L. 15 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
What I'm Reading Now:
Joseph Chaikin & Sam Shepard: Letters & Texts, 1972-1984. (edited by Barry Daniels) This book is about the collaboration between these two American theatre innovators and explorers. I first encountered their work together when I saw on PBS in 1985, on an episode of Alive from Off Center, one of the best anthologies of avant-garde video ever on American TV, their work Tongues. This book contains the text of Tongues, along with Savage/Love, War In Heaven, and a few other pieces, some partial and some complete, and the correspondence that led up to and shaped the collaboration.
Tongues blew me away when first I saw it, in 1985. I'm sure now, in retrospect, that it influenced me in my own collaborative theatre ventures a few years later in Madison and Chicago, when I started working with Kate Ryan. We did several pieces together and with others from 1989 through 1991, most notably The Religion of Money which had performances in 1990 in both cities. For that piece, I did the slides that were projected behind us on the wall, and the live music and sound. Kate did the texts and directed and acted; I did some of the texts, but I feel like all the texts were filtered through her, and especially through her voice, so that, while I could pick out phrases I came up with, or that we came up with together, I think the texts were in the end mostly hers.
It's interesting to read these letters, how daily life interferes constantly with the artistic process. Chaikin's illnesses during this period. The ideas bouncing back and forth. It's a process I recognize, as I have done a lot of collaborative work over the years. I really prefer working in duo or trio formats, musically, theatrically, for live music or other kinds of performance. The interplay of two people is what's exciting: how you suddenly both turn in the same direction, as though telepathically linked; how an idea introduced by one is picked up by the other in duet and dialogue; how the synergy makes something that neither person would have thought of on their own. There's a richness to collaborating that a writer, by him or herself, hermetically sealed in a tower with just oneself to stew in, cannot achieve as gracefully or easily. Of course, both collaborators have to be willing to discard things ruthlessly, too; nothing is precious or perfect; if you're attached to something, you can always pick it up again in another work at another time.
Minimalist theatre speaks to me. These pieces such as Tongues. Beckett, of course. No sets, just lighting. Live music, but simple and integrated into the performance. I find huge theatrics to be grotesque and kitsch, usually. I like as an audience member and as a performer to let the audience fill in the missing gaps for themselves. The "magic of theatre"; is often talked about, but I think what it's really about is just this: the audience's imagination filling in those gaps, deliberately left open by the performers, completing a circuit, finishing the painting: participating. The biggest problem with projected visual media, what we call entertainment that has become the stand-in for art, is that you can't really fill in those gaps and participate in the performance. It's a rare movie that invites that, or can carry it off. (The exception being those shows where you come to care so much about the characters through identifying with them, that you care about what happens next. I am referring to identity with the character, not emotional manipulation; I reject cheap sentimentality here as everywhere else.)
Tongues is a shamanic piece. It has aspects of a shaman being invaded and speaking the lives of various voices. It has also has a sense of the bardo, the in-between-lives state described in Tibetan Buddhism. It also recalls the last whirl of thoughts of a dying man. There are both male and female voices in the piece, experiences passed through the actor to the audience, like a medium at times. That all sounds so esoteric, but it's also a piece that is clearly grounded in nature, in natural processes, and the life cycle; the percussion music that is used behind the speaker reinforces that impression. The piece is for actor and musician, the musician hidden behind the actor, only arms occasionally showing to the sides. The actor is motionless except for his head, and sometimes the musician's arms seem like the actor's arms in extension, or some Tantric multi-limbed deity.
Included in the book are Shepard's working notebooks. This from the last page of the Tongues notebook: What is performance? The act of performance. It seems that performance can only be understood in relationship to an audience. The witnessing of the performer performing. The actor and the character are not the same thing and this distinction is what the audience recognizes immediately. As the performance continues, the audience may lose track of this original impression and drift into the dream that the actor really is the character. Later, after the play, the audience make remark on what a remarkable performance the actor gave. "I actually believed he was the character."; That immersion, that "magic of theatre"; again. You can create a performance with an audience of one, just as effectively (maybe more so) as with an audience of thousands. Text and con/text.
I have had in my mind for some time to do a musical/theatrical piece, where the lead musician would be center upstage, stationary throughout. Projected on either wing, and above and behind, would be images from Spiral Dance, like they were cathedral windows. Other actors and musicians would come in and out of the sides and center, performing texts such as the ones I did in Ann Arbor with Stuart Hindspoetry performance texts, pieces like in another worldand other musical accompaniment. Always very austere and simple in presentation. Sometimes there would be silence and darkness except for the big images like windows into other worlds. Sometimes there would just be music with the images. The piece would be centered around and built upon the images. Almost like sacred theatre; cathedral performance pieces from the Middle Ages; sacred drama, ritual, where those overlap. Sacred time. Shamanic time. Theatrical time. Not always a difference, there.
XLIX. 14 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
I don't mind if someone is dismissive of my shibboleths, as long as they play fair, and don't get all hot and bothered if I am dismissive of theirs.
I have been talking and corresponding to some folks lately, on a variety of topics, and this has come up more than once in the discourse: it seems that it's okay for them to be dismissive of my beliefs and experience, but I cannot question theirs. This is hardly a level playing field; nor, frankly, a very interesting one. If all you have are two talking heads yelling at each other, but neither really listening, there can be no dialogue, and no community. And if the two parties are not listening equally, then there is still no dialogue. This evening, reading through a thread on a poetry bulletin board that a friend of mine recommended to me, this dynamic came up again: it seems that some opinions are not okay to have. It makes me want to laugh out loud. I just remember what Heinlein said through his character Lazarus Long: One man's religion is another man's belly laugh.
I am comfortable with a certain lack of certainty, a certain relativism, that the absolutists deride; they talk about a slippery slope into relativism, with an attendant loss of core values and morality. Well, I see most such cores as hollow; my life's experience has been spread around this globe, and I have seen directly, for myself, how many values held as Absolute Truths by many cultures are arbitrary and relative at root. The point is not to deny that there is any meaning, or throw up one's hands and give up any search for values; do not make things worse by labeling doubts as nihilism or worse. Rather, the point is to realize that nothing can ever be known for certain, for absolute, not in this Universe, not while we are enfleshed; and to be able to live comfortably with a degree of Unknowing and uncertainty. It is the absolutists who push each other into irreconcilable differences, into wars, and into fundamentalisms. My experience of the planet is that things are much more fluid and flexible than that. For me, it's really at core about the experience of nothingness: Random universe, without meaning. Now meaning has meaning, clean as the Arc of Forever. Marvin Kaye & Parke Godwin, The Masters of Solitude This is the true, oft misunderstood, meaning of existentialism: not that there is no meaning, but that we must create our own meaning.
That values might be relative seems to cause some folks to foam at the mouth beyond all reason. I wonder about the possible biographical origins of these attempts to impose Order onto Chaos, to deny that Chaos even exists. I wonder if perhaps some areas of their own lives are so uncertain and uncontrollable that they seek to impose Control where they can; and resist forcefully any attempt to question their absolutes; and deny categorically that their own certainties may in fact be as relativistic as those "slippery slopes"; they decry. How can you quote Einstein with certainty about relativity?it's a paradox, and the old physics theorist knew it was. I find such emotionally-based objections surreal.
I know science purists who get annoyed when anyone quotes Heisenberg in any context but that of theoretical, mathematical physics; yet the Uncertainty Principle is such an elegant, rich metaphor for life, and it arose at a time when cultural uncertainties were becoming manifestly rampant throughout known snivellization. Perhaps no one could have thought of the Uncertainty Principle in more settled, less chaotic times: it itself had a historical context. It was also a time of positive intellectual exploration and experimentation; inquiry and ideology had been just recently liberated from a century's worth of intellectual rigidities. (The flip side is that cultures who are certain they have all the answers rarely send out explorers, and rarely treat explorers well; the example of Galileo comes to mind.)
Anyone who has ever undertaken a vision quest knows, you must confront your limits and the Unknown in such a journey. There is danger involved, of course. There are no certain outcomes; you could have your vision, or not; and in extreme cases, you could die. (Even so, no one undertakes such a quest alone; all are watched over.) The context of quest and ritual do provide a framework, but once you have departedonce you have been launched, as it wereyou are very much dealing with the Unknown.
One of the points of Zen practice is learning to live with paradox and uncertainty. Both are resolved in Unknowing. The Divine exists at the cusp of paradox, in that unresolvable both/and place from whence all Creation is born.
Meister Eckhart: What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth.
Why are so many artists unable to articulate how and why they do what they do? One theory that is often put forward is that artists, being creative types, are dominantly right-brain, while verbal articulation (not to mention logic and reason) are dominantly left-brain functions. The assumption here is that such cognitive functions are indeed separable and localizablewhich is a questionable assumption. It's convenient and clean to think in such either/or polaritiesindeed, most of Western philosophical discourse is based on such binary polaritieswhen in fact life is very much a both/and proposition. The Cartesian idea of mind/body dualism in fact fails to match the evidence. If such a split truly existed, the placebo effect would never work, yet it so often does; and an honest physician will tell you that often medicine doesn't know why people get well. (Nurses can often get away with being more honest than doctors, as they don't have to wear the mantle of all-knowing godhood.)
Rather, the holographic model of cognition (pioneered in part by Stanislav Grof) seems to have more proof in the pudding. This is the model in which all functions work as a hologram does: if you split apart a hologram into smaller pieces, every part of the full image is there in every piece, but the smaller you make the pieces the fuzzier the picture looks. Beyond the profound irony that the biological sciences, including neurology, have become mechanistic in their worldview and theoretical physics has become more open to uncertainty and "mysticism,"; while 150 years ago those mindsets were reversed, it seems impossible to divide the brain up into little chunks. Yes, work with PET scans and EEGs do show that certain parts of the brain do seem to be more biochemically active while the subject is performing certain cognitive functions, I think it has become a modern myth, this separation of the rational (reason, logic, verbal agility) and irrational (creative, visionary, inspirational) into left-brain and right-brain, respectively. A cultural myth of this type is some bit of common wisdom that people take for granted; or assume, without really looking at carefully. The word meme was coined to describe such ideas that seem to have a life of their own. The thing is, people don't really question such myth-memes; the accept them as "everybody knows that..."; information, proven or unproven.
