Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finally, after five night shifts closing the restaurant, the day off.  Awaking at two PM has seemed the way to handle the shifts, the most rest possible, and that's when I get up.  I need daylight, vitamin D.  I go for a walk in a warm humid November rain, a magnificent double rainbow spanning Rock Creek just as I cross the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.  I walk very slowly down the grassy slope, back on the road as it hairpins, finding the path down to the creek, which is running best I've seen it in a while.

I read sketches from the barman's album, snippets of thoughts, written in haste, impressions, complaints, attempts at understanding, full of exaggerations, moody explorations that seem out of place in this time of corporate employment, akin to Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground.  Just thoughts that come and go:

The bar can be the opposite of calm.  Sometimes it is calm.  Those are the times you do it for.  The busy times are good, too.  The times when you don't have to think, just do, keep moving, no need to be involved in different modes of conversations.  Facilitate.  

When I went out into the city I became a professional.  And for that there is a show, faces, happy, grinning, getting a buzz on, raised voices, laughter, pats on the back, display, confusion, loudness, stories you'd heard a hundred times, but welcomed each time in nuances.  It was enough to make you anxious.

Much of it is friendly and benevolent, a good vibe.  It puts you in the present moment, interacting with people so intensely and steadily that it brings you out of your head.

It was next to impossible to get done with a shift and not want a glass of wine.  If you felt bad about that basic fact, didn't treat the commune right, the next day, you sometimes weren't feeling so hot, sleepy, tired from physical exertion.  And on top of all that, working at night in order to do that which  was basically natural, to write, as a skill to develop for whatever reason, as a therapy, as a way of sorting things out in the mind on a daily basis...

But that was also a kind of learning path, a modest highly fallible attempt at one.  The approach, in life's waves, of one's own tiny little dark night of the soul, of the that which can allow a burning away of vanities and the personality of the ego attached to the past.  Maybe cities are heavy with just that which one would preach to people to get rid of.  And for me, the ego of being a writer didn't turn out to be much, unless it had a spiritual side.

Writing, somehow it always worked for you, helped you put things in piles, so that you could think about them, let out inner thoughts, and all I could think about was the spirit which would endure and offer great kindness to people because love is our nature.

Jesus or Buddha, what difference does it make how you come about it?  They're both going the same place.  Sick of that which is making you sick?  Let it go, bring peace to you.  There is nothing wrong, only the perception.   As if we are programmed, in our nervous system, to replicate the voyage of the spiritual master, just by allowing it to happen, in our own little ways.
It is towards the end of the night and the singer brings the oversized martini glass Mr. Koko the little white dog has drank water of in the course of the evening as he lies on his couch as the jazz trio plays through their sets up to the bar.  There is some water left in the glass, and I take it by the stem and toss the remainder into the sink, and as I do I say toward the sink or an imaginary person in its locale, "I told you to shut up."  (As if someone was throwing a drink at someone else.)  Caught unexpectedly, the lady with the silky voice and excellent pitch, laughs aloud.  As do several seated at the small bar.  I've never thrown a drink at anyone, nor has anyone ever thrown one at me, but there is theater in small things.

But the old barman knows.  Woe unto the world because of offenses, if that even applies.  But there it is, the love, the respect, the friendliness, desire for happiness and agreement, people feel for each other.  And yet, even as the two parties might offer each other several, even many olive branches, but in the dance, and in the high stakes of the mating ritual, unfortunately, things can go very wrong, even against the will.   Why?  Mainly because of insecurities, perhaps, or there be moods, or psychological tendencies, or other events in a life that bleed over to the personal aspect.  Or there is just juvenile dumbness, the unmet need for a more aggressive approach to not leave things up to the divine but to bite the apple and make things happen, as the clocks in games are ticking anyway.

Yes, the old barman knows.  He's talked to people about it in searching through the meaningful events of other people's happenings and doings and personal lives.  The very same thing happening to one of my favorite co-workers.  He's been through months of it, and I tell him, over a text, mainly to be sympathetic, 'yeah, I've had years like that.'  And indeed, I wish old events would not have taken hold over the circuitry of my mind, to the extent that I wonder, in a domino theory kind of way, why I do my work in night shifts, even into versions of that old spiritual wilderness of the night of the soul.  Which is I suppose a good part of why I am a writer, in order to deal with such a Satan of every day, which I will explain.

