignore them. Nothing
pisses of those who would like to be in Control more than being
ignored. They will do everything in their power to tame you, to
reel you in, to wall you in, and if need be, to terminate your
independent existence. They do not understand that the desire
to live Outside is a separate choice, and not a rebellion against
Control. They can only think inside that box, and can't see outside
their own thinking. This is the machine world: the world of binary
logic, either/or 1 or 0, 0 or 1, on or off, this or that, with
us or against us.
But there are stable states outside the One and the Zero. There
are fractional dimensions. There are degrees of co-habitation.
There is the mindset of both/and, which both includes and transcends
My life at present, on this pilgrimage (for what better word do
I have for it?), is a vibrating string moving between Sea and
Desert. I am drawn to both, in their unique yet opposed beauties
and challenges. You could drown in a sandstorm. You could be lost
at sea, with no drinkable water. Both can be places of extreme
thirst, both uninhabitable and engulfing.
This is where my thinking departs from Auden's, because he is
primarily examining a set of Romantic literary symbols. But I
think they are Symbolic archetypes, both deeper and truer than
mere literary conventions.
Matthew Fox: Original Blessing: A primer in creation spirituality. This book, which I have reading then re-reading for about four
years now, is central to my library at this time. It is a reference,
really, full of quotes and concepts, in which Fox lays out the
fourfold path of the creation-centered spiritual tradition within
Western tradition. This is a key text for starting out on the
path of being or becoming a modern mystic; and if you are already
on that path, this book is essential for support and direction,
not least because it is a collection of quotes and references
to the writings of many who have walked this path before us.
This is a largely hidden, often-suppressed tradition, that includes
in its lineage most of the great Christian mystics of the Middle
Ages and the eras sincemany of whom, it should be noted, were
condemned by the official, doctrinaire (mainstream, Tribal) Church
for improper thinking, heresy, and worse. Some of these thinkers
were later incorporated back into the Church, mostly because they
had to be, but some remain on the condemned rolls to this day.
The agents of Control have been in charge of the organized Christian
religion since St. Augustine's day; in fact, it is Augustine himself
who set in motion many of the still-dominant dogmatic attitudes
of the Church, from body-hating self-abnegation, to the suppression
of sexuality, to the institutionalization of sexism and homophobia.
This is a poetic and polemic book, both, which goes to show how
prophecy is both creative and political. The four paths Fox outlines
1. Befriending Creation (Via Positiva): the Divinely creative
urge towards embodiment itself; and panentheism, the realization
that Spirit is in all things, everywhere, at all times: there
is no speck of this Universe that is not Divine.
How often do we need an antidote to the usual mindsets of our
daily lives of quiet desperation? There is wisdom here, culled
from all places and times, to serve as a balm for the history-haunted.
One of the greatest creation-centered mystics, 14th Century preacher
and Dominican monk/teacher, Meister Eckhartwho is still on the
Church's condemned listssaid, "The eye with which I see God is
the eye with which God sees me." And: "In this life we are to
become heaven so that God might find a home here." And: "Remember
this: All suffering comes to an end. And whatever you suffer authentically,
God has suffered from it first." And: "God is voluptuous and delicious."
Eckhart is central to this path.
In 1960, Thomas Merton, who had until that time been a fairly
conventional monk and Christian writer, had a public dialogue
with Dr. Daisetz Suzuki, well-known Japanese scholar who taught
Zen Buddhism the US, and was one of the first to bring Zen to
the West. (His lectures on Zen were also to change John Cage's
life and way of thinking.) Merton, as the conventional Church-indoctrinated
Christian, dialogued for several hours with Suzuki until, finally,
Suzuki said, "You will never understand Zen until you read the
one Western thinker who has previously understood Zen, Meister
Eckhart." Suzuki had read Eckhart, but Merton had not thought
to, as Eckhart was suppressed by the Church. It was this encounter
with Zen, and from reading Eckhart, that in the years until his
death in 1968, transformed Merton from a conventional Christian
thinker into the mature modern mystic that he became. He later
wrote that his personal evolution as mystic was directly inspired
by this encounter with Eckhart.
I could say the same, frankly. Eckhart truly is a Zen Christian. I find him utterly transparent and clear, and
he makes total sense to me. There is an academic (and probably
doctrinaire) myth that says Eckhart is hard to understand; nothing
could be further from the truth. Any modern mystic can understand
him perfectly clearly, because he speaks directly to you; his
messages are ideas you will have already experienced and felt
for yourself.The advantage here is in knowing that you are not
alone, that in fact you do have a long and respectable spiritual
A sudden fierce wind yesterday, followed by a night and day of
hard rain here. I welcome it, as it matches my introspective moodeven
though I've discovered a couple of places where the camper leaks
water, and which I will have to patch when we dry out later. Paul
is collecting water in all his many cisterns, to later use in
his greenhouse. The drumming of sudden fierce rain on the greenhouse's
drumhead roof is deafening, overwhelming, a sound too loud to
hear but one you can only be absorbed in.
