C. 5 December 2004, Taos, NM
I'm having intense dreams. Some elements from early this morning involved travel, and arriving, and being nomadic. Not a huge surprise, I guess. I'm tired, and my mind has been churning. Things bubble up so that they can be released.
I stayed up late last night, chatting online, and watching The Last Samurai on TV in my hotel room, and then I woke up early. I could probably use another few hours of sleep. I am taking off the rest of today, since all I really have on my plate is waiting for that cheque to arrive. Okay, I have a few other things I need to focus on, but at the moment I need a little mental downtime, after the sturm und drang of this past week. I will get through the day, and that will be enough. It's windy today, and it snowed a littler more last night; more snow is expected throughout the week. I am going to spend some or all of the week in Santa Fe, I think; I am actually looking forward to being in more hotels, can you imagine? I think it's a mental break, into luxury, that I crave, most than anything else right now.
Samurai was a powerfully affecting film, and one I quite enjoyed, and will probably watch again. Of course, I have a long-standing interest in Japanese culture, and the history of Japan. This film is set in the Meiji era, not long after the Civil War and contains referents to both Custer and Little Big Horn. The parallels drawn between the U.S. Cavalry's bloody suppression of the Native Americans, and the suppression of samurai revolts in Japan at this time are obvious; that they are a subtext of the film without being drawn with too broad a brush is promising, as these parallel situations provide the context for the lead character's journey from self-destruction towards redemption. It is not exactly the most original movie since sliced bread, of course. For the second time in a week, I was thinking of Richard Chamberlain in a TV mini-series. The referent to The Last Samurai is of course Chamberlain in Shogun. What separates these two movies is partly the eras in which they are staged, the Tokugawa shogunate of the 16th century, versus the late 19th century for the other. But in each case most of the scenes are stolen by the Japanese actors, and there are influences from and homages to Kurosawa, both blatant and subtle, throughout both films.
The other Chamberlain mini-series I was thinking of was the original version of Ludlum's The Bourne Identity. I also recently saw the new movie version of that novel, and was frankly disappointed. They could have done so much more with the dilemmas of Bourne's amnesia, and his journey of self-discovery. Instead, they reduced most of the interesting character moments to afterthoughts, and made it into just one more action film. I thought the ending was completely contrived, and lacked any of the resonance of the novel. The Chamberlain mini-series was, by contrast, much closer to the novel, and retained both the psychological anguish of the lead character, but also an ending close to that of the book's. It must be obvious at this point that I far preferred the mini-series to the movie.
Well, in general I have always preferred mini-series. Their biggest advantage is that they take the time to give us the whole range of a novel, the whole palette of character arcs, both towards redemption and damnation, and the time to become wholly immersed in the milieu of the original novel. It's an expensive project to put on a mini-series, though, which is why we haven't seen any in some years. But it's an art-form that I think was generally good, and in some cases, among the best TV watching I have ever experienced. Nor was the mini-series limited to commercial TV, since, of course the first years of PBS' Masterpiece Theater were often devoted to the American re-broadcast of British limited series. Some of the best min-series ever made were based on James Clavell books, in my opinion, including Shogun, I still think, though, that the best mini-series I ever saw was the one based on Clavell's Noble House, set and entirely filmed in Hong Kong.
XCIX. 4 December 2004, Taos, NM
I feel wiped out, drained, exhausted by the stresses of the week. I got through the week, although it was a daily challenge. I don't know about tomorrow, or even tonight.
The other big news that has been on my mind all this week is that, finally, I found a gallery in Taos that likes my stuff and is willing to carry it. Tonight, there was an opening, with luminaria all over the street, and they have two of my pieces on the walls. It was a big deal, lots of folks, saw two or three people I knew, even, and they liked my stuff. They look good framed. Dark wood frames, off-white mats, pull out the sepias and the golds in each image; good choices, I think.
Why aren't I jumping for joy? Well, there's the fact that I've been up and down the rollercoaster so much this week, that I just don't want to ride anymore. I need some serenity more than I need either extreme. (Binary polarity again: let's break that mold and go for the third option: Zen warrior non-attachment to outcome.)
There's also the fact that it's all so sudden. After I crashed and burned emotionally, and played the Victim and the drama queen, dammit, the next day, the very next day I find a gallery that wants my work. I feel a little whiplashed, honestly. On Tuesday, they saw my portfolio, picked out two pieces and said if I could get them framed by Wednesday and drop them off, they might get in the show, No guarantees, mind you. So, thank you Braeburn Blue for teaching me how to frame the past few years in Minneapolis, I got the materials from a local frame store, did the fitting and framing, and dropped them off, and lo and behold, my two pieces were in the opening tonight. In very prominent positions near the front door, on the left as you walk in. It's called Blue Moon Gallery, just off the Plaza. By the way, I like the company I'm keeping: several other artists in this gallery are just as visionary, as adventuresome, as "different" as I am myself. This was just about the last gallery in town to try, and I had just about given up. Now, I'm in!
Experiencing a little emotional whiplash here, folks. Please stand by.
Okay, calm down, go for clarity: This is a really good opportunity. They want to see more of my work after the first of the year. I will be back here after Christmas, even though I don't plan to winter over here. I will make plans to spend part of each year here, so I can call myself a Taos artist, although I am not now at all sure that I am meant to be in Taos. The legend here is that it takes two years for the Mountain to decide if you belong here; Taos Mountain, hovering over the Pueblo, home to spirits and local gods, guardian of the sacred Blue Lake. No surprise. Two years, huh? Pretty fast in geologic time, about right in spirit time. Well, I am not at all sure that the Mountain wants me to be here. I've made some big mistakes so far. Maybe this is all fledgling fumbles, new boy trying his wings, falling out of the nest. Who knows?
There's also the fact that, even if the gallery sells my work, it takes time to build a career as a selling artist, and no one piece will make you wealthy. But, damn, sell one or two pieces and they can at least pay some bills. It's a start, and I am grateful. I am also wary of collapsing into fantasy about instant success. "Overnight success" always comes after years of preparation and struggle. I'm okay with slow and steady.
So, I'm wiped, but some of it was good stress, it wasn't all dark and dirty stress. Rushing around to get the pieces frames, etc., was stressful, and it did give me something to do all week. But yes, now I'm tired.
You know what? If I have to spend tomorrow night in a hotel, I will? I could use the mental break, and the brainless hum of the hotel room TV, and even some late-night access to online chatrooms. Wow. I guess I need a mental break, more than anything else.
I'm doing my best to keep my action steps, things I committed to doing this week, even with all the madness. I am almost done re-assembling the new website from the ashes of the old. Total reorganization takes time. I like how it looks so far. I also committed to following the lawyer's advice, and now that I got my printer down the hill, I can get to that, too. It might a few more days, after I stabilize where I'm going to stay next weekprobably a hotel in Santa Feand I need to get a new ink cartridge. But you line them up, and you tick them off, one by one. Getting it all done means doing it piece by piece, one piece at a time. Day to day.
(Again, I'm staying up late to distract myself from that anxious basic-self voice within that is always afraid of the future, and can't shut up enough to live in the present. You know, if you slow down enough, and live only in this moment, you realize you have plenty of options available, and plenty of time in which to make choices.)
chorus of fledgling saints, walk past pion-pitch oildrum fires: carolers on patrol.
your heart beats tattoo on streetlamp glimmer, parking meter tick and hum.
gesture of nothing: wipe traces of nightwork from gloves, knife sudden in hand.
laughter jars, coming downstreet, elite, enciting. sudden flick of treadstone.
I, arbiter of eagles, walk invisible between doors of light. this brightening, shadow.
I tried posting one of these fractal-form poems on the new poetry crit board, and got total confusion in response. I found that a little annoying; it made me somewhat impatient. Some visceral impressions got through, but dammit, poets overthink things too much, sometimes. It doesn't have to be that complex, that analytical. Obviously, this form is still obscure enoughno exaggerationthat education about it still has to happen. Granted, it's not the least obscure form; but totally missing the mark, missing the point, seems extreme. I guess I expected more.
The poems are Symbolic. I write not in literal images, except of course they are literally seen as images in mind as I write, but in symbols. This form especially. Nothing is more concrete yet more evocative than a haiku. Each line in this form could be a haiku, or a near-haiku. (Let's not get too anal about our definitions, shall we?) I recognize the choppy diction, and abrupt stops and shifts, as having a precursor in Muriel Rukeyser, although I only started reading here this year; yet I recognize a kinship. It's not meant to trip up the reader; rather, it's an extreme level of compression: get as much out of each word as possible. No chaff, nothing extra.
Sometimes the word juxtapositions that come out surprise even me. One thing that got questioned was the punctuation, the use of colons as connectors that also stop one short: like an atemi, a ki-laden hand in the face of the partner on the mat in the dojo during class. Another thing that got questioned was the layout: someone wanted every other line indented. Yuck! It would break up the look of tight blocks on the page, not what I want to do at all.
Well, no worries. Trust me to come up with a fractal poetic form, something where the "rules" of construction are multidimensional rather than grammatical or syntactic. Sideways thinking is typical of my approach, I guess, so it's no surprise that it trips up the more linear-minded. Oh well. Never mind. I will keep writing in this form for as long as it wants to come out that way.
XCVIII. 3 December 2004, Taos, NM
Well, I got up the hill to get some stuff, then back down. Paul picked me up in his 4X4 truck then took me back down when the UPS man called to meet at the bottom of the hill with a delivery. So I have some necessities, like toiletries and clothes now. Maybe I can make it to this plane date now. Got the cellphone cable, too, and it's charging now.
One piece of clarity i have today: Now that I am out West, I need to stay here. It wouldn't be right to pack up the truck and drive back to Wisconsin. I remain open to possibilities in Chicago, but not going to move to any big city unless I have some place to stay and/or a job first. Can't sign a lease without secure income, of whatever type. So, I will come back out here after the Xmas break, in mid-January, get the camper, and head out. Either that, or find a place to stay. In summer, it's easy for me to live in the campgrounds around here. Have to take somne security precautions, but whatever.
Written last night before bed:
I am poised to keep moving, it feels like. I will use New Mexico now not as a destination but as a way station. I can be in and out of here for the next year, till something might develop, but not attached to it. And at least for this first winter on the road, not at all attached to freezing my ass off here, out of stubbornness or fear; not at all. Maybe it just took this week of hardship to figure that out, to force me to get real about it. Somewhere in the back of my head, that scared part of me is still screaming, now that it's night againthat emotional roller-coaster I wrote about beforebut I choose not to collapse into it, tonight, if I at all can avoid it. (Still, if I could get the camper and all my gear down the hill safely, tomorrow, I'd be gone.)
What am I talking about? I'm trying to prepare myself for whatever's next. Wanting to keep it light and detached. Non-attachment to outcomes. A daily practice, that, and one I still beat myself up for practicing imperfectly. (Godz, I need to re-read Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart again, soon.) Tonight, it feels like I am having a moment of lucidity, after being fed an excellent beef stew and glass of Californian Merlot by my current spare-bedroom host.
Wishes and hopes are illusions and lies. They are useless. It is better to live without hope, in acceptance of what is, rather than dreaming of what is not and might never be. I may never get out of this situation; it's irrelevant, either way. It could all fall apart on me, again, at any time. I could lose all my plans, again, to the next wave of unpredictable change. Without help from friends, again, I could be abandoned by the roadside, again, as I have felt all this week. It's been a trial. Again. (Are you catching the repetition of the pattern word "again" here? It's relevant.) Some of it has felt like a warning to vaccinate myself against the habitual angst that destroyed plans bring on. If everything falls apart again, will I get upset again? Probably. The lesson is to become less upset each time, and regain equilibrium a little faster each time. Immunization. (I've actually made some progress on this front, I gather, hard as it is to remember that when trapped in the angst itself. I note that the suffering lasts days, not moths or years; the panic lasts hours, not days or weeks. Maybe this is the lessoning, after all.)
Oddly, I had a productive day today. I spent most of it online at the local internet caf?. Sending off emails for possible future connections to income, in the form of teaching proposals. But also talking to friends further West about staying with them temporarily, for what remains of winter. Then, packing up the camper and traveling again. As long as I don't find work or a place to live on the cheap in Taos, Taos will not be home. Taos may never be home, although I could still be a "Taos artist" by being here often enough during the year to maintain some kind of local connections. I can afford to give no place my allegiance, not yet, not without first finding some greater stability there. I can probably never give any place my full allegiance again, ever. This is what it means to be nomadic, or rootless. Rootless, at least, I can pick up and leave whenever the gaje turn troublesome. (Better invest in replacing the camper's spare tire, though, before I get too far down the road. That RV repair place in Santa Fe could probably help me out with that.) It's a big country; I'd like to see it all before I die, and it appears at the moment that the Powers That Be have similar ideas. Doesn't mean I'll suddenly wake up one day and be drama-free; it's a start though. I'm still learning to detach. I think I got too attached to being here, staying here; I got lazy and ceased paying attention, so the PTB slapped me to wake me up. I hate those lessons when they occur, but at least I have learned enough to recognize them. (Warrior's attention, as Mindell writes. I keep thinking of Castenada lately, too, probably synchronistically.)
Fuck loyalty to place or job. Fuck attachment. Fuck plans. Now my anxiety this week comes from not wanting to impose too much on my acquaintances and friends. I don't want to ruin friendships by becoming a burden. I hover somewhere between diffidence and assertion, between wanting to be invisible and asking for what I need. I want to pay for my keep, if I can, by helping around the house; I'm proficient with power tools and dishwater, after all. Since I seem to have to be dependent on the good graces, and empty couches and spare bedrooms, of others, at this time of my life, I might as well spread the burden out as lightly as possible. Or till I am cured of this lingering self-hatred for my Vampire archetype; till I accept it, and myself, more fully. It's not inherently evil, after all, nor even inherently negative. It's how you deal with it, how you manage your energy, that counts.