From reading too much Alan Watts, it goes something like this.  The Cross symbolizes the accomplishment of putting Lucifer, the ego, all that which we keep with us as a past and memories which hold us in such a way as to determine our future, away from us, so that we rise, spiritually healthy and capable of life, by living in the present.  The theme, of the Perennial Philosophy, captured beautifully throughout the details of the Christian story, is compelling presented in his Myth and Ritual in Christianity.

Okay, that's all nice, that's all well and good and worth thinking about, but...

And then you look at the world today, and you wonder.  Produced, built, formed in the divine image, we are the love of the creator, personified, exemplified, brought to life.  And yet, look at the world;  look at the absence of that in different acts of aggression and retaliation, all of which seem inevitable and unending to us, unless, like the Cross symbolizes, we were to take the act of stepping outside of history, outside the past that wears us down into warriors, to become, in essence, ourselves again.

I suppose you can hear it in Lincoln, of course in the Gospels, or in the preacher's words about a happy marriage, do not let disagreements and charges and the like simmer and develop, lest all the wealth piled up is torn away and one is cast into prison to pay for the rest of a life.

Perhaps that is the love of the divine, anyway, speaking to us, exemplifying, the need to speak that message.  Do not be stupid.  Apologize, show the other person that, no matter what act might come out, you care.  And if you can deliver that message, in whatever small way, perhaps that redeems you.   You've learned the lesson, and it's time to remember the higher things.

Friday, November 20, 2015

unpublished wine column 11/13

When things are clear as mud, I find a book off my father's shelf.  Alan Watts' "Myth and Ritual in Christianity” fits the bill as the Earth turns toward bare-treed November, the time to 'hold fast to the center.'  Watts describes a Christian mythos keeping with a Perennial Philosophy that people all around the world throughout history come up with.  

The emphasis, for Watts, is on the poetry of a good myth, on understandings that live in a mind attuned to the present, free from the ego and historical time and the science and metaphysics of the Western system of thought.

Myths don't make it onto the daily news, but one has stuck with me since childhood.

The basics of it are this:  Dionysos appears on some cliffs above the sea, a ship of pirates going by;  'Must be some rich prince, let's take him hostage,’ they say; they seize him and bind their young nobleman to the mast, but fetters will not hold; strange things begin to happen on the ship; grape vines grow, vessels overflow with sweet wine; and then Dionysos turns into a lion and pounces.  The pirates, terrified, jump into the sea; hardness and extremism in the flesh, they are turned into dolphins, put to good purpose, in tune with nature; and the god Dionysos, having understood the moderate old helmsman's wise heart, commands him to stay.  And as the sailing day reached the dusk, I imagine they had some wine together.

I wonder if there's a better myth suited to the world right now.

Eric Asimov, of the New York Times, reminds me of the value of keeping a good Chianti around, a true middle of the road graciously palatable red.  At a very reasonable price, the fruit is balanced with the tactile experience of that source of all things, as if one could taste the acorn, the pinecone, the rocks and places where the Earth has received enough of its own history to tell a story.

In what terms can we express the reality of life?  Sometimes, like wine, we need the leap of faith that is truth wrapped in myth, perceived and understood, accepted, at deeper levels of the mind.

Exposure to myth allows us to comprehend the truth of other persons.  With a head full of Cuchulains and Quixotes, of goddesses who mingle with shepherds, we get the human psyche, the person standing there before you, unbound, unpacked from the imposed.

Like wine, myth allows us back to that archaic time when people talked to each other, really talked, about nature and reality.

