Saturday, December 22, 2012

There is a stretch of woods tucked in behind upper Georgetown accessible through Rock Creek Park below the great stone highway bridge of Massachusetts Avenue where I take my walks.  It's there where I scramble over rocks, taking an occasional perch, surveying the changing woods through the seasons.  Back along the parkway adding to the aerobic semi-workout I remember I don't it like as much, the gentle animal, freed and transported by the woods now feeling he is back running the modern gauntlet, ceaseless traffic, initially subtle smells of pollutions.  The woods have been liberating enough, lovely and deep as the poet says that I can hold on to the feeling, even as I lose the enthusiasm to write as I did while back in the woods, left with some vestiges of the thoughts had out at dusk with the moon fresh and high up above beech trees near a stream descending, as I return and sit down in my old apartment.

I guess you have to know great sorrow and feelings of near insanity in order to appreciate the moments of clarity.  The woods bring sanity, definitely, maybe not always, but often enough, as if they were there in their own way like a girlfriend to talk to and listen to.  Comforting anyway.  Climb over some rocks above a lazy stream, over leaves piled in rocky nooks, great networks of tree roots spreading like fingers holding to rock, and you'll remember the gentle being within, that manages to stay with you through all the great confusion of concerns of metropolitan life.

I sit on a rock, pondering for a moment Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, Prince Myshkin.  That idiot in all of us.  Who manages to be the center, freed of all the ego stuff, the multiple legion of voices that can come into your head.  Even the sternest and organized, most pious and professional people have enchanting ego voices inside their heads, voices that tell them what they must have and need.  Or perhaps they have found one ego voice of all of them that sounds the most logical and practical like that of the corporation they might be part of by which they earn their bread and butter and other things so that reasonably they can sleep at night, having solved all the major issues of life.  Well, by a good guess, those voices, not necessarily 'evil ones' (as voices in the head are sometimes portrayed, being the sole property of crazy people), are not who we are.  And one has the distinct perception that the gentle being  quite content to sit on a comfy rock and look over a stand of nature and nature's logic (water flow, rock placement, dirt banks, tree position, branch arch, leaf) is close to that being who is us, all of us.

I wrote a book sort of a thing, and the principal point therein was the enabling of this person to say something gentle and with no motive but that of life itself.  He brings flowers to this brat girl he has an affection for, as he has affection for all beings, and when told that he is crazy for doing so simply responds, "crazy to bring flowers to a beautiful girl."  In doing so he achieves that state of grace he has always been in, content with the way of the Universe.  Okay, he may be a total bumbler about all the logic of how to make things happen, but in his sudden freedom from motives (and all the motives people have put upon him like small charges of this and that) he discovers himself and therefore knows all the better what love, or "love," is, if that is the situation and the context that he is placed in.

So, what do you do when you are motiveless, when you suddenly find yourself in harmony with nature, warm under a coat and wool sweater taking in the woods at dusk?  What does this mean about career choices to be made?  But even that confusion passes out of you, ceasing to exist.

I think sometimes when I am out there on my walks of picture of John F. Kennedy walking off over the dunes, the one used by Chris Matthews for the cover of his biography.  You can sense how it was greatly gratifying for him to be there on the dunes.  He's looking off, a jacket under his arm, engaged in something very human, which is to find release and simply be as one is.

Now I am home, having stopped in a little grocery store, and I am a little bit tired.  But feeling a whole lot better than I was when my workweek was done, in a better state.  The past week provided a very clear example of why we don't just give out guns, put them in any old hand that can carry them.  People, having been divorced from their ego-free natural state, have voices inside their heads, egos that on a certain day might tell them randomly,  and somehow persuasively enough, to go and do something very bad.

I suppose it is one of the paradoxes of human existence, and of that existence within society, that the only real guides we have are the ones who are free of ego, or freer, rather than those who have bought into ego.  Unfortunately the latter type are always the louder ones, always the kind to make sure that they get what they want, generally of the convincing type, and often leaving other types out in the cold.  As long as we know that, and can be on guard about it, maybe, who knows, things will work out.
One might have naively thought the big corporate egos telling us what's good for us would somehow have been obliterated by the ancient wisdom of the objects in the sky that is the reset of the Mayan calendar.   But here's the old NRA guy singing for his well-compensated supper on behalf of those who manufacture guns of the assault type, telling us that guns are good for us, glorifying gun culture, we should all have one.

