369. 8 February 2006, on the BART train, heading home from SF
Ive just had a couple of poems published, and am planning to submit a bunch more. I dont submit often, because Im selective where I submit; but lately I seem to have a high hit rate. These two poems appear in Panhandler, out of Houston, TX. Its another listing on the resumé, and nice for that.
People always think I should jump and down whenever I get a publication, an award, or a job, or something. I rarely do. Its not that Im jaded, as I genuinely appreciate each one. Its just that its no longer a fresh, new experience. Ive been doing this creative whirlwind game for a very long time, and Im usually looking for whats next, rather than whats just passed. I enjoy it immensely, then I go forward to the next project.
Some freelance also think I should be as pleased as they are that I can add their project to my resumé. What they dont know is how long my resumé already is, and how much editing down I usually have to do, when applying for anything, to bring it into focus. I am a polymath, multi-stream, multimedia artist; I work in many creative fields, and I enjoy them all; most folks cant concieve of that possibility, nor how to manage it. (My heroes are other multi-faceted creative thinkers, who all did more than one artform: Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Franklin, John Cage, Gordon Parks, etc.) The secret of my method, assuming there is one? You don't manage the creative urge; you let it happen, and turn the spotlight of your interest wherever it wants to go. That may seem scattered to some; but the truth of it, from my perspective, is that the creative force flows continuously, all the time, without cessation, and my job is to seek outlets for it, lest it get dammed up and stagnant by trying to force it down the channels of fixed expectations. I have never experienced genuine writers block since I discovered this: I was always able to change creative channels, and if the poems werent coming, the music was, and the visual art always is, as long as I have a camera to hand; which I always do. In my opinion, writers block is not a block on creativity, it is a block on the expectations an artist has for how they should be using their creativity, or what channels it is supposed to flow through. Either that, or a psychological blockage having nothing to do with creativity whatsoever, and everything to do with some personal issue, or woundology. My experience has been, the more you make, the more you can make: it keeps getting more flowing, more efficient in its expressions (the support of learned craft skills aid this no end), and the more you put out, the more there is ready to be made. The more you spend, the more you have.
368. 6 February 2006, Pinole, CA
In my dreams, at a place that is not at the new Callahans Place, but with two or three of the old and new regulars, talking about plans to organize a party/event with all the regulars; we each go off to recruit more of the them, and to meet up later. The mood is pleasant, convivial, upbeat. Its always a merry time with this crowd, who live by the idea that shared pain is lessened, and shared joy increased.
But the last dream before waking will linger with me all day and into the next night: this is a significant dream, and it changes my whole mood for the day. I feel lightened, eased, the darkness passed and left behind in my wake.
Last dream before waking: after a long drive with a busload of new friends, Im in Rendezvous garb, preparatory to the opening of a new place; a living museum, a house of re-enactors, something like that, its not specific; when we get there, I meet a lot of old Rendezvous friends I havent seen in a long time; they are lined up and chatty outside the place, waiting for it to open; seeing everyone, I feel like Ive come home; the doors open, and we surge in; I am so overwhelmed with all the greetings and emotions, all good feelings, all good and true and loving, that a little bit later I must walk out the front doors for some fresh air; the portico of the place is now the front door of a cathedral or college hall, with an arched Gothic entrance; the sun is lowering in the sky, and the amber and pink light are beginning to appear in the sky; I walk over to a quiet corner of the lawn across the way, where theres a little slab of bare earth, and I feel a song rise up in me; heya heya heya hey, heya ha, heya hey heya, hey ya, hey; its a powwow-style song, probably in Lakota, and it means; I am here. Thank You. Its short; I sing each of the two phrases two times, four times in all, to each of the four directions; I dont really know what the words I am singing are, but I know that this is what they mean. Halfway through, turning in my circle of the four directions, still moving and singing, I see three Indian elders, one of whom is an old friend of mine, standing on the portico steps in the setting sun and watching me; across the wide field between us, we are connected, and they also start to move their feet and sing their own sacred songs, in this light. Or perhaps they are singing my song along with me, as I continue around the circle of the directions. When I have finished singing to each of the directions, and feel done, I am alone out here; theres no one else around, the lawn and porch are empty, and the sun just dipped behind the low tops of the buildings to the west of this lawn, and is touching the mountains beyond; I take a moment to savor the cooling high-altitude air; then I go back in to join the rest of my group.
In the dream, I sing and dance to the four directions. Its just before sunset, and the light is glorious. Waking, I feel calmer, more settled, more rested, than I have in over a week. I needed this sing, and even though it happened in the inner worldsalthough this was so vivid a dream, I suspect it was a lucid dreaming, a sending, and really took place in the Otherworldsit has effect in the outer worlds. Because, after all, they are no different. (Shapechanging is about changing the shape of the self; people who take it literally rather than symbolically miss the whole point.) The dream was a reminder that Im not alone, and that Im doing the right thing; Im on a path, and the path keeps taking new directions, and changing, and I am not out here flailing all by myself; I am being watched, if only from the rear. The Elders are with me: singing and dancing with me, watching me, watching with me. Because I am a waymaker, a pathfinder, I sometimes go places They never expect, or cant conceive of, and even when I do their work, I sometimes find new moments of transcendence that surprise even Them. Think about it: if there was nothing we, who do the work on this plane, could contribute, then They wouldnt need us to do the work at all. We are necessary and sufficient to the task at hand. So, Ill take in the light and sing my sacred song and do my little sacred dance, and thats all that matters. The rest of the day can take care of itself.
Heya heya heya hey
I am here.
I am here.
This light is good.
This day is ended,
and it is good.
Heya hey heya
heya ha ya hey
367. 4 February 2006, Pinole, CA
In a Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.
A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Dark dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
A dark place, these past few days. Some of it purging from the hard travel and high emotion of the past week. Some of it sheer exhaustion, thus a total inability to shield and be objective, thus taking everything way too personally.
Sacred Heart, breaking, and what leaks out is not blood but blazing white light: the light of Universe, the heartblood of the gods. The Goddess keeps breaking my heart. I feel like, why bother? Im just going to spend the rest of my life alone and unpartnered and unloved, and die alone and unloved. Well, who cares. Poor me. Lets have a pity party, shall we?
I made some remix music tonight using a new piece of Mac software called MetaMix, that takes an existing sound file and remixes it using fractal algorithms and recursive integer counting. To non-geeks, that basically means it takes segments of the source file and mixes it with itself, in ever increasing segments that take longer and longer to manifest. The whole process slows a piece down, stretches it out, turns it into a funhouse mirror of itself. When the integers are negative, it can also reverse the sound file, playing chunks of it backwards but still in rhythm. Basically, another useful type of content generator. Some interesting results. I went ahead and recorded a bunch of takes into the other computer, and mixed them in Vegas; a possibly useful means to stretch material out to the length of a long DVD. Long-form music remixes, and now that I have the computers set up to talk to each other, and multiple ways to record back and forth, its easier to dupe, record, and generate new sound files.
I also have completed the hardware means necessary to duplicate my old library of music on cassette, especially all of my old radiopieces, by acquiring not one but two good cassette decks since yesterday, both good for streaming into the computers. I want to digitize a lot of this old musical material, and it just got a lot easier to do it.