So, why are so many artists unable to articulate their process? In some cases, it's simply not something they care about. In other cases, it may be that they are incapable of explaining their process because it is intuitive, largely unconscious, and perhaps even powered from the Shadow; I have come to believe that Jackson Pollack was one of these. The guy really was, at least late in his life, an inarticulate lug. Not every artist wants to go diving into their own Shadow, or is even capable of it. Rilke once said he had been offered psychoanalysis, and replied that while he was sure it would rid him of some of his devils, he was afraid that it would offend his angels. (I respect Rilke's choice, but I think it was a little disingenuous of him to state it that way: if any modern poet was capable of diving into the Shadow, and of revealing inner space to us, it was he.)
I claim to no special powers of articulation. What I do know I have, though, is lots of experience living in the Shadow: of learning its ways; of listening to its whispers; of spelunking into my darkest places. I didn't go looking for this: to the contrary, it came looking for me. Not everyone can live with their unconscious so close to the surface, or spend so much time in Dreamtime; this is what shamans do, and shamans are nothing if not creative soul-artists.
My art is shamanic. I acknowledge and accept that, and even, finally, embrace it. As to articulating my creative process, there are times I find it useful to explore what that means. But there as many times, or more, when I find it useful to let it remain a Mystery.
Meister Eckhart: When I have been attentive to the creative gifts within me, I have been free to pray and grow as a human being. When I have cooperated in the denial of those gifts, or when I have chosen to set them aside, I have withered. My love of life has suffered. I have stopped praying, I have become small and cynical or I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion and burnout. I have become a compulsive worker trying to make up in my work what I have denied in my most creative self.
XLVIII. 14 October 2004, Taos, NM
Finally, the sun came out. I spent most of the afternoon playing
music with a new friend here in Taos, who is an excellent improvising
pianist. We jammed for awhile, then sat on his balcony porch in
the sunlight and talked. I thought we really connected, musically
and philsophically. I hope we play together again, in some format
or another. I feel better about life just from having played music
for an afternoon.
It's turned into a warm clear afternoon, cloudless and windless.
A fall day. The snow that was on the mountains yesterday, behind
the curtain of cloud, is gone, just a few little bits here and
there in shadowed vales.
I make random connections. I meet people at random; I met another
photographer today by jumping his borrowed truck whose battery
had died. I talk to people in cafés. Anything that does happen,
I feel, is going to happen through networking.
I worked with Elk energy for a year, a few years ago. Elk is about
Stamina, about going the distance. Think about how many thousands
of miles the caribou and reindeer can migrate every season. I
feel akin to the caribou, at times: wandering, grazing where you
can, moving on when the good eatings are gone. The Romani caravan
life, if you will. So, I think that I do have the stamina to see
things through; my biggest anxiety is, can I eke out enough resources
to go the distance. I have in no way given up on New Mexico; despite
whatever worries give me a bad day or night, this still feels
better than Minnesota has, lately.
XLVII. 14 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
A hard night of it. Feeling confused and borderline miserable
again. I can make it work here in NM if I am persistent long enough;
the question is, can I afford to be persistent long enough to
make it work? Long enough financially, emotionally, spiritually,
physically? My lower back twingy all day yesterday. Lower back
stuff is Symbolically about feeling unsupported, Even though I
have a little bit of money right now, do I eke it out here, and
let it dribble away while I stay stuck, or do I blow a chunk of
it trying to move on and make things better somewhere else? The
fact is, the current economy still sucks, no one around is hiring,
and none of that is likely to change till after the upcoming Presidential
election. It's all cautious wait and see around that issue, despite
the fact that he election really means little in the long run.
For those of us on the fringe, jobless and forgotten, the campaign
rhetoric, the debates, the lies, the spin, seem surreal at best,
heinous at core. None of it matters in the real world.
And speaking of feeling unsupported, the power went out in the
night for about an hour; this is a rural area, after all. Which
meant the temperature in the camper plummeted to below 40 degrees;
even when the power came back on, I spent all day yesterday and
last night feeling cold and tense. It's still only 60 in here
this morning; it's cloudy outside, still, maybe more rain on the
way. It seems like Taos County now shuts down for a month or so
till the ski season picks up around Thanksgiving. So, is it worth
wasting my time here till Thanksgiving, knowing nothing is likely
to happen? Or should I rove, and go to those places where I need
to go, to get other things done. There is still the storage locker
to deal with in Minnesota, and a trip to California can only be
a good thing. I feel ready to rove; my only question is, when
do I leave?
Joseph Chaikin in a letter to Sam Shepard when they were preparing
to work on Tongues: The truth is that all of living is so vivid and ephemeral and
inconclusive and vast that it's hard to take.
The idea I'm toying with at the moment is to drive up through
Colorado and Wyoming and Idaho towards San Francisco, then loop
back through LA on the way back here. A couple or three weeks
of driving raises my anxieties about car insurance, or rather
its lack, and a couple of minor repairs I need to do; a burned-out
taillight, for example. But the joy and freedom and exhilaration
of driving across the West, even alone in the truck with just
radio and CD voices to keep me company, this speaks to me of vividness
and vastness even if it's inconclusive in the long run.
XLVI. 13 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
One of those nights I occasionally have, where I wake up at 4am
and know there's no point in trying to go back to sleep; I'm too
wired. So, as I usually do on these kinds of nights, I boot up
the computer and make something, or work. I worked on fonts last
night. Worked on finishing up one of those design freelances.
Then, just for fun, I made a new pair of distressed typewriter
fonts, a genre of which I am probably too fond. Actually, I like
doing elegant classic fonts, a lot, but then sometimes I need
to break out and do one of these quick, semi-improv fonts. Another
form of aleatoric artwork, using Fontographer's blend function to mess things up unpredictably.
Here they are, called BadWriter Abnormal (which of course is the
Regular face) and BadWriter Exotic. Both Macintosh PostScript
and Windows TrueType versions, with full character sets.
Throw two incompatible typewriter fonts into the blender, and
see what happens. Ouch. And in the case of Exotic: Dot me, baby.
©2004 AP Durkee. All Rights Perversed.
Lots of folks, including some art directors, who should know better,
don't realize that font development takes time. Some folks seem to think all fonts appear magically, like Athena
being born from the forehead of Zeus, but in fact, someone had
to do a lot of picky detail work to make any given font. Even
one of my quickie fonts can take ten hours; although I try to
keep it under five. There are faster ways to make typefaces, perhaps,
but then quality can be an issue. You want proper kerning? Good
metrics? A nice look with even letterspacing, even if it's a grunge
or distressed font? Well, that all takes time. Digital tools like
Fontographer do speed up the process though; in the pre-digital
days design tasks that might take me tens of hours would have
taken months. So, none of us font geeks are complaining; but whether
we choose to charge for it or give it away as freeware, just for
the love of doing it, don't balk.
So, an hour or two after waking, I finally felt tired enough to
go back to sleep, only to be awoken just after dawn by raindrops.
Which turned to BB-sized hail, which turned to heavy rain and
more hail, and lots of wind and thunder. A winter storm coming
out of the north. I got out to cover the truck's windshield, having
memories of a storm in Minneapolis in 1998 that blackened the
sky in the middle of the day and spat golfball-sized hail, which
caused more denting damage to more cars metro-wide than anyone
could imagine. Body shop repairs, after that storm, were literally
booked for six months afterwards. I suppose this tiny hail could
technically be called snow, and they did forecast snow down to
this altitude last night; but it melts as it touches, so the ground
does not yet look wintry.
It indeed feels cold and wintry out there today, though, and cold
in the camper, even with the heater running. I have more winterizing
to do, but not right now, not while it's wet outside. Yesterday,
I patched the two broken windows with translucent polycarb; crept
under the camper and repaired two holes in the undercarriage,
thinking of keeping mice from getting in; and went to the hardware
store to get better bolts to re-hang the camper door, which is
hanging a little crooked, which makes the latch miss catching
sometimes, but more importantly, keeps the doorseal from being
as tight as it could be.
So, I sit in here, listening to the storm's rolling thunder in
the distance, the occasional rainspit on the fiberglass, and the
wind, and finish up the fonts I was working on in the wee pre-dawn
hours. I make a sandwich and sip tea to calm the stomach. Later
on, I'll dive into town to post these new words, and email off
the finished fonts and invoices to my clients.
I was going to meet a new friend to play music this afternoon,
but he just called to postpone till tomorrow, as a work commitment
suddenly arose. Well, I'll just find something else to do with
my afternoon. Even if it keeps raining all daywait, it is now
officially snowing, medium fat flakesI can do stuff in the camper,
and drive into town.
It's officially fall: it's snowing heavily now, although it's
not sticking to the ground yet. Part of me embraces it: the chill,
the brisk bracing wind, the clean smell of snow in the air. Part
of me dreads it. Perhaps I had always imagined I would be settled
somewhere before winter actually hit. Am I up for this? Another
part of knew it was going to happen, and accepts it as just another
part of the journey.
I find myself thinking about driving to California. As soon as
a little more money comes in, I might as well.
I also think about baking, and hot chocolate in front of a roaring
fireplace on cold winter nights. The autumn weather mix and autumn
Driving across the plateau, the cloud ceiling is only a hundred
or so feet overhead. You can see the snowline at 7500 feet past
the rip-edges of clouds that crash against the mountains. It feels
like winter. But in the late afternoon, the sky completely clears,
and everything is blue.
XLV. 12 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
In the morning, again, I need to be in mythic time. So I read from P.L. Travers collected essays, What the Bee Knows, many of which first appeared in Parabola Magazine. I read Name and No-Name, and Walking the Maze at Chartres and The Hanged Man and On Unknowing. Her language as always twists and dances, rich with myth and
metaphor, and as always contains layers of silence that carry
the real meaning.