The good news is that not everyone's buying it, that people are beginning to do something about it.

And here's another informative piece about dietary culture from io9, a piece by George Dvorsky, "Why  You Should Probably Stop Eating Wheat," found through Google News, Discovery News and hopefully elsewhere out on the web.  The piece points out that wheat has been severely hybridized over the last fifty years to the point it has bad stuff in it.  Wheat, and glutens, it turns out just aren't good for at least a sizable part of the population.  Of course a significant amount of it is ceaselessly pushed our way with all its addictive qualities.

Friday, December 21, 2012

There are times, in certain moods, when it is hard to put a happy and sanguine view on things, hard to put a positive interpretation on life's events and the way you handled things.  Sometimes you only see all the things you messed up, all the mistakes you made, the lack of decisiveness, all the things that leave you feeling lonely and alone and seeing that such a condition is only going to worsen, despite all the hopefulness you bring earlier on in life.  You feel you did something wrong, and you don't quite know where to pinpoint it.

Is it that you are different somehow?  An arrogant thought.  Work, groceries, dishes, laundry, naps, wine...  what else is there to save you?  How do you cope?  Walks in the woods?  A bike ride?

What you can't do is turn the clock back and make amends.  And everyone will tell you, there isn't any point in dwelling, in living, in the past, which is obviously true, but not always easy advice to take up.

You're doing the same wrong thing over and over again, it seems.  You don't know how to get out.  You're not taking care of basic needs, not standing up for yourself.  I suppose a writer faces the same thing an athlete faces.  Obscurity, lack of a financial safety net and the sense of a valid career.

I can understand the psychological pressures upon Suzy Favor Hamilton, the need for escape, for what feels like excitement, a "coping mechanism" to counter depression.  And I wonder if a job like tending bar isn't too terribly far from elements of being an escort sometimes, to exaggerate slightly.  I don't blame her one bit.  And that's probably the Christian thing to do anyway.
And while we're at it, here's another really good piece about a really good person being honest about being human...  (I have to wonder if she has Type O blood.)  Someone that brings to us a real situation. One can only have the greatest kind of quiet gratitude and applause for such an athlete, such an individual.  I'm sure many people will be able to reveal more about themselves and their own coping mechanisms, make the psychological more an accepted form of talk.  "Former Olympian" is very human, commendable on many levels.

Former Olympian Cites Depression for Taking Job as Escort

The thought reminds me of Twain.  He didn't say it, out loud, not that I know of.  "If you could blame what you wrote, instantly and directly, on other people, there would be a lot more good writing out there."  Currently, as the set up goes, what you wrote, well, you're kind of stuck with it, like, for the rest of your life.  This, plainly, discourages creativity.  Hemingway, by the way, would add, to the part of who to blame, or when, or how long, "lastingly."  That sounds like a word he would have wrote, as least as far as my thoughts go.  And he was a brave guy, because he wrote stuff and had to stand by it, and people could have easily said, reacting to it, "oh, that's weird, really not...  no, I, can only see that as vulgar... and disturbing," even though people, lighted up by Freud and other developments, instantly saw that writing was a lot like psychotherapy, a way of getting things out, through symbol, the kinds of things you think about that haunt you that you know you need to somehow get down, put down on paper, get out of the bag...  Which made reading instantly attractive, as if the cathartic process of whatever art the human being had ever come up with from cave painting to tempera, from saga, bard, playwright sonnet maker was able to evolve and develop to meet what ever the times threw at the forms of art and the basic drive behind art.  And the times threw a lot in the face of humanity in, say, an event like WWI, the coming home of the ghosts of colonialism (and thoughtless industrialism) on mass scale at the door step of Europe, such that it would never forget.