366. 3 February 2006, Pinole, CA
Last dream image before waking: a man, thickly robed in dark fabric, laid on a slab of stone, like the sarcophagus effigy of a king or knight; but he is alive and alert, and waiting to be formally awoken; the room is dark, and he is full of power; he doesnt move yet you I feel watched and observed by him. A wizard or a king, not asleep, resting, dormant, waiting. Perhaps the Hermit, apparently asleep or in trance but awakened and alert with all senses.
foghorns, train whistles,
traffic swirl in harmony?
winter morning fog
365. I February 2006, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, MN
Had chicken curry last night at Two Bears and Jims place, and sat before the roaring fireplace, talking more about everything. Lots of good conversations this trip, all prompted by recent events, and the need to talk things out. What next, now that you are free? Anything! Now that youre free, you can make art again, and be free to travel, and move creatively across the face of this earth.
In amongst all this, I got a call from Taos a few days ago. It seems the gallery there that I had left two of my pieces at last winter, is going out of business. I have had to make several phone calls to friends in Taos, trying to organize getting my pieces picked up and shipped to me. My friend K.C. is taking care of it, and Ill send him some cash so he can ship the pieces to me. When it rains it pours.
This is a time of major changes, not just in my life, but in many peoples lives. Its a time of turbulence, of chaotic flow, of transitions, of major changes, of endings and beginnings (in the end is also a beginning: I wrote that in a poem about death many years ago), of things changing phase and changing state (There is no death; there is only a change of state?R. Buckminster Fuller), of evolutionary progress. We are leaving behind the old world; we are entering the new. I have already done that many times; this is not the world I began in: it has been both transformed by action, and stepped into through the Worldgate nexus. I am not the same person I used to be, years ago, when I began this journey: I have long since left that person behind. Change is continuous, change is always present: and, this lifetime, change is evolutionary, and revolutionary. We are the pathfinders and waymakers: we accept no slothful answers, no simple-minded solutions to problems that require instead deep commitment and the willingness to engage directly with life, with the world, and with Godfor those are all One. Reflections and refractions, the people we encounter are the mirrors of our deeper selves, and in healing them, we heal ourselves, and the world. There is no separation. Even this airport feels alive with connection, and all the people surrounding me are my other selves: I can see the Divine within each of them, and bless it, and am blessed in return. There is nothing here that is not alive, and nothing that is not me. (Everything that is, is aliveanonymous Tungus shaman) This is my credo, my confession, and my statement of faith and truth.
That all sounds kind of sappy, I know. But its not, really. We make judgments about what we say and do and express because we want to be cool. But being cool is all about fear: the fear of not being cool, the fear of being hot, of being intense. of living life to the fullest, to the moments highest intensity and lifelove?time to watch and re-read Zorba the Greek againand finally, fear of being seen to look silly or disheveled. Well, screw that. A little honest clothing faux pas in the aftermath of a torrid moment or three is no sin whatsoever.
I am a Live Wire, yes. Plug yourself into my third rail, and I will charge your wheels till they burn the rails to glowing, melting cinders. This is what I do, this is who I am. Get aboard for the ride, or get off at the next station, it doesnt matter to me: its all choices.
Later, Denver International Airport, Denver, CO
A performance of 4'33" by John Cage, at the Denver airport
After sitting here on a three hour layover, they just delayed departure of my plane to San Francisco here, by another half hour. It seems theres an air traffic concern of undetermined nature in San Francisco, delaying all flights. Imagine how thrilled I am. I might get home before midnight, at this point, but Im not holding my breath. Actually, I am getting pissed at this point. Yes, its not the end of the world. Keeping it perspective, no one lost an eye, and we still have all our limbs. Meanwhile, Im hoping I can get picked up in SF, rather than have to wait for so many buses that I dont make it home till after midnight. This really sucks. Im already exhausted, and want nothing more from life right now than to sleep in my own bed, unbothered, phone turned off, door locked, and nothing to do but sleep, sleep, and sleep some more. Just curl in and snore.
364. 31 January 2006, Minneapolis, MN
Light snow in the morning yesterday, that lasted till midday. When we began the drive back up here from Madison, the land was lightly touched with white, and the graphic edges of trees were, from the windward side, sketched and edged into nothingness against the whiteness of the sky. Midwinter snowfall in the Upper Midwest.
We stopped for a brief, frigid visit at Devils Lake. I hadnt been to the Lake in a couple of years, or more. The snow had made the black trees look grey, and from the windward angle, ghostlike against the sky.
Down by the south beach shoreline, wolf spirits at play in the snow.
The wind biting and icy there by the water, I stayed long enough only to take several photos of the frozen lake and the bluffs rising above it. Places of memory from many visits before, and memories of magic, adventure, climbing, hiking, and the rhythm of walking and talking.
Then, on the road out, I stop to take more photos of the talus scree, these ancient pre-Cambrian metamorphosed deep red quartzites, with the memories of rivers and shorelines embedded in them as ripple marks and wavelets embedded in the grains that used to be sandstone; red rocks now covered with lichen, moss, and snow, boulder fields interjected with wind-bent white pines like bonsai in some wild Japanese garden.
As ever, I am fascinated by the reflections of the land in water, the open and flowing streamlets by the lakeside, everything else iced over. Black, icy cold water flowing under ice, briefly open to the white sky and melancholy wind, before diving under ice. A brief revelation of underground rivers, emerging and diving again below the surface of the mind, the threshold of consciousness.
I like it when the snow gets like this: its almost exactly like some kinds of graphic design and illustration: Japanese dry-brush pen and ink paintings; technical pen drawings; that sort of thing.
Driving. Across rural, snow-covered Wisconsin.
We spoke all day of matters of religion, history, and how to do green and conscious business in a world that still largely ignores moral and ethical viewpoints on the business front. How do you succeed without selling your soul? How we must get out of our own way, when establishing networks of like-minded people, by releasing our distractions and those things we do habitually that block us from our own success, A long coaching and philosophical conversation.
Last night, I dreamed of the church in Ann Arbor where my family went, those years upon returning from India; summer phase in the dream, with the robed church choir sitting downstairs to avoid the heat; not attending the services myself, but roaming the halls, and the basement classroom area, where some people were doing construction; I hadnt been back there in some time, so hardly anyone knew me; it was strange to be a in a familiar place with unfamiliar people; I knew my way around, but people looked at me as a stranger, not entirely without suspicion; in the washroom at some point, a young man myself in the dream, cruising the other young men there. Ive had dreams like this before, in this setting, in recent years.
Today, a day of rest before I fly back to California to resume my new and old work. I slept soundly, if not long enough, and as my friends house here is near the citys art museum, I plan to spend some time over there in the Asian rooms, in contemplation and silence, restoring and recharging my spiritual energies and inner silence. There are sections of the Japanese rooms that I have often sat in and meditated, passing into no-mind eventually. A statue of Amida Buddha, larger than life, burned around the edges in some temple fire, that throbs with energy and latent power. Fudo guarding the doors. The recreations of tea hut rooms, with a single spray of flower in the display hutch, and a scroll with a calligraphed poem. Upstairs, these motifs and moods repeated in the early Modern rooms, in paintings by John Singer Sargent, Matisse, and art-books created by Miro, and typographed calligrammes by Apollonaire. How art repeats its means, motifs, and symbols across all time and space, from cave-paintings to last years avant-garde. Now there are typewriters in museums of design.