I have spent last night and today working on revising my fine
art portfolio. With Pau's help and feedback, sorting images into
true art, and art I would do better to market as illustration
work. I'm too close to it, so I appreciate the objective eye.
Clouds move in the mountains and canyons. The grey sky is low
enough that the highest peaks are trimmed off at the knees. The
plateau itself turns into a feast of red mud, which clings to
your boots as you walk, until you feet become so heavy you feel
like a cartoon spaceman, slogging through slippery clay that eventually
forms so many layers on your footgear that you seem after awhile
to be wearing cartoon moonboots. So much water today, after weeks
of hot, dry wind. My allergies have been bad the past few days;
mica dust is everywhere, and plant pollens new to my senses. Now
the air is scrubbed dry, and you can't imagine it could have been
so bone-dry just a day ago, when your entire existence seems mired
in wet, muddy, sodden air, and all your windows film over with
cold condensation an drip onto the sheets.
The Desert and the Sea, interchanging, trading places, dance partners
exchanging hands and patterns. Both wildernesses of inaction,
encompassing every small little human thing I undertake.
Now the rain builds and builds until it overwhelms eveything,
and there is nothing of me left.
Venting Fuel on the Via Negativa
Well, I'm ready. I'm ready for it to happen. I've been waiting
and working and hoping and praying and busting my ass to change
my life for the better, and I'm still waiting. I'm ready now.
I really am. I'm here.
No, I don't expect it to fall into my lap. I know I have to work
for it. I know it takes effort, and struggle, and sometimes strain
and hardship. I've been told over and over that when the journey
is hard and difficult, there is always a good result, a payoff,
after it's all over and done. I cannot find that belief in myself
this week, when it feels like I've spent myself doing everything
I'm supposed to do, to no apparent avail.
(I need to write through all this. Get it all down, and get it
out of my own system. Don't take anything I write here too literally.
Understand that venting needs a listener, but doesn't require
I abjure the reward-punishment mindset common to post-Christian
culture. Even the New Age is infested with it: If you only do
this and this and this, you will be rewarded. The converse is,
always: if you don't get your reward, you're being punished, or
you didn't do something right. As if getting rewarded for effort
was a magic formula, and you just had to follow the instructions.
Even the New Age can't away from the old Abrahamic religions and
their search to appease a vengeful God. You can spout all the
positive-thought rhetoric in the world, but if some part of you
thinks you're being punished, you'll still end up sabotaging everything
Am I dead or am I living?
You listen to the Scherzo of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony again,
and you can feel the fatalistic absurdity laced through his music
and soul. You read it in Pasternak, you see it in post-Soviet
movies. Russian fatalism: after all, when your homeland has been
continuously overrun, dominated, and crushed under the bootheel
of foreign invaders for over 700 years, of course you'll end up
a little pessimistic. Russians tend to expect the worst, and are
You can say what you like about your beliefs dictating your reality,
and only perceiving what your filters let you perceive, and at
the end of the day you still have to deal with it. If it were
that easy to just think positive and make your life turn around
for the better, everyone would do it all the time, and the New
Age would be an practical spiritual movement. And it's not always
Well, "Rus" also meant "slave" in old, old Norse: the language
of my Viking ancestors who were one of those waves who overran
Russia several hundred years ago, and conquered, and settled.
Leaving their blond children there, too. Establishing Kiev and
its river trade routes that have lasted for centuries, although
silver and spices are no longer the dominant trade items. When
the conquerors have to manage the conquered, establish a government,
and make things run on time, who then is conquered? Who, then,
is in charge, in reality? Who has to invest more of their energy
making it work? The Rus and the Vikings have become so intertwined,
it's all one global village, now. History tends to become an Ouroborous
at the least little provocation. All systems of control control
the controllers, who are controlled by their need to control.
No place is better than any other. These are the same dark nights
I've had the past few years in Minnesota. You take yourself with
you wherever you go, after all.
I went out to the bridge on Highway 64 over the Rio Grande gorge
today: a thin sliver of flexible steel 700 feet above the abyss.
The rapids down there in the shadowed gorge seem tiny and distant,
but by the laws of fractal self-similarity, you know those rapids
could swallow this road, were they up here instead of down there.
