Monday, May 30, 2011

There is that picture of him, gracing the cover of an old paperback copy of PT 109, slender, smiling, his Navy Captain hat at a tilt, shirt opened an extra button, standing, his right hand upon a cane, from his tour in the Solomon Islands. Poor bastard. How little then, one guesses, he knew what was in store for him. The gift of Type O blood. The energy, the quick firing of adrenaline. A quick guy, in mind and body. Restless. Of course he was restless. No wonder he had all that energy to go back out to find a rescuer after the Japanese destroyer had cut their boat in half.

John F. Kennedy, classic type O person. (Some information out there has him as AB, but his Presidential Library website confirms my suspicions.) Classic O ailments, particularly thyroid insufficiency. Colitis. Ulcers. Allergies.

But more than that, his personality, his temperament. A magnificent physical specimen. A leader. An extrovert. An active man, fond of exercise. Swimming when he couldn't do anything else. A guy who couldn't sit still. An intuitive mind. A mind speeding at the pace of a Pogues song, insatiably in need of feeding. If he hadn't been so well-informed, calm and rational and well-read, he could almost be taken as a paranoid type. (Many of his time, like big steel, thought he thought too much.) At least he wasn't the kind of guy to just say, "oh, sure," to everything. He thought about it, considered matters in a broad way.

Boredom. The modern illness. He experienced it as a member of the House of Representatives. In Os it leads to risk taking. Perhaps it was boredom as much as anything that made him run for the Senate, which of course was a risk, a big risk. His adventurous attitude is legend, and one might say, "why, of course he liked to screw!" His thyroid out of whack, they had him on cortisone. Who knows what that did to him. And time and time again, he rose to the task at hand.

A friend quotes him, considering the prospects of life after the Presidency, book writing, etc. "You don't understand. I need somewhere to go every day." And yet, downtime would have been good for him. Os need downtime. They need outlets. They need calm and the time to find it.

His call to us was atavistic, in a completely civilized and thoughtful way, and so did he excite the emotions of a nation and even the world. He spoke with an eloquence informed by his physical nature, a real moral compass, informed by the gut instinct of his physical nature (like, I suppose, many writers.)

Modern society should take into account the nature of the human being, the susceptibility to mistreating the animal based on what works for the kind of blood and chemistry running within. Understanding of that, rather than retrograde cruelty, industrial mill conditions, imprisonment for ailments, the various cages we throw each other in, economically, class-based, of predisposed and biased attitude toward another.

So may we all find some forgiveness and an offer of understanding to our own selves, at least, and the way we may have acted.

Friday, May 27, 2011

He was offended by the money-changers and all the rest who offered favor with higher powers. He saw the poor, the sick and the mournful as being far more able to understand the logic of karmic law. He saw that Caesar's world would have its own problems, based upon its actions, having little to do with us, the human being.

On the one hand there are acts based on egotism, buying into illusion, attempting to solve problems in egotistical ways where one vain solution leads to more problems. For those, it is difficult to understand the sanctity of karma, as passing the proverbial camel through the eye of a needle. On the other, there are acts which are more selfless, a process of coming clean with selfishly motivated actions. In them, a kind of faith grows, even while one may not know exactly what to do with it.

Pursuing the latter, one risks appearing as an oddball, lacking in the conventional wisdom. One enters a life like that of Job's time of woe, a freakish one, and that is a test of faith. He cannot rely on what others might consider normal assumptions, his own sufferings worsened by the incomprehension of his fellows. Yet, by and by, he will come to a greater understanding.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You have to be, how to say this, relaxed as a writer. Because you're going to find yourself thinking some strange ideas. Spooky ideas, maybe. Spooky, but not quite in the sense of Steven King, whose seriousness toward his work leads him rightly to his own sense of spookiness and appropriate horror infliction.

It is, as we know, not so easy to be relaxed. Stuff to worry about. Guilt, maybe. Thoughts of the lack of retirement plan. Memorial Day Weekend comes along; you take what you can get.

There is perhaps a small opening of the doorway to the unconscious that happens in a public house, in a restaurant bar. People let down their guard at the end of the day, they have a glass of wine, they start to talk, they listen to Miles Davis. The barman waits on them, facilitates matters, makes people comfortable. The setting makes people feel welcome, like it is their place, where their names are known, where the conversations build upon previous ones, remembered, along with new stories. It is what it is. It is not the library of the philosopher king, it is not the place of dialog at Socratic levels, it is not The White House nor the IMF, nor is it 30 Rock, maybe thankfully so. Else where would one escape the rational heavy lifting that goes on.