363. 30 January 2006, Madison, WI
Just back from the funeral, which at the graveside was a celebration of light and love, rather than sorrow. We all had white paper origami cranes, and threw flower petals on the lowered casket, and read inspirational quotes from Rumi, I Corinthians, and more. A white balloon was released into the white sky, which was sending down light white snow, and the balloon soared over the bare tree branches and into the sun, a white glow in the white clouds. Everyone was invited to speak a few words, and those things that were said were all joyous and good remembrances. This was a celebration. It was surrounded by radiance and light and well-being. And even though Im tired, now that its all over, it was good, fulfilling, and generated only positive memories. I also had made a dreamcatcher the day before, and that and some other symbolic items were placed in the casket before burial, and now travel with him, icons and rites of burial. It felt good to throw a few handfuls of flowers into the snowy air and sky, too, as well as over the casket. Let this be a good day, a loving farewell, a day of few shadows and no sadnesses even though there be high emotions.
So Mote It Be!
362. 28 January 2006, Madison, WI
After a long night and day of tasks, moving things around, picking people up and getting them settled, and being emotionally supportive of friends, families, and others, I have some quite moments to myself. Its late night, and cold and raining. Its been raining all day, after the sunny skies of yesterday. Its been warm here this winter, and not much snow for weeks now.
Most of what I need to do here, this visit, is hold space. Some of what Im doing is shamanic, clearing and releasing, encouraging the living and the dead. Ive made two little dreamcatchers out of iridescent purple and blue yarn. I gave one to my friend whose father we just moved into her house, after picking him up at the hospice. I will be putting the other, with some personal jewelry woven into it, into the coffin of the father of the other friend who brought me out here on this visit. We spent most of the evening working on the memorial service, putting things together, mostly just giving support; as she usually does, she turned it into an art project, which is a good way to do memorials and rituals. There was so much radiance around her father, as he passed on, Ive been seeing rains of red and white flowers over his grave; so, we will scatter a joyous explosion of flower petals at the funeral service, in the cemetery. Some things will go with his body into the ground: a few tokens, this dreamcatcher I made. Tokens for the dead, to gain entrance to the lands of the dead. Things have been put into graves with people for millennia, going back to pre-history; its a practice that seems to be part of what defines us as human.
Now, Im going to do a small amount of computer-related work tonight, then watch a DVD before going to sleep. Im very tired, and Ive had more introspective time today than I thought I would, which is good. I am doing my best to self-maintain, so as to be available for others as needed.
361. 27 January 2006, Middleton, WI
Im here for a couple of reasons, not least of which is the sudden death after a long illness of the father of one of my best friends. Im totally wiped out, after the long plane trip yesterday from San Francisco to Minneapolis, and then the drive down here to Wisconsin today. Im helping another of my best friends here move her father into her house, after he had a fall earlier this week and was in the hospital and then hospice care for a few days. Hes doing well, but he doesnt want to go back to the small rural town outside Madison where he was, and so were moving him into the house here so he can be better cared for and watched over. Im so exhausted now, its late at night, that I lay on the floor and did Reiki on myself for awhile; now Im drinking a cup of Earl Grey and will get up get moving in a minute or two, after I recharge. A long days travel, after a long days travel. Ah well.
I find myself trying to do too much, of course. I knew this would be a working trip, not a relaxing one. I will probably collapse when I get back to California in a few days, and sleep long and hard. Im prepared for that, and have cleared my plate of things to do, except the essentials. No worries. But I dont have much energy for anything inessential right now; its all focus and intention right now, and some things will just have to fall by the wayside and get picked up later.
I was talking to Two Bears in Minneapolis last night about writing and publishing on gay themes. Hes content to self-publish occasionally, but I encourage him to do more than that, because I think his stories need to get out into the world, and be heard.
360. 24 January 2006, Pinole, CA
A Rant on the Inane Commentary Surrounding the Movie Brokeback Mountain
Okay, Ill tell you what Im annoyed by right now. Im tired of gay men whining about the non-issue question will Brokeback Mountain perpetuate stereotypes? when the gay media, and gay organizations, never noticed or commented on the story when it was first published almost a decade ago in The New Yorker. I read an interview with Annie Proulx, the author, who when asked if she had gotten any response from gay organizations about the story or the film, said:
Proulx: No. When the story was first published eight years ago, I did expect that. But there was a deafening silence. What I had instead were letters from individuals, gay people, some of them absolutely heartbreaking. And over the years, those letters have continued and certainly are continuing now. Some of them are extremely fine, people who write and say, 'This is my story. This is why I left Idaho, Wyoming, Iowa.' Perhaps the most touching ones are from fathers, who say, 'Now I understand the kind of hell my son went through.' It's enormously wonderful to know that you've touched people, that you've truly moved them.
The full interview is here: Annie Proulx discusses the origins of Brokeback Mountain.
So, I recently read some gay mans worries about the fact that the movie was done by straight actors, director, producer, and so forth. The questions were raised: Why couldnt they get gay men to act in the movie? Isnt the oppressive media just presenting exploitative stereotypes with the movie? Are we the poor, long-suffering fags who can't be helped or are we just the disease of the week to create drama only to be tossed aside and maligned again next week? Is society growing a heart, or can people only feel sorry for fictional characters? How could the writers or anyone possibly have a clue about gay rural life?
Let me first start by saying: most urban gay-ghetto gay men have even less of a clue about rural gay life than do most other city-dwellers, it seems. Then let me just say next: When I hear these worries now about the story, the portrayals of gay men in the film, and so forth, I really have to wonder: Why didn't anyone speak up back then, when it was first published? Why wait till now to worry about it?
The deafening silence back then is pretty telling, in the face of the current furor. Of course, had the film never been made, or been talked about in the mainstream media, would the gay media even be talking about it? Doubtful, since the gay media tend to be even more reactive, as opposed probing and thoughtful, than the mainstream media. Speaking of stereotypes, before the gay media goes shouting about the portrayal of gay stereotypes in movies, how about if the gay media itself learned to respond in a less stereotypically shallow, controversy-of-the-minute manner? How about more talk about issues, and less about fashion? But I digress.
I saw the movie version of Brokeback Mountain just before Xmas, and I thought it was simply wonderful. It was beautifully photographed, remarkably evenly-paced, and, I thought, true to life. (It's okay for literature to just depict things as they are; not everything has to be High Art.) Having read a fair bit of Annie Proulx, although not yet this story, I was pretty sure it would be well-written. Having heard the screenwriters interviewed on NPR the week before, talking about their 8-year journey to get this screenplay filmedand everyone they spoke to in Hollywood thought it was a "perfect script," but the subject matter (big surprise) was a problem for some, in terms of funding itI was even more sure it would be a good movie. We're talking Larry McMurtry and his wife, Diana Ossana, here, folks.
What I was not prepared for was how deeply the movie would devastate me emotionally. I've spent a lot of time in the West, a fair bit in Wyoming, some in Texas, the two places the movie is set, and I lived for part of 2004 in rural, rural New Mexico. So, heck, I knew these characters. I had met these guys. Heck, I almost was one of these guys. I'm still a gay man who prefers rural living, given a choice. But in no way do I think the portrayal of the challenges of living in rural homophobic Wyoming were exaggerated in this movie. I think it was pretty goldurn accurate. So, when I got out of the movie theatre, being a good cowboy, I didn't burst into weeping until I got home. It was close, though; I had to sit still through the credits, unable to speak. The last 10 minutes of the movie are worth seeing everything else, to get to those last moments. The last scene, the last line of dialogue, is completely destroying, and completely honest.
So, who cares if it's a gay or straight movie? The movie is a classic "Hollywood weepie," but it just happens to feature two men. So what if it's not High Art? It tells the truth, and it depicts people like those I've actually met, with accuracy.