The mind incandesces even as the heart dulls. I pull out those
quivering feelings of lostness and confusion, as I fall asleep,
and let them have their say. They swirl for awhile, as I curl
into my blankets, then I have vivid dreams, of travel, or choices,
of roads, of antique maps. Changes come to dreamscape quickly
and liquidly. We think the waking world cannot change so fast,
but it too is as evanescent and illusory as vapor, a different
kind of dreamscape or maya. When waking, again, I linger still
in dreaming for a time, as the consciousness begins its day, but
the intellect, that calculating mind of clay, still is groggy
and sloe-eyed, a fly trapped in amber. This hour or more before
I become responsible, before I must get up and dressed and begin
Doing Important Things, this is time for half-myth, half-dreaming,
half-waking, all meditation. In the morning light's perspective,
Doing Nothing seems as important, necessary, and desirable.
We were promised a rainy day today, but the clouds pale before
the kingly sun. They try to interpose themselves, like a man coming
stepping between his lover and the other who would court the beloved,
past all rules and conscience. But this sun-lover, sitting here
in the morning light, dissolves the furtive clouds with a glance,
or the Beloved does, and there is no more intermediary. No more
cloaks, says the Fool, as he swirls inside his cloak or grey wool
and vivid light. No more veils, says Salome as she pirouettes,
revealing and unrevealing. Even the walls of this caravan I wake
in dissolve into spiderwebs, in this light.
Where there are rainbows, there is the memory of storms. I am
seeing rainbows with the mind's eye today, where stormtracks have
laid bare my soul and my aspirations, and ground everything but
the Fool's way into the earth, leaving me but one Unknown path
to tread. I see colors in the sky and trees and hills that speak
of autumn, but also of the memories of storms. They pale before
the sun's vivid onslaught, but they also stand at attention, recovering
themselves from where they were bowed by buffeting wind and slashing
rain. It is a reminder, of how to face life, how plants always
turn to follow the Light, the sun, but also that inner light that
is the annihilating eye behind the face of the sun. Throw open
the curtains, let it heat and bother you.
Awakening to enlightenment, even so, still something stirs in
belly and breast and loin. Don't cut these stirrings off in a
horror of castration, denial, and ugly self-hatred, a refusal
of physicality in favor of the imagined purity of mind. For everything
impure is in the mind, nowhere else, the intellect a robber of
perception that casts veils before swine. We are not naked brains
walking around in space, without body or temptation, as Faust
was before his fortunate fall into sensation and delight. The
brain too is meat, and will rot, and be cast off. Yet it's true,
we are consciousness that spins itself into the web of maya, to
build, to play, to learn, to teach. Thought does precede form,
after all. If only we could be clearer of thought, and recast
form into more pleasing arrangements, we would choose those kinds
of perfection that we imagine to carry beauty even as they carry
meaning. We would remake the world in our image and call it Paradise.
Can we not? Do the rapid shifts of dreaming have no place in this
world, unless we call them miracles and deny our own ability to
enact them, instead sequestering that power in the hands of those
we call our betters? Are we not all miraculous, just being embodied
The sun moves behind my shoulder, as I continue ambivalently forward.
Or am I moving at all? Especially forward, as though forward were
itself a goal, a precession? Perhaps instead I am standing still,
while the earth spins underfoot? How we calculate ourselves into
linear boxes. My forearms are bronzed with this walking, my shoulders
a sunburned prayer. Last night I drank in some darknesses, this
morning I exhale them as pale clouds, vaporous rainbows. Yet as
I move forward along this Fool's road, a precipice always at my
feet, a group of tigers always on the prowl below, I stop to pluck
and eat this single strawberry from the cliffside. It is ripe
and sweet and so very red with its inner dew.
XLIV. 11 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Watch for the synchronicities.
Everywhere we go, everything we do, life tries to talk to us.
Directly or indirectly, the patterns all add together to make
a whole. Did you know that schizophrenics do not get colds or
cancer? The two most common ailments of our time, and they don't
Today, the first morning in a week that I had awoken with nothing
to do, nowhere I had to be. The housesitting finished, I spent
the night back in the camper. Spent some time yesterday cleaning
and organizing, making it a little more cozy. Still have some
repairs to do, and more winterizing. Chores are endless.
Sort of a cold and gloomy day. I got chilled a couple of times,
and feel as if I'm fighting off a cold. At one point in the afternoon,
even though it was clear in town, the mountains were entirely
hidden by rain sheets and clouds. Went to the hardware store this
afternoon, bought and installed new cabinet knobs on all the cabinets;
no more tearing fingers on the sharp broken-off edges of the old
knobs. More velcro to line the sides of the door, to better hang
that wool blanket over the door at night; making it more airtight,
heattight. After a week able to sprawl out in a bed in a house
that stayed in the night, back to the cold and the noise of the
little electric heater, and the camper bed that is only just big
enough for me; another six inches would be ideal. This little
one-room curvespace that is now my home. Will I ever live in a
house again? I don't know. I loved the solitude and silence, and
I sought out solitude for most of today; even though P. is back
now, I didn't go into the house tonight. Give him his space; and
also, give me mine.
Maybe it's time to travel again. Persistence pays off, if I stay
here long enough to break down those walls. But with winter approaching,
how habitable is it, here, really? If I can't find a Situation.
Yes, I've met people, and I'm networking, making contacts, any
of which might lead to Something; but at the slow pace of manifestation
here, is it really feasible. We'll see. Till the current funds
run out, I have the ability to keep looking here, knocking on
doors, persistence, persistence. After that: I don't know. It's
hard to make plans like this; which may be the whole point.
Still half in Dreaming this morning, I walked the driveway from
camper to house, noticing the ground as if for the first time.
Everything sharp and vivid.
A path strewn with sage leaves.
Moving through the air as if it were thickened, molasses, densed.
Sticks make patterns in the dirt that seem to mean something,
that point to a place where other meanings emerge.
Lucid dreaming: are you awake or are you dreaming, aware that
you're awake. Chuang Tzu: did he dream last night he was a butterfly,
or is he now a butterfly dreaming he is a man?
I was re-reading Janet Dallett's When the Spirits Come Back this morning, after waking. Reading about the spirit Mercurius,
a trickster and thief, guardian of the threshold and of the corssroads;
he is also Ganesha and Coyote and Eshu, and many other names from
around the globe. The Disruptor. The Remover of the old life,
to make room for the new. A spirit of Nature, who, if too long
suppressed, can be dramatic and violent and explosive in his manifestation
in one's life. Too much Control, too much suppression of the natural
flow of lifeignoring the Taoand the spirit of change can become
violent, dangerous. It's better to let the genie out of the bottle,
rather than to keep it stuffed in and buried.
I come across this pivotal paragraph in Dallett's book, which
so clearly and obviously speaks to my artwork and its function
in the world, that it makes my hair stand on end; but it also
speaks to why I have difficulty with other people about it:
This is the crux.... Those who know and can activate the healing
powers of nature touch ancient hatreds. Whiteman healing has for
centuries flexed muscles of ego control, trying to subdue and
dominate nature. Anyone who cooperates with nature in the native
way stirs old fears, arousing the awful suspicion that nature
remains bigger than we and will finally get us all.
This is why allopathic medicine still derides the alternatives,
still berates shamanism as superstition even though shamanism
demonstrably works. The psychology of it engages the archetypes
directly at a deep level, activating the soul to accomplish its
own healing. A single meaningful ritual can be worth a thousand
hours of therapy and a hundred bottles of anti-psychotic pills.
That woman who told me she was afraid of my artwork, but also
compelled to face it, gave me the most true and deep testimonial
I have ever gotten. I do not seek to evoke fear, or fear's sibling,
awe. Least of all am I after the mere titillation of entertainment,
which is the closest approach to actual emotion that the Goth
and horror scenes are all capable of. Those fears are no fears,
but Halloween shivers; there is nothing behind them but boredom
and the surliness of adolescence.
My artwork is completely rooted in nature, and the archetypes of the collective
unconscious. In it, in pieces like Raccoon Spirit, the healing power of nature is deliberately evoked. As much as
I enjoy photographing the male nude, human beings have never had
more than a proper place in my artwork, which has always been
about larger forces and the transpersonal. The scale of persons
in much of the imagery is as the scale of person to universe.
In my art, people participate but they do not dominate. This allies
me more with the Native American sense of place in nature, then
the Western history of art with its ego and playacting. History
itself is a projection of ego: the stories we think matter to
present ourselves as the outcome of history's dream of progress.
I don't do many portraits per se; when people appear in my imagery,
they participate in forces beyond themselves, at that point of
ekstasis and eros that is our merging with universe; they are more than they are, they are as Symbolic as all the other images.
Anyone who refuses to live consciously, who chooses the dream
of reason over matter and thus the suppression of the unconscious
layers of self, will be put off by such artwork, or dismiss it
out of hand as something it is definitely not, "superstitious.";
Dallett is correct: those of us who align ourselves with nature
and Spiritwhich after all is Naturewill always evoke fear and
hatred in the agents of Control. It is no wonder it's such an
uphill battle to market my artwork; it is healing art, shamanic
art, and thus threatening in that dares to throw open those doors
that many would rather were kept locked and barred.
We have this false quest for physical immortality. But thought
is what's real; the physical is the illusion.
We can be right, or we can be real. Sometimes when you win the
argument, you lose the deeper truth, which is Love.
Impermanence. Till we choose faces, then change faces. A different
face, so we don't get confused by recent history Immanence. No
matter what face you wear, you are known as who you are.
Changing faces: A recent dream in which I was myself, but younger.
My hair dyed black, but with white streaks through it, and a blond
fringe on top. A young man's haircut. Advice from friends about
my hair, and my thought to dye part of it another color, maybe
bright red. So, my hair would be three-colored, yellow, red, black.
Something significant about this calico effect. Something meaningful
about how it presents me to the world; somehow it makes me more
authentically who I am. Making the outside presentation match
the interior life. No more masks, except those masks that tell
Pay attention to the synchronicities.
XLIII. 10 October 2004, Taos, NM
Lying in the sun again this morning, drinking tea, munching a
croissant, feeling very very sensual and langorous.
Then, chores. A day for cleaning and laundry and organizing. P.
comes back from Short Mountain today, so my housesitting time
is over; back to the camper, I guess. I've been enjoying the complete
silence and complete solitude. I still drove into town several
times, not to escape my hermitage, but for groceries and other
Now the perfect sky is filling with thunderheads. The Thunder
People rumble to the north, and will likely come walking through
here, as the wind has been from the northwest all day. I also
did some work on cleaning out the camper, and re-organizing my
stuff in there. Scrubbed counters and cleared out the fridge,
preparatory to restocking it. Washed sheets and clothes.
sage walks in naked sun, an arising: hot on skin and sand.