Perhaps it is a sign of 'manhood,' adulthood, when the being becomes more attuned, focussed, aligned with whatever he finds sayable and worth mentioning.  You can indeed work long and hard finding something worthy of putting down on paper.  (You can work long and hard, and then find what you have to say ill mannered, unintelligent.)  And you can indeed find things that you really think are vital observations, and these happen in very personal spaces, leaving you to conclude that this was why you started messing about in the first place.

All those sorts of 'fictional thoughts,' thoughts taken from the imagination as little or steady voices, allow one to find a way to think what he/she really thinks.  The form those thoughts take is interesting to mark.  Some paint.  Some make films.  Some take up music.  Some write in certain ways.

And it might be said, that the deepest, or truest, of thoughts are something one has to think about, as they come out as puzzles in a way.  Or as something seen by a very deep and daring mind who is able to move symbols in incredible and mythological ways.  Celebratory, not pessimistic.

"The world is full of ghosts, and such is exactly what each individual represents," the thought might go.  And so then we get on that thin ground that might break beneath our feet, yet knowing in an instinctive way that such is true, true on all levels, symbolically, religiously, poetically, figuratively, literally, metaphysically, as true as we know a push-up works the chest and shoulder muscles.

Of course, such thoughts come into play when we encounter certain minds, effected by the poetry of such minds.  In Emily Dickinson land, we get her nature odes.  In MacGowan land, we get a line of ancient Irish schooling and ghosts.  In each, our own sensitivities pick up what antennae tell us.  And so, we deserve our fascination with Abraham Lincoln, a channel, if you will.

Characters, ghosts, Lears, poems, book depository sixth floor cardboard boxes (as if to predict how cardboard box delivery--and airplanes with metal caskets--would come to rule our present lives), famine haunted dunes of the sands of beaches in County Mayo, Buddha ghosts, candles, reverberations of the thoughts of Twain and Faulkner, Joyce claptrap, Kerouac, the whale mouth sieve technique of writing, the haunted Carolina rocking chair of Kennedy, well-read Kennedy who knew history, the puzzles of old Maupassant's short story taken internationally, around the world, into the depths of deep China, Hamlet too stiff for us, too unyielding, too impersonal (as princes are), but perhaps the best modern speaker of the final truth of the Universe blown into being.  Joyce had gift of language, poor working stiff does not have, but smelleth the same ghosts on shingle beaches though far away.  Worn out by conversations, just as he is enlivened and enlightened by them, an inner eye seeing the friendly ghosts behind everyone's life, like that weird film of the fallen angel in Berlin hanging about, Wim Wenders style.  Yes, Berlin is somewhere I would show up, if I were a ghost.  "Definitely," as people say.

Dedication, to work, what is it?  We must first abide by our ghosts, by the sweet ghosts of the creativity of all our thousand human ancestors (7000 years ago, like taking to Facebook, the kids made cheese in pots now fragmented.)

Daniel Inouye is honored, lies in state in the Capitol rotunda, veteran of Monte Casino.

Writing... you'd rather blame it on someone else.  Not my fault.  Just a tradition.  Somehow good for us, good for our health.

And we should know, despite the show, that everyone and things related is a ghost of something, and in that act, becoming something real and present.

It's always a matter of ghosts versus empire.

All this...  I cannot blame on anyone else.

Just a little sensitivity,
not too much,
not too much time alone
wondering about things.
Laying the sweet memory
of your father down
like a hugged child at night,
to bed and come back
with wakened day.
My old man.
Sweet gentle dad.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pogues accordionist and author James Fearnley gives a portrait of Shane MacGowan in his account of life with the band, Here Comes Everybody.  There's a lot of drinking.  MacGowan is hard to deal with, sometimes bullying, quite often wasted, unreachable, on a long slide.  For anyone wanting to learn more of MacGowan, this makes for hard reading.  Though capable of quips of wisdom, often of a practical nature, like how not to get beaten up in Northern Ireland, this is not a person you'd want to spend much time with.  The question is asked, genius or idiot?  Does he come up with songs inspired by his habits, or despite them?  The creative song writing process of MacGowan's world is shielded, perhaps guarded, happening independently of interaction, and we are left with a portrait of a bore intent largely upon drinking.  It's kind of sad, of course, and things seem to get worse over time and touring and heroin.