As to why they picked two straight actors, so what? They got who would do the movie. Rupert Everett could not have pulled it off, sorry. I could care less if an actor is straight or gay in this kind of movie, for the simple reason that the characters would not work if played even slightly effeminate or swishy. That totally misses the point of who the two characters are, and the times and places they lived.
The real "message" of the movie is how macho cowboy culture messes people up, and prevents them from living with who they want to live with .... no matter who that is. The women characters in this movie suffer just about as much as anyone else. Duh. The portrayals here were dead on target, because they were emotionally-repressed, taciturn, hidden, closeted, macho cowboys: that's what the story was about. That is the context of the story.
Let me get one thing clear: despite the media discourse focusing on the gay aspects of the story, and as usual the media misses the point completely, this is not a "gay movie," or a "gay cowboy movie," or even (to follow the South Park joke which I doubt anyone will get) a "gay cowboys eating pudding" movie. What it is, is a love story about two men who, because of the era and places in which they lived, were never able to fully express their love for each other. One of them wanted to, and was able to, and tried to; the other was not. That is the tragedy of this story. That would be a tragedy, regardless of who the lovers were, or what genders, or where, or when.
I wish I could say it's not like that anymore out West. But at about the same time Proulx published this story in The New Yorker, a young man named Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered just outside Laramie, WY. Brokeback Mountain takes place in WY and TX, and I'm sad to say, things are not much different there, still.
I find it really interesting how easy it is to criticize a story like this, when someone lives in their comfy little urban setting, or even in a gay ghetto in some comfy urban setting, or even in their small towns with good colleges, and have never actually lived out there in the rest of the world. That is, the vast rural landscapes of the USA, which, acre for acre, dwarf the cities, even cumulatively. The Big Empty does things to you that you can't get at just from reading about it.
If I want to hate the mainstream media's portrayal of gays, all I have to do is watch an episode of Will & Grace, get really offended by the rampant stereotypes (and yes they are both played by straight men), throw up, and go back to watching the Sundance Channel.
Gimme a break!
359. 24 January 2006, Pinole, CA
Those parts of the road you normally just try to get through, that scare you, that are boring, that are difficult or exhausting: those parts of the road, you need to slow down and cherish them.
Rilke, from the Tenth Duino Elegy (trans. Stephen Mitchell):
How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn't I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and, surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year-, not only a season
in time?, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil
To be retrograde also means to go back, without nostalgia or sentimentality, to look at the past and release whatever pain and blockage was there. To look over the bends in the road. The curves that caused us to lose control and crash. Its those places where we crashed that we can look for what can mend us, too: where were broken open to possibility, broken out of our fixed attitudes and calcified opinions, where all the maps become useless, and we fell rudderless and lost. Ive come to depend on those places and moments, as the true rudder. They are indeed our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen. Its dark, even appearing void against the snow, but its evergreen: ever green, and alive, even in the winter cold and bitter weather.
One can argue that movies like Brokeback Mountain are riddled with clichés and stereotypes. I think this misses the point. Im going to follow a perverse impulse here and contradict my own avant-garde tendencies by saying that I get tired of the cult of the new, the drive to always be original and brilliant. Sometimes a good Hollywood weepie is just what the doc ordered, and if it isnt High Art, I dont give a fuck. Brokeback certainly fits this bill; it's incidentally a beautifully photographed film, and where it seems clichéd it might also be archetypal.
Some of this was prompted by someone giving me this quote by poet Laura Riding to respond to:
I venture the observation, at any rate, as one able to contemplate the immediate poetic scene...with the objectivity of a non-competitor and a critic...that never before has there been so great a variety of individual poet-styles, and so much poverty of thematic content... The entire display crackles with craft-individualism, but there is no sparkling, no brilliance, all is suffused with a light of drab poetic secularity.
My first response was: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Her comments, dated decades ago, are still pertinent to the state of poetry nowadays. There is indeed a lack of interesting subject matter, and too much brilliant technique. As Yeats once commented late in life, the poets used to write about great big topics, now they mostly discuss fragments of daily life. The scope has narrowed, and the poems have gotten smaller, more cramped, and even if technically flawless, less resonant, less archetypal, less wild.
The Cult of the New is not the answer. That way lies simple novelty for the sake of novelty, originality only for the sake of being original, experimentation for the sole sake of experimenting, rather than to find a new way to say something old, and even more navel-gazing insularity than poetry already has.
The charge is made that poetry needs to become an elitist occupation again, but poetry is already an elitist occupation; it doesn't need to be made more so. (That poetry has little connection to the common person is evident in the fact that it is a tiny "niche market" of the overall publishing market; when was the last time a book of poetry was either a best-seller or even a mid-level seller? I can't recall.) If you are a published poet, good for you: maybe more than 100 people will buy your book, if you are very lucky. (That is, 100 individual readers, beyond library sales and academic textbook sales.)
Poets are already writing primarily for other poets, not the general reader. The same insularity is even more pronounced when one gets into writing about writing, the para-literature of criticism. Most of which is worse than the literature it claims to dissect.
The cult of the new is just modernism recycled. Tell me why the new is better than the old. Convince me. Cajole me. Don't just tell me it's so.
Futurism is still interesting, not just as another historical art -ism, but because, rather than being associated as Fascism as it often isthat was a matter of timingit was in fact radically open to experiencing the world as just it is. Futurism proclaimed that all sounds are valid as music; that speed, high-energy motion, is the solution. Futurism was philosophically the culmination of the industrial age, and remains prophetic in terms of the impact of technology upon culture. (cf. James Gleick, Faster)
The cult of the machine age glorified the solutions to all human problems through mechanism. The cult of the 1950s, better living through chemistry, was a cult of convenience over natural materials. Both have proved to be incomplete and even damaging: to the person, the land, and the soul. Such is the truth of many cults. Is the cult of the new any different?
Poetry is trapped in the cult of the new, the religion of originality. Most of modern and post-modern art is, for that matter. If youre not original and unique, the usual thinking goes, youre not worth looking at, or youre somehow a lesser artist.
Is that a bad thing? or a good thing?
Actually, I think it's irrelevant. John Cage once asked Morton Feldman, Would you consider everything you have written, a work in progress? Freud kept revising his interpretation of dreams; so did Jung, especially after he broke from Freud. All artwork is provisional, unless it taps into something archetypal enough survive the test of time. John Cage and Morton Feldman have both passed on, but people are still performing and listening to their work; Rod McKuen has passed on, but is he still read? or taught? or written about, in the academy? (McKuen's books of doggerel were occasionally best-sellers, by the way.)
It's very hard today to want to do something traditional without being called onto the carpet about it. Don't think about Webern, think about Mozart. Yet Webern is a direct descendant of Mozart, and still within the tradition; even rock and roll is still within that tradition. But Cage is not. Why not? Because he is searching for possibilities other than Webern for the origin of new music.
How does a modern composer write for antique instruments such as the harpsichord? Not that in any frivolous way one must do something new each timerather, how does one write nowadays for that instrument?
I also think of Eno's work in music; he always manages to do something new, and his process of creation consists of finding ways to get past his internal critic, and let whatever playful thing happen, simplly happen. It's akin to Cage's aleatoric process, and both are akin to the beginner's mind in Zen. Eno's Oblique Strategies cards were developed as an aide to this process.