XLII. 9 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Detachment. Compassionate detachment. Detachment from outcomes.
Astavakra Gita: Do not let the fruit of your action be your motive and do not
be attached to non-action. An attachment either way will trip you up.
Non-attachment can look cold if misunderstood: Most people think
that a healer must always respond to need, in the form that the
client wants to be helped. Not so. I knew a Chinese traditional
herbalist who would be blunt enough to say No to prospective clients,
if he sensed they weren't going to listen to his advice?most often
people don't listen to advice because they don't want to hear
the truth in it. So, this Chinese herbalist would say, "No, I
won't help you. You'll end up wasting your money, and both of
our time." He would refuse a client on the basis of knowing that
the client wouldn't listen, wouldn't follow direction, and therefore
would never heal. (And one reason so many people never do heal,
no matter what therapy or cure they try, is because some part
of them is invested in not being healedthey get some sort of personal power or Control
from their wound.)
People constantly misunderstand me, underestimate me, make assumptions
about what I'd like or dislike, without asking me first. Usually
wrongly. Even my closest friends occasionally do this. I'm more
easy-going and openminded in my likes and dislikes than I am given
credit. Well, it's okay; I don't really care. I just notice it.
Readingactually, re-readingThomas Merton's last officially edited
journal before his final trip to Asia, and his death in 1968,
Woods, Shore, Desert. Photographs and diary entries from his visit to a monastery on
the coast of northern California, then his sojourn to another
small hermitage near Abiquiu, New Mexico, not far from here. The
other two last journals, the Alaskan Journal and the Asian Journal, were both edited and published after his death. The Asian Journal in particular contains some of his most lucid writing, his introspective
best. But I am very fond of this little book, with its incandescent
photos of the Pacific shore and of the light-filled mesas of northern
New Mexico. He was in both cases exploring the possibility of
relocating to an even more remote hermitage than the one he had
been occupying at his monastic home in rural Kentucky. There was
always a constant tension in Merton's life between his desire
for complete isolation, and his desire for engagement with world
affairs. This is a tension most hermit-leaning mystics feel. I
get stuck in it myself, sometimes. Marsha SInetar's early book,
Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, details many aspects of this tension, seen through the eyes of
those she interviewed, ordinary people pursuing the mystical path
in their daily lives. How you reconcile the pull towards Spirit
with the necessity of living in the day to day world, is something
each person must resolve individually. It's not always an easy
balance to find or to maintain.
Every page of the New Mexico section of the book feels familiar
to me. Things I have seen and felt here myself.Little things.
It's in the details that we attain enlightenment.
XLI. 8 October 2004, Taos, NM
Last night, went to ned so tired I forgot to do some chores, like
putting away dinner leftovers. All wasted. Threw them out, angry
Just as I went to bed, a lone coyote, very close by, was yipping
and singing at the mountains, playing with the echo. He kept up
his solo concert a long time.
This morning, I overslept. I must have been very tired. Guess
so, what with forgetting the chores. I had a stressful day, because
of the usual pattern that's been going for so long now I'm sick
of it: oh no, we can't do that today, we have to postpone; don't
call us, we'll call you. On the flip side, a new freelance was
hyper about her deadline; I don't what her deadling is or was,
she wouldn't tell me, but I had to get the graphics done at warp
speed. Layer that on with the chores of housesitting, and it added
up to some explosive yelling on my part towards the end of the
I don't care.
Note to the Powers That Be: I'm sick of Your bullshit. I'm sick of teasing me with things
that look like "breaks" that then immediately fall apart. Do You
enjoy yanking my chain? Sure seems like it. Well, fuck You. I
quit. Go play Your fucking games with someone else. I've had way
past enough. I You want to kill me, just fucking kill me. I do
not give a fuck what You want, or why, or when. I fucking quit.
Go play with Yourselves.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Driving home in the twilight, my headlights pick out a coyote,
walking along the sidewalk, tongue hanging out, bold as you please,
not more than two blocks from the Taos plaza. This marks the second
time I've seen a coyote on the streets of downtown Taos. No one
else seemed to see it, or notice, or care. I wonder if it was
I would really rather not have a Coyote totem enter my life, thank
you very much. Few things could be more disruptive; the Trickster
is not a "safe" tptem to have. This is the third close encounter
with a coyote in as many days, though. The Trickster can be a
rough totem to havethis wouldn't be the first time in life I've
run into Coyote, thoughbecause the Trickster can sometimes trick
My throat is raw from the yelling and swearing I did this afternoon:
a real rage. Not for the first time, though. The thing is, the
rest of the day, things have gone perfectly smoothly, no more
technological glitches for no reason, everything nice and easy,
no more crap. Sometimes, I guess, you have to get mad before They
take you seriously. I wish You could just be clear, though, without
all the crap; I don't like getting angry, I only get that way
when pushed all the way to the wall. To when I find an edge.
Fields of perfection have been in my face the past few days. Gotta
get it right. Gotta do everything right. Gotta say everything
perfectly, gotta be perfect perfect perfect. Well, no one human
is perfect, or can be: it's not possible in this imperfected Universe.
Nor is this Universe perfectable, even if it's improvable. It's
a level of negativity, whether you like it or not, whatever the
stupid New Age fantasy of the idiot lightchasers is: accept it
for what it is, and deal with it. No more denial. What a waste
of time. A lot of suffering could just be ended, like a finger
snap, if people would just realize that,
Letting go of the perfectionism I inherited from my family, beaten
into me by constant disapproving tsks and silences during my childhood.
Every one registered in my near-eidetic memory, every instance
of bland disappointmet. I came to believe, in a childish decision
based on all that a child who craves approval can know of adults,
that I had to be perfect all the time, always, or no one would
love me, no one would accept me, no one would even notice me.
Have to be better than the rest. Well, I'm not perfect, and never
have been. It's been a big lie, a lifetime lie. It's in my face
right now, so I can clear and release itand I'm not even perfect
at clearing anf releasing it. It keeps getting hoked back in,
and I have to tell it to fuck off all over again. Funny, really.
This is not a pity party. I could care less about pity, or sympathy.
I despire cheap sentimentality as the superficial misunderstanding
of the real Shadow that it is. This is saying what is, so you
can see it: name the Shadow, and it has no more power over you.
Everything you can integrate from your Shadow can no longer own
you. Own your power, and live consciously, even if it sucks, or
the power will own you.
I give up perfection. I give up perfectionism. I reclaim my magnificent
ability to be a failure. The godz know, I've failed more often
than not. In the eyes of family, I've more often been a failure
than a success. So, I won that. I embrace it. I cherish it, and
thoroughly and completely incorporate it into my being. I fail.
We all fail.
What a wonderful thing it is, to be imperfect.
XL. 7 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
On the drive to and from Santa Fe yesterday, one thought occurred
to me several times: considering that this is the Land of Mañana,
and things always taking longer than you expect, they sure do
like to drive fast and tailgate you here. You'll get continuously
tailgated, even if you're going faster than the speed limit. I
hate tailgating, almost more than anything else about driving.
The autumn landscape is beautiful, though. (I'll think take that
drive agin in the next couple of days, only this time stopping
to take photos.) In the Rio Grande canyon, once the highway enters
it, stands of yellow aspen against the red and black rock and
the blue sky, standing out from the evergreen piñon pines. The
river itself, near its headwaters here, not much more than a trout
stream, with rapids. The tall cliffs, and here and there a basalt
dike; rockfalls were common in the valley till some of the faces
were braced to protect the road. The midday sun strikes down into
the canyon only briefly.
Driving home at sunset, the red last light of the sun striking
out from under thunderclouds made the tops of the cliffs ahead
glow russet, umber, gold. Pink and blue thunderheads above the
cliffs turned red on their undersides for less than a minute,
in the last seconds of sunset. Then, topping the canyon and rising
onto the plateau, Taos lights in the distance, behind me continuous
lightning and sporadic thunder from two storms to the south and
west. I still haven't been able to photograph the lightning here;
it's shy of the camera, and I need to set out more intentionally
to stalk it, with tripod and time exposure.
I'm sitting in the living room where I'm housesitting this morning,
soaking up the sun on my skin. After the days of rain and cloudcovered
mornings., it dawned cold and clear; now there's a few lines of
cloud over the peaks to the south, and I can sit here and see
the snow that fell on the peaks a few days ago, still there, still
etched white with a sharp edged boundary. Gradually, that line
will move down the mountain, and winter will be here; but not
for some weeks yet.
It's warm enough in this sunlit room, though, to sit and feel
almost sweaty as I write. It feels good to be hot. I have to get
up and water the plants; but in a minute. Let me just sit here
awhile longer. Sipping my tea, nibbling at a croissant I bought
yesterday. I am ambitionless, content.
Birds flash by the windows, chasing each other for joy or food
or territory. The breeze twists the golden aspen into waves of
knots. Now a patch of cloud covers the mountain snowscape, now
Going out to the greenhouse to pick green tomatoes to deliver
to one of the restaurants in Taos, I break another sweat. Considering
it's only in the 60s outside, this has been a two-shower day.
At the restaurant, I get a taste of one of the things they are
using the green tomatoes for: a sweet pickled jam, used to glaze
a fish dish. Sublime on the tongue, it is.
I wrote about half of a short story this afternoon. The words
just came to me, as they sometimes do. I'll try to finish it either
tonnight or tomorrow, time permitting.
I am aware of a large influence on my prose writing from a few
writers whose work I admire: Barry Lopez; Jphn McPhee; Gary Snyder.
Lopez's short stories in particular seem to have gotten under
my skin. I have been re-reading one of his collections, Field Notes: Grace Notes of the Canyon Wren, although my favorite of these is still Winter Count, with its tales of solitary rapture and woe. The story I keep
coming back to is The Orrery, a tale of awe and beauty. What I like about each of these writers
is their groundedness in nature, in place: location, geology,
wildlife, flora, all these are aS s much characters in their stories
as are the humans who inhabit them.