Well, everyone has the power to say yes or no for themselves, too. Self-empowerment for everyone means that I have to not only accept whatever answer I get when I ask for help, but also to accept that it is arrogant of me to want to limit those options available as answers. If I try to limit the scope of help that I will accept, out of pride, out of shame, out of guilt, then I am limiting the possibilities for grace to enter my life. It doesn't mean I always have to be a victim. Neither does it mean that I am always a burden. Respect others for their choices, too.
And remember this. Even if I don't want to live there a long time, Radical Faerie sanctuaries are an acceptable place to crash, for short periods of time, if nothing else is working. I can always park my ass at Zuni for a month or two. Even if I have little wish to interact with other Fae, even if I mostly want to hermit up, it remains a possibility. So does Short Mountain, come to think of it. (Although some part of me still seems to want to steer clear of Wolf Creek, not sure why.)
So, what indeed, then, to do next. First off, survive till I can fly to Chicago and the Midwest for that month over Christmas. (Maybe I can get the camper down the hill at that time. If not, if may have to stay parked there till actual spring.) Then, back here, not to stay, but to stage the next phase of my trip on the road. In emails and IMs today with two Northern California friends, I paved the possibility for an extended stay there. And I am not forgetting a certain clairvoyant friend who thought that maybe LA had something brewing for me that would come to fruition in the next months. Heck, even if it was just for kicks, how fun it would be to be around Stick Enterprises for the annual NAMM show! I need to call and offer my services; I'll do that as soon as I can get the cellphone back up and running. (That recharge cord is still up the hill; I'm going to try to get up there tomorrow.)
I know why I had a productive day today, though. It's the same reason I don't want to stop writing tonight. It's fear: that if I let myself sit still too long, doing nothing, I'll collapse back into that dark mind that has been so difficult to endure all this week. It's the desire for distraction, in the face of the fear of looking into that abyss again tonight, after having done so every night this week. The refiner's fire.
XCVII. 2 December 2004, Taos, NM
Lines from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence keep repeating in my mind:
Every night and every morn,
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night,
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to darkest night.
It's true. I've been riding the waves. Every night this week, I have felt such misery that I didn't want to go on living; feeling like a parasite on my friends, because I have needed to ask for help, and guilt for accepting help when it was offered. When will ever be able earn my own way in life again? Will the spirits ever let me do that again? And then every day, during the daylight, exhilarated that I have survived one more night. Up and down. Maybe the purpose here is to burn the last of that drama out of my soul, to make the extremes so harsh that they burn themselves out and I can finally move past them.
I have a temporary respite. I am staying in a friend's spare bedroom these few nights, at least till I can get back up to the camper, if the snow melts off this week. After that, I plan to spend a few days in a hotel in Santa Fe. I will do the gallery-hunting duty there that I might as well do now, rather than later. I might also be able to spend a day or two visiting a friend in Albuquerque, or at Zuni. Some ways to spend some time before my flight to Wisconsin.
Killing time yesterday and today, I found myself reading Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Supremacy. There are only one or two writers of that genre the book lists call the "superthriller" that I think are worth reading. Ludlum is first on that list, followed by some of Stuart Woods' books. John Grisham's The Client was actually a good novel, too. And, contrary to some of my friends' opinions, I enjoyed reading Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, largely because I already knew a lot of the arcane esoterica about DaVinci, the Knights Templar, and the art history involved, and I wanted to see what Brown did with it. Didn't learn anything new, but enjoyed the ride. It didn't hurt that big chunks of the book were set in places in France and England I know and love, like the Louvre.
All of these superthriller writers write in that non-literary style a New York Times critic called the "no-style style" some years ago. This style is characterized by factual, almost journalistic prose. The dialogue is often the only place where one finds any irony or humor, and sometimes the only way one sees into the minds of the characters. You get little inner monologue; it's mostly just the facts, ma'am. The thrills are in the events that the characters go through, the writing itself usually as bland and unobtrusive as it can be, sheer reportage. This style of writing has come to dominate the best-seller list, while more artful, genuinely literary writing has been shunted to the side in most cases. You can partly blame Norman Mailer and Philip Roth for beginning this trend, if you like, with their flat-voiced 1960s best-sellers; I don't blame Tom Wolfe, who has always been a gifted stylist. (Maybe we need to blame Jack Webb for some of this trend, too, with his always-dry delivery. But Webb had also an under-appreciated, very dry sense of humor you can see in all his TV and film work. I recall many episodes of Dragnet and Adam-12 where he took the camera time to let the many eccentrics of Southern California just be their eccentric selves, while he stood by, quietly and non-judgmentally observing. He was a far funnier man than he ever let on when he was on-screen. So what if it was dry, occasionally gallows humor?)
Most of these superthriller writers write far more blandly than the murder-mystery genre writers, who have a sense of style and character, especially in such series as John McDonald's Travis McGee books, or more recently, Dana Stabenow's series set in the Alaskan bush, the Kate Shugak and Liam Campbell novels. Tony Hillerman's quiet, laconic writing about his Navajo Tribal Police characters Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn is more purely literary reading, as well. I find it interesting that those writers who are ghettoized by the publishing world as genre writers nowadays have far more literary depth to their prose than almost all of the best-selling superthriller writers combined. It's a notable trend, and I haven't seen it discussed much. McDonald, Stabenow, Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker, and Hillerman all provide literary pleasure in the sheer act of reading; their descriptions of their settings, the land and the people inhabiting them, are all enchanting. They all take moments where the lead characters just stop and think about life, or stare at the sunset, or appreciate a lover, before the denouement. Chandler is someone I re-read for the pleasure of reading, even though I have read every one of his detective novels at least three times. I've read most of Hillerman at least twice, for the same reading. Parker's earliest Spenser novels are the closest to Chandler one gets in these latter days.
The worst of this group of best-seller thriller writers mistake the no-style style of their betters as a genuine literary trope, thinking that the trick is in the events, the plots, the sub-plotsthe mechanics of the story. The lesser writers all imitate the mechanics, and ignore the characterizations of their lead characters. It's very hard to tell the good guys apart, from writer to writer, in this lesser group: they are templated and cookie-cuttered to death. Or, when a writer has an obscure intuition about this overall blandness, the lead characters are made so eccentric, so arcane, so improbable, that one needs to totally suspend disbelief to find them at all plausible. An art historian as world-saving detective super-agent? Now, really! As usual, it's more often the bad guys who get the really outr?, scene-stealing bits of action and dialogue. You know you watch a James Bond movie as much to see how outrageous the villain can be, as for anything the hero pulls off.
No, what makes books in this no-style style work, when they work, is the characters. Not the plots, not the events, not the revelations of conspiracies within conspiracies, wheels within wheels, that are genuinely Ludlum's trademark. What makes it work is when the characters have real human traits, real faults, real flaws, real problems. They make mistakes. They suffer. They may do extraordinary things, and find themselves in incredible situations, but what makes it work is that they are believable enough as real people that the reader comes to care what happens to them. (That's why Grisham's The Client works, and by the way the real reason why Stephen King is so popular: not the supernatural elements, but the real-life small-town that those elements affect. King could write a great American novel, if he would just focus on the small-town lives of his characters, and let go of the supernatural thriller shit. The first hundred or so pages of most of his books are really good; after that, I usually skip to the end. Some of the short stories and novels he wrote as Richard Bachman prove this theory, I believe,)
Robert Ludlum is the only one who really makes the thriller soar. His books are always roller-coaster rides, building and building towards a breathless ending, with some plot twist that leaves you gasping but was perfectly prepared for, in retrospect. I first read Ludlum in my teens; it was The Gemini Contenders, and I stayed up all night reading because I literally could not put the book down. It was the first time I'd experienced that thrill of reading with this sort of book, a "thriller." (I had stayed up late reading SF novels more than once by then, though.) I've always been a fast reader, although I'm not schooled as a so-called speed reader.
And what makes the Jason Bourne trilogy the very best of Ludlum's books is precisely that Bourne is a complex, deeply troubled, unstable character. There are times when you don't know if he's on-target, as it were, or if he's being paranoid: the thrill is partly in finding out the truth, and how Bourne responds to it. He is supremely gifted as a survivor, chameleon, and killer, but it's because he is so conflicted, so damaged by his past, that you care about him. It's interesting to contrast him to his adversaries in The Bourne Supremacy who are sociopaths and psychopaths, with no moral compass. Bourne has supporting characters who provide him with a moral grounding. But Bourne and his antagonists are like a single person, split in twoone went to the left, one went to the right. There are mirrors and reflections all through here. (Okay, to describe it that simply, it looks clich?d; trust me, you only think about it that way once the roller-coaster ride is over, because Ludlum's prose sweeps you along.)
Vicariously, Bourne's violence in the novel has helped me with my frustration these past few days, giving me a way to diffuse my own desire to lash out, to disappear into the crowd, to become the chameleon and disappear. Don't think I'm not tempted.
So, anyway, I am now seriously considering spending the rest of the winter in California, or on the road. I can always come back to New Mexico come spring, assuming I don't find a situation and/or job in CA that I would want to stay for permanently.
I have friends in various locales. If I can spend a week here, a week there, before you know it, the winter's over. Then, I can try it again here in New Mexico, or see what happens in the meantime.
I know now that I am meant to be out West. I am still not clear where exactly. And, honestly, I don't really care. My dream is still to travel and travel and travel, and get what I can for my art and skills wherever I go.
XCVI. 30 November 2004, Taos, NM
Practicing not letting anything get to me today, I am also buoyed up by actually sleeping warm last night at my friend's place in town. I found a place to buy firewood bundles, although I am still not sure I can get up and down the hill in my truck. I may throw myself on the mercy of friends again. Again, it's not the snow on the hill, although that can be bad to drive in, especially when it's slick and icy, it's the cold. At least, if I do make it up the hill, I can heat the tent using the tent stove. Probably be warmer than the camper at night, assuming I can get it all set up. It's too late to go up the hill and come back down tonight, it's already dark and getting colder.
These are the survival-level things one thinks about when living this way. There are good things about being nomadic, but winter in the mountains is hard. I am looking forward to spending a few weeks back in the Midwest, if only because I know I will warm and sleeping indoors, and spending time doing so with people I care about and who care about me. Consider it a winter break for traveling. I don't care if a purist would call that wimping out. I call it being attentive to one's survival needs.
XCV. 29 November 2004, Taos, NM
Well, I ended up spending an hour at the lawyer's. I explained the story, and the lawyer gave me some good advice that I can follow with no legal expenses incurred. It's not that big a chunk of money, I know. So, I will be writing a letter or two to prompt the gallery to pay me, then I have a couple of more options if that doesn't work.
Then the lawyer's assistant and I talked about art, and she gave me several contacts and local tips to connect with. We even looked at some of each others' artwork. That all felt very positive.
Getting down the hill, though, was the most dangerous driving I've done so far in New Mexico. We ended up having closer to 8 inches up on the plateau. So I inched down in first gear with the parking brake halfway engaged most of the way, terrified of ditching my truck by the roadside. But we made it, much sweating and cursing later. I don't know that I will be able to drive back up hill tonight, though, so I'm glad I stuck my big wool coat and other winter clothing in the truck. There's a small place to park it at the bottom of the hill, which is maybe where I'll have to leave it tonight, and walk up. A long, steep walk, I hope I'm up for it, carrying the puter and all in my shoulder bag. I guess I needed a workout.
Now, after snow has been veiling everything, I see blue sky to the north, although the Taos Canyon to the east is still densely veiled with falling snow. I will include some photos here I took this morn, to give you an idea. It looks like the snow has stopped falling over Arroyo Hondo from here, though. The mountains are the whitest I have ever seen them, covered with a blanket of bright reflective snow.
So, I still need to buy that heater today, so I'll finish writing this then go do that, then maybe get back online later. Take the day as it comes. If I end up walking up the hill, no worries. From what they tell me, snow never lasts on the roads that long here, and the driveway there is on a southern face, so will melt off faster than it would otherwise.
Here's what really pisses me off, though: There is some sort of sabotaging or self-sabotaging spirit that acts out in the material world, and tries to derail me from my purpose and my goals. It tried to keep me from getting to the lawyer's today. These are the sort of synchronicities the warrior shaman has to pay attention to; most folk dismiss them as coincidences, but there is no such thing. First, printing up that narrative of events, my printer ran out of ink. Second, the drive down the hill almost keep me from getting in to town. Once down the hill, the roads were quite serviceable, actually. But I refuse to give in. I got angry, and I used my anger to get through it. I declare this sabotage done! I declare it done! I declare it done!
Godfuckingdammit! It's supposed to be below zero tonight, I can't get up the fucking hill, and even if I could, the hardware store is all out of heaters. Figures. Just totally figures. If I hadn't had the lawyer appointment today, which is the only fucking thing that has been worth doing all day, I would have stayed in the camper and blown everything else off. It's like everything today is designed to piss me off. I hate these kinds of days. They make it impossible to get anything done, then you have a lousy time because of it all. Goddammit! Fuck this shit! Can't get home, can't stay warm, supposed to go to this fucking meeting tonight that I absoutely do not want to go to, and of course I can't through on the cell phone to tell anyone. I hate this shit! Godfuckingdammit!
Well, I'm safe for the night at a friend's place in Taos. The weather says minus ten for the night, which I don't think I could survive in the camper at this point, not without a much better heater. So, I'm okay for the night. I have to take this literally day to day at this point. This is survival level stuff, nothing to take lightly. Trust and surrender are all very well, but sometimes yo have to act to take care of yourself. If I can get back up the hill tomorrow, I can get some wood and light a fire in the tent, sleep in there. That I have done before. I need to remember that there are always options out here, and the tent stove is a good one. Maybe I'll buy soee firewood tomorrow and just hole up for a day or two. I dunno. We'll see. First I want to see the weather forecast tommorrow, before I decide. Day to day.