And there, in the back of minds, minds that wander forward, perhaps there is an entertainment of ideas beyond the norm.

How does the world, in the broadest sense, operate? For some, the answer to that question is an interesting one, that makes a certain amount of sense: There is a certain appropriateness to the way things are, based upon something we might term karma; There is a reason behind, say, the people who are our parents, uniquely gifted to raise just such a soul as you with a certain set of talents. There is a reason behind the situations we find ourselves in, even in the people we come across, as if we had been through things before with them. Yes, it is all poetic thought, this kind of speculation, but, maybe if you let it, the view makes, as said before, some sense.

All of which might give us a sense of wisdom, a way to find kindness for the people we come across in our lives. Who knows, maybe there is a reason 'why,' why the particular neighbor life on your own little street in the world offered you, that neighbor a source of wisdom and excellent company, whose support one is still reckoning after her passing.

Maybe sometimes the appropriateness takes hold, sometimes it reflects another way and goes off into space. What can you do, but try, hoping to succeed at what feels right.

And so, there we are in a place where we have a chance to see that unconscious stuff come out a bit. Perhaps we can say to ourselves, as we relax there for a moment, 'you know, all this is perfectly appropriate, just so, and isn't it all, in a way, strangely wonderful and fantastic, and really no one need lift much of a muscle, because the right things will happen, if we are kind and simply let them.' (This was not the thinking in Bin Laden's public house years back.)

Lincoln must have been torn. From his own time spent at the mouth of the oracle cave of the great unconscious, he sensed slavery was an evil, legalistically, constitutionally, on top of all its other myriad of horrific evils, as that's what you get courting one evil. Slavery on the one hand, but, come to find out, secession and civil war on the other hand. As if by God's hand, the war came. A vast amount of bloodshed, economic disaster, bitterness everlasting. Maybe it didn't have to be that way.

We try to battle our problems in a so-called logical way. But being unable to control everything, we get lost in mazes of logic, the best and the brightest lost in ever-worsening conundrum. And the Buddha, who knew the perfect appropriateness of everything, taught that war would only lead to more war, and to the conqueror comes the conqueror.

Anyway, back to the spookiness.

I think no less of a MacGowan than I do a Kennedy. The process is the same, maybe with more of a poetic understanding than we'd normally like to admit. Morality is found in inhabiting the stuff of the past. MacGowan inhabits a song about an Australian kid sent off to Galipoli, or of a lost soul of the streets of Soho. A broader understanding than one's own. A process of channeling, which is really, just understanding another day on earth.

JFK's birthday

When I was a child, of two or three or four, I had a suspicious dream, a recurring one. Perhaps it is a variation on the dream of falling, as if about to land flat on one's back (related to the growth of the nervous system, maybe.) I remember it being like riding forward on a long perfectly smooth peaceful line, in something, a vehicle, quite like an open automobile. And then suddenly, something happens, and then another something happens, and then I am broken, and cannot be fixed, and yet perfectly conscious all the time, even as I am monstrously broken. In a situation in which no one, not even a grown-up, is able to help. I remember my Dad taking me and holding me as he sat in a chair, dozing tiredly in the night, comforting as I stopped heaving with what was inside me.

Later on, as child nightmares subside into growing pains, one learns of life and death. A schoolboy's books tell of great men and adventures. And eventually, down the line, in modern America, you learn about assassinations. You learn that things come to an end. One day, looking down upon the event, the sunny color images of the Zapruder film, in all its eerie silence, horror and inevitability, come across the mind, a man taken as if from the grace of the womb itself, sitting, wife beside him, at the height of his powers. And we know, broken, still alive in some sense, yet unfixable, they took him to a hospital. I'll leave it at that.

Kennedy, in life, in his vigor and eloquence, broadcast his thoughts, in words, to the world, to the whole world. He spoke to man, woman, and child, of all nations, of all ages, of all parts of the world. It wasn't just all policy and law-executing. He left behind a body of work.

And writing, along with writing being what makes a great speech, is a very serious business. The world desperately needs wise men and women and children, people who may have outgrown the rigidness of a particular belief or creed, yet still utterly sensitive to religion's work toward understanding the nature of reality. (I have an economist friend who tells me that this is really not possible, as we will never know.)