But it's rare for me to write an actual short story, even though
it's my favorite genre of prose writing. I write lots more essays;
I find short stories to be much harder to make. Perhaps it's a
latent form of perfectionism that keeps me from just doing it:
I want every story to be lapidary, exquisite.
We'll see where this one goes.
XXXIX. 5 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Rain since dawn, steady on the roof. Did laundry last night, thinking
it would dry in the morning with the sunlight; still damp, though,
The clouds move along the mountains, hiding, revealing, veiling,
unveiling; chasing up a valley between peaks. Always changing,
never just there or not.
More delays on plans. Slow down, slow down. Always put off till
tomorrow what should have happened yesterday. The Land of Mañana.
As they say in Indonesia, Welcome to the land of tidak jadi.
Afternoon pause. The sky to the north shows gaps in the clouds.
But then it closes in again for more rain, wind, and thunder.
Lightning strikes the surrounding hills.
Somewhat sheltered here, in a bowl of plateau surrounded by old
volcanic cones, tree-covered and low, and to the east, the Sangre
de Cristo Range.
See that white line on the mountains? That's the snow line: above
ten thousand feet it has been snowing rather than raining. In
the pause between storms, it's an obvious, clear line, like someone
had taken a ruler to the peaks, and marked the boundary edge.
I am housebound today, between the bad weather and the delay of
plans. Content to do nothing, yet also restless and dispirited,
I have pumped a few hundred gallons of water from the catchment
tanks to the greenhouse, wandered around some, watered the plants.
As I was in the tent, sorting through books I might like to read
this week, and thinking about moving the music gear to the house
to record something, sudden wind invades the tent flaps; by the
time I walk back to the house, the wind and rain have started
again. Dead grey sky to the north, but blue gaps in the south.
I've been online a few times today to check the weather maps and
radara chief value of the internet is instant access to databut
I'm also feeling out of touch. No emails, no phone calls, nothing.
I note the pattern that has been happening these past weeks: the
first part of the week is worse for me than the latter partusually.
I am resisting this today, even though I feel a lot of anger (at
things always being on hold or delayed). Not despair, not anxiety,
just annoyed anger. I have a friend who insists that anger never
appears without fear. I disagree, because I am feeling anger,
not fear; they are indeed often intermixed, twined together like
two vines. But not today.
The same message to Slow Down, Slow Down. I chafe at it sometimes,
but I also agree with it and accept. Part of it may be caretaking,
though: I am so tired I must slow down to be physically safe and
secure. I have burned myself on the stove, bumped into things,
and other little signs that my attention and awareness are not
what they ought to be, or have been, or what I desire them to
be. So, Slow Down really means Pay Attentionslow down so you
can pay better attention.
cloudgaps spotlight green foothills under the sign of winter.
XXXVIII. 4 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
I step out into the night to look at the stars, just in time to
hear a double concert of coyotes from east and west. Uncanny:
voices that range from howl to yipping laughter. No wonder coyote
is thought of as a Trickster.
The night suddenly seems pregnant with Mystery and danger. You
walk through the valley of the Shadow nonetheless. The Way requires
Yet I am disturbed all night. Fears are with me, since I am alone
in the night, in this big house, surrounded by silence (and coyotes).
Fears of attack, from too many TV and film stories rattling through
the zeitgeist. Irrational, of course, but fear is never rational.
You don't overcome fear by denying it, but by recognizing it and
absorbing it, cherishing it then releasing it.
Another book that leapt out at me last week at Goodwill, which
practically shouted that it was time now for me to read it, was
Arnold Mindell's The Shaman's Body. I actually already owned it, but had left it behind in Wisconsin.
Nevertheless, I took it home, and am reading it. I find it dense
going, though; perhaps because he is using idiosyncratic language
for concepts and experiences I am already deeply familiar with.
I find myself interpreting, Oh, he means this when he uses this
term, whereas I am used to this other term. I don't find jargon
useful, when a common language is clearer. I don't think this
is a flaw in the book, actually, just a quirk it is taking me
effort to get around. I have read two or three other books by
Mindell before, and haven't felt this problem, though. Perhaps
something in me has shifted, rather than in his writing. I recall
City Shadows, his book on how certain individuals unconsciously act out the
group's Shadow, to be one of the more profound and useful books
for my own synthesis and teaching about the Shadow.
This Road Journal has evolved into one long-winded essay on poetry,
creativity, and the Shadow, complete with demonstrations and references.
I smile to think of how intentions get deflected by experience:
nothing ever works out exactly the way you plan, or want it to,
or hope. Again, I don't trust the word "hope,"; laden as it is
with so many useless assumptions and phantasms. The principal
illusion of course is that the Divine thinks at all like we do;
we too often seek to impose Order onto Chaos, and project our
fantasies onto the Divine. Which is big enough to absorb them,
and mirror them back, of course, but also to ignore them.
It comes back to Control again: and how little of it we actually
can control. Almost nothing. What we have the power of choice over
is not expressed by the New Age phrase "We create our own reality.";
In fact, we do nothing of the kind. If we had that power, we would
all be driven around in Rolls Royce Silver Shadows, eating caviar,
or something equivalently idealized. This is a big secret I'm
revealing here, and it runs totally contrary to the mainstream
of New Age thinking, but is supported by centuries of mystical
literature: In actual fact, we create nothing of the Universe
except our response to situations and events over which we otherwise have no control. We have the choice in
how we respond: wisdom or weeping. The whole point of Zen practice
is to approach direct perception and acceptance of what is, rather
than what we would like to be. Removing the filters from one's
eyes can be a painful, difficult processmade worse by the personality-ego's
whining about its fears of the Unknown and how it feels like it's
dying every time I make a changebut removing the filters has
an essential purpose in that one can finally see what's really
there, past all fears, all doubts, all fantasies and inflations,
and most especially all projections and expectations and judgments.
Removing judgmentalism from one's palette of habitual responses
is central to this process.
I struggle with saying all this. I seem to repeat myself a lot,
but it is really circling in on the subject, as a hawk circles
the mouse before the final stoop. Sometimes it takes me several
tries to get the language just right: not merely rewriting, but
abandoning roads that led nowhere, and trying new paths towards
the hidden part of the woods. Taking a machete to the forest of
words is more exhausting than you might imagine. It doesn't all
happen in your head, if you are honest about it; the body is engaged,
muscularly wrestling with the same tensions and releases as if
were fighting for its life. Which perhaps we are. I won't pretend,
for the moment, though, that I am doing anything more than stabbing
at the shadows.
Alex, some months ago, finally got fed up with my dilly-dallying
and exclaimed, "Stop calling it visionary art! It's shamanic art."; Despite my trepidation at using such a potentially confusing,
assumption-laden word such as shamanic, I owned the label. This
was just before I was to be part of an art fair at a Minneapolis
spiritual center. In fact, I sold almost no art that weekend,
but I got honest responses for which I was very grateful.
One woman responded to my image swords and flowers in a red vase
as a Warrior; it spoke to her, and summed up her own inner realms,
she said, as both a creator and destroyer, a strong and also soft
Another woman responded to the same image, and to the rest of
my artwork, by telling me, "Your artwork scares me."; She went
on to say that she felt both drawn to it and frightened by it;
she was struggling with her fear, knowing she had to approach
what frightened her, to learn from it. I have never received a
more honest response to my artwork, and never been more grateful
for such honesty. Her courage both in telling me what she was
feeling, and in knowing she must go towards her fears rather than
flee from them, is a model for us all. (As John Wayne once said,
"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.";)
But this leads me back to an ownership of my art as shamanic that
I had been feeling a year before that art fair, when I wrote about
it privately to a small circle of friends. It was public ownership
of the label shamanic art that Alex was getting on me about, and rightly so.
My artwork does function shamanically. It transforms, it terrifies, it heals.
Not just as my tool, but on its own. I make it, and release it
into the world, and don't give it much more thought. (Except for
my own fears about how to market it.)
I have been circling around this, as I said. Now it's time to
be more exact, more explicitmore public.
I had been looking for a way to clearly describe my creative workvisual
art, music, poetryfor several years, with only limited success.
This was a necessary process for me especially in reference to
my body of work called Spiral Dance, which I hope to publish someday soon as a deck of cards, to be
used for meditation and visioning. It's archetypal, it's visionary,
it's otherworldly, it's this label, it's that categorynone of
which fit. All the maps were incomplete.
Then I felt "tugged" by a book to open it and read (something
that happens from time to time). I was astonished to find within
it a few paragraphs that describe my own creative workits purpose,
its function, its meaning, its goalswith accuracy and clarity
beyond anything I felt confident to write myself. This book was
my guide and my goad, and for several days, after reading a section,
I felt energized and opened wide to experience.
The book is When the Spirits Come Back, by Janet O. Dallett, a certified Jungian therapist and artist/writer.
(Series: Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts. Published
by Inner City Books, 1988.) Be warned: this is a somewhat controversial
book, in which the author describes her personal process of breaking
out, along with some of her clients, of her clinical conditioning
into a more creative, affirming practice.
Here is the relevant passage, from the chapter entitled Shaman, Artist, Lunatic, Thief:
... Now, seeing what I can only describe as an inductive effect
of [my paintings hung on the walls of the cafe/gallery] on others'
psyches, I became aware that it made an opening into another world
for people from all walks of life, people who would not ordinarily
be motivated to discuss their dreams or to give conscious attention
to the spirit world in any way.
As I sat in the cafe that day I fell deep into déja vu. A few
years earlier, when I began reading my poetry in public, many
people had seemed puzzled by the work and some had expressed strong
feelings of discomfort with it, just as some did now with my paintings.
Simultaneously, then as now, others had reported that their creativity
was remarkably stimulated by mine. Reflecting upon these events,
I understood for the first time that a certain kind of work, resembling
what Jung calls "visionary art," functions in much the same way
as the shaman in tribal societies. That is, some art is shamanic
in function. Formed from collective unconscious material, it activates
the unconscious of its audience and mobilizes the psyche's self-healing
capacities. It opens the door to a different reality, the world
of dreams and imagination, and "spirits" silently pass into the
world of every day, affecting people in unexpected ways.