XCIV. 29 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
A cold miserable night. It took hours, it felt like, to fall asleep, and for my icy feet to get warm. Even cocooned under three layers o wool; blankets, I shivered for awhile. My tea mug fell off the counter and splashed over everything when I was writing earlier. So somehow I have to dry out my floor rug, somewhen, so I can walk on the floor. The camper floor is always cold now, and needs a cover. You know the floor's cold when the snow you knock off your boots by the door doesn't melt anytime soon. Well, maybe I'll get another throw rug when I get the heater. Do I have one in the tent? I'll go look, later, when I get dressed for real.
But this morning I wake to silence and whiteness: a fine thick snow has been falling for some time, and there is already a couple of inches of fine white powder covering everything. Icicles on the camper windows, where it melts off the roof since I'm heating it from within, then refreezes on the way down. The sun is a bright white spot in the southern sky, surrounded by featureless white-gray clouds. The hills are missing, lost in the white mist of falling snow. The plateau is gone to the Twilight Zone. I'm sure I can drive down the hill in this, and get to my appointment; I'm not so sure I can get back. Well, stick a blanket in the back, put on an extra layer of socks, and take along the big wool coat and a scarf or two. If I have to walk up the hill, I shall, but really, two inches is nothing compared to what I'm used to in the Midwest. It's beautiful out there right now, but it's nothing like a Wisconsin blizzard. (I think of my good friend in San Francisco, originally from the Midwest, who has proclaimed it no loss that she'll never have to shovel snow again.) It's a day for bundling up and being outside, then coming back in to hot cocoa and warm fires. Or virtual fires in some cases.
Silent snow, secret snow....
I actually do feel a little better this morning. Just more calm, not necessarily happy. Nothing's resolved, or likely to be. The lawyer just called to remind me of the appointment, but also to let me know they made it in to the office today. I guess Taos is shut down, schools closed and everything, for this little bit of snow which we wouldn't even think twice about in Wisconsin. A mere two inches? Close the schools? No way! The only time I can remember Minneapolis shutting down lately was that time we got two feet in six hours, and the plows just couldn't keep up.
No, a good storm like this actually makes me cheerful at times. Storms have always had that effect on me. I remember as a boy standing with my grandmother next to the big plate glass windows in the family room, nose almost pressed to the glass watching a raging thunderstorm. My Mom was in the kitchen, freaking out, while the two of us stood there enthralled. Storms are exhilarating, andrenaline-making, spectacles. They're beautiful as well as dangerous.
There's that emotional rollercoaster again, plunging me down last night, trying to raise me up today. I don't trust it. I don't trust amplitudes of feeling. I will not drug them out with either medications or other chemical means; I refuse to go that route, and am suspicious of drug-induced mood altering at the best of times. (The lecture on why our culture has gotten worse since we started drugging everybody for the least little things, is a lecture I'll spoken before, elsewhere; not going to repeat it here and now.) Instead, I remind myself: I am not my emotions. My emotions are part of the matrix that makes up my self, but they are neither who I am nor who I must be, nor, especially, are they in control.
Proceed. Get dressed. Put on your warrior's uniform for the confrontations ahead. Allow yourself to enjoy being out in the snow, at least a little. This isn't about control or suppression, as it is so often misunderstood. It is about learning mastery. After all, fear is a clue to danger, a warningunchecked, fear is the mind-killer, but as an ally it is can be helpful. The same is true for all the other emotions, as long as you remember that none of them are who you are. They are fleeting, quickly come, as quickly dissolved.
XCIII. 28 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
I'm going to see the lawyer tomorrow afternoon about my complaint against that gallery that refuses to pay me for the work I did for them, to get some advice on what my options are. So, I just finished writing out a narrative of everything I can remember, which totaled at four very full pages. It's not perfect writing, as I am just spewing out everything, and could probably organize it a little better, a little more in proper sequence. Still, everything I can remember is in there at this point. I made three passes through it, and I have to stop now.
Bringing this all up again to look at upsets me more than I knew, and more than I like at the moment. Compounded by the fact that it's fucking freezing in here tonight, I am in a shitty mood. So, I need to vent some of this here before bed.
Why am I even wasting a lawyer's time on this? It's probably pointless. There's probably nothing anyone can do, and I am as fucked as I ever was. Tomorrow evening, I made a commitment to go to another Debtor's Anonymous meeting, but I really don't feel like it. I am suspicious of the whole 12-step paradigm to begin with, and not sure this is really appropriate for me. Still, I gave my word, so I will give it one more shot. I plan to be honest and forthright about my reservations and skepticism in the meeting, though; and not give a fuck what anybody thinks.
I spent a little time this evening procrastinating about the above, by going through some music software I downloaded onto my laptop earlier. Some of it is real cool stuff, some live drum loops and a little Theremin emulator; but a lot of it I archived and trashed, to make room on the hard drive.
I also purchased my plane ticket for going back to the Midwest over the Xmas Holidaze. I'll be gone for almost a month. I worry about my music gear and other chattels surviving in the fucking cold while I'm gone. Freezing every night and thawing every day is not so good for gear, or books, or whatever. Well, I suppose I'll just have to deal with it. I called that potential place to live this afternoon and told them I was not going to take it, as the road is just too awful, It would definitely destroy my truck over the winter, and I will not do that, it's not worth it. Who the fuck cares, anyway? It's a nice little cabin, but with that awful road, too isolated and too hard to get in and out of, to be either easy or supportive. Perlerorneq.
I hope it's sunny tomorrow, so I can dry out a few things that got wet from the snow I tracked in from outside. I also want to do some work in the tent. Some sorting and organizing against my departure, even though it's two weeks away, and against the oncoming cold. Some more things I can store in the camper's storage cubbies, which will hopefully. Keep them a tiny bit warmer over the next few weeks. I expect to empty the tent out, although I will leave it standing, and store what can be stored in the camper, with the door locked and the hatches battened. Safe as possible, I guess.
Nothing to me feels safe enough tonight. Safe space is a joke and a lie. I can be safe for others, but I don't have any safe space myself. I guess it's just not in my path anymore. This fucking warrior shaman's path. This trail of tears. This momentary bitchfest. My rage tonight, conjured up by having to write through what I had to write down for the lawyer, is large enough to fill the sky. Instead, I huddle in the camper, half-frozen, tense, irritable, my shoulders aching, my back sore, my feet wet and numb. I am definitely going to go buy a better heater at the hardware store tomorrow. This borrowed space heater is just inadequate for this weather.
The just past full moon is rising over the mountains, hiding behind fast-moving clouds that skate across the sky in a cold hard wind that also rocks the camper tonight. No peace here, not right now.
Well, fuck it. Time for bed. Play some music as I crawl under the covers and try to get some sleep; something soothing and transformative.
XCII. 28 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Sharp ticking of snow on the roof. The local raven croaks in the snowfall from the top of a pion pine. I huddle into the warm blankets as the world turns grey and white. It comes in waves, the snow, a burst, then silence, burst, then silence.
I am spending all my energy and attention on the new website, still. It's a focus, gives me something to do.
The day before Thanksgiving, I picked up a boxed set of the three (so far) Harry Potter movies, and have watched them this weekend. It's interesting to watch the actors grow up, from movie to movie. I have barely scratched the surface of the special features as yet. I quite like these movies. They're as faithful to the books as a movie can be and still be self-coherent. One of the interesting things of the whole Harry Potter phenomenon these past few years is how their popularity has really led lots of kids towards reading in general. It's rare for a book or book series to inspire such interest in reading for its own sake. So, you know when you get to the movie, that the audience, of whatever age they are, has more than likely read the book that the movie is based on. This is actually fairly rare, in this day and age. I go to movies based on other books, and sometimes I've read the book, but it seems like no one else I know has read it. (Of course, sometimes you read the book after seeing the movie, too.) It's not a big deal: I just find it an intriguing phenomenon, how much the Harry Potter books have done for literacy in general, and thus how literate their movie audience has become. Personally, I think this is all a good thing.
I am really liking watching movies on DVD. I have no access to television. In the internet caf? in Taos, they sometimes have MSNBC on overhead, or the TechTV networkneither of which are particularly interesting, and which, fortunately, are ignorable since the sound is turned down. But TV is such a waste. Less and less of it is worth watching, If I had cable, I'd probably only watch the movie channels anyway, so DVDs are a parallel solution. I am amassing a small collection here in the camper by now. I am pretty selective, still, and tend to buy them on the cheap when I can, with only the occasional splurge like the Harry Potter boxed set. The truth is, I am still living at or below the poverty line. There's a certain amount of mental health practice in this though: if you starve yourself of all resources, all comforts, all indulgences, you will end up nuts. I indulge myself in these relative luxuries, sometimes, to stay sane, and to distract myself from other stuff. Some days, you just need a day off.
I lie in bed in the cool, almost wintry morning, snowfall making the world into a light gray bowl, and read about Edward Abbey's summers in Arches and the surrounding slickrock canyons around Moab. I was just there weeks ago, so my memories are fresh, bolstered by my photographs. Big chapters of Desert Solitaire are places that I recognize and have seen now with my own eyes; they live less in fantasy than in memory, having been there myself. (And oh yes, I want to go back. The Big Empty keeps calling to me, keeps looming in my memory, and the fantastic, otherworldly beauty of Arches and its surroundings.)
As naturalist writers, I prefer Eiseley's quieter voice to Abbey's curmudgeonly one. Abbey is pro-wilderness but also at times misanthropic, choosing sides clearly for the wilderness over the problems that humans bring to it. I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, I even share it, mostly. But he takes every single intrusion personally, as though it were the end of the world. He complains about how the national parks are too accessible, whereas I think that accessibility is something that can serve to educate more city-dwellers as to the value of what is still there, in the empty places: silence and soul. Abbey is a rough talker, and even though I can see in my mind's eye the places he describes in some detail, the land and sky and life there, his tone of voice is crusty rather than reverent, even when he is being reverent. This is the same writer who gave us The Monkey Wrench Gang, a bleak novel about an early mission of pro-wilderness types who later came to serve as models for both Greenpeace and Earth First!, both ends of the spectrum of activist, militant wilderness protectors. I personally know at least one so-called tree-hugging eco-terrorist (a misnomer if ever there was one, as these folk do not terrorize the earth but rather those who attack it) who served jail time for ecological activism, and is now a former felon with all the curtailed civil rights that entails, who lives in the wilder rural areas of central Tennessee and does construction work for money. I respect the grit and commitment it takes to fight back for the sake of the earth, but I am too cowardly to go to jail over it. I tell myself I can be more effective if not bound and gagged, but the truth is, I fear the power of the proto-totalitarian almost-police state that our republic is becoming. These dark thoughts parallel Abbey's directly, as he published them in 1968 with a clearly laid-out scenario of what it would to control humanity in our land, a lot of which has proved prescient.
So, it's not the facts of Abbey's message that I disagree with, but rather the tone of voice that he characteristically uses to invoke it. He writes from a place of lament. In the introduction to the book, he goes so far as to say: most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You're holding a tombstone in your hands. I cannot agree with this. How can you even begin to approach such a book, after such a spoiler? Warned off like this as a reader, before you even begin reading, your attitude already colored? (Granted, I often prefer the land to the people who inhabit it, as well. But this could have been a postscript rather than an introduction.) Yes, the wilderness and the National Park system has changed since the time that Abbey describes, the late 1950s; it has become even more developed, more explored, more, if you will, tamed. But this is change, not necessarily loss. The pristine wilderness, in one way, can never have existed because as soon as human consciousness encounters it, it interprets it. Mind in nature, as Gregory Bateson put it: nature without mind is nothing we can experience, comprehend, or even imagine, as it is mind in nature that makes nature into "nature." Even Thoreau realizes this at some point, when in Walden he talks about his connections to the new England community that, after all, is only a few hours away from his idyllic pond in nature. Abbey, in his own way, though I imagine he would rail against me for saying so, is as much responsible for the "loss" of wilderness as anyone else, because by interpreting the wilderness for others he invites them in to, as he would put it, despoil it. A true preserver of wilderness would never write such a book; so it's disingenuous to eulogize something while simultaneously extolling it. A true preserver of the wilderness would shut up about it, and keep these canyons secret.
Still, in all, there are some moments of great beauty and profound evocation in Desert Solitaire. What makes Abbey a lesser writer than an Eiseley, even though he is capable of great passages within the overall work, is his abruptness, his unwillingness to take an overview that is objective rather than interpretative, to pull back and look at it all from the perspective of geologic time. His sense of scale never rises above the human, never transcends itself without complaint. It is only when he finds a quiet spot, and becomes still, and if I may say so, shuts up, turns off the chattering monkey mind, that his writing begins to soar. It is primarily when he is taking about the land itself, with no editorial comments, just pure description, that the book rises to its greatest heights as literature. But his self-described elegy or memorial attitude colors the writing everywhere else with a tone of dismay and disgruntlement that eventually wearies a reader. I wish this were overall a better book; it could have been.