Every kid is capable of writing something that sets the world back aright, more so, from its actual wrongs. Every kid can open, can tune into powers of thought and expression, and it seems, from experience, that the main problem holding one back is simply the right attitude. When confused, look to a tree, a plant that grows, slowly, surely until it offers the world great comfort.

It being appropriate that we acknowledge Irish descent when we speak of President Kennedy, the lines of Yeats, Under Ben Bulben, come to mind:


Many times man lives and dies,
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man die in his bed,
Or the rifle knocks him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back into the human mind again.

Melville tells us that legs will lead a man to water. And so a growing brain reaches out for things, as I did reading, like all kids do, one hopes. I would pull out the double album of JFK speeches and listen with head phones in the Amherst music library, let them wash over me, let them sink in, something beyond their particular words, as if listening to pithy Latin intonements to later interpret, comforted by the fact that I was not at all far away from where he delivered when of his finest and most meaningful addresses. How could I not be moved by them?

"Go and write, children of the world. Write for me what I now will never be able to write, now that I have started, but not allowed to finish. Go and rise up and be the philosopher poet artist king I never got to fully be. Admit your sins, as you will sin, as truth sometimes, initially, is uncomfortable to admit. Keep your work your business to yourself if need be, lest others take you as a fool or mad. Make your own contribution, your own unique one, based on what you have found to be true."

There is perhaps a certain poetic appropriateness that Hemingway's letters and manuscripts rest in the JFK Presidential Library, for the little unique that each man learns to contribute to the world.

As the happier of JFK's anniversaries approach, his birthday, May 29, let us remember the man's graceful effort and the family that brought him to us and nourished him, carrying on with his work.

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kennedy, to my sensibilities, is one of the most recognizably human of Presidents, along with, of course, Abraham Lincoln.

There remains something deep, atavistic, spiritual about a system of government. We come home at night after our toils to hear, or be comforted by, a leadership, one which spans from our won individual everyday experience back into the cave of the ideal, to that which is behind all things. For some it is a king, ruling by official powers of divine rule, for some it is a czar, for some it is a democratically elected person chosen, as it were, from our own ranks. We look to catch any signs of what might emanate out of the deeper beyond, for wisdom, decency, the right path, the proper stance. That's the trust we place in a face, in a person. Truly, in potential at least, a philosopher poet king, standing as it were at the mouth, at the doorway, of the deep sweet and holy unconscious. Whether alone, or with like minded company (as one usually does on such a public voyage), hopefully not seeming like too much of an idiot or a fool. So was FDR a great president, for the New Deal.

But, as I say, in Kennedy there is a humanity, a level of self-comfort, something not found in say a hypothetical Nixon-ish attitude of shrewdness/ 'screw-them-before-they-screw-you,' 'bring-respect-back-to-the-Presidency' attitudes, manipulations, secrecy, etc., far less capable of sustaining a circumspect Emily Dickinson mode with a redwing blackbird outside the window, stuff which Lincoln was good at in a politely legalistic way, secretly a poet too. (The History Channel reminds us that Mr. Nixon had daughters, beautiful ones, who bear witness to a deep sensitive humanity to the man in his home life, so there you go. Ah, Tricky Dick, you should have shown that vulnerable side to us before.)

Hah! The news today offers an interesting counterpoint: The Atlantic. "JFK Worried Moon Mission was a 'Stunt,' New Tapes Show -- James Warren -- Politics." To quote from article, near bottom:

Near the end Kennedy concedes, "I think this can be an asset, this program. I think in time, it's like a lot of things; this is mid-journey and therefore everybody says, 'What the hell are we making this trip for?' But at the end of the thing they may be glad we made it."

Kennedy, the Earthly politician, doing his job.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I like a book that reflects an author's own Job-like wanderings and sufferings and confusions. Job's sufferings, it could be argued, are the artistic rendering of confusion, of knowing the right thing and being faithful, deep in the heart or at least somewhere, and not being exactly sure how to carry through with it. So, one suffers, one endures sufferings, and maybe it all makes you a better person. Yes, that's all good material for a book, being faithful, but lost in something like a dark wood.

Being the Son of Man, the human being, is of course desirable. We want to be like a Jesus, or a perfect Buddha-being. So in artistic representation, to get this point very much across, about our longings to be better, the human being is endowed with miraculous powers and deeper kindness and charity.