This bridge terrifies me. I haven't had genuine acrophobia since
I was a young boy. But when I walk out onto the observation platform,
I find myself nervous about approaching the railing, and I hold
on tight. I am afraid to take my camera out of my pocket and snap
some photos, because I'm afraid some gust of wind, or my own vertigo,
will rip it out of my hands and send it plummeting into the abyss.
I'm afraid to drive over the bridge, in case the steel should
become brittle all of a sudden, and crumble underneath me.
I remember the camera I lost over a waterfall in a gorge in Ithaca,
New York; I might have followed the camera, that afternoon, over
the precipice, but for choosing to let the camera fall so I could
hold onto the rocks and save myself. The gorges run right through
Cornell's campus, and try to secure them as the authorities might,
the gorges take lives every year, from misadventure or intentional
The summer I drove out to Ithaca for several weeks of intensive
Indonesian language classes, 1990, I had just that New Year's
Eve run up against the first vision of the Void. As I drove through
the mountains and valleys of eastern Pennsylvania, and western
New York State, on my way to Cornell for the summer, I found myself
clutching the wheel till my fingers ached and my forehead broke
out in sweat. I was fighting for my life, literally: fighting
the impulse to throw the wheel to the right every time the road
came to a bridge or roadside gully or gorge or valley; fighting
to stay on the road, stay alive, against every entropic urge the
Shadow dangled, to throw the car off the road and into the abyss.
Into the Void.
I was in no shape to be a Good Little Student that summer. The
Void was too close, and I was heartsick every day. I tried, I
really did; I just wasn't strong enough. I had been given a tuition
grant, and I so disappointed the administrators and directors
of the summer language intensive program, that I ended up being
blacklisted from any future attendance. I didn't even get much
language learning out of it. I was too distracted, and unable
to focus in the ways my teachers wanted. It was no one's fault
but mine, a product of my circumstances. I didn't do much better
in graduate school, overall, for some of the same reasons. The
teachers kept wanting me to take more advanced language classes,
too, and pushing me past the level I was at; they thought it was
flattering, and I should have felt honoured. But I didn't, and
they never understood: I was fighting Wintermind every day. (This
was the dark night of the senses. It lasted 4 years, 3 months,
and 14 days: until the second vision of the Void.)
No, wait, here's the real fear of heights: as long as my feet
are on solid earth, the basalt of the boulders littering the talus
slope below, I feel perfectly safe. I can stand on a cliff overlooking
a huge emptiness, even in high wind, and feel perfectly calm.
It is man-made structures I do not trust. What I doubt is humanity's
engineering hubris, our incessant (phallic?) desire to out-build
our ancestors, to make things ever more gigantic and impressive.
This has led to some beautiful structures, but it has also led
to some famous collapses. I trust Frank Gehry's buildings partly
because they are so organic in form, modeled as many are on natural
and animal forms. I trust Bucky Fuiller's tensegrity spheres and
dymaxion domes and tetrahedral constructions, because they imitate
stable atomic structures, and the Universe's basic building blocks.
And they work. They hold together; they are stable and strong, precisely because
they are built in imitation of nature.
None of the circumstances I took for granted, when I chose to
leave home and come here, have come to fruition. Everything will
be delayed for at least a year. So, I have no living situation,
no real place to stay, no real friends, no real opportunities
to improve my life here. That's what it feels like tonight: nothing
is what it was supposed to be. Don't even know if I can find a
job. Actually, I don't even know if I still know how to find a
job, or hold one down, it's been so long since I had so-called
So, what do you do? Perhaps it's an invitation to stay nomadic,
to stay rootless, to keep going down the road, to make no plans,
to see where the Spirits lead me.
Oh, yes. Trust. Do I trust the spirits, the Powers That Be? Not
entirely. It feels a lot lately like They've been playing games
with me, rather than helping me. I know that's an ego-level illusion,
so spare me the newage (rhymes with sewage) lectures about creating
one's own reality, and expectations, and so forth. When one is
suffering, that's just so much salt in the wound. Get stuffed.
You can also keep the lecture about how none of this really comes
from outside forces, but is all created from within: we do it
to ourselves. And so forth. I know all that. So what. Get double-stuffed
I don't care if this is reward/punishment. That whole paradigm
is so much wasted energy and hot air. It's so very Abrahamic in
origin, no matter what pretty language you dress it up with. Thinking
about rewards is absolutely beside the point. I cannot afford
to assume that, just because the journey has been this hard, that
it will at all be worth it. (To misquote Nietzsche, Whatever doesn't
kill you ...missed.) I don't know that, you don't know that. None
of us can know that, Whether it's outside forces of fate, or internal Shadow-driven
archetypes, or whether they are one and the same, doesn't matter
when your wheels fall off and leave you stranded and stunned by
the side of the road. When the worst happens. When you don't really
care if you live or die, at the worst.