For example, Abbey writes about his day-hike up the canyon of the Escalante River from where it merges with the Colorado. He describes hiking through various kinds of terrain, and his descriptions are clean and spare and evocative. Then, as he describes all the little slot canyons off the side of the gorge, we get this delicious paragraph, Abbey at his wilderness-reverent best:
Is this at last the locus Dei? There are enough cathedrals and temples and altars here for a Hindu pantheon of divinities. Each time I look up one of the secretive little side canyons I half expect to see not only the little cottonwood tree rising over its tiny springthe leafy god, the desert's liquid eyebut also a rainbow-colored corona of blazing light, pure spirit, pure being, pure disembodied intelligence, about to speak my name,
I have felt exactly this way myself, this calling, wandering through the West: an endless series of places for gods to inhabit, enough to make a Shinto priest searching for kami faint with overwhelm, and God is in each and every one of them. Out there in the canyons and landscapes, you can't help but experience Mystery as Immanent, ever-present, watchful, and transcendent, all at the same time. It's a place for mystics, as every desert always has been, and why so many hermit-mystics choose to become anchorites within its vastnesses. Even on my worst days here, I never tire of the way the light plays on the mountains and plains of this Rio Grande plateau. Even rational, cynical, non-religious, mind-oriented men such as Abbey approach having a religious experience in this landscape, this pure disembodied intelligence that is as close as Abbey comes to telling us how he imagines the Divine to be. It's a sublime moment in a book that can at other times be as bitter as the salt creeks that flow out of some of these canyons.
It's still snowing, slow and steady now, almost windless. Time to get down off this mountain and go into town and do some errands. Maybe finally buy that heater I've been planning to buy, these past few cold nights.
XCI. 27 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Pounding away at building the new website, redesigning as I go. Restoring some sections intact, but abandoning some old things by the wayside. Pages of trips and memories no one wants to look at any more, just clutter and chaff. Older art replaced with newer, except those used to create a page of favorites. A chance to reorganize and clean up, and start over, with just the best left on display. Still a portfolio, so having to be organized that way, at least some sections. I want to do a humor and inspiration section, which will be more chaotic and unpredictable, but not sure yet where best to give it a home. I'm also tempted to register another domain name and finally give the fonts their own website, and make it commercial and self-contained. I make all these fonts of various kinds, some of them I no longer want to give away for free.
Well, the past two nights in the camper it has been windy and cold and clear, and I have not at all felt like doing outdoor activities. It's been clear and sunny during the day: your muscles unkink, then clench up again against the cold come dusk. I could take a drive or a walk, but honestly, I really want to focus on getting the new website up and running, now that I've finally gotten past the technical problems that blocked my server access before. I might take a camera walk or drive today, if the spirit so moves me.
I've been so focused on survival logistics lately, I haven't even had time or mental energy to write or make new art these past few days, till this morning when I spent some time revising poems left long by the wayside. Thanksgiving Day itself was a good day off from everything. I spent the day in company with some friends I've made since arriving here, through those Tuesday night gatherings of the local gay crowd and their friends at the Taos Inn. I made a couple of key lime pies the night before, very tart this time around, that were distributed appropriately. We had a feast at one place, then went across town for conversation and dessert, although I was too full by then, then back for talk into the late night hours. Long talks about politics, race, spirituality, the economy. All good.
In revising a 2001 poem that came to me in a flash of idea that springThomas Merton, AstronautI see that in a poem like that, I had to clarify the narrative. It was too oblique, too "poetic" for its own good. It's basically a science fiction trope, after all: the elders of the fading Vatican, locked in their Satellite against the loss of all the world's faiths, bring back young Thomcloned or reborn, I don't know or careand send him out to preach on Mars. But being Merton, he is full of inner conflict and the tendency to think for himself: scholasticism versus mysticism; his duty versus his desire for a still more isolated hermitage. All the same conflicts that made him who he was are still there, if he is the same man. So, while he lingers on Mars, he dreams of a hermitage even further out and less accessible.
So, I revised the poem to make all that clearer, I hope. The first version was oblique to the point of obscurity, so it failed. If a poem needs footnotes, or has to be explained, I think it fails. It should stand on its own. (There are always a few exceptions.) I gave the poem up for crit on this new poetry board, and it quickly became obvious that no-one knew who Merton was, or his background, or had read him, or known of his inner turmoils at various times of his life. Well, I'm not going to put all that in the poem; they can look it up if they really want to. It's a poem, not a dissertation. But I tried to clarify the narrative at least. This is an unusual poem for me in that it even has a narrative, a story. Much of my poetry is imagistic, the images telling the story that sets the mood that gives the meaning. I don't like to spend a lot of time on interpretation; explaining a poem is like explaining a jokeit kills it. If you're going to write an essay, write an essay; if you're going to write a poem, write a poem.
A lot of my poems are moments of revelation or union: timeless moments, in which time stops and everything comes into crystal focus. This includes the visionary and shamanic poems, of course, which actually I have known for years. Not this Merton poem, though. In this one, it's more like storytelling: you have match mood and tone and events to the characters. It becomes a story because the character needs it that way. Maybe every poem written about historical characters, or written from within a character's viewpoint, has to be at least a little narrative. If only because of the habit of convention in storytelling about supplying plot (narrative). At the very least, a momentary scene within a larger narrative. My poem La Madonna is like that: a moment of pause in the whirl of a larger story. And The :Last Words of Henri Matisse is what goes through his mind in his last days, as he lies dying, still trying to make art, using scissors and colored paper when he can no longer draw or paint. His final visit from Picasso and his wife, they gave him one of Pablo's paintings, a winter landscape that Matisse place on his mantle and looked at often in those last days. Picasso and Matisse had long been friendly rivals who pushed each other artistically, and as a result both created original art beyond anything they might have done had the other not been there as goad. (It's been argued whether Picasso or Matisse was the single most influential artist of the twentieth century. I would fall into the Matisse camp, partly because he was Picasso's goad at critical moments in Picasso's career of innovation and discovery.)
Now I've revealed more in one single paragraph about some of my poems than I ever have before. Well, so be it. This journal of self-exploration continues. Did you think it was only about the physical roads?
There are other poems that seem to be nothing but description: no action, no narrative, no scenario. I find several of these to be the poems I care about most deeply, precisely because they are about timeless moments, moments of transcendence, although I concede that they may not communicate as well to others. I struggle with the language, trying to make it into something transcendent, something that can convey my actual experience of those timeless moments, yet I feel like I fail more than I succeed. (I dream of a new language, a language of essences and archetypal symbols, one neither timebound nor dependent on linear syntax.) We are so bound up in our ideas of what time is, that folks seem to get confused whenever linear narrative falls away. Well, call it nonlinear narrative, if you must have a label for everything. Call it Cubist poetry: seeing one moment from all angles simultaneously. I have experimented with this in my photography, too: rendering multiple perspectives on the flat plane. That whole series of collages are part of that perspective. There have been experiments in Cubist poetry before, but I think they have largely failed because they still didn't strip away narrative; they broke it up into simultaneity, but for the most part they did not go far enough. I think a genuine Cubist poetry has to be imagistic and painterly: presenting the multiple viewpoints simultaneously, as in a painting, and letting the reader absorb it for herself.
(Too many poets have the habit of telling us what we are supposed to think and feel, telling us what they are doing, even showing off their brilliance in tellingand too few just show us, and let us find the story for ourselves. Far too much telling, not enough showing. Poets who tell us what to think betray their insecurities and lack of trust in themselves and their audience, unintentionally revealing that they don't trust their audience to think for themselves. They believe that their own interpretation of their works of art is the only correct one. It's a form of mental fascism, or iron-fisted control. They overdetermine meaning by forcing it onto the poem. Not all poems are the product of will, or conscious intention, as such poets would have you believe; they portray themselves as heroic (in truth, egotistic) wrestlers of the muse, hard-working and rational, when in fact all artists must include inspiration as well as intention, or have nothing to show for it but dry prose. You need hard work and inspiration both. Too few poets, as a result of these insecurities, trust that their audience is wise enough to interpret the poem for themselves, by finding in it an experience they can relate to as one that is shared by all of humanitylove, betrayal, death, transcendenceand thus, just show the poem and let the audience think for themselves.)
The truth is, I don't see time as either linear or narrative, except as a social convention we use to communicate with each other. Consensus reality is highly over-rated, except as a means of finding common ground among our individual experiences. It is only the weight and inertia of Tribal thinking that keeps us from all experiencing time in individual ways. The Tribe still hasn't even caught up to Einsteinian relativity, much less the wilder theories of more recent decades. I remember Neils Bohr telling Einstein at the famous Copenhagen conference: Stop telling God what to do! The human Tribe could also afford to learn to stop telling God what to door be.
So, some of the more "experimental" writings I have done dissolve that envelope of narrative in favor of timeless moments explored from all angles. Some of the fractal poetry works that way, although some of it still contains layers of narrative subverted under short, punctuated language. I'm thinking mostly of two or three Zuni poems from last year, which still feel unfinished. Sometimes it is just a matter of clarification, not of any essential change of style. The style has to fit the poem, the subject matter, and the intent. No style is sacred, all are only tools in service of the music. So, even I write the occasional narrative poem, the occasional rhymed poem, the situational poem where the action and feeling is all determined by the characters present in the work. The distinction between poetic fiction and fictional poetry is not really that interestingit's just another way to label things. Far more interesting is the response to the poem itself. If I write a poem in any style about a quiet moment in time, and I see the reader quiet down after reading the poem, I know it has had an effect I intended, on some level. The shared experience of living.
Sometimes, as a photographer, you have to focus on what you're seeing through the optical glass, sometimes on the glass itself. Sometimes the raindrops themselves, on the glass, are the subject.
Taos hermits are slackers. They're really only faux hermits. They come here to be part of the scene, then live on the mesa for cheap, and you can indeed get by living here on not much money. But if you really want to be a hermit, you'd do far better over in the Basin & Range in Utah or Nevada. The artist-hermits here still come into town for openings, to shuffle around and look uncomfortable, and take their praise back with them to their houses outside town. It seems ingenuous, like they're playing up to a stereotype of what an artist should be like. Well, an artist should be a person, like anyone else. I am not entirely comfortable in social settings, but I have learned how to be silent and wait for group-mind to shift around to something more interesting, and then I can be engaged with the conversation. Usually, all I have to do is wait for the other people to start talking, and the next thing I know I am being their spiritual advisor, their priest, or the equivalent: total strangers have told me their innermost inner spiritual secret lives after five minutes of chat at a bus stop. It's nothing I try to do; it just happens; I guess it's my geas.
I just picked up Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles & Hawk Moon and Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire for a quarter apiece at that little honor-system bookstore they keep at the Taos Public Library. You grab a book, you put your change in the box. I've always been a fan of Shepard as an actor and playwright, but even more as a writer. I wonder if I should add him to the list of influences on my own writing; probably. I read Abbey's book, the book for which he is most famous, some years ago; but now that I've been to that part of Utah, Moab and Arches and Canyonlands, I wonder if I will appreciate it more. I'll re-read it with an open mind, it's been so long since I read it before.
I drove out onto the Taos Plateau on Wednesday to look at a possible place to live over the winter: a one-room adobe cabin, complete with wood stove, outhouse, and pets. I am tempted, as it wuld be a good hermitage. This is across the Rio Grande Gorge, over by Carson, in an area called Three Peaks. A really nice little place, actually, and the neighbor who showed it to me was very pleasant to talk to for the hour or so we hung out. But the road in and out is so bad, I can't get the camper in there, and I'd worry about destroying my truck over the winter. So, I don't think it's a realistic idea. But on the way back, I stopped several times to take photos of the most spectacular sunset we've had in awhile. These are the sort of sunsets everyone lives for here: a light show beyond anything you could imagine or paint.
XC. 25 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Thanksgiving Day. Very cold last night. I shivered as I watched a movie, but huddled under the blankets got warm soon. Clear this morning, with frost lingering on the ground in shady spots, and ice still under the camper's sink drain. I made two key lime pies last night, one to take to dinner today, the other for whenever. Where are those birds today that have been chattering so much every morning? Moved on, I suppose.
In the middle of the night, under the stars, I heard crashing noises at the next house over the plateau. Not once, but twice. Perhaps a large animal banging the water catchment, or a smaller animal dropping onto the bed of the old truck housed in one of the open truck barns. Some visitor, who knows what, prowling under the almost-full moon.
I am glad today for a day off from my own problems, an afternoon and evening conviviality and food, with nothing else on the agenda for the day. Nothing else on my plate, as it were. These past days have been among the hardest ever, and it takes some effort to not collapse back into that dark place.
Meanwhile, I note with as much self-honesty as I can muster that that part of me that craves acceptance, that part that will compromise anything in order to be loved, or to seem to be loved, and which has been in my face a lot lately: that part of me only shows up in times of low self-esteem. Because of course it is rooted in that. It feeds on my intermittent sense of feeling like a failure; or perhaps not so intermittent. It tries to inflate my ego with flattery when it fears my sense of self-worth is flagging. It chews at it like a rabid dog, unable to leave it alone and trust in the larger process. When I am feeling insecure, it pushes me towards compromising myself in order to be loved. When I am feeling wounded by life, no matter how small the wound, it wants to look in all the wrong places for love, and lash out at anyone it perceives as a a potential threat. It perpetuates the cycle of victims by, with no awareness or perspective, harming others in exactly the same way that it is has been harmed. The only justice it comprehends is eye for an eye justice, although really, it would prefer both eyes to the one. (We see people who let themselves be possessed by this archetype on a continual basis. Look in any court room. They are unable to stop themselves from seeking retribution for their perceived hurts, far beyond anything sane or rational.)
It is not really love that this part of me craves, or acceptance. It's power. Power over, not power with. It wants to be appreciated, and praised. It sends me fantasies of how I am right in every situation, and how the power of my persuasion gets everyone to be on my side, and how everyone will love and praise me, and figuratively carry me on their shoulders as we march into the gates of the City, as though I were King.
Such fantasies only come into my Dreaming when I am feeling low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth, stymied in my accomplishments, or under attack by life.