And sometimes, there is a reward, a good simple pleasure, to counter the tyranny of the majority, the glass of Jean-Luc Columbo 2010 Cornas the wine rep poured; it sat out on the shelf by the bourbons, untouched, me feeling unworthy of a big complex Syrah, and five hours later, at the end of the shift, it tasted great and I kept coming back to its exotic refined depths.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ow, ow, ow, Mr. Daffy is saying aloud as he leans back in his chair, his chin up, holding his martini glass Last Word gin cocktail up to his nose to savor it, as he listens to the music of the jazz trio.  He had dinner downstairs.  I don't know exactly how much he's had to drink, but in checking in on him he doesn't seem too badly off.   His fancy leather motorcycle jacket is propped up on the chair next to him, and he has on his shiny red Prada slipper sneakers.  He wants another one, and I go downstairs to check with my buddy coworker, who says, 'he can have half a one.'  Okay.  "Thank you, thank you," he is saying loudly as the trio finishes a song, as if he were the house emcee when I come back to the bar.  But he is an uninhibited fellow, wealthy.  Friendly, outrageous, likable, he says what's on his mind, not quite typical of Washington.

Back joining the bar with two lady friends after dining downstairs is an interesting Welsh woman, a round of Sambucca on the rocks.   Her mum a Brit, her father came from Yemen, talking, telling stories, about how as a girl she'd go have dinner with the Fearnley's, Mrs. Fearnley putting supper together for 8 children, peas, eggs, beans, chips, how her own mother would tell her not to impose upon her Irish neighbor who had enough on her plate trying to feed everyone already, and a dinner of Bolognese at home was better anyway.  She emphasizes, at her neighbor's, with her friend, she always got the same plate as everyone else.  Good stories.  Which, I, of Irish extraction, enjoy humoring.  We all have a fun chat with her.  She sounds like I'd imagine Amy Winehouse might have in conversation, a little bit.  We'd been talking about diet, what her tastes for certain kinds of food, her no longer craving meat, getting her protein from fava and other beans, and guess what, she's Type A blood.

After she leaves, as the place clears out, the musicians somehow understanding, quietly waving as they leave down the stairs into the night with their cases and equipment, the wise mild Englishman with glasses, whose been there at the end of the bar the whole night, sort of chuckles how I engage with the crazies more than I might.  If I had more reserve.. but believe me, I try.  Hospitality is a hard thing to turn off.  "Yes, I remember the  bartender at Harry's Bar in Paris..."  Monsieur Jacques did not talk much, a white jacketed professional betraying little emotion, simply duty, nodding when taking an order.  Indeed, it can seem like the only sane people in the room are the ones who are waiting on people, encountering all the shows, the struts, the self-importance that breeds worldly wealth and importance.

The crazies, do I attract them?  It is the jazz, is it a full moon tonight?  Am I one of them?

I talk to mom at the end of the night after eating my grilled salmon dinner.  I listen to Morrissey, Every Day is Like Sunday, as I clean up the bar, alone now, after a long shift.  I hit the Safeway a long block up and across the street before Ubering it back to where I live.  Getting the groceries in, it took effort.

The day off I get up late.  I rise and take a hot shower after doing the dishes from yesterday and the night's gluten-free pizza.  I have my hot water with lemon, take a little tea, and limber by the hot water I perform my basic yoga poses and postures.  Sun salutation.  Shoulder stand.  Plow, first time in a while, feet touching the floor above my head.  Mountain, triangle, warrior poses.  Headstand.  Pigeon.

I need to see a little light before it gets dark, so I go for a walk.  Down on the avenue it's rush hour, a trail of slow moving red tail lights.  Walking slowly the back streets of Kalorama, finding a good interesting garden has been put to bed, everything cut low but for a little stand of kales, I call mom.  The purple flowers like Black-Eyed Susans a company of bees hovered about busy collecting pollen when I was recovering like St. Francis from the operation has been cut down too.  There are all kinds of crazies in education too, she tells me.  I have a good job as far as the imagination goes, stimulating, more social than if I'd just stuck back home with a  pickup truck and a dog.  I walk slowly under the clear warm jewel-like sky.  Cabdrivers have gathered on the back streets by the mosque, talking amiably with each other in their native tongues.

I cross the bridge, getting to the other side where the tall pines rise up to the bronze patina railings.  Further up the VP's big green with white helicopter comes in over the woods beyond the bridge for a landing, descending.

I walk down the little pasture, the grass damp, the sparse trees at the edge of the park's wooded bank lit by embassy mansion's exterior lights and the passing car.  I get the smell of the woods, the leaves building up now upon the lawn.  It's dark now, too dark to go down to the stream.