But perhaps, as with any story of an artist, there is missing space in the puzzle, and perhaps on top of that, things that may not make logical sense.  In interviews, discussing his views on, say, Irish music being akin to rock'n'roll, or about music in general (to paraphrase, "music is everywhere, in the ground, in the water, in the rain, and we just put it in boxes"), or about Irish literature, or on remembering Ronnie Drew, MacGowan comes across with glimmers (at the least) of being informed, well-read, possessing a bright intelligent mind, as he does in his imaginably long-suffering girlfriend's account of conversation with him,  A Drink With Shane MacGowan, a vehicle for his philosophizing.  (To say nothing of the primary evidence of a thoughtful mind in some particular songs, the poetry of his account of being a kid in North London working for Meals on Wheels, "NW3," for example.)  There are times when spending time considering his raw works seem a little more justified while the world goes about its serious business trying to right itself.

Enter the NY Times' recent piece piece on concentration, the focus of the mind, reached through meditation, through getting rid of all the random thoughts running through the head.  And one begins to see, perhaps, how the great thinkers do it.  They effectively stop thinking, clear the mind.  (The piece seems to veer off into a discussion of abilities with multi-tasking, but obviously this is ground worth exploring.)

For MacGowan's part, one wonders, is his 'meditation and mindfulness' gained through simply getting wasted, which would seem a bit like cheating maybe.  Is his access to creativity a token of an Irish nature, stubbornly clinging to the old ways rooted in lyrical tradition, spirituality and rooted humanity?  MacGowan was, once upon a time, a bright kid, Eliot's poem, "Preludes," a favorite of his.  As his songs suggest, one wonders what happens to such people.  Perhaps the territory raised up for us by Konnikova's piece isn't entirely frivolity, say what you will about those who attempt to be practitioners of it.

And for an artistic person (as an afterthought here), while it is painful to remember the times when one was unwittingly in a general creative mode, engaged in a kind of 'not thinking,' in moments where it would have been a lot better to be thinking quite practically and 'on one's toes' as far as life goes, there lies within such a consideration of thought and liberated brain power a gentle understanding apology.  It's just how thinkers/artists/scientists are sometimes, a habit to tolerate.  And perhaps for an artist to tolerate himself he must further allow himself entry to the mode of 'mindfulness' to keep that which must be taken as worries of a practical sort for a time at bay.  A kind of feedback loop emerges in which the mode is more necessary for survival and well being, else one would get too down on himself.  Reasonably assuming that with age comes greater worry, the importance and vitality of deeper thought patterns might naturally emerge.  And in full adulthood, as a consequence, perhaps one does, like a Jesus, end up taking on a large part of the carefully constructed empire that makes modern life possible (viewed from the lens of the self-fulfilling prophecy rule-abiding empires seem to be fond of imposing.) While a MacGowan doesn't seem like the kind of person to be judgmental about certain kinds of behavior, there is a certain kind of politics he supports, one generally against the excesses of empire.

JFK and Churchill took naps, allowing the meditations of rest inform and develop their sensibilities, enabling them to enter into modes different and broader from the conventional military/diplomatic views of a LeMay or a Chamberlain, and often involving the raising of questions rather than the acceptance of a known status quo.  I fear the same is true with respect to poets, who share the same interest in craft as the academics who do well teaching about poetry, but have a fondness too much of their own poetic modes and mindfulness to be comfortable with the conventions of professional academia.  (Some are able to do both.)  It's not a question of will and rational thought and logic, but of a deeper choice, one the individual may not be so happy with in terms of conventional happiness, a matter of conscience.