When I bring it out directly into the light like this, with as much ruthless self-honesty as I can muster, it cringes and cowers. It tries to diminish itself in my eyes, the better to rule me if I turn my back on it. It acts servile and obsequious, all the while concealing the dagger of hate behind its back. This servility is false humility, which we can all recognize in ourselves at times. If I were to ever act on any of its fantasy scenarios, that dagger would come out openly, as this part of me sank it into the back of any person who it perceived as being an enemy. It's a part of all of us, though, that is at heart sociopathic in its self-absorption: it would make an enemy of anyone who doesn't kowtow to its whims. It whips and punishes me with darker fantasies and visions that make me wince, even, when it thinks I am straying from its agenda. It inflates itself continually, but will only support my own self-inflation as long as its needs are in alignment; if I stray, it is as merciless about punishing me as it would be to anyone else who questions its agenda.
This is how the Prostitute archetype works in my life. This is what it is, and how it functions. This is how it emerges from the Shadow where it usually lurks. These are its tools and weapons.
There's a huge fight going on over on that new poetry board I was invited to participate in, which has devolved into personal attacks, predictably and unsurprisingly, between three or four born-again fundies and everyone else, including a few posts from me. (This is why I stay away from these places in general; it's a classic dysfunctional group, as most such poetry boards are.) Why these people even feel the need to "witness" on a poetry board of all places, is both predictable and incomprehensible. Of course, witnessing to the unwashed is what these people do. Since they believe they have all the answers, you can hear the closing of the minds, like steel on slate. The one truth that they never understand, which lies outside their belief that they have a lock on the One Truth, is that no-one has the right to tell others how to live their lives or that they must change their beliefs in order to be "saved." Of course, that is the whole point of the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution: That Congress shall make no law establishing any one form of religion as the official religion of the land. The right wing is continually assaulting this principle, because, of course, they think they have The Correct Answer, and they want to share it with everyone (or impose it on them). The Bill of Rights is about the only thing holding them back; if they get enough Supreme Court Justices on their side, they'll try to change that, too. This whole idea of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage is part of the same assault, which even their more sane allies in the G.O.P. think goes too far, and must be resisted. None of them have ever read Eric Hoffer's book The True Believer, of course, as that would be too much of a mirror in which to uncomfortably see themselves.
(I could give a rat's ass about gay marriage, because I think that, for the most part, the social institution of marriage is itself the core of the problem, not gay marriage per se. Marriage itself has become a bankrupt, meaningless chimera as an institution, even as it retains its deeper meanings in practice within the context of individual couples ofr whom it works as it was meant to. I am pleased for my gay friends who want to go the marriage route, to show their commitment to each other, out of love. But what the right to marry for LGBT folk really means, of course, is the right to emulate the appalling divorce rate, the rising single-parent family home scenario, and the right to be as screwed up as everyone else. In that sense, I support the quest for recognized gay marriage while at the same time I will continue to point out the deficiencies in the social institution of marriage itself.)
(Oh and by the way, there really is a "gay agenda" that the religious right keeps yammering on about. The right has raised this as another chimera to provide a target for their rhetoric and cant. But the gay agenda has nothing to do with the social and moral issues that the right would portray it as pursuingin their unconsciousness, of course, the right portrays any argument that opposes their steamrollering of social and political issues as an oppositional "agenda"the gay agenda essentially involves shopping, and grooming, and hedonism. Nothing in there about social change, actually, except as an afterthought to narcissism.)
Well, equal rights mean equal rights: you can't have partial rights and call them equal. You can't have legalized apartheid, discrimination, and double standards, and still claim to have social justice. You can't pretend that "moral values" is an exclusionary principle and at the same time hold yourself up as a moral guide, without justly being accused of rank hypocrisy. Similarly, you can't preach one thing and practice another without becoming yourself a hypocrit, and the very image of what you would yourself demonize. Of course, it's all really about projection and denial. Holding up a mirror to these folks does no real good, as they won't look into it and see themselves as they truly are.
One might ask why there is a such a fervor right now, but the answer's obvious: such idiots feel empowered to push themselves and their agenda further by the results of the recent U.S. presidential election. Nothing surprising there. Even the gloating was predictable.
I found myself becoming engaged in this online contretemps by asking a simple question, which I have come back to several times but has yet to be answered: Do you practice tolerance of other ways of belief, other ways of life? Do you offer others the same sort of respect that you demand for yourself? In other words, do you walk your talk? Do you practice what you preach? Do you practice the so-called Golden Rule? Do you do unto others as you would have others do unto you? The answer so far has been a lack of answer, an endless series of predictable Biblical quotes. and the usual talking past the issue without ever addressing in directly. And one of these fundies had the gall to tell me that I don't read enough "orthodox" material, whatever he meant by that, when it's obvious to all and sundry that I read ten times as much as he, period. I laughed out loud at that.
If you want to explore the whole ridiculous thread for yourself, for entertainment value if nothing else, it's located here. Click on the thread called My Testimony.
But that's it for me. I've asked my initial question about tolerance three times now, with no real response, so I'm done with it there. I've been venting about it, not least as a distraction. I am aware that it's been a place for me to take on a battle against injustice and stupidity in reflection of those other parts of my life where I feel powerless and unworthy. It is an area where I can actually practice not giving a damn what others think of me; hopefully I can generalize that more consciously into those areas of life where it actually matters, specifically, my life of self-employment, business, and making an income. And also, in talking to a lawyer right after the holidays about what my options are to protect myself, to seek redress where I can, and to actually maintain those boundaries I talk about with regard to how money flows in my life. In other words, I am very aware that my contentiousness on that stupid poetry board thread is a relatively safe place to "win" a fight, any fight, to appease that Prostitute archetype. Not that anything I wrote there is not carefully reasoned and supported by the facts. But my motivations have been less than impeccable there, and I choose to bring myself back into integrity by acknowledging it, then moving on.
None of this will ever change until everyone sees that it is not about politics, but about compassion. So-called "compassionate conservatism" is the worst sort of hypocrisy, as it is really the same old greed masking itself as social reform. If you scratch a little of that fresh coat of paint off the surface, what you find underneath is all too familiar, and all too predictable, and in no way whatsoever is it compassion.
What it is about is, really, is actually compassion: the ways we help each other, and are helped, when need is there. Today one person helps me, tomorrow I help someone else. It's not even about paying it back, but paying it forward, passing it on, weaving a web of mutual support and understanding. This is what the vision of civilization, living together in harmony and humor, is all about. It's not about suppressing our differences in order to create some lowest common denominator baseline for social interaction; nor is it even going to seem serene at times, as we will all argue with ourselves and each other at times. Rather, it is about recognizing oneself in the other, and seeing what we have in common, what we share, and what we can build together. It is the essence of true community: genuine fellow-feeling, real neighborliness. Today you need a cup of sugar; tomorrow I need help building a house. Exchange of favor, exchange of energy, sharing of obligation. Genuine equality, in that no one is encouraged to perceive themselves as anything other than unique and special.
It sounds utopian, but it can be practical. It sounds anarchic, which it is, but only in the sense that everyone becomes equally empowered to act for their own greater good and the greater good of all. Which of course leads back to social justice, in that it is also about resisting the urge to meddle in others' affairs, or tell them how to live their lives, or impose one's own values and beliefs on anyone else. Sound familiar? It's at the root of the impulse towards genuine democracy.
LXXXIX. 24 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Notes Before Sleep
I drive back to the camper at midnight, after an evening spent at the house of two friends. I just dropped in unannounced, as I hadn't seen them in awhile, and wanted to catch up. We'll get together on again on Thanksgiving Day, too.
There is moonlight, fog, and snow fallingall at the same time, singly, and in combinations. The air is thick and heavy here, clear and snowy there, fog and snow together elsewhere. The land is still and quiet. Everyone's in bed but me.
Last night and today, I finally worked out the problems with the FTP on the new website server. So, www.arthurdurkee.net is now up and running. Although I have only begun to rebuild the site from the code of the old ones; so, some links work, some don't as yet. Some content will take a while to move over; and some old content will be totally replaced by new. (My thanks to Andy Mitran and Al Jewer for making this server space possible.) But I have already uploaded MP3s and material for the fonts pages. I've pretty much decided that White Dragon Type Foundry deserves to have its own website at some point; so I am building this section as if it were its own entity. There are a couple of new fonts to load there, after all. I will probably spend the most amount of time on the Fine Art section, as it really is going to contain the largest number of files. This gives me a chance to redesign and improve everything, really; so the changeover is positive in the end, as frustrating as it's been at times.
It feels good to have a definite project to sink my teeth into, after the dissolutions and vagaries of the previous days.
I also went to a new internet caf? in another part of Taos today, to try it out, and to start the site-building process. I spent a lot of time on the phone today: working out details with Al about the site and other stuff; calling people back; making connections and trying to network; place to live over winter and a job, my goals. Seems daunting still, but enough for now: small steps, small steps. All this, after driving to Espaola again, to deposit the cheque Dad sent me to travel for Christmas. Still to be worked out is if I will fly or drive home, as I need to spend time jobhunting in Chicago while in the area; as well as the storage locker expedition to the Twin Cities. Oh hell, admit it: I dunno what to do anymore now than I have all week, but at least we'll talk some more about it tomorrow. Whatever happens at this point can only be a positive change.
And the lawyer called me back. I'm going to go in for a short consult on Monday next. We'll see. I still may never get paid, or figure out what to do, but at least I'll get some clarity on my options. Even if it's hard to act on themthat pernicious desire to be liked by everyone that prevents me from being tough when I need to be, or being clear about my boundaries so that I don't get run overat least I will have more options.
The night outside, shifting between moonlight and fog and snow, is muffled. Sounds gets eaten by the moisture in the air, and silence reigns. It's supernaturally beautiful, and not as cold as it might otherwise be.
Let's face it: I have so little energy and self-confidence about jobhunting anymore, it's hard to sustain a positive attitude for more than hours at a time. It's exhausting simply to go looking. How can I ever explain to my Depression-era parents that jobhunting is not the only option; they don't get it. I'm not sure I get it, either, and if Spirit wants me to not get a job but live a cheap, monklike existence another few months, there isn't much I can do to change that. If it's supposed to work out that way, no effort on my part to the contrary will do any good.
How do you explain this to people who either can't or won't understand it? That some part of you knows that your life has changed, and the old rules simply won't work anymore, try them how you will? That nothing you can do will ever matter, except that what you do has to matter, and your purpose in life has to be what it is? I don't know how to explain it; I don't know that I can, or ever will. It's difficult being on the bleeding edge of change, where the old paradigms just aren't allowed anymore, but the new paradigms have no weight of tradition with which to support or explain themselves to others. I don't even know if this makes any sense.
I certainly feel like a failure by the old paradigm's standards: those of my birth Tribe and my parents. How can I ever get any of those to understand that I am perfectly willing to get a "regular job" but that none that I apply for come through; and that at the same time part of me knows that I have to do something, frankly, less stereotypically mainstream American in order to make my living from now on; and that I cannot explain the cognitive dissonance between those truths. No matter what happens, unless I achieve sudden meteoric success as a paid working artist, they're not going to get it. And I can't help but feel like a failure under those old rules.
To simply survive, to feel like I even want to go on living, I may simply have to discard those old rules, those old patterns and beliefs and paradigms, those old Tribal ways of getting through lifewhich barely peer above the second chakra, one might observe. To simply be able to get through the rest of this life, I may have to abandon every value that my family thinks is solid, sure, and certain. Because, obviously, they're not. If there is anything to be learned from this long period of living outside the norm, it's that nothing is solid, sure, or certain.
I read back what I just wrote, and see in it the first clear expression I can recall of what this has been feeling like for at least a year. Okay, so maybe I can put it into words. But that guarantees neither understanding nor acceptance. Simple comprehension of these truths may be beyond anything we can converge upon.
And, what then? Do I get abandoned, kicked out, ostracized (again)? That is one my biggest fears here, I notice. Most of what I fear about losing my birth family centers on this. Virtually all of it, I realize in this moment, is about wanted to be loved and accepted, despite everything, just for being who I am. To receive unconditional love. I don't know that I will get that from my family; or friends; or, certainly, the wider circles beyond. I have already learned and accepted that no one outside the circles of my birth family and family of choice really gives a damn. There are more folks in the circle of family of choice who are either understand any this, or are likely to. Yet I notice that even they, most of them, can hold down a fucking job. And so I loop back to self-esteem again. Oh joy, rapture, and bliss.
Hard truth: even if no one understands it, I may just have to live my life that way, regardless o what anyone thinks. Even if my dark fantasies of being abandoned and hated (oh yes, and scapegoated) by everyone were to come true, if the Powers That Be decide that that is the Way, it will happen, whether I want it to or not. (Whether my ego-consciousness wants it or fears it or not, to be precise.) If it's supposed to happen that way, it's gonna happen that way, and no railing against it will change that.
This is the price I may have to pay, and have already paid to some extent, by the vows I have taken, to be who I am. My life is not my own, but in service to higher powers and forces most folks know nothing of, or care about. Which is also as it should be. I can't be an effective healer if I am onstage in front of the masses. The quiet man in the background behind the curtain, is closer to the actual paradigm here.
I don't even know that any of that is bad thing; I suspect it is not. It doesn't make it any easier to have to live through, though.
Well, enough for now. At least I had the satisfaction today of actually doing something about the new website. That's a small but relatively substantial boost to the self-confidence; for as much as we can accrete it.
LXXXVIII. 22 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Keeping all this in mind, and reading again about geology and geologic time, you get perspective by remembering that all of this religious upheaval and warring happened merely in the past couple of thousand years, which is nothing in the scale of time. The Sierra Nevada range of California, one of the youngest on the planet, and the tallest in the Lower Forty-Eight, are "only" three or four million years old.