Each piece in a body of work is part of an overall process, which is a work in progress. Each piece by itself, abandoned by the wayside as "finished" artworks often are, could consciously be finished, or simply abandoned. They are no longer works in progress. But a lifetime's worth of work is always a work in progress. Sometimes a work of more than one lifetime, in which case the artist struggles to get as much done as possible, before inevitably failing.
The cult of the new is often frivolous and shallow, just as are most artistic -isms. Anytime you read a manifesto, beware. Whenever ideology drives the artwork, rather than the theory being derived afterwards from the artwork, you are in a situation of fascism, of totalitarianism, of determinism. This was the ultimate problem with Surrealism, and its strongman Bréton, who policed the Surrealists as to who was measuring up to the One True Model.
Every time I see someone present a One True Model of poetry, I have to laugh, because they don't know what they are talking about. Such pronouncements are always going to be open to contradiction, even being proved wrong, because artwork remains a work in progress, or process. Putting up a One True Model means that the presenter has a priori standards of success in mind, and will measure all artworks by those standards. Relativism is excluded or ignored, and disagreement is often suppressed. That too is fascism, totalitarianism, determinism.
Art comes from many points, many directions, many meanings. Even classic metrical rhymed poetry can be modernthis was proved by Christopher Fry in his verse dramas such as The Lady's Not for Burningcan be new, can be fresh.
It's how you do it.
358. 23 January 2006, Pinole, CA
For those of us with any sort of empathy, or sympathy for our fellow humans, its been hard not to get sucked into the general depression going on now: world politics, local emergencies, wintermind, post-holiday-season annual blahs, all of that. I was really exhausted yesterday, and feeling like I might relapse into having a cold again, just feeling dodgy, when I played an accidentally extra-long silent film gig last night in San Francisco; we played for two and a half hours, instead of the usual hour and a half. At some point during the evening, everyone had technical problems, too, like a row of ducks going down, one by one. Absurd synchronicities, annoying in the moment, laughable later. So, later, trying to unwind from getting wired from the gig and the drive home, and I just felt lousy.
Its worse when there are other levels of energetic life adding to the experience. Im no gullible believe in every new age fad, nor even any antique fad. I find astrology useful along Jungian lines, as a tool for self-awareness, for observing the synchronicities between personal life and the larger scale of events on the universal level. Astrology is not at all predictive, but on the evidence it seems to be useful in a descriptive manner, and can provide some psychological insights. So, with that in mind, I went looking last night, during a conversation with some pagan friends who were all feeling as out of sorts as I have been myself, and I found that Saturn has been in retrograde for awhile, and will be for awhile longer. Heres an insight into Saturn retrograde that made sense to me, and matches my experience; take it for what its worth:
Upsets and delays could become a normal part of life for the 4 and a half months Saturn is Retrograde. Extra time-consuming, unfinished *business* can unexpectedly come up that takes you away from your normal routine, adding extra responsibilities, commitments, and time-eaters to your days. Expectations of forward progress may have to be temporarily revised. It's time to ease up and take a good look around you. Whatever house of your horoscope Saturn is currently transiting through is where you will feel this effect. This is not the time to make bold new strides and start experimental projects. Instead, use this time to re-evaluate and strengthen what you are already doing. This retrograde can teach you new methods to structure your inner psychological workings by exposing your limiting, unproductive defense mechanisms. This knowledge can ultimately help you translate yourself and your work to the world in a lucid, more easily comprehensible way.
That all gibes with my experience lately. Oh yeah, and Venus is in retrograde right now, too:
Retrograde Venus calls your values into question. You may have acquired new possessions or made more money recently, but what do you want to do with your wealth, your talents, your assets? Your attractions may have drawn many potential friends and lovers, but who do you want in your life and how do you want to share? During Venus Retrograde you may get a better view of yourself by observing how you relate to others.
Well, that sure applies. Ive been feeling cut off and isolated along these lines, with most of my friends seemingly unable to walk their talk anymore. I find myself being really picky about sex at the moment, and not wanting to be casual or shallow about it, but deeper, more fulfilling, even openly tantric. I posted a tantric ad to CL over a week ago, and got interesting replies, but no follow-through, and no dates. I definitely feel like this is a self-assessment period around relationships and sex and love. Ive been feeling that way for at least a couple of weeks, before I ever read the astrology comments above; but they do seem to fit. Its all about opportunities for going within and learning more about oneself.
357. 21 January 2006, Pinole, CA
Ive been feeling out of sorts the past day or two. Ive been angry, frustrated, irritable, run ragged. I felt like I failed the Gay Mens Chorus audition last night; because of the head cold, I really sucked, and this morning I had to fly out the door to an all-morning photo shoot in San Leandro under cloudy skies and cold wind, and I didnt get home till late to get the email telling me that I had after all made it into the Chorus. I should be pleased, but I feel nothing but annoyance about everything. The only highlight of last night was stopping in at Virgin Records on Market street to pick up a CD. I took a nap after getting home today, and that was good, but Im still annoyed at almost everyone and everything. Most of my friends right now are irritating; too bad. I wrote a really angry rant last night that Im not going to post here, as I dont really want to put that much negativity out into the universe. I really have nothing to say here, either, Im just spewing.
Listening to Marshall McLuhan, the old LP that was made of his ideas in the 60s or 70s, which you can now hear on ubuweb. Excerpts from Joyce. Audio collage, purposefully edited rather than artfully unedited as in a Cage piece such as Variations IV. The voice as guide through the electronic maze. I find this stuff to be still relevant and provocative. McLuhan: The artist is the enema of society. . . . Art is anything you can get away with. The recording is self-reflexive, and even uses its own outtakes to underline points made in the main text. An image of voices. Layers and meanings. I think its time to pull together a new version of my Cage remix piece. Add this material, do some more stuff, layer it, mix it, using aleatoric processes, post it to the podcast. Whatever. Working on that now, this evening, nothing else to do, and the room is finally warm enough to be comfortable after an hour of running the heater.
[Addendum: Here's the piece: Collections & Re-Collections Re: and Not-Re: John Cage, January 2006 edition.]
356. 20 January 2006, Pinole, CA
Fierceness of raptor eyes in the half-light, gazing. Step off the train platform, overhead lights out on this end, except for one sputter and flicker over shoulder. Dark this end, except for eyes reflecting light behind. Back downroad, back upstair, no exits, no way in or out, just being in it, in it, in. Dog of loyal opposition, snarl and growl and step. Burning eyes that blind the night.
Turn, step, kick off. Blur of land passing under, leapt from tower to roof to pole to tower. Flash of green eyes of the half-dead and reborn. Catch of rooftile and fall of skipped stone to grass below. More far to fall than mind's eye allowed. Pinwheel arms, windmill collar and grab. Roofbeam and treespine places to hold up, grab, borrow, catch.
Walking the gorgon field, tall red-brown hoodoos of sandstone fading to black in evening light. Blue light and red stone, purpling and browning in fade. It's a labyrinth, a trail between stones, not marked at all, clearly known. A path of necessity, that hardens and thickens over your boots the further you progress.
Then on top of the tallest. Oh, the sky, the stars. Windless even in the wind. Ripple of the river of stars. Sky indigoed to the west, black above, parted with great silver sky river.
