Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm afraid I'll side with the wild man,
with the red man paraded around in the Wild West Show,
his proud horseman skills now fit
for entertaining middle-aged lawyers
confiding their weepy grandiose
middle aged misery
to themselves in lit grandstands;
or with the Gallic chieftan
Vercingetorix paraded around Rome
after defeat, before his execution,
for the gathered crowd to heap
their bottled scorn upon;
with the once
poetic barman waiting on
the masses' haughty taste,
for wines jammy, fruity,
big and New World, and buttery
oaky Chardonnay where the list
and the cuisine is French.
Does the red man, the wild man,
the Gaul, teach some lesson,
spoken mildly,
of the older way of life,
as he pursues his new career,
a captive to the modern world
and its pointless way of doing things?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I cannot afford to hang men for votes.

Abraham Lincoln

see NY Times. Execution 150 Years Ago Spurs Calls for Pardon

Who protects the artist, the pursuer of a calling, "the savage Indian" from the needs of the news bite? The artist has enough difficulty himself feeling justified about his own pursuits. Good to read an example of such an effort in the annals of American History.

One might gather Lincoln had some familiarity, some personal experience with such protections.

The artist, like the imagined Native American living off the land, follows his own traditions and 'logic,' habits which would be strange to the economic developing world of a growing powerhouse bent on settlements and industry. The native lives in an artistic way, in ways an artist might try to recreate and re-imagine. The savage and the artist think in similar ways, if we had to say. And both are still a mystery in the modern world, and bound perhaps to be judged for their organic habits, and found to be wise.

A modern problem: forgetting the basic innocence of man.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I often think of Kerouac. What was it... the other day I was thinking about a situation he gives us in The Dharma Bums. It's wintertime and he arrives from the West Coast by bus to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to stay with his sister Nin, his mother and his brother-in-law. He is in full sail in a brilliant writing career, which subliminally and more he must sense. He's found a way not to feel completely guilty, and this is because he's doing good things, things he believes will benefit humanity.

This winter and spring he is St. Jack of the Dogs. There is a place to walk from the cabin and sit in the woods, and the dogs are happy with him. He conducts conversation with them. He finds some peace with himself and all creatures. ( What wonderful obscurity, a time of being in nature for the writer.) At some point there is mention of trials and sufferings:

I wasn't exactly unconscious of the fact that I had a good warm fire to return to after these midnight meditations, provided kindly for me by my brother-in-law, who was getting a little sick and tired of my hanging around not working. Once I told him a line from something, about how one grows through suffering, he said: "If you grow through suffering by this time I oughta be as big as the side of the house." (Chapter 20, fifth paragraph.)

This period here is a secretively productive one. What started as readings in a library now becomes a serious work for him, now recently published, after years of complete obscurity, as "Wake Up," his translation and telling of the life of Buddha. It's a piece that obviously took serious effort, and it's sat around hidden, and to this day we are still realizing the significance of it. How perfect, really. Buddha was humble. Buddha was not about making a cult of his own personality. And really, nor was Kerouac. Kerouac was a serious man, looking for lasting stuff and truth and insight. Again, quite remarkably, and not with any more help than a few books here and there. That is the sweet story of Kerouac, the writer. A man of some deep admissions that are touching. And one can guess, he did not know where he was headed with all this writing stuff and uncertainty, and surely that must have been painful, and surely it would have been healthy for him to write it out.

The other story of him being the personality cult which insisted on selling him not on his merits of sensitivity, but as some sort of early Melville exotica. Good to know that this co-opted popularity as King of the Beatniks ("hey, man') has been embraced by young people not just looking for rebellion but for ways to be thoughtful and consider life. To sell Kerouac on the teller of tales of crazy Dean Moriarty (and all that Roman candle hype, for that matter) is to largely miss the point of a sensitive guy who liked his contemplations and made great stuff happen in them, and not to forget the great prose he wrote.