I walk back, and there's a turkey on ezekial sandwich I made for myself a day ago for work waiting for me.

But it's no wonder to me that after the week I return to my quiet and my yoga and my books touching upon aspects of religion.  Alan Watts lectures that when all humanity lived as a hunter, Type O, in the woods, able to do everything, hunt, cook, make weapons, mend, make shelter, on his own his spirituality was of the shaman type.  (Perhaps this is the basis of the human wish for privacy, that it is left to him to figure things out on his own, to practice, to woodshed, to master whatever he does, as he must do it alone as far as mastering the skill.  Thus the shyness, because of the nakedness of creativity, not wanting company when you're learning to sing a song.   The more intense the shyness, the wish for privacy, the better the craft might be.  Genius is, comes from, the solitary study and act.)  Watts points out the progress of an individual's life in Indian society of old, that after being a homeowner householder, there comes the final phase of being a forest dweller, eventually thinking, after months of silence, without words.  Do we return to from whence we came?

It seems a part of the job, to tolerate all the different forms of individual crazy that come out, ion beams, radiations, vocalizations, the individuality, the claims of each person as they live their lives and have dinner and wine at the bar.  I'm a patient listener, friendly, simpatico.

It seems sometimes like it was that second jazz night shift that was a bit much to put up with, a bit too many personalities, a bit too much, like I say, crazy.  It would then leave me not wanting to go out of the house, because if I did there would just be more of what I had so ably tolerated.  Bistro Du Coin?  No thanks.  The forest had its appeal, even if you felt lonesome.  It seemed as if the person with type O needed the quiet to recalibrate himself after his encounters with the modern world and the city his blood has difficulty comprehending, a survivor without urban credential.   A caveman with verbal skills, a good glad-hander.  The city makes little sense to him.  Television, unless he's making it, makes little sense to him.  The cell phone makes little sense to him.

And the people of other blood types, physiologically use to the agrarian and the city and conquering, have a huge leg up on the O.  The male of the species, perhaps in particular, will feel the tension and the pressures upon him.

A glass of wine, the biblical soother.

It almost began to seem like one of life's bad choices, going to work.  And yet it was, is, my job.  On a night off I listen to soothing music meant for yoga and meditation, do some yoga, after a walk down to the stream in the twilight.  I ease into exploring the mind away from dualities, away from outer labels, you are who you are, so why be pushed, why hurry about?  Do your yoga and your headstand, and meditate.  Relax into your true self;  work has too many labels if you let it be so.  Find that quiet person, thoughtful, redemptive, kind, not the animal who puts on a show, but the person who doesn't mind the downtime, the night alone reading.  Accept.  Be the sorrowful, the misunderstood, the un-listened to, meek, mild, mourning, poor.  And in that way, unburden one's self from burdens, from illusions.

As the psychologist might point out in her theories, The Happiness Trap, just that, that trying to be happy is great burden.  Just let that go.  That's not what life's about.  Life's lesson it to look beyond dualistic understandings and the appearance of multiplicity of that which is, undivided, whole, complete.

And religious literature, literature of the spiritual, talks about 'the dark night of the soul,' the obliteration of ego, that identity conditioned by the past to create the future.  And I suppose such a thing could happen to a barman, who's worked that room of people clinging to pleasure, not that that is all that it is, as sometimes it can be that real confiding place, an exchange.  Perhaps the dark night is a thing kept for people serious, focussed, about such things, students of that which is a deeper attempt to understand reality.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The only way for an artist to work, really, is to let go.  Release from effort, let it happen.  Occupy the present, free from ego, free from the past, free from the future.  Look at the bigger picture beyond the details.  He realizes it is not his by own effort.  He knows that it comes through doing nothing, like taking a nap, or meditating, stretching in a yoga pose, walking through the woods, unaware of how the mind is working until it speaks its formulation.