The human form, to which I, and presumably we all, are attracted, in all its variety and shapes, colors, ages, inclinations, and sexual proclivities is younger than those mountains. Sexual reproduction, the semi-random mixing of chromosomes that leads to evolutionary change, as a process is much older, but still much younger than rocks that have been found on the Canadian Shield, aged 3.9 billion years, old red quartzites that in some surface exposures, like those on the bluffs at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, still show clear signs of ripples and streambeds older than any scale of time we can comprehend.
I guess there are still people out there, though, who believe that the Earth is around 6000 years old, and that the marine limestones on the top of Mt. Everest were placed there by the hand of God. In six thousand years, you can't give a reptile wings, but in six million you can give it feathers, too.
Some of those I find myself attracted to, I find attractive because their beauty, too, will fade; so, I appreciate it for what it is, in the Now. Increasingly, I find myself wanting to photograph these persons, to make note of their beauty, which lies largely in their personalities, regardless of any other kind or attraction.
So, surely some of the sexual attraction one feels for one's fellow humans is derived from the sheer nature of its ephemerality. We are mayflies, Our whole species might have a lifetime of another couple of million years, before we evolve into something unrecognizable, or die.
Keep it in perspective.
Still, one does become discouraged. It's Monday. That lawyer never called me back, for example. All my websites are either dead or inaccessible, and the people who can tell me why aren't emailing or phoning me back, as yet. I still haven't gotten paid for that work I about killed myself doing last week, and until the lawyer calls me back, I don't know what my options are on that front.
I get impatient. Depending on other people helping you is such a loss of time, it feels like. No one ever calls me back, not when it really counts, or when I really need it. It's a paradox I'm very familiar with: needing people, not being able to rely on people when you need them. Sometimes it's very hard to disagree with the punk ethos: people who need people are the stupidest of people. It can make you cynical. And lawyers, don't get me started on lawyers, even when they are helpful to you. As Joni Mitchell observed in her song Sex Kills: Doctor's pills give you brand new ills, and the bills bury you like an avalanche/Lawyers haven't been this popular since Robespierre slaughtered half of France... Anyway.
So, I am left with no changes, and nothing to do. What my revelation gives me is a little more patience and forgiveness with people, but doesn't solve the dilemma of how to still go on. Except on faith. Anyway.
Thanksgiving. Here alone. Last year my sister was home from Europe, and we made a big turkey dinner for Mom and Dad. Then, for Christmas, I cooked another complete turkey dinner on Christmas Day, all by myself this time. This year, it's feast to famine. I don't anyone here at all well enough who would invite me to dinner, and what I can cook for myself in the camper is severely hampered by the lack of an oven. I'm not complaining. But it's no wonder that the suicide rate goes up during these winter holidays in this culture, when everything around you deluges you with the message that you are incomplete or sick if you don't have some way to participate in the overdone conviviality. Hardly anyone talks about to survive the holidays as a single, nomadic, person with few resources and less money.
I have only ever read one book on financial planning that assumed you could start off from scratch, and told you how to build from nothing; it was the only book of the stack of fifty or so financial planning or business books I kept when I hit the road.
Do I expect much from anyone? Not really. It's hard to expect much when every time you do, you are disappointed. You get in the habit of expecting little or nothing. People have their own lives to lead in this currently mixed-up, scary world. Why should you expect they would even notice anyone's problems but their own?
LXXXVII. 21 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
It's been a tough week, filled with frustration and anxiety, and lies and deceit and blame. So, I have a bag of chips and dip, some pop, and no more ambition this evening than to spend the rest of the night on a junk food and movie binge. I stopped in at Wal-Mart (ugh) and acquired three 5 dollar DVDs on sale. Two of them are entertainment, the third is the Anthony Quinn movie Barabbas. This is based on the novel by Per Lagerkvist. I am something of a Lagerkvist fan, having read three of his short but intense novels, including Barabbas. A Nobel Prize winning writer, Lagerkvist mines some of the same terrain as Nikos Kazantzakis: both of them were contemporary Christian mystics who wrote compelling, deeply powerful novels, stories, plays, etc. Lagerkvist, being Nordic to Kazantzakis' Greek, is cooler and less fiery in his stylistic temperament, but no less intense and moving; their idioms are different, but in many ways their messages are similar. It is an interesting synchronicity that, in the movie versions of both of their most famous novels, Anthony Quinn (no intellectual slouch himself) plays the lead character in both films: Barabbas and Zorba the Greek. And brilliantly, I might add. It has been several years since I last saw this movie, and I look forward to it. It is, of course, the second movie this week I will have watched about faith, crises of faith, miracles, and coming to realize the Mystery that lies behind all religious impulse. This is not a synchronicity, of course: it's obvious I am looking for something right now, even though I am not now, nor will ever be again, a mainstream practicing Christian.
Well, lay back in bed and munch on, eh? Turn up the volume, get out the chips and dip, and let's have a small, intimate party.
Tomorrow, on the advice of my friend K.C., I am going to tag along to a Debtor's Anonymous meeting that he goes to weekly. It's true I've had a bad relationship to money my whole life. It's less true that I expect to get anything out of a 12-step program. But I'll keep an open mind for now. It is also true that I have made great strides towards financial independence in the past decade, and absorbed and incorporated many lessons about handling money. I am not sure I will ever be a whiz at balancing my chequebook, but I know how to invoice and do job proposals, and handle my taxes, and so forth. This whole experience has prompted me to take whatever action I could, like creating a new proposal form that is coupled in format to my existing invoices. I also am willing to
Unfortunately, as long as my well-being and my income are dependent upon other people, things are likely to continue to be frustrating and I am likely to continue to get abused. So what do I do about it? Make myself more financially independent. That's what this whole fine arts and gallery thing is about: making my art my job-1. Even the graphics work is job-2 at this point; anything else I do is job-3 at best. Keep your eyes on the vision: having a gallery or three represent your work, so that you can keep on the road, keep traveling, keep making new art, new music, new writing.
A couple of pieces of interesting trivia about the movie of ,b>Barabbas: the screenplay, based on the novel, was by Christopher Fry, the great twentieth century English verse playwright. My favorite of his plays, The Lady's Not for Burning, is also about faith and doubt, and the pain of living, and how to go on. Secondly, the movie's soundtrack contains quotes from the same bit of Gregorian chant as Respighi used for the "Catacombs" movement of his tone poem, Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome). To hear this melody playing in the soundtrack during the scene set actually in the catacombs, near the end of the movie, was a wonderful little in-joke. I wonder how many viewers actually got it.
Of course, there is one important difference between Zorba and Barabbas: both are drunken louts, who go through life dealing with existential questions about the pain of life and death, those ultimate questions we all ask. But the difference is, Zorba is an enlightened drunken lout, who already is a free man. It takes Barabbas the rest of his lifethat long life cursed by his inability to be killed, as he believes, because the Master died in his place, and took his death away from himto understand that his wrestling with faith was itself an act of faith. It takes him his whole life to accept that his life is as loved as anyone else's, and that his guilt, a horror he placed on himself, is forgiven. Zorba was a man freed by his understanding of life and death; Barabbas was a man chained, until the very end, by his refusal to believe what his eyes could not see; and so he was a slave until the very end, too. (You see the symbolism? How carefully both writers wove their characters in and out of the myths of their lives?)
This is a very modern viewpoint, but only in the sense that the contemporary world continually rediscovers the ancients. It is why the ancient Desert Fathers, and the mystics, speak to us in the modern era, now: the re-awakening of a sense of Mystery long suppressed by the so-called Enlightenment. They have something we need; that we hunger for; that we will go to immense lengths to seek out.
What am I to learn from this? (Pay attention: this is very important.) That my own self-esteem, my own lack of self-confidence, my own self-doubts, are shared by manyeven the heroesand are nothing new. My self-doubts, my guilt in the face of failure after failure, so like Barabbas' in that everything he tries to do twists and turns to its opposite in his hands, do not make me special, or unique, or different, It is humbling, in a good way, to realize that even this man, this opposite to everything represented by the man who died in his place, had a place at the table, and was worthwhile, simply because he was a man, and alive.
I don't have to "succeed" by the rules of this world to be loved. I don't have to fail, either. Neither of these matters. I don't have to do good works to be loved. It is not a reward and punishment system: that is what unconditional love means.
Forgiveness begins with forgiving myself; then letting it go.
Why does this come as such a revelation? Because it is so much easier to believe the worst of myself, than that I might be worthwhile, anyway. Why is it always easier to believe the worst than the good? What is it that makes us feel so fallen, so lost?
Some theologians, Augustinian in their roots, have said that it is because we are fallen to begin with; that merely being born makes us fallen; these arguments call on original sin as a doctrine that explains these feelings.
I reject that. They argue in reverse. The feeling of separation and self-hatred comes first, not the doctrine. If God is love, there is nothing that is unlovable, because everything that is, is of God. Even the darknesses that we fearperhaps especially those. I turn to them, guided by Eckhart and the others, trusting only in my own annihilation.
I could go on like this at some twelve-step meeting, but what's the use? No one really is going to track this, my own tendency towards scholasticism. I don't know where my path liesmaybe I never didbut I know where it doesn't lie, truly. I may be condemned to live, but I don't have to explain myself. That, too, is part of unconditional love.
Agape, storge, philokalia, eros, pragma, ludus, maniaall greek words for kinds of love. Thanatos: make Death your ally, and everything turns into love.
And now for something completely different. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Horror-comedy. Brilliant script by Joss Whedon, who also wrote most of the TV series that followed the movie, and its spinoff, Angel. Gotta love movies that make fun of LA. And make me laugh out loud: good medicine.
Outside, it's overcast and threatening more snow, which I would actually like. Some ticking on the roof during the movie. Why fear snow? The snow that fell last night is mostly melted, except up here on the plateau where more fell than in town. The ground outside is white, and the desert air is for once humid. It's actually relatively warm; which means, it's not ass-freezing cold. Funny what you can get used to. When did this cheesy little fiberglass camper start to feel like home? I am as free as Zorba; I can go anywhere, do anything. Since it's all folly anyway, after the worst of it, you just start dancing.
I come back to this, though: personal knowledge: it's not a reward-punishment system. You don't earn your place at the table, because the table is infinite and ever-welcoming. No one is turned away.
It's one thing to know it intellectually, theoretically; know it as a principle that you believe to be true. It's another to know it, really know it. Know that it applies to you, and to everyone else. It makes forgiveness so easy. (Starting with oneself.) Did I have to go through this darkness to get to this revelation? So be it. No regrets. This gift was worth every price; worth the price of my life. Go and sell everything, and buy one pearl of great price. How do I know it's a true revelation? Because it's so very quiet, so very un-dramatic. Listen to that still, small voice. I could stop here, entirely, and say no more forever. The rest is silence.
This is the power of art: to make us see and feel and know these things for ourselves. To know them, not just to think we know them.
I don't need hope. I don't need illusions of redemption: there is nothing to redeem, it's all already given. I don't need to hope for anything, because hope implies that you lack something; in truth, nothing is missing, nothing needs to be hoped for. Hope also implies desire, where in truth there is no need that is not already filled. (I have long since mistrusted this word, "hope;" it is good to know, at last, why.)
You don't need to act the saint to be a saint; everyone already is. This light beatifies from within.
LXXXVI. 21 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
More snow in the night; I slept through it. I've had powerful dreams these past few nights.
In the morning light, fresh snow all around, with low clouds and fog in the valley below. The local raven pair circles overhead, croaking: black on white. It's otherwise silent; the many birds that have been making a ruckus every morning for the past week or so have migrated on, or are still in their shelters.
In the valley below the plateau, feathery fog, or snow still congealing. Off across the wider plateau below, more low clouds in the distance against the foothills: fog perceived from within, clouds seen from without. Isn't fog just ground-level cloud? It may be snowing somewhere in the distance, but here, it's crisp and clear.
Maybe poetry is like sculpture: when you remove everything that isn't the poem, what's left is the poem. (Not compression; removal of chaff.)
I don't want to get up and face the day. I'm tired of battling this stupidity. More of it yesterday, too: it just keeps adding up. What fresh asininity awaits today? Only the gods know or care; not I.
Yesterday it was website hell: everything old going down, the new server still refusing to let me log on. Have no idea what the status will be today. Not really eager to dive in and find out. Sooner or later I'll get out of bed, and go see. At the moment, though, I feel no swift urge to do, well, anything. Breakfast in bed? Hmn. Now, if I just had someone to share it with.
I am plunged in perlerorneq, I know it. To look ahead to all that must be accomplished and to retreat to the present feeling defeated, weary before starting, a core of anger, a miserable sadness. It is to be "sick of life." What else have I been feeling? Defeated, yes; core of anger, miserable sadness, yes; sick of life, definitely. Where is my community to calm me and put me to bed to sleep the winter sleep? I am afraid: afraid to act, to move forward. But this stripping away of everything non-essential, this removal of hope and fear alike, also allows me to act in anyway I wish, without constraint, with expectation: it removes planning and replaces it with freedom. Just knowing that, any morning I chose, I could load up the truck and hitch op the camper, and take off for parts unknownjust knowing that, gives me some ability to go on. As the Romani say, if the local gaje are giving you a hard time, leave; there is always another town down the road. This camp, between Sea and Desert, between nodes of human influx called cities and civilization, is also a place of rest. Sojourn and oasis.
The Inuit language has more than two dozen words for snow. Greek has five words for love. I am reduced, in this hodge-podge trade language English, to using multiple words to describe the land, for example, snowfall backlit by creamy sunlight. It's a challenge to convey anything at all.
I lie in bed reading about wintermind and winter landscape. The light is constantly chaning around me, as clouds thin or thicken as they move across the land; patches brighten or darken, and the illumination changes direction slowly yet constantly. You could spend an entire day just watching the light change.