"Morality, important though it may be as a preparatory to 'the higher life,' does not alone lend itself to that awakening of the spiritual faculties without which progress on the Path is not possible. In good citizenship morality is practised out of regard to certain preconceived notions of the needs, the health and happiness of ourselves, our fellows and the community at large. According to theosophy, it would appear that these notions are for the most part mistaken, or at any rate they are quite insignificant in comparison with the interests with which the traveller along the Path soon finds himself absorbed. It is not that human needs are to be disregarded, but that the pabulum which he now sees that humanity really requires is of an incomparably higher order than that which is generally so considered."
The Encyclopedia Brittanica, 11th Edition, on Theosophy, contributed by St G. L. F.-P. (as my Dad said, whoever that is!)

And so, how does one raise the level of discourse, from normal bread and wine amongst publicans and sinners and common fisherman types, miscellaneous ascetics (ha ha) and so forth, into something bearing upon the meaning of life, instead of the usual conversation and small talk? How can you do it?

Dostoevsky gives us a wonderfully apt vision of the issue in the Grand Inquisitor sequence from Karamazov, a passive Christ mute before the interrogating high priest. In our own times authority is given, in matters seemingly spiritual , to ones who invoke and incite terrorism. Or to Donald Trumps, people who are authorities because we made them authorities through our attention to them, who knows why. (Twain, remember, was good at charlatans.)

Staying quiet is not the answer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If it is a world in which the laws of kharma apply, the form you take as a sentient being based upon your attitude, where does the corporation fit in, in that a corporation tends to feel (and operate) perfectly free from such constraints, as it is all 'just a matter of business.'

Corporations, of course, take different forms, vast, diffuse, organized around an unbending principal, like an actor stuck in one role, which its humanity, that of its individual members, cannot easily overcome. The Mill-uh-tuhry corporation would believe that killing people subdues the bad guys, wins you friends in ideology. Big Oil creates jobs, makes profits, needs tax breaks, does what it pleases. The individual, employed, sees no great harm in any of it.

What can the human being do in a time of such vast impenetrable speechless giants? Where are good acts left to go?

Friday, May 13, 2011

He was one who fit the term, writer. Poems of Frost he would have known how to inhabit from his own life. The lonely choice of the road less travelled, less defined. He would have known the woods on a snowy evening. He would have known what it was like to be one acquainted with the night. He knew how to speak about the fate of the hired man. He would have known within the lines the necessary questions raised by the soul toward the shape of one's own life. He knew pain. He knew death. He could have looked at his own life at different points and wondered about its own shape of things, including those we don't know whether to call them failures or successes.

His own poetry extended to and included the consciousness of Frost's poetry. I cannot picture his development without hearing the lines of poetry within. Within his speeches and public utterances, the actor gifted in delivery.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An artist, it may be said, works through bringing the unconscious to the finite world of the conscious. The artist is not one to judge, other than to 'create' or transcribe or intuit the world of the unconscious. The artist sees things. The artist has intuitions, a keen eye. The artist notices.

And for the things he, or she, brings forth, out of sensitivity, he, or she, will suffer, as sometimes it is hard or painful to notice things, to go through the noticing and the transcribing. The artist notices things about his own behavior, and must admit great fault and weakness.

And the artist, beyond what he himself must go through in the process of revealing, must then at least occasionally endure the reaction of reader, viewer, listener. And what the artist might reveal, while feeling awkward about it himself, but of course acknowledging that which is not perfect or faulted as well as the good in life, has a potential of being reviled in the gut reaction of the public. As if to say, 'how could you come up with something like that, deeply offensive, etc.?' The artist gets pilloried for collecting the natural specimens of the unconscious and bringing them back to us, the public feeling it only right to judge them for desirability or undesirability.

Being sensitive, the artist suffers worse than another such a charge. While knowing within that he is just an observer, a messenger, the negative reaction comes like itself as a storm out of the great unconscious, unless he can remember that the charge is coming from those not so attune, though this judgmental distinction would be alien to him, as he is willing to see all as windows upon the unconscious.

So what might seem to one who levels a charge against the artist of 'this is inappropriate, rude, offensive, disrespectful, etc.' as a justified thing, a defense of honor, would not appreciate the devastation, the suffering brought to the artist. Though of course we, the public, would say, 'oh, come on; he's used to not giving a damn what we all think.'

So Christianity tells a story in which it is the case that the greater is revealed the nature of the soul, the human being, the repleteness of the unconscious, the beauty of its design, the greater the punishment will be. It's as if the deeper and the farther and more comprehensive the view from that which is beyond our consciousness (as scientifically and impersonally realized by the artist) the greater the negative reaction upon the part of conscious world.