As with everything else, an artist is vulnerable in chrysalis stage, in hatching stage, in transformation, in development.  That is the hard part, surviving the coming out, the first steps.  The struggles, inner and outer become a good part of the art.   Perhaps an artist cannot be blamed for whatever in their human judgment is defense mechanism.  Music is clung to for survival and sanity for the life playing music creates.  (No wonder Mr. MacGowan's musical compositions are from a younger time.)  "I wanted to be a professional musician," Mr. McGowan is recorded as saying in documentary.  "Thank God I become one."


The Power of Concentration

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bill O'Reilly is saying it's all a matter of "evil."  That's what the school shooting is, according to him, an outbreak of "evil," and he's backed up by the dramatic Geraldo.  Evil, comparable to the Nazi death camps.

Things are a little more thoughtful, mindful, over at MSNBC.  The acknowledgement of the gunman's possible autism, mental health issues.   Such people we allow to have guns and lots of bullets, make it easy, make the assault weapon prevalent enough to fall into such hands.

Back at O'Reilly's factor, or whatever he calls it, O'Reilly is smugly claiming:  he knows evil, he knows evil when he sees it.  (This is what sets him apart as a righteous individual, better than 'others' and Obama.)  There is evil in the world and we have to deal with it.  There is absolutely not even the slightest thought of mentioning 'gun control.'  This, in such an O'Reilly world of righteousness (and self-righteousness), is beside the point.  Evil is in the perpetrator.  It's not a question of society setting up such a disaster to happen almost willfully.

Guns are entrenched, as Bobby Kennedy suggested in '68, as a part of the economy, part of the GNP, as was Whitman's rifle, part of that fancy of "American life."  Perhaps it is impossible to separate the good gun use and the possibility of the bad.  It requires thought, and without leadership, quality leadership, this is impossible.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It is a very sad Friday today, with the news of another school shooting rampage.

One puts aside, for the time being, the thought that some people are oriented around art, that the things they do are ones that establish community and friendship's sharing, acts that are good for health and cortisol levels, as a recent viewing of parts of a PBS show, Art and the Mind, explains well.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chef Simon comes upstairs to the wine bar at the end of the night, and since my mom is there, he tells some stories.  Back in France there is a test for chefs that must be passed.  It involves slaughtering a rabbit.  Clock it on the back of the head, let the blood run down, and next thing you're skinning the rabbit in one smooth motion of the main incision.  Simon explains to us, he never likes, never will like, the killing part.  I pour him a little more Bordeaux.  Soft shell crab...  oh, no, you do it, I didn't quite get the hang, Chef...  Avoid it.  Learn the lesson through not quite doing it yourself actually.  "I hate killing!"  His eyes are open now, not that they aren't always.  The important test, the apprentice shows up, and sees the rabbits, dead ones, carcasses, hanging up, headless, and the live ones remaining.  Each year, 'no, I can't do it, I'm sorry, I can't do it.'  Then one year, our Chef Simon is first for the test.  No little bunny carcasses hanging up in front of everyone...  Can he do it?
Day One of the week, and it should have been a reasonable Sunday, but it's 5AM now, and I hardly feel sleepy at all.  Cortisol, it must be.  The door opened at 5:30, and in came the early burst, ready to get 3 or 4 courses in before paying their checks at 6:45 to head to the Dumbarton Oaks Concert Series. Which means rushing.  Which sets a tone.  And then people keep coming, and the waiter downstairs has already called off any extra help.

Moonshiners--good TV.  The cat sits next to me on the arm of the couch, purring away.  She likes being near me these days, affectionately, and she seems rather expressive, as if we finally we're talking quite steadily, her with purring, little vocalizations, nudges of the head, a suggestion of a deep ear massage.  She's taken to, as its getting to be winter time, the old Polish lady's Flemish chair, the burlap underneath turning to sawdust, the right sag for her to curl up agains the cold.  But she likes to lie close to me as well as I sleep.  Mom had a good line about the towel I keep at the head of the bed to absorb the blood from her rectal cancer.  Get a red one, that way feeling more comfortable, wisdom from our old neighbor from Amherst.