Maybe the light will come tomorrow, after all. Maybe. I find I
don't really care.
You have to realize: this is a discipline. The Yoga of Darkness.
The Rite of Shiva. The offering of all negativities, as they rise
up in you, to Mahakala, the transcending lord of destruction.
The Wrathful Deities are nothing but the Shadow aspects of the
Peaceful Deities: another chance to get it right, to escape this
Bardo, this Maya, this Butterfly Dreaming. Sometimes the only
way out is through. (In Abrahamic terms: the way back to Eden
leads through Gethsemane and Golgotha both.) Via Negativa. Dark
Night of the Soul. The experience of nothingness. The shredding.
The rising of the beast within, bete noire, red-eyed, mewling, clawed and torn. Wintermind.
This is what Lorca felt on his stay in New York, and out of which
some of his darkest, most challenging poems were written, in Poet in New York. He arrived in New York City just in time to witness the economic
crash that initiated the Great Depression in the fall of 1929.
And on the way back to Spain, months later, in 1930, over a brief
stay in Havana, he wrote and delivered his famous lecture on the
duende that has become a classic poetic theory of that dark soul:
These "black sounds" are the mystery, the roots that probe through
the mire that we all know of and do not understand, but which
furnishes us with whatever is sustaining in art.... The duende,
then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a
concept. I have heard an old guitarist, an true virtuoso, remark,
"The duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up fromm inside,
up from the very soles of the feet." That is to say, it is not
a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable styteof blood,
in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made
Every true visionary poet has known this, from Rumi to Rilke,
and most powerfully for our times in the words of the modern Greeks:
Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis. George Seferis writes in
A Poet's Journal (1946): Suddenly you discover that you'll spend your entire life in disorder.
It's all that you have; you must learn to live with it. I find great kinship here, and in the rest of Seferis' Journal, because it speaks so directly my own circumstances. What Saul
Bellow in an early, forgotten novel called existing as a dangling
man. Sometimes the universe isn't ready for you, any more than
you are for it, so you spend time in endurance. (In durance vile.)
A part of the furniture, you witness the businessman explaining
why nothing you have to offer will work for their needs, as if
you're not there. As if the voices were coming from the next room.
As if you were a disembodied ear, you take it all in, and the
world passes you by, leaving you hung in the wind. At least you
have an explanation, false as it is, for why nothing seems to
move forward; for why you must continue to endure.
Can you blame them? No: their lives are as bound up with their
own survival needs as are you with yours. But the bitter taste
of continuous rejection lingers. We all have moments of selfishnesseven
of selfish self-destructiveness. It's coming together in alliance
and community, those moments where we help each other out, that
sustains us. My bitterness comes from an imbalance: it always
seems like I am helping other people out, because I genuinely
care about them, but when I need help the most, myself, everyone
seems to vanish. It has to be a reciprocal, two-way street, or
it is nothing. A lie of community, rather than an actual communion.
You cannot pay lip-service to building community and not expect
the gods to hold you to living out what you say. People cannot
only like you at those when you have no needs, and call themselves
And, sometimes, when I seek to step back and seek to become more
objective, more dispassionate (in the Buddhist sense of the term:
nonattachment to outcome), I get accused, in self-absorbed and
infantile ways, of being unfeeling and uncaring. Well, kids, you
can't have it both ways. This is again about trying to Control
outcomes, so that are never any risks, and no one will ever come
to harm. It's an infantile approach towards life, reminiscent
of the use in some churches of intercessory prayer to try to force
happy endings on everyone's path through life. It entirely misses
the point. By contrast, it is possible to have an adult attitude
towards life, elegantly expressed by the great Lakota shaman Frank
Fools Crow, when asked if he could cure cancer: "I can heal you,
although I may not be able to cure you." Understanding that important
distinction between healing and curing is a symptom of spiritual
The rarely-discussed dark side of the New Age Light-chasers is
that, all too often, they willfully repress and deny their own
Shadows, individually and collectively. They want to cling to
the Via Positiva, and ignore or repress or deny the Via Negativa.
This is why so many of them never actually advance. Oh, I suppose
it's vaguely possible to go directly from the Via Positiva to
the Via Creativa and the Via Transformitiva, and avoid the Via
Negativa entirely. But the Creative and Transformative stages
of the journey would have no depth, no guts: they would be robbed
of any but superficial meaning. Their beauty would be shallow,
even if polished to a high gloss, like the marketing of shiny
newly-minted Hallmark greeting cards. It would all be sentiment
rather than passion.