355. 19 January 2006, Pinole, CA
Had a gig at Alliance Française in San Francisco this evening. It went well, even if it was stressful getting there. Rush hour driving, a headcold, and its my flipping birthday, so I arrived a little stressed out. After the show, we were taken by the host to the French café thats in the AF building for an Orangina, bread and cheese: very nice, very convivial, quite pleasant. We did live music for the short films of Georges Méliès, the early French filmmaker, woh practically invented film special effects that were used up to the days of digital CGI. I used to be fluent in French, many years ago, but its gotten to the point where I can do a few phrases before I have to admit my ignorance. I played Stick, and also a little 5-string bass, tapping as well as plucking, and some orchestral bells. A wide range of material, because the short movies are all so different, even if many of them are hyperkinetic.
Im feeling good right now, afterwards, back home, the sound of a fire crackling in the fireplace in the next room, drinking warm tea, having played a good gig. Not a bad way at all to celebrate my birthday. Al and Andy left a birthday song on my voicemail that made me laugh out loud; first they sang the Volga Boatmens Birthday Song, then they did the granular synthesis versionpretty authentic rendition, too. Hilarious! So, even though I can tell Im still sick with this headcold, Im feeling better. I'm editing the documentation recordings I made of the gig this evening on the laptop. Its later than I thought, though, and I doubt my energy will last much longer. I want to do one or two website things before bed; an update or two. Add some new stuff to the Music section.
354. 19 January 2006, Pinole, CA
I Know What the Latin Word for Confession Is, Whats the Latin Word for Self-Assessment?
Dont be attached to action, the Astavakra Gita says, and dont be attached to non-action. No attachments at all. Do what has to be done, if you have the tools at hand.
Today is my 47th birthday. I feel very detached. Of course that could just be the headcold Ive been fighting since Monday. I stayed in bed or in my room all day yesterday, doing exactly nothing. Not that there is anything to do; yet there is so much to get done. I should be returning a phone message from two days ago. I should be working on the computer, making art. I can barely stay focused through the fog of illness. Tomorrow I have an audition, and I wonder if Ill even have a voice at all. My throat didnt bother me at all yesterday, now its a little scratchy today. Dont be attached to non-action, or action. Things I should be doing, that I dont want to do. Things I want to do, that I am unable to do, or prevented from doing.
I open Rumi at random, to a page about doing ones real work in this lifetime, rather than letting it go to waste. Am I even close to doing my real work? Is it even close to what Ive been doing lately? Do I even get to know? Its hard to tell, some days, what my purpose is, or if I even have one. I get clearest about it when I stop caring at alldont be attached to action.
I want to learn to be a better businessperson. I hate doing taxes, even if I get a refund. In 2005 I actually had some reportable income, if not very much. I don't send invoices on time, and I always complain when people dont pay me on time, if at all. Dont be attached to non-action. There is an emotional charge, still, around dealing with accounting, and handling money. The only times Im happy about money are when I dont have to think about it: when Im completely broke, or when I have enough in the bank not to have to worry about paying expenses this month. Im susceptible to the money worries of those around me; I take on their worries too readily, and lose my balance and get pulled off-center. Come back to center, and extent. Dont be attached to action.
Should is a word I use to beat myself up. I could have done this or that, but I tell myself I should have. I wouldnt be worried about money now if I had been able to convince myself to send that invoice last month. I should have sent it, I could have sent it, I would have sent it. Things like that. Dont be attached to non-action. Im tired of feeling bad because Im not perfect, and Im sick and tired of everyone else telling me to do better, when their own lives are just as disorganized as mine. If we are gurus, we are all gurus on an equal footing: equally full of wisdom, and all equally fucked up.
Dont be attached to action. Nothing scares me like a threat to my truck. That truck represents freedom, it represents escape: the ability to get out of here, to escape, anytime I need to or want to. There is wisdom, as any experienced monastic hermit knows, in not being able to escape, in having to stew in ones own juices for awhile. Ive been doing nothing but stewing, these past few days of mild but debilitating illness. No energy for anything physical, but plenty of energy for things mental and psychological and tied up in little knots of mind-drama. Dont be attached to non-action.
But I look at the evidence: every time Ive really needed something, when the last truck was destroyed in that highway accident, when the trailer went over the cliffI still flinch when I think about itevery one of those times, something else has come forward to replace it. Ive had what I needed. Ive been able to keep moving, and been providing what I needed. Dont be attached to action. Setting aside the emotional trauma of the events hasnt always been as smooth as Id like. Im less trusting, less open, more angry, more frustrated, than Id like to be. Id love a retreat time, right now. Woods, shore, desert: whatever came forward. I think I might go camping for a night next week, at Butano if nowhere more distant, just to get away from the mental noise.
Dont be attached to action. Dont be attached to non-action. Just do it.
353. 17 January 2006, Pinole, CA
I dont make new years resolutions, as I think theyre a set-up for failure, as everyone always makes unreasonable resolutions they can never live up to, then they beat themselves up when they dont live up to them. Its a total set-up. Why do you think there is such an industry around relieving guilt when people fail? Its because theyre expected to fail. Set up to fail. And the jackals prey on the unwary.
So, I dont make resolutions. I make changes. Just change one or two things, quietly, without trumpeting it about. This year seems like a good year to make several changes Ive been thinking about lately.
Ive decided to try and forge some connections in the local gay community by auditioning for the San Francisco Gay Mens Chorus. I dont expect musical enlightenment, although it could be fun. But I do hope to make some friends, some connections, a little networking, and probably be surprised, too. The actual audition is this Friday evening, and I have no doubt that I can pass the music test. I have tons to offer any organization such as this
I attended an open rehearsal last night, taking the BART train in and out of the city. It was good, mostly, but I noticed I revert to some kind of fundamental shyness in these settings. Maybe its the level of camaraderie and exuberance in the air, when you get a 150 gay men in one room, and at least half of them are fairly flamboyant. The music is the easiest part of all this, for me. When Im doing the music, any music, I have near-total self-confidence in most settings. But I find myself reverting to a childhood shyness in the room full of extroverts. I have things to contribute, but they stay hidden, until someone asks me, or I find the strength to bring them forward.
Basically, Im an introvert. Im a compensated introvert most of the time, capable of being convivial and even exuberant. Cutting loose is something I had to learn how to do, but its a release for this volcano of energy I feel inside myself most days. Life would be simpler, I suppose, if I wasnt as energized as I am; I could just sit calmly and quietly, and meditate on the world going by.
Ive gotten a tremendous amount of help from Buddhist thought over the yearsZen, Vajrayana, esoteric, Tantric, even some aspects of Aikidoto help me settle down and manage my energy. I have an infinite gratitude for all of this. Not just the wisdom, but the practice. What is at the core of all of it is mystical experience. Zen taught me to treat it as ordinary: so you had another vision, go do the dishes. (People tell me theyve never had any transcendent moments, and that really stops me; I dont know how to respond to that. It seems impossible, theyre such ordinary things. My mind wants to rationalize that all the visions and experiences and moments of transcendence Ive had my whole life cant be anything special or different, because I dont want to believe that Im special or different, and I know Im not. These things are available to everybody: theyre our human birthright. So I usually come to conclusion, with no real justification, that they probably have had mystical, transcendent experiences, they just didnt realize what they were, or labeled them as something else.) Tibetan Tantric Vajrayana Buddhism helped me understand the psychology of spiritual work: there are maps one can follow when one finds oneself in psychological and spiritual new territory. (Even as all the maps are in the end incomplete, they do get you pretty far before you go off them.) Some of the more esoteric branches of Japanese Buddhism have been useful as validations of my own esoteric experiences. I feel less alone, less isolated, like Im the only one this stuff has happened to, and I must therefore be losing my mind. I learned, finally, not to doubt my strange experiences, but to trust them; and they have indeed become ordinary parts of daily life.
