Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I am reminded, on a number of fronts, of how writing operates as meditation. I am more and more convinced that time spent writing is as good a preparation as any to gain access to Buddhist understanding. A story can be clever and well-written. It might have some moral value. But unless one is engaged in some understanding of consciousness as being prone to being hi-jacked by false selves and the strife they involve in, the story is not getting at the full picture of the Universe.

Is there place for such a lazy activity as Buddhism in the modern world of science, technology, medicine, global economy? Well, perhaps to encourage a perspective upon the strife, the contentiousness, the selfishness of a world divided into factions and separate identities.

So, finding myself really incapable of making up fiction, like Kerouac I explore true to life stuff. I write out an account of, say, a meaningful time in life, and in doing so I allow myself to meditate on how I was at fault, how I was occupied by distracting voices and false ego things like attachment and pride and feelings of the kind that are easily hurt, how I fell into patterns of reaction over the sweetest and most innocent and beautiful of things, quite as if I had been completely blinded by inner turmoils.

Then again, there is always that part within us that knows the wisdom of the Buddha, capable of listening and understanding, a very gentle and very generous self that never has a problem with anybody or anything, that lives in contented silence, only wishing to share. Buddhism gives strength to this deeper part of whatever it is we are, or are a part of. Buddhism helps identify that deeper part of great peace.

Maybe our own turmoils are unconscious exercises in finding that inner light in the darkness, within the overwhelming sound and action of any given day. Those turmoils, maybe we are never released from them, nowhere close to attaining the perfection that secretly is ours, but maybe we can hope to be better at remaining calm and unmoved as they sway their winds upon us. Woe unto the world because of offenses, Lincoln quoted the good book. We're left to that activity of making ourselves better Buddhists because of them, more focussed, more concentrated. Writing is a way to help all that along, and that may well be its main purpose, personally, for us.

Friday, March 19, 2010


"Spontaneous bop prosody," he called it. One doesn't have to look too hard through his mature works to find an example. It's when he gets emotional about something as he describes it. Words run on like the saxophonist's riff, full of sound and flow and energy. He could be describing the Mississippi, or Times Square, the river in his own town, his father, brother, childhood. It's when his prose gets poetic, rich, stopping for a moment to let out something. (He's really not far away from Twain, nor Whitman, nor others of the American or any other tradition.)

Ol' Kerouac. I guess we could fairly say he was of an empathetic type. He didn't have a career to put that into, and so he wrote, as he'd always wanted to. In the blood, that sort of thing. He liked to read up on Buddhism. You Tube him on the Steve Allen Show and you can hear him read with all his inflection and sensitivity.

To write on that level, with that consistency, as Kerouac did, one wonders. With so much rich inflection, poetry, sheer verbage about things and moments big and small, he was a sensitive guy, caring, like we say, empathetic. Maybe even sort of selfless as a being obliged to record life as he saw it. He didn't ask for much, just that he could continue writing, some wine, some food, some shelter, some friends, and why not some interesting travels as required by testosterone and curiosity. (His favorite shirt, found in a junk yard.)

It takes a high-mindedness to write as Kerouac did. It also takes the classic combination of feistiness and sensitivity, but really empathy and all that Corinthian stuff. Which left him to be, in his great empathy, passive and a bit vulnerable. He was a nice guy. And so, we can feel it when he complains, in Big Sur, of all the freaks coming out to his mother's house in Long Island and knocking on the window as he tried to sit down and write in the basement, "Hey, we want to party with King of the Beatniks..." We wished he could have said no.

He was, on the one hand, a wise man, an avatar, a reader of dreams, with some useful Eastern takes on things. It would have seemed somewhat natural to allow such interlopers in for a moment, maybe to cure them and send them away, but it was always more troubling than that for him. They wanted to drink with him. And so the poor guy, wishing just to write peacefully and quietly, was drawn away, time and time again, by his fame, by people.

His great empathy led him to adopt a kind of passivity, as Buddha preaches passivity, as Jesus does, both realizing one is part of the other. Something we have a hard time with. How can passivity be manliness? That's not what TV and magazine commercials preach to us. By common logic, passivity is a trap.