There is the soothing Frank's Hot Sauce taste of an '09 Chinon to calm me down, if that's what it does.  There's the Optimus Svea little brass mountain climber stove to play with, along with dishes done.  Mom is coming to town.  A baby is being born.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

If I had thoughts to think at this moment now, where we are here in the US of A, I would think about
"the least of these."

Good job, PBS, tonight.  Frontline's piece on Poor Kids.  Followed by a documentary, Park Avenue, about the addresses of billionaires and Koch brothers, some pretty big and selfish Egos, adept at mistruths, taken on up the street into the poorest congressional district in the US, where people aren't so well off.


When we love, we put ourselves humble, we put ourselves low, we become the least.  In doing so, we come into focus, some might say; a mode, we enter into.  And this would be confusing to anyone involved with mass culture, the great show, aggressive, conspicuous, powerful, desired wealth, as it runs largely contrary to it.  Our culture trains to show, greatly, make a big show of love.  Beyond the show of plumage and competence, a show of material comfort and enticements (and shopping abilities) perhaps?  It sounds silly to mention.  To be quiet about it, to be reserved, that would seem to us almost as creepy or psychologically unhealthy.

An economy that works must allow a place for the humble worker bee, who goes to work with sentiment based on love.  The fault of society lies in not creating a culture where meekness and humility   are celebrated (rather than taken as a sign of personal weakness.)

Then there are the Ayn Rand Libertarians...  In contrast to an FDR, who saw the great moral waste of people out of work, the moral value of people having work.  Simple works the WPA initiated, like making hiking trails still in happy use today.

Good simple work that everyone can do, and also make an attempt of a living from--that might well be what we could use.  Not the complex stuff that was wrought upon us by investors, investors pushing high tech stuff so that they could make money in speculation, the same folks who tanked our economy through speculations upon speculations.

One of the many reasons PBS deserves its place, and even a better one.

I suppose my own work, behind a bar, or more nebulously in a notebook, is of the same lines as that good ole WPA make-work, nothing remarkable, just using a resource that would otherwise go to waste.    Not stuff of the big CEO Ego with big earnings and big lifestyle and conspicuous 'hard work.'  Indeed, far more toward the employ an unemployable bum side of things.  Becoming a school teacher got too complicated for him, and that system seems largely broken to him anyway as far as the temperament of his offerings.

But the artist's workshop, his atelier, the humble discoveries of things that might be sung about in sonnets, like the great humility of love, the rare sense of being unworthy but lifted up anyway, maybe these are practical discoveries in that they might speak to the human condition or to the meaning of life or to the meaning of reality.

What else can an artist do, but sing of happy but very impractical things that have little bearing on the workings of the world.  Doesn't the History Channel's 'Mankind, the Story of All of Us' show us that history is decided by battles, iron, military might, so that the main comment material was provided by celebrity warriors you wouldn't want to mess with?  (Give them credit for touching upon Jesus--they bloodied him up pretty good, of course--and for mentioning the world's major religions, though beyond the history of the Roman Empire there was little of it.)

Thankfully there are small discoveries that artist can make, observations on what we might call the soul.  What is the soul of love when we love?  Not being churchmen, artists and writers have come up with interesting and often dark versions of love, as if it were their primary business, failed love, love gone bad, Romeo and Juliet, love of the thwarted beings populating Winesburg, Ohio, Hemingway's tragedies...  And it makes for good reading, good entertainment, I suppose.  However, we still have to get up the next day and go about our business, and so, without an adult view (like that of Chekhov) such dwellings upon can become adolescent, a song of Ego, therefore false, to be risen above in the spirit of normal human calm, to be ultimately ignored like the mature turning off the latest pop song with its heavy beat and incessant shrill 'me me me.'  (As 'me' is ultimately an illusion.)