If only people would realize: revelation is continuous; the world is very much alive and breathing; existence is both transcendent and immanent; the Divine is not separate from us, and every person you meet is an avatar of God; the world drips with magic. Its all around us, and inside us, all the time, just waiting for us to notice.
I dont feel like labeling myself as a Buddhist. Zen, and the Zen attitude of beginners mind, have been essential to me. Yet I am hardly a regular practitioner, and I dont belong to any meditation group at present. I certainly dont feel at all enlightened or awakened. Im no buddha. Im too selfish to be even a halfway decent bodhisattva, too much self-absorbed, even as I practice tonglen and other bodhichitta disciplines. I confess that I sometimes seek the healing of others for selfish reasons, just so theyll stop broadcasting their pain, and I can rest. Thats hardly very enlightened.
My big vice is impatience; impatience with the world, with myself, with the Powers That Be, with other people who seemingly refuse or are unable to get with it fast enough. I know thats a trip I project; some days I cant help myself, though, and I project it all over everyone. Other days I can pull it back and realize its my projection. Still other days, I dont know what to do. I dont feel very advanced at all in dealing with my own impatience.
I can be just as self-absorbed, mired in my own illusory problems, as anyone else. Most gay men I know, because of their wounds from the way this culture treats us both growing up and as adults, are the most self-absorbed, self-centered people I know. We have a lot of walking wounded. Its often forgivable, even when its annoying, because you know its still about asserting the self after its been beaten down for however many years. Hopefully, with maturity, some at least come to a stable place of peaceful self-acceptance. Even gay men buy into the cultural myth that you cannot be a whole person unless youre involved in a monogamous couple relationship. Thats such a trip. I catch myself getting impatient, though, when someone doesnt evolve towards self-acceptance as quickly as I have. Thats my trip. I want to drag them kicking and screaming, heels dragging, towards enlightenment?even as I know that never works. Again, its selfish: I just want some rest for myself, instead of being on-call for everyone elses problems all the time. And if I?this messed-up self that I am still working on?if I can learn to Let Go and just drift, then anyone can. So, if anyone can, whats your excuse?
Im an empath. Ive loved every man, and woman, Ive ever had sex with, even if it was a one-time encounter. Im incapable of not loving them, because if Ive been that intimate with a person, the empathy tells me who they are, and what they want, and when. My own emotions cannot be disengaged. There is the merging that happens, with those I most deeply love. Many are afraid of losing themselves in that merging; I seek it out. As if the self was such a treasure, and were so afraid of losing it. What a joke! Lose your mind and come to your senses is still wisdom. Drowning in an ocean of ecstasy is the sure cure for egotism, because it explodes ego and replaces it with white light. Eros is a very good path to ecstasy; although there are others just as effective. Ekstasis, in the original Greek, means being beside yourself: out of your body, out of yourself.
So, why connect with the local gay community at all? Simple. I feel isolated and cut off a lot of the time; thats nothing new. I just want to make new friends. As I said, the music part of it can be good, but its also secondary. I have an enormously fulfilling musical life already; and, frankly, most of the music I am involved with is beyond the ken of most everybody Ill meet in any gay chorus. I can honestly say that without exaggeration, because its beyond the ken of most of the musicians I know, too, much less the non-professionals. Ive never been one for the mainstream; the stereotypes of the music and theatre, and musical theatre, that gay men are supposed to like generally leave me quite cold and bored. Still, its another musical outlet. So, the music is a part of it, and chances are, I wouldnt bother with joining a non-musical, non-artistic gay group, where the only thing I had in common with anyone was sexual preference. My experience has been, most gay organizations need a regular dose of Radical Faerie energy, to keep their heads from disappearing up their own asses. Us Faeries tend to shake things up, just by being who we are. So, I wear no blinders, and I go into it with honesty and open eyes. There is an outreach concert series, where members of the Chorus go out and sing to members of the community who they might not normally ever meet, and who dont come to concerts. The events like that I participated in with the Twin Cities Gay Mens Chorus were among the most fulfilling of all. Not just the service aspects of it, but the conviviality, too.
352. 14 January 2006, Pinole, CA
Not feeling stuck, exactly. Feeling on hold while I recover my strength, blown out of me by the whirlwind of the past month or two. I am sleeping a lot, and relishing it, and not trying to do anything about it. Waiting. Just being, for now, and just now, being.
I open Pema Chodrons book When Things Fall Apart this morning, and am drawn to the chapter The Trick of Choicelessness:
Our usual experience is that, just when our perception is getting vivid, we get jumpy. The world is always displaying itself, always waving and winking, but we are so self-involved that we miss it. The experience of sticking with it, of not giving up, is one in which the whole world, everything that we see, becomes extremely vivid and more solid, and at the same time, less substantial and more transparent. Were not talking about seeing anything other than the person sitting in front of us: seeing how his or her hair sticks up or lies down, is dirty or clean, brushed or gnarled; or seeing a bird with black feathers and a twig in its mouth, sitting in a tree. The things we see all the time can pop us out of the painful cycle of samsara.
If we stick with it, our experience becomes more vivid and more transparent, and we can no longer not get the message. And this is a message that never gets interpreted. Things speak for themselves. Its not that red cushion means passion, or little mouse darting in and out means discursive mind; its just red cushion and little mouse darting out from behind the chair.
Sound is the same thing, ordinary sound?every sound that we ever hear, from the alarm clock waking us up in the morning to our snoring companion at night. We all know what sounds are like when they punctuate and startle us, but what does your pen sound like, writing in your notebook? And how does it sound when you turn the pages of this book? What about your own voice? Its interesting to hear ones own voice; it sounds like someone elses voice. To hear what we say and see how it goes out into the environment and communicates also has the power to pop us out of the deadness of samsara. Even if were alone, our yawns and farts communicate. So every ordinary little peep or scratch or snicker, every little chewing sound or drinking sound or whatever, can wake us up. The idea of samaya is that if we dont avoid our personal experience?if we dont think theres a better, more inspiring, less irritating, or less disturbing sound?sounds become vivid and transparent.
The same goes for mind. As we practice, we see that thoughts do not go away; they become more precise and less substantial. At the level of mind, we break samaya by making things wrong or making things right. We think we have some choice to make, some alternative to just hanging out with not solving anything, not resolving anything, We could say that, at the level of mind, breaking samaya is feeling that we must come up with a solution to a problem?or feeling that there is a solution or a problem at all. That might give you some idea of how difficult it is to keep samaya.
Ive been placing Craigslist personal ads lately, and getting good responses, but I havent felt like having sex. Tea dates, yes; sex, no. Sex is too much work right now with someone I dont already intimately know. Not that Im any less horny than usual, but Im not wanting to be casual about sex, life, food?about anything. Im too tired to be frivolous. No, not frivolous: unintentional; to not do things with attention and intention. Its all very serious right nownot humourless, but focused on the work of what I now know to be samaya work; what Pema is talking about above. Your bond with your teacher doesnt have to be with a person: it can be with the world itself. It can be with Nature, or the Universe.
The things we see all the time can pop us out of the painful cycle of samsara. The world is always beckoning to us to just be, to just be in the world, and let go of plans, ego, and goals. Just be alive, Human being, rather than human doing. Drop those anxieties about money, sex, life, food, looks: those are all self-absorbed judgments we make on ourselves, and that is what samsara is.