These Light-chasers would renounce all parts of the world they
find unattractive and difficult and bloody and messy and challenging.
Leaving behind only the superficial sentiments commonly found
at most arts and crafts shows nowadays: all pretty flowers and
decorative touches, but with no real body to the soup. It is a
bodiless sentimentality, and in that, despite how many New Agers
abjure any historicism or connection to their roots in the Abrahamic
religions, it is nothing new. We've seen it all before in the
body-hating, earth-hating, heaven-hunting philosophies of the
past two thousand years of Western thought. Poet Wendell Berry
warns us: Renunciation of the world may sustain religious or artistic fervor
for a while, but sooner or later it becomes suicidal. These same deniers are also those who denounce the genuinely
mystical thread of Western spirituality that runs, concealed,
from Eckhart to Merton to, perhaps, you and I: the thread of veriditas,
of greening, of creation-centered spirituality, or a theology
of embodiment and social justice.
No. No one who denies their own Shadow will ever come to terms
with it. You have to face it head-on, willingly dive into its
darkest waters, and risk drowning. You have be willing to experience
the beauty of ugliness: not a simple paradox, but the embracing
of all that people normally find unspeakable and unseeable. You
have to just wade in, and see what's really there. You have to
abandon Control. Via Negativa: the stripping away of everything
you ever thought you knew, you ever thought you believed, and
you ever imagined had meaning and worth. You have to abandon it
to the Night. Sometimes it strips you naked of everything you've
ever invested any value in, be it belief, religion, philosophy,
material possession, or even sense of self. You can end up not
knowing who you are, or what to believe, or if you even believe
in anything at all. Via Negativa. Wintermind.
Without the Via Negativa, there can be no depth. Life becomes
superficial, as boring as it is violent, and as cheap. It becomes
infantile, and easily manipulated. This is the end result of the
Modern era, an entire three hundred year history of denial of
the Shadow. With rare exceptions, this also means, then, that
we have had no prophets in recent, Modernist times: no one to
go into the wilderness, seek out the Voice of the Divine, and
bring it back to us. Would we listen to a real prophet, if one
were to appear today, any more than prophets were listened to
in the past? Probably not. As the great 20th Century Jewish rabbi
and mystic, Abraham Heschel, once said: "A prophet is one who
interferes with injustice." And that will never win you friends
in the boardrooms of power.
The accusation of the New Age Light-chasers, predictably, is that
I "dwell too much" or "overemphasize" or "focus on" pain and darkness.
I would counter by saying that, simply acknowledging its existence
is not dwelling on it. Simply noticing that it is there is not
dwelling on it. If I talk about it more than you personally want
to hear, you could ask yourself why you don't want to hear about
it; or you could just file it under redressing an imbalance. My
accusers would conflate non-suppression with obsession, but I
would say that their continuous denial of its presence is the
real obsession. You can't suppress it, and remain whole, healthy,
or complete. You have to be able to see it there in front of you,
or it will pop up behind you.
And when its pressure becomes its fiercest, you've got to get
it out of you, before it eats you alive from the inside. This
is not a life-denying pressure, but a life-supporting one. Tantra
is harnessing this power as fuel for growth and change; tantra
looks directly into the dark smoking mirror of the God of Death
and chooses to leave nothing out of the sacrifice. Tantra refuses
to suppress and deny: it is the path of true integration, without
denial or evasion. Even fear is the way: fear, hate, anger, rage,
pain, suffering, humility; all those things the Light-chasers
so often overlook or outright try to avoid. You cannot avoid the
Shadow; if you try to suppress it here, it will only pop up over
there, unexpectedly, with twice the force, and byte you in the
ass. The drive to integration will not be denied.
No: the Via Negativa is letting go and letting be: of surrendering,
in the deepest sense of that word, all efforts towards Control.
The Light-chasers, though they try to deny it, are fascistic hoarders
and worshippers of Control: they will have their lives shaped
just so, or not at all. They would dictate God's plan to God.
But God is chaotic: God disrupts. The Spirit catches you, and
you fall. Those who seek only the Light and try to deny the Shadow
can never understand why all their plans and purposes come to
nothing; why they are constantly denied their perfection; why
they are constantly deflected away from their stated goals.
Well, I'm ready. I'm ready for it to happen. I've been waiting
and working and hoping and praying and busting my ass to change
my life for the better, and I'm still waiting. I'm ready now.
I really am. I'm here.
That one thing left to experience, past all the crap and suffering:
the real Light, the real abundance, the real Presence of the Beloved.
No more starving artists. Just artists. So mote it be.
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