The humility of love... well, what do we do with it?  Does that help us make better microchips?  Well, no, not at all, but maybe it does help explain another mystery, of how we manage to go off to work every day, not out of selfishness or careerist stuff, but more or less selflessly, being the spark plug of the great democratic economy.  Even without promise of retirement or security.
We allow Shakespeare his respected place in literature because of his eternal wisdom.  His works show out his conception of the Ego's falseness.  His plays are full of lessons, the equality of the human condition, beggar and king miserable and human alike.  His take on thinking, 'nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so,' cannot be argued with.  Wild almost Buddhist ideas though they are.  His tales are full of the excesses and misguidedness of Egotistical thinking, the suffering caused through mental machinations based on greed and power-seeking.  They are full of victims, of Egoless people put down, abused, harmed, overlooked, all by way of a lesson, a moral tale that goes down easily as far as the preaching of a moral.  Lear is led by egotistical illusions, fed by the conniving and insincere, and he will face his lesson, tragically too late for Cordelia.  Hamlet, who sees through Ego, in praise of egoless sensitivity, is consciously or not one of the bard's high heroes.

He wrote in a time when it was very dangerous to preach a morality based directly on Church teachings, as then one might have to take a side in a bloody conflict, Catholic versus Protestant.  (His plays seem to have lived in a strange open secrecy, or cleverly disguised right out in the open in front of the paranoid sanctimonious spies of Elizabeth.)  And his understandings of the Ego's folly, of the need to humble one's self to the truths of life, were as dangerous, wild and radical then as they are now, as they were two thousand years ago.  Hard for us to imagine, perhaps, the dangers, ever present, of his day.

The Universe seems to have embraced him, allowed him not just as a comic and a teller of histories, but as a deeper philosopher whose commentary on love, on life, on human ways is appreciated now as then.  One hopes he prompted discussions and thoughtful considerations then as now, as his points, though subtly cloaked at times, cannot be missed.  Times haven't changed much.

The battle of literature is always that one "against the State," against the mode of selfish desire and dehumanizing security.  In Kundera's Central Europe it takes one form, defined as that battle is by the Ego of 'Communist' Reality, the Police State, the exile of contrarians, the logic of power for the sake of power.  Here perhaps it is the tyranny of another kind of majority bent on Ego of a different sort, blinded by material achievement against the great humility of spirituality, against the great potential of the least amongst us.   In his own day Shakespeare may have come very close to being in some very hot water.

The Christian (or Judeao-Christian) message, or the Buddhist message, simply seems to have the accuracy of a modern physics about it.  It survives as a truth we can all see and understand, maybe piecemeal, maybe bit by bit, maybe a little at a time, growing gradually, comprehended, at least at times, with fullness.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When I left home after college, I guess I had a basic model of literature in mind.  Go and explore the human condition.  Kerouac came to mind, perhaps mainly for evoking the calm of a Zen life reflecting over a cup of green tea.  Set out innocently, follow certain examples of humanity and human suffering, write a bit about it if you have to.  For whatever deep reasons, I gather I chose the restaurant business as a means to observe.

By turns, yes, in a bar or restaurant, you see sadness, discontent, both in customers and in staff.  Restaurant people often seem to live by the light of family angst, relived memories of things like disrupted Thanksgivings and unhappy scenes, and so perhaps it is within their psychology that they wait on people, entertaining others as if to protect them from the things of unhappiness that we all know (and need not be embarrassed at mentioning or ashamed of, as even happy and loving families will fall to such fates from time to time.)  Maybe restaurant people simply tend to be more willing to admit and share the personal failings and unhappy things of life, with a refreshing candor (at times prompted by tequila, or red wine).  Yes, sharing it is called.  And from such sharing, a lot of good is remembered and released out into the world and the collective psyche.

Some people to increase the stress, the drama, the angst, in such a business.  Instead of being at, or making, peace, they seek to ratchet up of drama and conflict, least of all helpful to the subject, the perception of the guest as a maniacal enemy...   Or to make a simple night into a conflict, in order for a 'greater' good or kindness... making a shift into a chance for stress, disorganization...  In smaller places, you see it.