And in this seemingly 'idiotic' mode, it becomes obvious to him what everyone else is ignoring as they go about their business.  The process is magnified.  The more he stops to see, the more obvious it is the modes human thought falls into.  What the crowd ignores, passing by focussed on a duty, becomes what he sees, as if by physical law.  It's left up to him to see beyond the mind that puts what it sees in terms of dualities, good, bad, hot, cold, me, not me.  Maybe this is all he gets.  Maybe it seems of no practical use whatsoever.  Maybe he only can understand it to degrees.

Perhaps all he learns is that he must move away from all the distinctions and assumptions of the previously 'normal mode,' the constant mental activity of judgment.  This brings him, interestingly, the underpinnings of good mental health and decent realistic self-esteem.

Whereas before he worked at an art form searching through the past for meaning, noble as the effort might have been, nothing new came of it, nothing of any particular value other than 'a first novel,' an early work.

The ultimate point of his work taken as a whole went far beyond that as far as grappling with the reality of a human mind, the intake of sensory details, the attempt to make sense of input.  The early work was small detail work, the filagree for an apprentice to see if he had the patience.  Hopefully it would allow him the self-confidence to let the mature work happen, the saying of what one really had to say, that which he seemed to notice working in life.  The results of it fell within the natural parameter of a perennial philosophy, just as his father had wisely and presciently predicted.   The studied ironies of the past fell in to a studious effort that had worked itself through.

Trust the archaic mode of thought.  Trust the mind's inner workings.  Trust the meditation's wordless forays into the unconscious mind.  Trust the intuitions, and do a bit of recording them.

Recognize that having blood type O leads you to think in particular modes.

Compare that lone thinker to the power of mass media, the web, the widespread instantaneous exchange of whatever focus driven by itself and its own mindset.

Contrary to the thought that he was doing everything wrong, in great need of putting in more effort, more salesmanship, more industry, more PR, the better thought to follow was to follow instincts, to relax, to find natural footing.

To think that your life is nothing but bad choices is negative.  Put those choices in the context of blood type, type O, makes things a bit more comprehended, understandable.

Friday, October 30, 2015

"What an interesting job you have," people would tell me, "lots to write about."  And yet I never really had much the impulse.  It wouldn't have been appropriate anyway, and when I realized that, I felt better about my boredom and what I'd perceived as my own laziness.   It was a great flaw to find within, though, if you thought of yourself as a novelist.

What I suppose interested me and caught my eye was the human condition, that sway between the egos and the knowledge of illusion.  It was more interesting to me that when it came down to it, maybe there wasn't so much 'self' as one might have imagined.  This was heavy news to take, but the valuable upswing was that it made the myth come alive, seeing, for example, the presence of a Jesus of Nazareth caught not in ancient history but alive and present in the reality of the world.

I didn't mind the night shift, that place and time where people unburdened themselves a bit, relaxed, took a breath, admitted their concerns.  That was the stuff that brought out the importance of my own perceived deeper task, the truth of my own 'work.'

That was the book I wanted to write, a book about healing the hurt that comes with having to subscribe to the world of an important ego, an overrated self-importance, knowing that first hand.  When I clung to the earlier mode of writing, of believing I would increase my workman writer skills describing the people I saw, it never went anywhere.  Or, rather, if a nugget might emerge from out of it, that was directly related to the spiritual questions, to the presence of something beyond the normal, moving to embrace the mythic.

Myths might be for children and crazy people, unrealistic people, it might seem in the common cultural belief.  But I would politely disagree, holding them as necessary medicine to guide us through our days, giving us that rare sense of purpose.

It takes sometimes a good fairy tale, like that of the Beatitudes, to let one realize life.  It takes that transformation of seeing through the things of the solid fixed self that turns out to be less important than one might have thought.

What do you do, then, with that knowledge?  Well, I suppose you transform yourself.  You transform yourself as a writer, and that perhaps is the kind of writer you always wanted to be, a wise one, if nothing else.  A wise writer wouldn't pick on people's faults and sins, because he must sigh and realize that they are his own and that he is responsible for such and must only mirror the divine love for a flawed 'sinful' being.   Dostoevsky for all his brilliant powers at sketching people, this was for him what it all came down to, a small chapter in a long book, about a monk, echoing an older wisdom  about the nature of the human being in the world.