Barry Lopez writes, in Arctic Dreams about light:
Cathedral architecture signaled a quantum leap forward in European civilization. [I note in connection that this was also the age of the Labyrinth, in all its symbology.] The gothic cathedral churches, with their broad bays of sunshine, flying buttresses that let windows rise where once there had been stone in the walls, and harmonious interiorsthis "architecture of light" was a monument to a newly created theology. "God is light" writes a French cultural historian of the era, Georges Duby, and "every creature stems from that initial, uncreated, creative light." Robert Grosseteste, the twelfth-century founder of Oxford University, wrote that "physical light is the best, the most delectable, the most beautiful of all the bodies that exist." [The parallels to the words of the Rhine mystics, from Hildegard of Bingen through Meister Eckhart, are strong and obvious. This was a perception of the Divine that was widespread at the time.]
Intellectually, the eleventh and twelfth centuries were an age of careful dialectics, a working out of relationships that eventually became so refined they could be expressed in the mathematics of cathedrals. Not only was God light but the relationship between God and man was light. The cathedrals, by the very way they snared the sun's energy, were an expression of God and of the human connection with God as well. The aesthetics of this age, writes Duby, was "based on light, logic, lucidity, and yearning for God in a human form." [One expression of that yearning for a human form embodying the Divine, a Someone we could relate to our own level, became manifest in the rise of Mary as a figure of worship. As both the Virgin and more importantly as the Black Madonna, she was a representation of the feminine, maternal, loving side of the Godheadthe Goddessbalancing out the more abstract, purely mental image of God as Light. Light and earth together.] Both the scholastic monks in their exegetical disquisitions and the illiterate people who built their churches, who sent these structures soaring into the sky ...both, writes Duby, were "people trying to rise above the poverty through dreams of light."
It was an age of mystics. When Heinrich Suso, a Dominican monk, prayed at night in church, "it often seemed as if he were floating on air or sailing between time and eternity, on the deep tide of the unsoundable marvels of God." And it was an age of visionaries who spoke of the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse where there would be no darkness.
There is something we have lost from this era, though, in our age of rationalism and science. Something transpersonal and evanescent; perhaps a sense of Mystery itself. While it can be quite rightly argued that it was necessary to expose to air the many frauds of superstition, as Harry Houdini made it his mission in life to expose many so-called spirit mediums as frauds, we have also gone so far as to dismiss any and all spiritual experiences as hallucinations or fabrications of the imagination, with no basis in reality. We dismiss visionaries as schizophrenics. Rather than letting a wounded soul complete a process of spiritual and psychic initiation, we drug them into submission, institutionalize them, and label them with the shame of Bedlam. What happens when you make your daytime world so utterly rationalistic, of course, is that the nighttime brings out the unconscious and the Shadow in direct proportion to its suppression elsewhere. Thus, we have this fascination with the occult, the New Age, the spiritual, in our postmodern era. We also thus have the rise of fundamentalism and Biblical literalism, as reactionary responses to the extremes of scientific rationalism; the attempt to make Biblical literalism itself rationalized, exemplified by so-called "scientific creationism," is symptomatic of attempts by the faithful to both rationalize and assimilate their faith in response to the generally anti-spiritual cultural mainstream. Some of the aforementioned fascination with the Unknown is genuine, by genuine spiritual seekers who are looking into Mystery, while much of it remains superstition, charlatanism, and fantasy, not to say predatory commercialism. It takes a tough mind to wade through the ongoing plethora of seminars offered at every psychic faire to discover those that are genuine. Maybe, like sculpture, genuine spirituality is exposed when you take away everything that is irrelevant, the stone that isn't the statue.
Some of this in bound into historical developments. Lopez writes a little later on:
The conventional wisdom of our time is that European man has advanced by enormous strides since the age of cathedrals. He has landed on the moon. He has cured smallpox. He has harnessed the power in the atom. Another argument, however, might be made in the opposite direction, that all European man has accomplished in the last 900 years is a more complicated manipulation of materials, a more astounding display of his grasp of the physical principles of matter. That we are dazzled by mere styles of expression. That ours is not an age of mystics, but an age of singular adepts, of performers. [That ours is an age not of transcendence, but of rampant egotism. The cult of personality, the age of celebrity, are symptomatic.] That the erection of the cathedrals was the last wild stride European man made before falling back into the confines of his intellect.
Of the sciences today, quantum physics alone seems to have found its way back to an equitable relationship with metaphors, those fundamental tools of the imagination. The other sciences are occasionally so bound by rational analysis, or so wary of metaphor, that they recognize and denounce anthropomorphism as a kind of intellectual cancer, instead of employing it as a tool of comparative inquiry, which is perhaps the only way the mind works, that parallelism we finally call narrative. [Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox, in their published dialogues, have described in some detail how 150 years ago physics was dominated by mechanistic rationalism, while biology still retained room for metaphor and imagination. Now, the situation has completely reversed itself: physics allows metaphor, while the biological sciences have become rigidly, dogmatically mechanistic and rationalistic to an extreme. Neuroscience has gone so far as to say that the mind and soul are nothing more than energetic byproducts of chemical reactions in the brain. While this viewpoint does open some doors, for example to the treatment of schizophrenia and depression, it slams closed as many windows. For example, where is there room for spiritual direction in this mechanized scenario? More tragically, what modern neuroscience allows us to do is overlook, dismiss, and ignore the psychological realities of the whole person going through crisis, seeking an evolutionary change in consciousness, or just plain wanting to find a place in life to be serene and content. This is all dismissed as, literally, immaterial.]
There is a word from the time of the cathedrals: agape, an expression of intense spiritual affinity with the mystery that is "to be sharing life with other life." [Agape is one of those five words in Greek that I mentioned earlier, five different words for different kinds and manifestations of love.] Agape is love, and it can mean "the love of another for the sake of God." More broadly and essentially it is a humble, impassioned embrace of something outside the self, in the name of that which we refer to as God, which also includes the self and is God. [Meister Eckhart said, "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me."] We are clearly indebted as a species to the play of our intelligence; we must trust our future to it; but we do not know whether intelligence is reason or whether intelligence is this desire to embrace and be embraced in the pattern that both theologians and physicists call God. Whether intelligence, in other words, is love.
We can say God is Love all we want, but if our actions then turn to hate or fear, we fail to live up to the way of love and beauty exemplified in the catahedrals. If we say God is Light and then curse the darkness, we have let our internal Shadows rule our external world. For God is also darkness, and sinking, and cooling. God is also this perlerorneq, this cursing and flailing, this writhing on the birthing-bed. We can say whatever we like about God, but our actions will give the truth or the life to our beliefs. Hypocrisy consists of the gap between what you say and what you do. If you preach "love your enemy," while knifing him quietly in the back, that's hypocrisy. If you preach "love thy neighbor as thyself," while never going over to say hello to the stranger that is your neighbor, that is hypocrisy. It is very easy to repeat these wise sayings in the abstract: putting them into practice is the real challenge. Actually practicing what you preach is the real road to genuine spirituality.
LXXXV. 20 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
It's snowing, hard and heavy, big flakes coming vertically down. No wind. Everything utterly still. Snow muffles sound in the distance, always, creating a bubble of stillness around you. A non-sound I have always loved.
It started just before dawn, with a ticking of sleet on the camper's fiberglass roof and walls. Then it settled in to that silent, steady snowfall, beautiful and pure, that is the root of every clich? about sentimental Christmas Eve imagery. (What I mislike most about the annual claptrap is the sentimentalism, which is usually only a thin layer over greed. Stan Freberg's ultimate satire about the subject, Green Chri$tma$, comes readily to mind.)
Last evening, I was so depressed I came back to the camper at sunset and cried myself to sleep. Feeling totally lost, alienated, isolated, shattered, and as close to the edge as I have ever gotten. If the ground had opened up to swallow me whole, I wouldn't have cared; no, it would have been a relief. The end of this continuous, pointless suffering. The end of all these patterns of getting abused, of getting ripped off, of being underpaid and taken advantage of. I mean, not even the lawyer called me back yesterday. Nothing. Nada. No surprise.
So I slept the sleep of the dead for a couple of hours. I woke when I heard dogs and voices outside my camper; I don't know if they were real or illusory. I woke feeling, I don't have words for it, but I'll try: strangely lighter, unworried, even somehow joyous in a quiet way.
Nothing else could be more proof that I am not my feelings. I certainly can't explain this elation I feel this morning. (Perhaps it's the snowfall; first snowfall always gets me excited. There's a freshness to it, a cleanness like the cleansing of the desert. T.E. Lawrence was asked once why he loved the desert. He said, It's clean.) One day, you're in despair, the next you're in elation; neither are trustworthy, both are ephemeral. Neither are who you are. I am not my feelings. Whatever you feel, it passes. But those darkest times, when you're in them, it seems like they'll never pass, and there's no reason to go on. That's the truth of it.
I make no promises. For tomorrow, or even for today. Nothing has changed, really. How the fuck am I supposed to get paid for work I've done? I guess I keep picking the asshole clients for some reason I can't yet derail. Nothing could have broken apart my fledgling self-confidence with more violence; it felt like a complete set-up. A test, which I guess I failed.
It's the truth: after these past three and a half years of no regular employment, of a total lack of steady income, of being abused repeatedly by freelance clients who reject my work after I've completed it, of being supported first by unemployment insurance, then by Dad, I have no self-esteem and no self-confidence left: about working, about job-hunting, interviewing, and doing the actual work. I thought I had found a client I could work with this time around, some projects I could use to rebuild my self-esteem around working; only to have them refuse to pay me and verbally rip me to shreds in the process.
So much for that.
Don't give me that pep talk about not letting the bastards win. Don't give me that crap about hope. None of that matters. None of it! Either I regain the ability to stand on my own two feet, on my own, or I don't. I don't need coaching, I don't want pep talks. I just want the chance to make it happen. I need an opportunity. Maybe Taos isn't the place for that to happen. Who can you believe? Nobody. Who can you trust? I don't know. Maybe nowhere in this darkening world is there such an opportunity. (The world channel reflects our own crises of despair most vividly; what do you think the current political trend towards faith-based totalitarianism is all about? "Faith-based initiatives," indeed.)
If it's snowing here on the plateau, it's definitely snowing on the ski slopes. The mountains are entirely whited out, hidden in the mist and fog of white flakes falling, falling, Who knowsmaybe they'll have a good ski year here, after all; good for the local economy and all that. I don't really care. I may or may not be here by then.
Already two inches of wet heavy stuff on the ground. Driving oughta be fun.
But it won't last. Even snow is ephemeral; especially at these latitudes.
Well, what am I supposed to do? Pretend that everything's okay, just to make everyone around feel good about themselves? Or at least, so they don't have to be confronted with their own Shadows? (The root of why fair-weather friends abandon you to the least dark cloud.) Call me selfish, but I'm not up for that; caretaking everyone else is nothing I have energy left to attempt. This difficult passage is something I have to pursue to its end: calling on powers of stalker, warrior, sorcerer, seer. I have little energy left over to care that much about what other people thinkas much as it's a habit I haven't kicked yet.
The cusp, of course, is wanting the outside world to accept you, to make a place for you, to provide you with an opportunityrather than doors continually slammed in your face. Wanting to find a place in the world, which is a lie and an illusion, as there is none. As though anything in the outside world was anything but coldly indifferent to what I want. No easy road. Not for me, not for those like me. I get trapped on the "If only I could find one job, just one, that would work out, I could start to rebuild my self-confidence." I know that's a trap and a lie, and I still get hooked on it, emotionally. I can't seem to stop myself. Even knowing that it has to come from within, today, just today, at least, I am unable to keep myself from getting hooked on it. These are the times we practice clearing and releasing, and meditation: when it's in your face, deal with it. Don't put it off till tomorrow, don't wait till you feel calmer: grab it by the throat and wrestle with it. I shall not let thee go till thou blesst me! Yes, it is an angel I'm wrestling with; but I still can't see it's face.
I tried to lay back in bed earlier, but my mind began to race again with scenario after scenario, fantasies in which I had the chance to justify myself, to explain, to make things right again; fantasies in which I was proven to be right, and everyone admitted their mistakes and stopped blaming me, and took my side against the forces of unreason. (There is some truth behind the fantasy; I am getting blamed for things that were not my fault, and for decisions that were not mine. Life is unfair. Fucking deal with it.) They're all fantasies. They only way to break these mental tape-loops is to do something else. Thus, I get up, get dressed, do dishes, go outside and take photos of the snow (halfheartedly, at best); then sit here and write this all out. It's venting; it gets it out of my system. I don't care what anyone thinks about ventingit's either that or a worse alternative. Take care of some business. Write. Who cares. Maybe writing it out will take the edge off; maybe not. Whatever.
You can't really appreciate Kafka or Beckett or Burroughs until you've lived through the horrific, hilarious absurdity of the situations their characters find themselves living in. Fortunately, in this too-fast paced world, that's fairly easy to do. People don't like these writers (or Nietzsche, either) because they present the truth, vividly and clearly, about situations and existential crises that we all feel, but that the average person would rather sweep under the rug and not think about. Really, it's hilarious what we do to avoid looking into the abyss.
What use? Pointless. Ruins. Nothing left here but the recordings. Shut them off. They are as radioactive as an old joke. We have ways of making you talk! It's gallows humor; nothing really funny about it, except, except, the only thing left to do is laugh or cry. Well, I've done my fair share of crying; what's left is just a very dark, sick joke. Joke's on you. So I'm laughing.
Always there is music playing my head. All day yesterday it was Dowland. Today it's Rachmaninoff's Isle of the Dead.