He wanted to escape, and Big Sur is a story of one attempt of his. The book is a notebook, a journal, of trying to find a balance once having fallen into that strange trap of being a popular celebrity. We don't come away from reading this particular account sensing he found the perfect escape. (Though he does, through alcoholic nightmare find The Cross, and we can't blame him for his French Canadian Catholic sensibilities at the bottom of his soul's decorative tastes. A good story, anyway.) And we know his end, as his drinking, rather than decreasing, increased, or at least, stayed the same as when fame goaded him into it.

Yet, we read him, and we find a beautiful balance, an outward empathy, an outward passivity, an inward peace, a discovery of truth and beauty and eternal things.

Friday, March 5, 2010

From Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

“As I mentioned before, competing against other people, whether in daily life or in my field of work, is just not the sort of lifestyle I’m after. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the world is made up of all kinds of people. Other people have their own values to live by, and the same holds true with me. These differences give rise to disagreements, and the combination of these disagreements can give rise to even greater misunderstandings. As a result, sometimes people are unfairly criticized. This goes without saying. It’s not much fun to be misunderstood or criticized, but rather a painful experience that hurts people deeply.

“As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve gradually come to the realization that this kind of pain and hurt is a necessary part of life. If you think about it, it’s precisely because people are different from others that they’re able to create their own independent selves. Take me as an example. It’s precisely my ability to detect some aspects of a scene that other people can’t, to feel differently than others and choose words that differ from theirs, that’s allowed me to write stories that are mine alone. And because of this we have the extraordinary situation in which quite a few people read what I’ve written. So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.” (pages 18-19, paperback edition.)

“I don’t think most people would like my personality. There might be a few—very few, I would imagine—who are impressed by it, but only rarely would anyone like it. Who in the world could possibly have warm feelings, or something like them, for a person who doesn’t compromise, who instead, whenever a problem crops up, locks himself away alone in a closet? But is it ever possible for a professional writer to be liked by people? I have no idea. Maybe somewhere in the world it is. It’s hard to generalize. For me, at least, as I’ve written novels over many years, I just can’t picture someone liking me on a personal level. Being disliked by someone, hated and despised, somehow seems more natural. Not that I’m relieved when it happens. Even I’m not happy when someone dislikes me.” (pages 20-21.)

Somehow it takes a load off, what this Zen cat is saying about those of us who would write. We’re not natural, we’re not unnatural, we just are as we are.

Maybe it’s having tended bar the last six nights, and maybe it’s having slept all day, but I have little real desire to go out this Friday night, even if friends were handy. It’s a little odd to admit, but solitude and what would appear as doing very little is in order. Even the intrusion of having to order delivery Chinese was a stretch, brought on by real hunger. Who knows how late I’ll be up, or when I’ll be up tomorrow. (If the phone rings and it’s work calling, I’m not picking it up this time. The last seven weekend surprises have been enough.)

Muramaki talks, page 36, about the time he and his wife closed his jazz bar business, after some initial success as a novelist: “It was a major directional change—from the kind of open life we’d led for seven years, to a more closed life. I think having this sort of open existence for a period of years was a good thing. I learned a lot of important lessons during that time. It was my real schooling. But you can’t keep up that kind of life forever. Just as with school, you enter it, learn something, and then it’s time to leave.”

One tends to be brave. One wants to be brave. One wishes to be kind to the people who come by, the early ones, the late ones, but ultimately, you get your fill, if you really are to be a novelist. There comes a time to admit that your energies have changed, that you’re tired of being Jesus amongst the publicans and sinners. You don’t get so much personally out of it anyway, at least not in the sense that there’s someone to come home to at the end of the day and share your schedule. Or maybe that’s just something about me, my need for isolation.

There are things you don’t want to admit for some perception of the greater good. You want to perform your service sector job well and cleanly and with kindness. But, for some of us anyway, the admission comes, that you need your time away from people. And it makes life a whole lot easier to realize that.

A writer is, to the human world, a natural phenomenon, like a cloud is part of weather's. Yes, unlikable, solipsistic, what can you do. He tries not to do harm, at least. Dostoevsky put it well. "I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

No Good Deed...

I must issue a long-overdue apology to any readers here. This entry, in attempt to draw circumspect humor, about life in general, abused terribly some perfectly normal circumstances and some perfectly normal kind decent people. Above and beyond the fact that it is greatly unprofessional of me, and unreflective of my pleasure in finding a good life waiting on good people, the quick whiny picture I drew of a restaurant in a state of pressure was a complete tangent from any reality. Again, I apologize. I hope no one minds that this posting has been, as it should have been immediately, deleted!