So it is that the earlier writings are almost a cause of embarrassment, childish, foolish ramblings, another outburst of the illusory self-important self.  The soul is tamer and more enduring than that, above such complaints.  It would value 'a putting away of childish things.'

Some of us go to monasteries and divinity schools, and some of us, as Dostoevsky put it, after a life of it, 'sojourn in the world.'  Is the artist in a similar pursuit, through art realizing the same transformative and seemingly radical viewpoint?  But then what is there to make art about?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When things are clear as mud and the future uncertain, I find a book off my father's shelf.  Alan Watts' appropriately illustrated  "Myth and Ritual in Christianity", with its beautiful green cloth cover, fits the bill as the earth turns toward bare-treed November and the time to 'hold fast to the center.'  This is a book which emphasizes the Christian mythos in keeping with a Perennial Philosophy that people all around the world and in all time come up with in the forms of myth.  There is an emphasis not on the Greek, Roman, Western system of thought, of history and theological classifications and metaphysics that aren't all that metaphysical.  Our methods bring the problems of God and mystery down to our own egotistical frame of mind.   But here, the emphasis, for Watts, is on poetry and myth, on understandings that live a lively life in the present moment without being weighted down with all that terminology of the modern professional life.  Let the poetry and myth of a good story stand as it is, without having to drag it into history and the dry thought of the news and the reaction to it.

If Ishmael, of Moby Dick, is feeling that cold grey November of the soul, he's probably not the only one.  And to the remedy, a good myth.  Melville took to the sea for a creative backdrop.  He let the sea and the people who made it their profession serve as an open meditation of many voices.  There's Ahab, trying to make sense of it all, not unlike the way we do living as adult professionals.  There is Queequeg, who is happy with his own little idols and myths.

Myths, they don't make it on to the daily news.  But there is one that's stuck with me since childhood.

The basics of it are this:  Dionysos is hanging out on some cliffs above the sea, and a ship of pirates goes by;  'he must be some rich prince, so let's take him hostage,' they say, which they do;  they bind their young prince to the mast, and he doesn't seem particularly bothered;  in fact, not long afterward strange things begin to happen on the ship;  grape vines grow, up the mast, and all throughout the rigging;  the young man is now unfettered, relaxed, his bindings evaporated;  and then it gets scary for the pirates;  water vessels turn to overflowing wine, and a lion appears on the ship;  all the while the old helmsman has been in disagreement with the pirates;  the pirates, terrified, jump into the ocean;  in a good treatment of their hardness and extremism, they are turned into porpoises, flesh once again turned to good purpose;  and just before the old helmsman is about to bow out, apologetically, the god Dionysos, having understood the old man's heart, commands him to hang out and stay awhile.  And I imagine that as the sailing day reached the dusk, they had some wine together.  They were content within their own transforming mythical poetic story, in time but out of time as we experience it through our senses and the historical account of the ego.

Wine was had, that day on the ship with the divine God and the reasonably humble helmsman, who, after all, was the helmsman, even if people are pirates sometimes, and worse.

I wonder if there's a better myth suited to the world right now and all its news stories.

Eric Asimov, of the New York Times  has been brilliant as always with what he does  His wine school is now tasting the wines of Gigondas, a favorite alternative to the old Pope's favorite.  He's reminded me, in his twelve essential wines piece, of the value of a Chianti in one's quiver.  (We agree on the Beaujolais and the Macon white Burgandy chardonnays.)  And they are true middle of the road, middle of the palate reds to which no terms need be put upon.  They are light and dancing;  the fruit is balanced with the tactile experience, with that nascent source of all things grow, as if one could taste the acorn, the pine cone, the rocks and sediment where a small creature might be happy along the edge of a stream or down under the roots of a great tree, or where earth has been turned over to plant something anew and good, or, where the earth has received some form of its own history.

In what terms can we express the reality of life?  Sometimes, like wine, we need the leap of faith that is the truth wrapped in myth, perceived and understood at deeper levels of consciousness.

Oddly, exposure to myth allows us to comprehend the truth of another person.  With a head full of Cuchulains and Quixotes, gods who mingle intimately with shepherds and shepherdesses, we get the human psyche.  From our visions emerge the clean person standing there before you, unbound, unpacked from that which is imposed.