Shamanic art undermines unexamined cultural assumptions. For this
reason it disturbs some people and may even arouse rage. Those
who are open to it, however, often find that it sets their own
creativity in motion.
Such art tends to be prophetic. It asks, even insists, on being
heard, just as shamans are compelled to tell about their inner
experiences when they begin to apply what they have learned about
healing themselves to the healing of others. The visionary creative
act is not complete until it finds an audience, coming out into
the world and disturbing the complacent surface of collective
consciousness. If the process is blocked, one outcome may be psychosis.
Cancer may be another. [Aside: The evidence for this mounts increasingly among those
currently studying holistic healing and energy medicine. I refer
you to the groundbreaking work of Dr. Norm Shealy and Dr. Caroline
Shamanic art brings >eros values to the healing of the psyche. That is, unlike traditional
clinical psychology and psychiatry, it is more concerned with
connecting and making whole than with the logos values of dissecting and understanding. It is related to a form
of psychotherapy that interprets rarely, seeking instead to set
in motion a symbolic process that has its own unforeseeable healing
goal. Understanding of behavior is important only to the extent
that it serves a living relationship to deep levels of the psyche.
Since it is fundamentally creative, this approach to psychotherapy
sacrifices the claim to clarity, undermines unexamined assumptions
and is more disturbing to than supportive of conformity. The soul
of the shaman lies equally behind the visionary artist and the
therapist who works in this way. If the shamanic type of therapist
ceases to live her own creative life, the capacity to function
in healing ways becomes lost and may even turn destructive. from When the Spirits Come Back, pp. 36-37
This passage speaks directly to my own creative needs. It very
accurately states, in words better than I have said myself, how
I feel about art-making, and why I do it. In some ways, the art-making
process is very impersonal, because it's not my art, it's something that happens to me as much as to the audience.
I don't feel that I control it. It's a shared journey.
Shamanic art undermines unexamined cultural assumptions. This is exactly its promise and its danger, and why it can provoke
such strong reactions in an audience. This goes beyond the dream-art
of the Surrealists, in that it is transpersonal rather than ego-based.
Such art tends to be prophetic. Bringing into view what few have seen before. Yet also in the
sense of the famous aphorism of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: A prophet interferes with injustice. Working for social justice is not just what we usually think
of activismit is rather changing how people think and look at
the world. Art-making can do that much more effectively, in my
opinion, than can marches and street-protests. Shamanic art brings eros values to the healing of the psyche. Eros in the sense of life-force, of ekstasis, of right-brain
thinking, of holistic unity, of the union of body, mind, spirit,
emotions, soul. According to Hesiod, Eros was the first god to
enchant both humans and the gods, instilling in them all notions of beauty and anguish,
imagination and reality, Paradise and Hell.
Finally, I am reminded of the words of the modern Greek poet Odysseas
Elytis, who wrote in Open Papers: Don't think me exalted; I'm not referring to myself; I speak for
whoever feels as I do and is not naive enough to confess it. If
a separate personal Paradise exists for each of us, I reckon mine
must be irreparably planted with trees of words the wind silvers
like poplars, by people who see their confiscated justice given
back, and by birds that even in the midst of the truth of death
insist on singing in Greek and saying, 'eros, eros, eros.'
It is the lack of naivety, the overly hardore adultness of so
much of Modern Snivellization that such poets and artists fight
against. It is against the deadening of the irrationalseat of
the visionary, the shamanic, the transformativethat must be challenged.
A big problem with the contemporary poetic scene, assuming a scene
still exists, is that it has already capitulated by wanting to
be assimilated, either into the Academy or into the mainstream
low-brow culture exemplified by both the Slam (hip hop and rap)
poetry scenes and the cowboy poetry scene. They have already lost:
there is no depth there, no eros.
XXXVII. 3 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
In the past few days, I have been feeling the urge to compose
and record music again, after a hiatus mostly brought on by the
chaos of moving and traveling. So, I have been downloading and
re-installing, upgrading with OS X versions where necessary, most
of my favorite Mac audio software onto my laptop. No doubt some
recording will soon ensue.
One of my favorites of these is thOnk, a little piece of freeware
for generating granular synthesis compositions. It had trouble
running in OS 9, but is running beautifully in OS X (Classic)
on the laptop. You take a short mono AIFF source file, run it
through one of thOnk's five or six choices of granular synthesis
algorithms, over which you have absolutely no control, then listen
to the generated result when it's all done; generated length can
randomly vary from two to twenty minutes, as thOnk will quit when
it feels like it, unless you tell it to first. What this does
for me is chaotically and unrepeatably produce source files which
I can then edit and/or layer and/or mix into music. (My piece
Threnody was originally created this way.) All the source files I'm using
at the moment are snippets of my own music, none more than a minute
long; but really, you could use anything and no one would ever
know. thOnk even runs in background while you do other stuff.
It amazes me, even though it has been a long-standing dream desire,
that an entire recording studio of software can be installed into
this little laptop. I started doing experimental electronic music
back in the late 1970s, when the cutting-edge of technology was
still tape and razor blades and splicing tape. When an electronic
music studio took up one or two rooms, to hold all the tape recorders,
racks of processing gear, and support electronics.
I remember once, back in the Electronic Music Studio at the University
of Michigan, in the early 80s, in the days before much digital
synthesiswe had just gotten a Synklavier nobody knew how to use
yetmy frequent radio and music collaborator Stuart Hinds made
an extended piece of electronic music using only a few orchestral
samples and the plate reverb unit. (It took Stuart a long time
to produce the piece, and well worth it, as it had gesture and
drama and guts. Most electronic music at the time was (and is)
cerebral, intellectual, boys-with-toys music; Stuart's by contrast
was gestural and emotive, evocative and transpersonal.) The source
samples were so processed through multiple layers of reverb and
equalization that they became completely unidentifiable, and the
end result sounded like an original generation from raw electronic
sounds. This was akin to what thOnk does for me now. I am listening
right now, for example, to a new generation derived from my 1986
gamelan piece NightWatersin only one brief section near the middle of the 10-minute GS
generation can you slightly identify the original, and only then
if you knew it by heart.
Expect early versions of this new material to become available
here as an MP3 in the next few days.
I am feeling singularly unmotivated today. After I shower and
take care of the plants, I have nothing to do and no plans. Maybe
I'll go into town; maybe not. A day of rest, indeed. It's overcast
and windy and cool outside: fall weather settling in. Some of
the aspen have already turned to brilliant gold; many remain green,
or are mixed waves of color and shimmering light. They quiver
and hiss in the slightest breeze; today they are saying "rain";
and "storm"; and "shelter."; Yesterday's twittering flock of finches
is nowhere to be seen, as yet.
wren, owl, finch, bluebird: disturb the morning tide.
After noon, with three claps of rolling thunder as herald, sudden
strong winds and heavy rain. I go around battening the hatches.
One of my duties and pleasures here is to pump the water in the
catchment barrels into the greenhouse holding tanks; there is
certain to be enough to pump this afternoon, even if it's only
a short squall; so, I'll drag the hose and pump around the house
later, to pump out the barrels. The sound of rain on the roof
of the house is soothing over the greenhouse, terrifying.
As I listen to the radio this afternoon, KRZA community radio
out of Alamosa also serving Taos, as the rains thicken, suddenly
I hear a familiar music: my own piece horse at breath from the Two Trees CD by Andy Mitran and Al Jewer. A radio sighting!
XXXVI. 2 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Darkness. Late night. Silence.
This is the first night in over a month in New Mexico that I haven't
slept in the camper. It feels strange. To sleep in a house, in
an actual bedit feels strange: I have gotten used to the camper.
It is beginning to feel like home, whatever that elusive thing is, that is called home. And you
can't hear the outdoors in a house, and this is a fairly well-built,
quiet one. Other noises, but not the close sounds of bird and
I've been a Global Nomad most of my life, really. This journey
just makes it more obvious. That's an archetype I must have, I
guess: Wanderer, Traveler, Nomad. Perhaps that's why I brought
Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines along with me on this venture, with its pages and pages of thoughts
and quotes about nomadics.
Watched the first half of the incredible Angels in America on DVD tonight. This is one of those cases where I had actually
read the play first. It holds upjust about everybody's terrific
in it. I'll watch the second half as soon as I recover.
I went out to look at the stars before moonrise; the river of
light across the sky. Silence, although the lights from the neighboring
casitaempty till now, this weekend the owner's there fixing it
up to try to sell it, I'm toldwere blotting out the Big Dipper.
The spirits came, and we talked; I cried tears of release and
frustration, nothing I can put into words now: such conversations
do not often linger to be recorded. Forgiveness and understanding.
Insight into my own archetypes.
I know you take care of me, even when I don't know, and protect
and preserve me, even when I am lost in doubt and disbelief. Thank
you for that. I struggle with feeling like I deserve any of it.
Things keep working out, somehow, despite my fears and angst:
maybe someday I can learn to trust and surrender. It's hard letting
go of that illusion of control, even when you know better. It's
ingrained, habitual. But the voices come back to say it doesn't
matter, it's okay: tomorrow, or someday soon. I know a break is
coming, after the 40 days and 40 nights of wandering in the desertI
nnust have that Prophet archetype after all, they always seem
to do thatI just don't know when, and being still in endurance
can be exhausting and frustrating.
The stars. The darkness. Silence. A single star falls, over in
the northern sky. A blessing: a gift: a reminder.
XXXV. 2 October 2004, Taos, NM
A perfect fall weather day, cool and crystal clear. For the next
week, I am housesitting and watching the plants for P. in Arroyo
Hondo. It gives me a place to sleep indoors, a stove, a warm front
room, and not too much duty. I'm looking forward to cooking a
Part of me feels like doing a total solitary retreat for a few
days, just to get away from the annoyances of people and the games
you have to play in snivellized society. I spent most of yesterday
jobhunting and gallery-seeking again, with no better results:
no one's hiring right now. I need a break soon, if this is going
to work at all. Meanwhile, housesitting gives me a few days' respite.
It's just as well, because I need to spend some time repairing
all the things that are failing on the camperit is 24 years old,
after allthat need adjusting or repair or replacing. Today the
water pump stopped working, for no apparent reason. One more pile
of crap to deal with.