And so perhaps is an artist created, by the need to justify the sanctity of his work, having to explain and defend what other's don't get and don't see the overall benevolence in.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In the days after my father's passing my thoughts turned to John F. Kennedy, for an example to provide some comfort and kinship. I remembered the times back in college in Amherst when I'd go to the music library and put the records of his speeches on the turntable, his voice calling to us still, a winter light or darkness outside, quiet. It was of course a great privilege to go to school there, and one always wonders if one does well with opportunities, those given by your father and his example.

My Dad, raised as a studious professional, botany professor, with an awareness toward Eastern scripture, was sympathetic to my interest in one JFK speech that stayed with me, the one Kennedy himself made on a visit to Amherst, about poetry informing power. My Dad understood the importance of the human soul, along with transcendental poetry's sensibilities, being present in modern science, lest it become too cold, too rational, too materialistic, shut off from human experience.

Like Kennedy's old man did for him, my dad, and my mom of course!, did so much for me, nudging me toward a good life, an opportunity to be useful to society.

Maybe I remember listening to those records as a time of having a purpose, a clear purpose to help humanity, before setting out into the confusion, the attempt at adult life. As I instinctively took toward trying to be a writer (by writing, whatever came, in notebooks), it was good to remember Kennedy, his speeches laying out intelligence, policy, direction, leadership.

Well, a writer quickly gets lost, being out on his own. Outside of my job, a not very glorious one, I felt the continued sense of being an outsider that had perhaps drawn me away from being an academic type. I felt like a stranger, I felt like an outsider, I felt like a deviant, even. What can I say; that's how you feel sometimes when you fall out of the life of what you are supposed to do.

Twain poetically brings this sense--I suspect he had it too, could apply it to all his own strange choices--as he sends Huck and Jim down the river, particularly that part where they get separated in the current. (Blogged about somewhere below, January, 2010, "A Moment from Chapter Fifteen, Huckleberry Finn.") They call to each other, but it's dark out, foggy... Huck wakes, and by miracle finds Jim there nearby, sleeping on the raft. Huck plays a trick on Jim, telling him it must have all been a dream. And Jim, looking at the raft, covered with litter, reacts. I was most heartbroke, he says, in dialect, thinking you were lost, terribly sad, and all you can think about is playing a trick on old Jim. And then, predisposed to understanding, Huck awakens to Jim's full humanity.

The writer has this sense of being lost, seeking to make sense out of the strangeness of the world, society, day to day reality. To my taste, great books have that experience, that of the outsider. Which is maybe why writers can end up as, in one form or another, ex-pats. Kundera does it well in The Joke. To Kill a Mockingbird as well brings us a story of outsiders on the verge of understanding things worth understanding, like the benevolence of Boo Radley.

And Kennedy, he must have known the sensation too. The Bay of Pigs experience, the CIA setting him up to act, the Joint Chiefs eager for action, was a learning experience for him. As was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the military living up to the prophecy of Eisenhower's, pushing the madness of the unthinkable. Kennedy woke up. Correspondence with Krushchev behind the saber rattling stance, his speeches, at American University, at Amherst, asking us to question ourselves, our attitudes toward our power, our military might, our modern technology.

One can, as I well know, feel ashamed about himself, for where and what he is in life. Kennedy, of course, had self-confidence. But he must have felt a room full of military brass pressure, LeMay telling him he was about to be another appeasing Chamberlain, pushing shame on the man who was President, Commander in Chief.

When you are an outsider, you see things differently. Kennedy awoke to the theater of the generals pushing total war, actors divorced from human reality. He awoke to his own folly as a practitioner of war, able to define it.

Foundering and floundering, one hopes he too has found some sense of awakening, of bringing humanity back to some basic values of kindness and compassion.

My Dad saw my book as a kid who becomes, through his thoughtful sensibility, something of an accidental Theosophist, one sensitive to 'the meaning of life,' open to Buddhist thought and Christian sense and that sort of a thing. And that sustains me.

As I should, or might well, know, you're not going to get very far just sitting around feeling bad about yourself. I am human, one says, I say, maybe particularly prone to error. But maybe that lets you see the foreign object in your own eye first. What we do in the world, as with associating with publicans and sinners, is sorrowful, sorrowful and unsatisfying as the Buddha saw his own life prior to his own awakening.

As a postscript to the above, perhaps not so connected, the thought occurs what if he had lived and had his chance to be a writer, recalling the brink, other matters of government, the possibility of peace and environmental concern.