I see the world this way all the time: its what lies at the root of my artwork, my photography which is spiritual work even when its just a snapshot of landscape or street scene. I cant afford to waste photographic time on casual, non-attentive wasted moments. Every moment has to count, because life is so short, and I have so much left to do. Seeing the world this way is what my camera walks are all about; why I get in the car and go somewhere, and get out and start taking pictures: a shortcut, a practice discipline, to see whats actually there, rather than the usual filters and judgments of samsara. Samsara is the hell we make for ourselves, where all we can see is deadness, judgment, pain, lassitude, boredom, angst, anxiety, fear, and reflections. The world gives us everything we need to live, and we dont want it/
Sound is the same thing, ordinary sound. This is essential. This lies at the root of my practice, and my life. Its the Cage insight, that all sounds are equally present, equally good. If your lover is snoring in bed, lay your head on his heart, and listen to both snores and heartbeat, and be soothed by the music of living. The composer provides a frame for listening, an opportunity for listening, since people seem to need frames, need to be told what to do. But, gradually, the practice of listening (to music) becomes the practice of just listening, to everything, all the time, with open ears, with delight, appreciation, and pleasure. This too breaks us out of samsara, where the noisy neighbor and the snoring lover no longer bother us, but become things we appreciate, and have compassion for. Delight means taking everything as it comes, as seeing (choosing to see) whats there, with appreciation, rather than with judgment. Puritanical samsara tries to improve the world, tries to create the Heavenly City here on earth, by enacting rules and laws and judgments about right and wrong, and only succeeds in making everything worse. Someone sees something they hate or fear?fear lies at the root of hate?and they try to make it stop or go away. That creates samsara for them, because they trap themselves into whatever container they have made, that illusory bubble of safety that tries to keep the world at bay. John Cage was once asked what is the meaning of life, and he said, punning on his own name, Get out of whatever Cage you are in.
There is no solution, and no problem. There is no cage. This is what the illusion of maya is: thinking there has to be a solution to a problem. There is no problem (and dont go making problems because were addicted to the adrenaline of drama), so no solution is necessary.
351. 11 January 2006, on the plane, in the air over the Great Plains
Driving to the airport earlier, the clouds were concealing the tops of the skyscrapers downtown. The buildings just faded into the mist, like mountaintops hidden by mist. The roads were full of cars streaming around the bases of the towers, insect exoskeletons with windows and lights, herded by the embanks highways across the face of the world.
low gray morning clouds
make tall buildings fade to white?
ants look up and sigh
Just as the plane was about to take off, suddenly a gap in the clouds opened, and sunlight streamed in my window. I was sitting on the port side, behind the wing. Gold light flooded the still-wet tarmac, and bounced off the burnished mirrors of the control-tower windows.
after a day of low
hanging clouds, as we depart:
sun emerges from winter
I write a few erotic haiku and haibun, sitting here in the sunlight, now that were above the clouds. The blue sky is flooded with light, and light streams in my windows. I have this whole row to myself, so I sprawl out luxuriously, and write, and snack. Tired after the exertions of the past week, I find myself falling asleep, and take a nap.
A line from a Theodore Roethke poem, The Waking, is in my mind when I awaken:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
I nap, the direct sun warming my shirt. Here, somewhere over the Great Plains, not yet to the mountains, the cloud cover has been an even white-gray, smooth as a pie topping, the sky a clear blue color-field above it: like a Mark Rothko painting in natural colors. I nap in the sun, letting the light heal me, and wake sometime later, actually feeling rested.
airplane luxury: the row
to myself, no one in front of me?
I sprawl, content
The clouds, now sidelit as we chase the sunset, take on storybook forms. Theres some air turbulence.
As we were taking off, I got blood on my shirt, clearing my nose. Went to the rear water-closet, far too small a bathroom for a big man like me, and washed it off in the sink. Came back, sat here writing in my notebook, and the low cabin pressure made the ink in my pen spurt out onto the page, and onto my shirt. Oh well. Water soluble ink. Laundry tonight.
A break in the clouds reveals lowering mountains beneath us now, after all, dotted by white snow and the capes of low-altitude clouds. I grab the camera and snap, snap, snap.
The valleys and basins white with snow, the slopes brown and exposed. Fresh snow over Colorado, I guess. Not sure where we are, from not being able to see the ground before, and after my nap.
When I travel by airplane at sunset, I like to watch the earths penumbra, the planets shadow, the soft terminator between sunlight and night, rise up like a curtain, as the globe turns towards night. Its always more dramatic heading east. Heading west, it slows down as we race the night, stretching out the lingering twilight and nightfall. Slowing everything down, emulating those long northern sunsets and quiet evenings. Changes in latitude, new directions: the same results to eye and time-sense.
snow, hills, bitter-blued
by suns rolling curve towards night?
line of shadow rising high,
distant clouds spun pink and gold
Later, over the Rockies, then the Sierras:
The Roethke poem is prophetic:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
Severe turbulence makes the plane shake up and down, left and right, vibrating and rattling. The wings flex up and down, bouncing. I can Feel it in the air in front of us, and it gets worse before it gets better. I keep having fear-visions of the wings being torn off the plane, and we plummet, Icarus free-falling and wingless, to our crumpled deaths on the hillsides below. Will anyone find me, and know Ive died here? Will they find my notebook, my camera, which I will turn on and record video, if death comes? We go through wave after wave of turbulence, finally turning south and lowering altitude, evading the rest of it. I could Feel each wave coming, and each region of killer air ahead. Terrified, I prayed for release. I knew, rationally, the plane would be all right; so I turned to my fears, and began the process of clearing and releasing them back into the Nothingness from which they arose. We turned away from the worst of it, where there was Death in the air, waiting. My fears are much more intense than ever before. Its only when I want to alive that I fear the dying, that I am afraid of Death. Its only when I think I have, at last, a reason to live, a desire, a purpose, that I am afraid to die. Thus does purpose betray us.
We outrace the terminator line, the sky ahead still pale blue, the clouds rimmed with gold and salmon edges. Briefly, for a short while, the sun breaks through the clouds on the horizon, and splashes amber in my window.
Losing altitude, we drop low over the Sierras. They look close enough to touch, giving me a strange connected comfort. Turning north, now, over the Valley, the sky is still blue on the horizon, with a bright line of sunset clouds. The earths shadow looms over my shoulder, catching up to us as we fly ahead, racing. A dark and silent presence.
Finally, we come into stiller air. My fears are burned out. The plane still shakes lightly with some turbulence, but I am no longer terrified. I am at peace. I look out the window, and see the lights of the Central Valley. Then, we turn north to go up the Bay to land at Oakland, and I see familiar landmarks I have driven by. Everything is vivid and alive, the way the air seems clearer and your senses sharper when you have just had a close encounter with death. This is the feeling adrenaline junkies are addicted to, and take insane risks to spend time in this exalted state of being. Im alive. Im alive!
I see the lights of the traffic on the highways I know, and San Jose, and the dark waters of the Bay itself. We fly up over Fremont to land at Oakland airport, and I am wrung out with exhaustion.
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there, indeed.
We break through the last clouds, now, over the south end of the Bay, and up to Oakland, the air is warm and still and clear. Orange and red light still in the skies to the west. I guess the dark days are over now.
I guess the dark days are over now.
Entire Contents of this Website
© 19922010 Arthur Durkee/Black Dragon Productions (TM).
All Rights Reserved.