It's hard to stay upbeat all the time. Maybe I'm just naturally
of melancholic temperament. I do my best to think positive, even
when it feels like a lie and a delusion. People want you to be
happy and upbeat and cheerful all the time; no one wants to see
other people depressed, for fear of contagion. Why can't we just
let each other be? All this rescuing: people trying to cheer each
other up because they don't want to deal with it, or even see
it. Pointless waste of energy. Well, no, I find it just as tiring
to be around depressed people, too, but I'm willing to let them
be where they're at, and not force them to Be Happy! just because
I'm not comfortable. What crap. I'd rather take people where they're
at, hhonestyl listen to them, let them know they've been heard,
and keep my center all the while; sometimes, that's all anybody
wants, is to be heard. As soon as they feel heard, they cheer
up on their own. And if they don't, that's okay, too.
Aikido: blend with the other's energy, meet them, then redirect
their ennergy. Don't fight against them, don't force them, don't
push back. Blend with it: supple, flexible strength. Soft strength, the essence
Artwork made using aleatoric techniques. I used Adobe Illustrator's
Auto Trace tool to randomly trace contours and lines in a piece of bitmap
art. Where the contours fall is somewhat random; there are specific
sampling algorithms the computer uses to run auto-trace, but the
results can be chaotic and unpredictable. I like the results I
am getting with tracing images of people, roads, and some kinds
of small objects. To make it work more cleanly, you can posterize
the image in Photoshop before you run it through auto-trace. It
makes for interesting results.
This piece is made using a new filter set from Flaming Pear called
Polymerge. (FP makes some of the best, most useful third-party
filters for Photoshop.) I'm just playing with it for now; it's
filter that allows you to create multiple kinds of merge effects
from two to twenty raster files. Very powerful, but sometimes
less is more, as too much effect can go to mud clutter very quickly.
But one of the nicest features of all FP filters is that they
provide a "throw the dice" randomizer buttonfor those aleatory
moments. You can also save off your settings, to recall them later.
Very useful tool for an illustrator.
Just over a week ago, for three nights running I encountered a
great horned owl on the land. The first night, driving up to the
campsite, a flash of white wings and breast gliding across the
road, caught in the headlights. A couple of nights later, when
I parked next to the camper and got out, the owl called several
times from atop the disused electric pole about ten feet from
my campsite; as I stood there, it called a few times more, then
glided off silently to the south. The next night, the same thing
happened; I was getting used to its huge, startling presence by
then, and we talked back and forth a minute before it flew away.
That night, the spirits came to me as I was falling asleep and
told me, in their precise yet oblique way, Some one close to you
will be affected by death within the next 36 hours. (It can be
annoying when they do this: it's nothing you can do anything about,
and it's never enough information to act upon. But it does keep
you from being surprised or shocked, later.) The next day, my
best friend called me to tell me his father had died suddenly
of a heart attack. The past week, between the funeral and other
things he's had to deal with, it's been a strain, I know. Maybe
the only point to the spirits' warning is to be prepared; I don't
XXXIV. 1 October 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Last night was the coldest it's been so far. A heavy frost on
the truck; a bright moon concealing the stars; and the coldest
it's been inside the camper ever. I wake up better-rested than
I've been in a few days, to bright sunlight and blue skies again.
The past few days have been "isolated thunderstorms";so clearly
demarcated on the ground you can draw a line around them. Yesterday,
grey billows blew up the hill at us, and over the Rio Grande gorge,
but rained to the east; in Taos, less than 10 miles away, it was
sunny and clear. Later in the day, torrential rains in Taos and
The past few days have actually been like a monsoon patternclear
in the morning, clouds build up during the day, shed their rain
in the evening, then clear out at night. Except that the normal
annual monsoon here happens in August.
Birds everywhere this morning. A pair of steel-grey, blue-backed
little wrens or finches buzz me as I stand absorbing the morning
warmth, then flick onto the woodpile and cock their eyes at me
as though I were a menhir someone had moved there during the night,
just to get in their way. Bluebirds circle the edge of the plateau,
not far from the trees.
I hear the scrape of small bird feet on top of the camper some
mornings, and the flutter of wings just outside the window. This
big smooth white pseudo-rock placed here just for their use and
pleasure. Not suitable for nesting, though; I must discourage
that. I tap on the roof inside, and hear the startled scufflings
as they all take wing.
I haven't seen or heard the raven pair in a few days. Perhaps
they've been sheltering from the storms. Down on the road to Taos,
yesterday, a single raven crouched on a dirt pull-off as the storm
blew in; taking refuge or just watching life go by, I don't know.
presence and absence of mist and sun: wind whips the sage.
I like my art to have an aleatoric aspect: an unpredictable aspect
of indeterminacy. I like to be surprised in the midst of the process
of making art. Randomness and chance has a place, and so does
chaos. I am not an artist who insists on total control of the
artistic process; although I can be a perfectionist about quality
and the technical aspects of reproduction. Total artistic control
is a form of ego, and also a kind of rigidity that at its best
is self-inflating and at its worst, in the wrong hands, can border
on fascism. We've all met creative tyrants; gifted some of them
may be, indeed, but is this the loving, compassionate road to
enlightenment? Arrogance is not always deserved, and respect is
earned. We've also all met artists who think that an arrogant
attitude can take the place of inspiration and self-worth; the
chief vice of such folk is that they also confuse deliberate obscurity
and obfuscation for artistic depth. They don't understand that
humility in the face of the creative process will, in the long
run, produce more worthy results. Art is not at all about ego:
it's about integration.
(I find nothing more boring than stereotyped meter, unless there
are also clichéd imagery and stereotyped rhymes. I have developed
a pretty accurate cliché-sniffer in the past few years of regular
critique practice: there is almost always some way to say something
freshly, surprising, and from a new perspective, even in that
most putrified and decadent poetic context, the love poem.)
The only regular artistic practice of mine that is difficult to
invest with aleatoric techniques, though, is poetryor writing
in general. The music and visual artwork naturally stumble in
that direction, after all. Poetry, because it deals with wordsas
do essays, my other main form of writingcan follow the stream
of consciousness, and be non-logical; but it mostly tends to follow
the flow of everyday language and the conventions of habitual
thinking patterns, all of which are linear and, ultimately, narrative.
I strive in some of my best poems to be as non-linear as possible:
to be holographic. To present everything all-at-once, like a jewel
that must be turned in the hand to uncover all its facets.
This can lead to interesting typography, but it isn't as easy
to get out of the straightjacket of the reading habits of ordinary
readers as it might seem. The written language has a stereotyped
flow and progression; breaking that can seem shocking and disorienting
to inexperienced readers, and critics who are stuck in their manuals
of style. In reading Muriel Rukeyser's Collected Poems, I discover a shared sensibility at times with my own work. It
shows up in the use of punctuation to break up the line; to create
breaks and pauses in unexpected places; to rattle the cages of
habitual meter. It makes you slow down, stop, and consider. Roadblocks
in the traffic flow, I suppose.
Here's a sampling of vintage Rukeyser, from Night Music (1938):
When the exposed spirit, busy in daytime,
I hear echoes in there of what I am seeking to achieve, although
my language is more rooted in more contemporary writers such as
Gary Snyder, Barry Lopez, John McPhee. Nevertheless, since I had
never read Rukeyser till earlier this year, it was a validation
to discover someone else who was mining similar terrain.
All too often, though, I feel a lack of complete success. Traitorous
words strive to remain in their straightjackets; it takes a lot
of effort to get them to explode. I work hard at re-writing, usually
for the sake of compression and concision. It is my belief that,
if you can say it in a haiku, say it in a haiku: don't waste words
inflating it into something epic.
Most often, I feel liked I've compromised: I end up presenting
a sequence of images that the reader must herself stitch together
to make meaning, but the progression of images remains linear.
Cinematic, yes, perhapsbut cinema is a fundamentally linear medium:
frame by frame through the spool, always spinning forward, never
stopped or reversed. They do not often present themselves as such
to my mind's eye: when the images come that lead to a poem, they
come all-at-once, like that jewel of many facets. I struggle to
get them into words, as they often resist encoding and encapsulating.
My best poems, in my opinion (which is not the last word on the
topic), are vision-poems.
Vision-poems: a perhaps misleading term. I do not mean ekphrastic
poems: poems written in response to paintings or other visual
artworks. I also do not mean poems that simply record what has
been seen and experienced, although great poems have been achieved
doing just that. (I absolutely do not refer to those everyday
description poems with no resonances: the current fashion of "confessional
poetry,"; which results in snippets of daily diary entries unconvincingly
masquerading as profound artabout as profound as dry toast.)
I mean, rather, something closer to musical notation or transcription,
which, in the act of reading through it, summons back the original
music, so that you can re-experience it directly and immediately.
The poems I strive to create bear the same relationship to ecstatic
experience that musical notation has to music: when you play the
piece, the sounds in the airephemeral, evanescentevoke the same
holographic experience in the listener as the composer experienced
when notating them down. (I obviously am not referring to intellectually-based,
systematically-derived composing, such as serial music. Iannis
Xenakis's so-called stochastic music is far more gutsy than most
serial composers ever achieve, with the possible exception of
So, perhaps by now you can see, I personally make no firm distinction
between music and poetry and visual art. To me, they are just
different channels (each with their own strengths and pitfalls,
to be sure) for the same creative force. I easily switch between
channelsone of the few types of control I consciously exercise
over the process is practicing the agility to change channels
at needbut each channel can demand my attention on its own, as
well. Perhaps today's experience will come out as a poem; or perhaps
a piece of improvised music, recorded and preserved; or perhaps,
a Photoshop collage. I do not plan my day around what kind of
art I will make, but rather around knowing that I will make art
of some kind, today, whatever form it takes.
XXXIII. 30 September 2004, Taos, NM
At dawn this morning, a white fog. You could see the blue sky
and the sun beyond the gauze of the fog, but it was thick and
cut off the view of the plateau itself at around 100 yards. Opposite
the sun's position there was in the fog a perfect half-circle
of rainbowonly it was pure, radiant white in color: a fogbow.