And sadly, it seems, many wanted a part of telling that tale of the commercial rather than the sensitive artist Kerouac. And even Ginsberg is pushing the story line of 'bloated unrecognizable alcoholic' of strong-framed man thickening with age. Yes, by all accounts he did end up drinking himself to the grave, but one wonders, the persona pushed from all angles. I should think Ginsberg and the like who, after initially criticizing him rather severely as being in need of serious and exhaustive edits, then made careers using his methods of spontaneous bop prosody, the Kerouac style you find in Howl, and which Ginsberg acknowledges, would rest on the positive, as maybe that would have been more helpful to the man.

Yes, your fables, misinterpreted, catch up with you.

He understood it. He grasped suffering and Buddha wisdom that winter in Rocky Mount with the sister and the suffering brother in law. He continued strongly on his way toward lasting achievements philosophical and literary. He made future generations of serious expository literature possible, and to this day and beyond, we are in debt to the man and the style he pretty much founded and set in stone undividedly.

What does the writer do for a job though? That still is the problem. The writing that does sell kowtows to the modern cult of personality and worldliness which quickly gets tiresome.

Kerouac didn't often say it, but he himself had pulled hard jobs on the railroad. He did his best. Not fair to think of him as some sort of slacker, as that he was not.

(Indeed, one could listen to his detractors and find out a lot, about them, not him. He is a kind of blank slate people are willing to read things into, some without too much restraint. Agendas.)

After editing this for correction, in a kind of middle-aged pre-holiday 'who cares' sort of feeling that happens upon those who once temporarily fancied themselves as a writer (ugh) in some form--I am guilty of this juvenile pre-grown up fallacy--I wonder at the purpose of the activity, this solipsistic bouncing of a ball against a wall. A reason I look to Kerouac. Did he find meaning and some modest form of enlightenment in that period in Rocky Mount, NC, that began at Christmastime some more than fifty years ago?

It is a fine moment in American Literature, an asking of basic questions, albeit from the limited perspective of one individual who tries to be well-read as best as he personally can, on top of his own flawed experiences. Can one find a moment of enlightenment? If found, what does one go and do with it? What right does one have to this new inner knowledge? How does one express it, and how does one relate it, or with it, to other people? What does one now go and share with whatever part of the world he comes into contact with?

What does, then, a writer go and do? What will he have to write about? The past is now a lesson of some sort, the learnings of which he must convey.

A calling: that which is not easy, for one reason or another, to do, but which one finds the strength to do consistently and well and with depth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I wrote a book about a kid who finds that personality is to a large extent something artificial, an illusion of construct. He discovers a way toward selflessness while out wandering during his college days. You know, the usual Mark Twain stuff of trial and tribulation, error, experimentation, attempts at freedom, etc. It is not a knowledge he would necessarily want to find out, but that's life so there you go. No, it's not the peachy kind of knowledge you'd want during the years of fun, being that it is similar to young Gotama realizing that everything is decaying.

And so he sets out on the path of being a person informed by such knowledge, which is basically to be a nice person, as he's been taught by his parents, even if he still is caught up sometimes in the silliness of bearing a personality to show off to other people so that he doesn't appear too odd. He risks appearing as awkward because of this Buddhist knowledge. His passivity puzzles some, and they might misinterpret him in any number of ways. And what can he do, for he is finding himself on deeper levels. He finds Buddhist insight where he can.

I don't know if such a knowledge lies dormant as he moves on into adult life. Maybe it comes and goes. Probably, the knowledge begins to make more sense with each passing day. Add on top of that aging and the passing of time itself.

It seems to a huge burden to place upon an individual, the cult of personality. Commercial television is absolutely burdened with it, jarringly. (Try to find something decent to watch. The selling of cravings and artificial wants, outlandish and outsized and unreal personalities. The innocent viewer will note that maybe they wish they too could make money being Rambo or James Bond, but they know at the end of the day, after a fantasy perhaps, that such things aren't for them. And, yes, we know it, we watch it, celebrities are victims of what they themselves create as far as a 'winning' persona.