Well, I feel dead. (As I cried myself to sleep last evening, I wrote my last will and testament in my head. Try it some time; it's liberating.) Waiting. Not waiting for anything in particular. Especially not some clich? of rebirth, resurrection. I could care less. I have no purpose in life left, so what's there to be reborn for? Save it. Take your flaming sword and shove it.
Nonetheless, I choose life. I don't know why. I can't even give myself a good reason. There's no point to it, and no purpose. I don't even care about not letting the bastards of the world get the upper hand. I don't care about despair; despair's an old friend, as is endurance, and has no horrors left for me. That road is far too familiar to be frightening anymore.
Around noon, it stops snowing. You can still see snowfall in the distance, and the clouds cover everything above 9000 feet, so the mountaintops are truncated and feathered into white. To the south, gaps in the clouds make spotlights on the whitened Taos plateau. Too bright to look at it. Chamisa here bent over with heavy white boughs. The tall pion pines as Christmasy and postcardy as anyone could want; so, of course, I must take their pictures.
This intense brightness after the darkhow Symbolic is that?
Goddamnit, how dare You make everything so breathtaking beautiful? How dare You throw this profligate purifying ecstasy all over the land, after such a dark time? Don't You know that I want to stay cynical and depressed and angry? How dare You?
In 1993 I wrote a piece for voice and piano, the only chamber work of mine I don't have a recording of, Five Winter Dream Haiku. Two of them seem appropriate to repeat here today:
snow-heavy tree boughs,
the summer thatch laid over:
bent in prayers for peace
in the darkest night
the snow quivers in silence:
burying the gods
A piece I would very much like to record at this point. Even to hear it again would be good.
Well, fuck. It's too beautiful out there now. I guess I need to go for a drive, with camera.
LXXXIV. 19 November 2004, Taos, NM
Feeling stunned. Emotionally bruised. After an almost sleepless
night, I lay in bed in the morning sun, thinking nothing, thinking
too much, all over the place.
LXXXIII. 18 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Last chance lost. Things got even worse after they got better. So much for that gallery client, and probably for me seeing any money out of it, ever. I busted my ass to please them, and they threw it away. Then they had the gall to try and break my spirit with cruel words.
They almost succeeded, too. Well, I quit. No more of this. I feel totally beaten down by life. This is just ore of the same old shit that I fought against for years before leaving Minnesota. There are no friendly places on this planet, are there; it's all an illusion.
Am I ever supposed to earn a living again? Ever? Why won't you let me find an income? Even if I'm not suppose to work in my old field anymore?which are the only skills I have, and even these are being called into question?then what? What must I do to satisfy you? How the fuck am I supposed to survive in this world?
Maybe I'm not.
If not here, then where? How can I sustain an income if everything I do is destroyed before it even has a chance to begin. The gallery in town designated to be most likely to be sympathetic was so noncommittal about my artwork that I never expect to hear from them. Ditto the rest. Some liked my work, but aren't looking for new artists any time soon.
Where in this world is there a place for me? And how the hell do I get there without being able to pay my way? Catch-22. I hate this. I hate every aspect of it. I thought by leaving the Midwest and trying my luck that I might have a chance. Well, what chance? Why even keep fighting? Why bother? It's the same everywhere: no one wants my work, and no one wants my art. So, why fucking bother anymore?
I quit. If I freeze in this fucking trailer this fucking winter, I don't fucking care, I don't. I'm sick of stupid humans, and sick of everything else.
LXXXII. 17 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
What did I do today? I spent most of the day making gifts for people. They'll fly through the mail, and arrive shortly. Call it a craft project if you will; but handmade things, in all, are a blessing. I feel blessed making them. It gets me out of my head, and into my creative self.
Tonight, it's so clear you can see Betelgeuse is red, there on the shoulder of Orion. Canis Minor and Canis Major both clear, and the Milky Way a river of light. The great skywheel turns, and turns, and Orion chases the Sisters up the sky.
I watched a movie on DVD during and after the dinner I made for myself tonight: pasta with sauce and white wine. The movie was The Third Miracle, not the usual sort of movie I might watch, steeped as it is in a fallen priest's search to support the canonization of an American saint. I found myself strangely into the movie, the people, and the storyline. It called to me as just the thing I wanted to see at the store this evening, while I scoured the shelves for anything else remotely interesting, put it back a couple of times, then finally took it home. Why not, sale price, no risk.
Not a hot topic these days, canonizations, but maybe that's wrong with people these days: not enough faith, or faith placed in all the wrong things. I am not one to judge; and in no way could I ever call myself a Catholic. I am surprised at times just how much Church history and politics I do know, as a layperson and outsider; and interesting conundrum. Well, there's nothing that isn't interesting, and religious history and its ties to cultural and technological history are a fabric woven together I do find fascinating. Willful blindness and determined ignorance on the behalf of those who faith is sure and perfect and solid notwithstanding, there's much to learn about ourselves and our psychology by the examination of what we believe.
I have been accused lately of several things that make me laugh; not least of these a sort of pugilistic attitude towards intellectual slackness, which I cannot deny. I've also been accused, obliquely, never to one's face, godz forbid, of being a mystic and a modernist. Am I to take this as somehow a negative? I think not?I plead guilty to being a modern person in a modern era. I find it fascinating that someone would accuse me of being modern in my thinking, as though that were a bad thing. Well, in matters of faith, there is no lack of medievalism and conditioned thinking, even amongst those who would be very modern in every other outlook. Only with faith do they turn off their intellect, their constant consideration of all that is. Of course, faith is at root non-rational (not "irrational," but other)
Young child, do you yearn: urge to leap up, launch, grasp force and fly.
This star, the shallows, do you yearn: to lift into sky, fly, hover, soar.
Between stars, a dove on the face of a statue, crying. Tears in the rain.
Do you yearn: night's black bird. A solace, an infinity on the well.
Something rises over the hills. Coyotes howl. Constellations beckon, inviting.
I feel a yearning tonight, and an unwillingness to go to sleep just yet. I am going to write it out, drinking my late-night chamomile tea, till I am ready for sleep. Tomorrow has no definite schedule; just a cleaning of contexts.
I am not a religious man in any ordinary sense of the word. I follow no set creed, I belong to no fixed faith, I subscribe to no organized religion. (If anything, I prefer disorganized religions, wherein everyone is there own priest, along with the guidance of Spirit.) Yet I carry with me on my journeys, one in the camper, one in my travel bag, two small Russian icons, both of them featuring the Virgin Mary in different settings. What is it with this Lady? Well, as some have pointed out before, she is the samizdat version of the Goddess in Christianity, snuck in under the noses of the patriarchy and priesthood. More people, perhaps worldwide, actually pray to her than to her son. There is a Mary chapel in the cathedral in St. Paul, which is a place of Mystery and light, and where I have always been able to feel the Goddess. I have gone there more than once, when troubled, or looking for peace, or feeling this restlessness. But the cathedrals here are all different: more Latino than European, suffused with a different, older kind of peasant faith. Not a faith one has to think about, to be sure, but an automatic response to life in the desert Southwest. If I walked into a village church and spoke with the priest, would I be welcomed or cursed? Either seems likely, tonight.
hot stench of battery and villa: sun priest disrobing in the light, enthroned.
chairs of listening: you sit naked in the sun, lean back, absorb the heat and light.
skin bright as salmon: green-sided river-god barging upstream to silver and die.
have I bled before: never knowing. excellencies of observance. Hand on what wheel.
this timeless turning: this entanglement, till you can't separate the roots. journey and root.
What says the way to this loss of self in the midst of darkness? It says: keep stalking yourself. Keep being the hunter. Look up: in the sky there, hung between stellar nursery and mysterious star linked to us in many cultures, is the archetypal hunter, the warrior who chased and fought the dangers of the Unknown till it made him a permanent winter constellation. Of these are our myths made.
It's a balm the silence in which the stars wheel. It's music. It has no name, and needs none. It's just there. (Godz, this is sentimental: well, it's an essay, in the oldest sense: an experiment, a trial.)
Some music works with this, but silence is often best. A track or two from Tony Levin's Waters of Eden. Dowland. Nothing too romantic, too dramatic. Serenity is the truth at the heart of mysticism, be ye warrior shaman of gatherer of dreams. Serenity is what suddenly creeps over you, at any moment. This is the festival of the changing of the light.
Silence is the spring from which we draw our inner strength, the source of our assurance. Through thoughts and words and deeds we communicate with the rest of the world, but only through the quiet mind do we tabernacle with the Great Spirit. Walter Cooper, Shards: Restoring the shattered spirit
In the face of every accusation, my response is silence. I have nothing to say, and I am saying it. It's an anchorite's prie à dieu, a pedestal to kneel upon, this silence. It is always there, waiting. As soon as you enter in, this ceiling filled with lights, this altar of bare, weathered rock, this tabernacle opens up within you, and the Light of Heaven leaks out. I've seen it everywhere: on the ocean, in the desert, right here, just outside my camper door, with coyotes howling two ridges away, and dogs barking at the neighbor's spread a mile away. It's everywhere you are. It's just the Light.
LXXXI. 17 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
It has become my habit in the past few years to spend the first part of my day, an hour or so after rising, in contemplation, meditation, Reiki, reading spiritual literature, or all of the above in combination. This morning, reading Merton's Mystics and Zen Masters (which I acquired at Goodwill in Santa Fe yesterday), a collection of essays on mystics of several different traditions, what strikes one over and over again is how most of the mystics from most traditions were neither abstract nor theoretical, but practical. It is a way, and a life?an experience, rather than a mentally-rooted contemplative practice. What distinguishes Zen from some of the other streams of practice, though, is the Sixth Patriach Hui Neng's insistence that even attachment to the forms and processes, and even the results, of Zen practice can breed ego-inflating attachments. Where is the mirror? Where is the dust? Unlike the language of the scholars and theologians who try to interpret them, the language of the mystics is frequently non-metaphysical, but rather poetic and phenomenological. The experiences that mystics communicate are open to all?not an elitism, it is an invitation to join.
The usual forms of Western thinking about mysticism are mired in the same sort of ideas that Hui Neng was reacting against: the idea that by wiping the mirror of the mind clean of dust, by practicing a negating form of purity, that one automatically attains enlightenment?or union with God. (Pick a goal, any goal.) This is in fact the ego-consciousness trying to set itself up (as is its habit) as master of the mind, and manipulative of all other aspects of consciousness to attain a goal. The ego tries to wipe itself clean by describing the thinking process as separate and removable from itself. As Merton describes it:
What has happened is that this clinging and possessive ego-consciousness, seeking to affirm itself in "liberations," craftily tries to outwit reality by rejecting the thoughts it "possesses" and emptying the mirror of the mind, which it also "possesses." Thus, "the mind" will be in "emptiness" and "poverty." But in reality, "emptiness" itself is regarded as a possession, and an "attainment." So the ego-consciousness is able, it believes, to eat its cake and have it. It renounces its empirical autonomy in order to sink into its spiritual, pre-biological nature. But since this nature is regarded as one's possession, the "spiritualized" ego thus us able to affirm itself all the more perfectly, and to enjoy its own narcissism under the guise of "emptiness" and "contemplation."
In this mirror-wiping school of thought, enlightenment and thoughts and mind are all equally turned into Things, which the ego-consciousness believes it possesses and can control. This is also the danger of labeling and categorizing everything: when we name a Thing, we think we gain absolute power over it, a superstition that infects the New Age and neo-paganism as thoroughly as it ever infiltrated organized religion. Naming is only power-over in the sense of controlling a Thing; at best, it is power-over because one then can understand the nature of Things better, or at least intellectually, if not experientially. From the Jungian perspective, this is again simply ego-inflation: the pilot of a ship coming to believe that its every whim can turn the ship aside from storm and danger, even as the ship's keel begins to scrape on shallow ground. It is, ultimately, a self-delusion: one part of the system of the self thinking it is in charge of all aspects of the self.
What Hui Neng showed us is that, however you practice, whatever you do, the attitude towards which you undertake it is what matters. You can be attached to enlightenment as a goal?which is just another trap, because it just replaces attachment with attachment?or you can approach the day in non-attachment, living in the moment, without goal or ambition. Chop wood, carry water. This is remarkably similar to what many shamanic traditions call the warrior's way: being open, without cloud covering the sun.
The shamanic warrior, like the Zen student, seeks to remove the weight of personal history?the story of who you are, as you have come to think of your biography; this is a function of ego-consciousness?from the equation, and move without filters or limitations across the face of the world. The ego is terribly threatened by its imminent subsumption into something greater?a transformation that the egg or caterpillar can only see as its own death?so it resists; it fights back; it goes down screaming. Hence, all the violent, dramatic images surrounding enlightenment and liberation and also initiation. What is dying is a part of the self that is not only not needed anymore on the journey, but can at times by an actual hindrance. (It is a mistake in Western psychotherapeutic practice to emphasize "strengthening the weak ego" at all costs. While this has benefit in getting the client to return to socially-acceptable norms of behavior within their community, it dishonors the client's personal process of self-empowerment through exploring their own Shadow.) When the self comes back to the ego-consciousness after living without it for awhile, the ego is able to take its proper, non-inflated, place alongside all other aspects of the self that make up the whole, integrated person.
Of course we need an ego, to function in society in the end: it is our interface with the outside world, through which we communicate with others, and through which I must write even now to get this down: but it is not therefore the most important part of the self, as it likes to think it is, nor particularly useful when one is pursuing either liberation or healing.
At some point, you have to leave everything aside, and everything you thought you understood or knew. Emptiness and poverty are not attained states of grace: they are simply state of being that open you up to hearing that still, small voice within you that is the voice of Spirit. Not goals to attain, but simply way-stations where one waits for the next experience to come along. Emptiness is nothingness, but nothingness is not empty: it is pregnant with the Voice of Creation.
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