"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the
strong. It takes strength to forgive."ÊÊMahatma Gandhi
The truth in that quote resonates with my Ki Aikido training of
some years ago, where we learned, and proved in our practice,
many times, that soft, flexible strength is far more powerful
than rigid, hard strength. Our culture paints the bodybuilder
archetype as what we call strength: but with two fingers pressing
against their chest, you can push them over. Hard body strength
only looks strong: and it is weak, because of ergonomics, from
front-to-back. Furthermore, this hard strength fades with age,
infirmity, and lack of continuous work: it is ephemeral. But soft
strength only increases with age: I have seen 65-year-old Aikidoists
throw much younger, apparentally stronger opponents all over the
dojo with ease. In Aikido, you train the ki, not just the body:
and the kiibeing the lifeforce itself, the power under life,
that supports lifeonly gets greater with training.
In a parallel vein, talking about the differences between classicism
and romanticism, Jacques Barzun writes: What lent support to the seventeenth-century view that reason
and nature are one is that the classical scheme of soceity coincided
with a greata scientific epoch; an epoch, moreover, specializing
upon the one branch of science most congenial to the classical
temper. I mean mathematics. For mathematics also abstracts and
generalizes and yields simplicity and certainty while appearing
to find these ready-made in nature. Seeing the beautiful demonstrations
of Descartes and Newton, as they explained the heavens with their
coordinates, the great classical minds sought to rival this perfection
and simplicity on earth. Philosophers used the geometrical method
to arrive at moral and religious truth; social scientist reduced
government to mechanics; the tragic muse imitated the tight deductive
gait of Euclid; and I am not merely playing on words when I say
that poetry itself adopted one commmon meter as if scientific
accuracy depended on it. Inn all the imponderables of life, conduct,
and art, the test was no longer the flexible, "Is it good, true,
or beautiful for such and such a purpose?" but "Is it correct?"
This is a rigid stance. We still suffer from its ascendance three
centuries later, socially if not mathematicallythis is now the
age of chaos math and fractals, after all. Romanticism was at
least in part a response to the rigidity of classical ideals,
and their inflexibility. But even during the seeming perfection
of the classical eraa chimera many modern philosophers and social
scientists yearn for nowadays as for some kind of golden agethe
seams were showing. As barzun goes on to add: As the classicists are wont to boast, the tremendous pressure
of all these restrictions and rigidites produced some magnificent
expressions of human genius.... Yet there is to this brilliant
period a darker and neglected side. It is surely no accident that
Pascal's Thoughts, written at the height of classicism, but undermining it, should
begin with a distinction between the geometrical mind and the
inntuitive. Pascal's actual phrase to express the latter is esprit de finesse, which means the ability to distinguish and deal with concrete
things, with living beings, as against the geometrician's ability
to manipulate abstractions and definitions of the nonexistent.
The geometrician's universe is articulate, colorless, and clear-cut;
the esprit de finesse on the contrary sees the color, continuity, and indefiniteness
of things. The esprit de finesse, in short, is the instrument of romanticist perception, though
romanticism does not necesarily begin and end in the realm of
Obviously, because of my half-Asian soul, my life's history, and
my general inclinations, I tend to opt for flexibility and relativism,
rather than rigid moral and ethical codes. I am no fan of repression
or rigidity. Situational ethics are not a final answer, either,
but at least flexibility is built into that worldview. Perhaps
the perfect moral code exists somewhere, like an ideal Platonic
solid, existing in subspace as a template on which the building
blocks of matter are founded. But as Benoit Mandelbrot, the man
who coined the word fractal has said: Clouds are not spheres. It is only out of classicist habit that we tend to reduce the
real world to idealized forms in order to examine and manipulate
itwell, this is not unexpected, as our technology was founded
in classicism and grew up parallel with itbut in truth, fractal
forms far more accurately depict the real world. The Zen Buddhist
approach has always been to observe what's actually there, without
assumptions or preconceptionsbeginnner's mindand proceed from
unclouded observation. The impact on society of these differing
mindsetsthe one rigid and mechanistic, the orher flexible and
organicin some way defines the subtle yet central differences
between the worldviews of West and East.
Look: I can't promise in this Journal that I won't feel down and
out again, unpredictably and unexpectedly. Maybe it was the full
moon. Last night, I had to go to bed early; I felt dizzy and weak
and unable to focus. All of the stress of the previous few days
(weeks) had taken its toll. I slept welll last night, though,
and even had positive dreams. The fogbow this morning was exquisite,
sublime. So, at the moment, I can say I feel stable and neutral.
But this too is ephemeral. The thing about writing my spleen into
this Journal is simple: I need to get it out of my body, before
it sickens and exhausts me. This path I am on now, this Way, this
is part of its price. It will nnot go on forever; it is day to
day at best, what I feel, how I feel. No promises either way.
Just skip the bits that bother you.
XXXII. 29 September 2004, Taos, NM
Beginning to feel completely and utterly discouraged. Taos is
a great place to live, if you already have a job or money or a
place to live or all of the above. So far, I have met some nice
people by walking in their doors, both businesses and galleries.
People seem to be warm and supportive, if I can trust that; but
people seemed that way in Minnesota, too, only in Minnesota it
was usually a lie and a mask. I don't know if it's real here or
not. So far, everyone who has looked at my resume and/or portfolio
has liked it; but still, no one is hiring right now.
I'm told, repeatedly, that I need to give it time, that Taos takes
time to break into. Well, that's wonderful. To have enough time
to break into Taos, I need to get a job that allows to me stay
here. Catch-22. I'm running out of money right now, to the point
where I don't even think I will have enough to be able to get
over to California to shop my artwork there. I can't get a local
P.O. box without having a local address, and I can't get a local
address without getting a local job, and my cell phone, which
is also non-local, is long-distance for these folks. Catch-22.
Scylla and Charybdis. What the hell am I doing here?
My back's up against a wall. I cannot afford this voyage. Without
some financial help, more begging if you will, not that it does
much good, I could not even get back to the Midwest at the moment.
So, you wash up stranded and broke somewhere, where no one wants
your art and no one has a job for you, and try to survive. Good
luck, kiddo: here's your parachute, don't mind the holes in it.
It helps, yes, that there are people here who are close enough
to being friends that you would like to help you if they could,
and in some cases at least will let you park your trailer on their
land for awhile. But you might as well admit it: no one, so far,
has much more to offer.
Why did I come to this desert? To die? To strip away everything
I ever knew or thought I loved? To be a hermit in a wasteland?
Forty days and forty nights. Too bad that you can't tell if that
forty-count is literal or symbolic: because, symbolically, you
can't pin on it an actual number of planetary rotations. Well,
I've been in the desert long since before I came here. I've been
in desperate straits for some time. I've asked for help before,
and sometimes received it. Some of those people probably feel
used by my extreme need, and would rather forget I exist. I can't
say I blame them. I chose this cliff to jump off of, and I'm still
falling, I guess. I must be still falling: every time I think
I've hit bottom, something worse happens to prove I haven't. This
endless succession of misadventures and discouraging disappointments
is taking its toll, and I woke up every morning the past few days
wondering why the hell I bother. What good does it do, anyway?
Well, I quit. You can take your assumptions about what it means
to live in this culture, and shove them. You can take you expectations
of me, and throw those off the same cliff. You can your privileged
advice spoken from a place of abundance and paint it on a flag
and go stand on a desert island and wave it passing cruise liners,
for all I care.
Have faith? Why should I? So far, all faith has been for me has
been a ste-up for lies and bitter disappointments. I was a fool
to believe in any of this, and a bigger fool to come here. Now
that I here, though, I am trapped by circumstances, and I know
that that road I took to arrive has already been washed away.
I know that on some level none of this is real; so what? It feels
real enough to hurt.
So what? In the past few years I've sent out hundreds of resumésno
one hires strangers, only people they know. Only, no one wants
to get to know you anymore, in these days of uncertainty, fear,
terrorism, and increasing governmental tyranny. No one wants to
risk the unknown. No one wants to take risks, period. The conservatism
of the art galleries is just one more symptom.
Oh, who am I kidding. Gallery owners have always been conservative
and not prone to risks. They are business people, and need to
sell what they can, so why would anyone expect any differently.
Raw talent, honed craft, mature vision: none of those mean a damn
thing. If you can't even get the artists to look at your stuff,
why expect the gallery owners to give you the time of day. I doubt
it's any better anywhere. Nobody's running a charity, so you can't
expect them to try to sell your art for you unless they're certain
they can sell it.
I'd even be happy to be labeled a "mere illustrator,"; a bloody
"commercial artist,"; if it would pay the bills. Two years of
national advertising I couldn't really afford have led to absolutely
nothing. Not even an nibble. When not even the hard work of self-marketing
leads to anything, yes, you get discouraged and become to "prostitute";
your artif anyone were willing to buy it. But I'm already past
that point, and I have no more capital to invest in marketing,
advertising, or at this point, even packing up camp and moving
on. I'm stuck here for awhile, because I can't even afford to
get a spare tire for the camper, since the tire fell off on the
way here, so that I can move on. I'm ready to move on. It doesn't
seem like there's anything for me here, after all. I guess that
too was an illusion.
Well, fine. Any clues as to what to do, where to go, next? Hmn?
XXX!. 26 September 2004, Taos, NM
Another book I acquired this past week, at the Goodwill in Santa
Fe, was the original, uncut version of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Apparentally, when it was first published in 1960, the editors
asked him to cut it by 25 percent, mostly because of content rather
than length; some of his ideas were too outside the mainstream,
even for science fiction. The restored original cut is actually
a much better novel. I recommend it highly.
Something I find continuously amazing is that Heinlein was able
to write such an anarchistic book when he himself was such a rgiht
wing conservative politically; this is of course what makes a
great writer, and underlines the premise that confusing an author's
politics with the views expressed in his novels can be perilous.
I don't know that Heinlein and I could have ever been civil with
each other personally, but Stranger is a book I could live by. There is so much incredible wisdom
in here. There are so many lessons about personal choice and self-empowerment,
as well as spirituality, that in some ways prefigures Radical
Faerie culture as it has evolved.
I spent most of the morning lying in bed reading it, not for the
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