Even the Sunday newspaper becomes the same thing, an onslaught of material external to healthy human nature.

The Buddha was wise. He knew what a burden it would be to maintain a personality before other people, like so much of a puppet show. And so he deflected unnecessary questions and concerns. He presented what he found the human personality to really be. He understood what is healthy for us to engage in.

I fear my job sometimes. I man a bar. I am obliged to make conversation with people. Maybe some days you want to tell them, no one is really here, and nor are they, the customers, really there either. I fall into illusions too. I too have problems too distinguishing what is not real and what is real. That's one of the reasons I write, to underscore what is eternal and worth sharing, to distinguish that which is ego's falsehoods. It's hard to know what direction to go in, you know. Like, who wants to really be the perfect monk, just that it makes the most sense of anything sometimes.

"Wake up." That's what Buddha said. Beautiful. Like the light fresh dusting of snow that has come outside the window just now in wee hours like a small miracle.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Life, a mixture of the sacred and the profane. Remarkable people walk that line between the two facets of the world, and to some they appear strange. Emily Dickinson finding the sacredness of words, terms to describe the eternal. Those who stumble into the profane of worldly politics at times, yet who maintain a grasp on the sacred, not quite belonging to the political, but their words from higher. Yes, the sacred doesn't belong in politics, except when it is time to make the big choices and decisions. Earthy and profane, each in their own way, a Lincoln, a Kennedy, flesh and blood, tuned to higher calling and poetry.

The totalitarian economic giant versus the Buddhist monk; the terrorist versus the cleric; the self-promoter versus the teacher--it's often that way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"I have that within which passeth show."

After running up to The City to witness the huge and natural talent of a great actor in great company in a great play, A Free Man of Color, and have now returned to my normal somewhat sleepy haunts, the observation comes that if people, audience, say, or theater critics, were more Buddhist they would have more natural observation of class acts. They would, as they say, be more appreciative.

One detects in the acts which justify the role of discerning observer a certain vanity, a reaction of a narcissistic sort, as if to say, 'well, if you think that actor is important, let me tell you, I am more important, because I know and will say my opinions very cleverly; after all, it's my job, isn't it.' The greater the natural talent the critic observes, the more dire his situation is.

Taken to logical conclusion, one soon has a whole city full of individuals, each considering himself more important than the next. And soon talent in anything becomes a matter of who is loudest and more egotistically demanding and least observant.

Buddhism observes in its Sanskrit roots the inflated quality of emptiness. To quote Edward Conze from his fine book: "Thus our personality is swollen in so far as constituted by the five skandhas, but it is also hollow inside, because devoid of central self. Furthermore 'swollen' may mean 'filled with something foreign.'" Obviously we live in glass houses if we were to make an observation of what a critic might be full of, were it not for a certain sort of Mark Twain humor we might entertain our own hollowness for a brief moment before passing on.

And we might too praise Mr. Hamlet for saying he doesn't want to be part of that showiness the world seems to expect of us, as if it (the world) didn't place trust or have much faith in that inner selflessness.

If we ignore or downplay the humble, the natural, the organic, the inherent, the earthy, the ordinary we run the risk of ignoring the most valid of arts. If it does work, democracy works by allowing this element in play. Democracy agrees with the Buddhist's selflessness, the inherent quality of humanity. And of course it can also fall to selfishness and egotism and the loudest least-considered voice.

"A Free Man of Color" is redolent with the natural well-springs of a healthy democracy, in its very subject matter, in terribly fine performances of Jeffrey Wright and of Mos Def and of the entire ensemble this writer is too lazy to name at the moment. Its subject of freedom and slavery touch upon that most egotistical, arrogant and selfish act, to subdue another individual's right to freely be himself. Good to know the theater is alive and well these days.