Kerouac's landscapes included the unhappy (as did Tolstoy before him), patterns diverging from the perfect happy life, as if there were such a thing.  He wrote of Dean Moriarty looking for his lost father who had abandoned him as a boy.  And it was quite natural for Kerouac to read widely and be a decent student of Buddhism.   The only problem is that despite such readings and his own authorial success, he wasn't able to save himself.  Despite the clarity found in his work, we know that he unrelentingly drank himself to death, and we can only sadly speculate why, other than that he was an alcoholic.  Perhaps it is a matter of intensity, the intensity applied to the writing life that has its other sides.

Restaurant beings, for me they have seemed to capture the spiritual problems of the times, be it the ultimately unsatisfying nature of pleasures the Buddha tells us of, or of the woeful domination of the ego-driven over consciousness in the human psyche that the New Age wisdom of Tolle writes about, I think with great validity, though of course all thoughts are fleeting and unsatisfactory descriptions of reality.  They suffer, but there is an upside to their suffering, a learning, a wisdom, all of it quite real.

Now I see my co workers unhappiness more clearly, the habits of self-perpetuation.  And I think I also see something of an answer, through them, through their attempts to get through a night, to the condition of mortality that we all face, though that answer can only be put roughly, having something to do with accepting the Ego, all that we might take to be the most important thing for our own salvation physical and otherwise, as a grand Illusion.

Though beautiful and moving, a clear observation of the basic human problem, I wonder if Kerouac's bent on writing wasn't a kind of egotism itself, on its own, a belief that writing is its own answer to the greatest problems, when in fact it isn't, that the solutions must be themselves worked upon, through meditation, awareness, cultivated conscious presence and the like, rather than 'logic' and specific terms. Being a craftsman, the son of a printer ruined by a flood sought being an author as a monetary salvation.  In his work, he helped toward realizing an awakening of consciousness, a revival of an ancient Earth-friendly wisdom-filled sensibility, writing in almost a bardic tradition of hero's tale, one that came welling up, pre-hippie, in America in the 50s.  And given that America was, is, the Great Democracy, sensitive to the highest and purist ideal, it was something of an ideal place to attempt such a thing.  Perhaps he was rising toward wisdom, before what we now call 'branding' got to him, not that there is anything inherently wrong in 'branding,' poor old King of the Beats forced to pay for his egotistical sins of attempting Zen, attempting to contradict the great egotistical mode of American Life full of its own self-assured answers.  But yes, to say that is to fall into the same trap.  In reality, all is good, perhaps.

I don't look for adventure so much.  I don't think I ever really did, having enough of that going through high school.  As boring as it is, I like calm and quiet.  And anyway, one should like to address the lack of dialog or vocabulary related to explorations of human consciousness, to get past the stereotype of yogi wannabe tree hugger incense breather under achiever do nothing doesn't belong at the country club for lack of manners never goes out on a date obscure out of touch... etc.

One of the best thoughts I've read lately is an observation from A New Earth.  See the section "The Collective Female Pain-Body" section within Chapter Five which bears a close and careful reading.  It pertains to the period of the Inquisition, the church's treatment of women.  If a woman, say, took a walk alone in the woods, stopped to observe a bird or animal, or picked an herb for medicinal or decorative reason, well, she was a witch, to be dispatched, plain and simple, burnt at the stake.  The numbers of victims is staggering.  Tolle's point falls against a backdrop of the rise of the Ego. We move away from the feminine spirit, one in touch with nature and nurturing, toward the drive to conquer for the sake of selfish rational, male and ego driven.

And so, take that to the present.  We conduct our affairs based on competitive overly rational thought in a dog eat dog world, mine versus yours, who cares about the Earth, me first.  The nurturing type is subtly discouraged through the need to compete in an ego-driven society hyper on competition and outthinking the next guy.  The human being is conditioned to be leery about stopping by the woods to smell the flowers and watch the doings of the natural world.  The experience of nature is doled out in an economic bargain based on what you can pay for on weekends, our relationship no longer allowed to be a direct one.  Can you just 'go for a walk' anymore,  finding the interaction with nature just as it comes in its little individual moments that can happen just about anywhere?   Just as the feminine being had to be defined as a witch for her communing with the natural world, so have our own moments come to be defined by the light of a pervasive logic of Ego and economic purpose.  Nature becomes a place to show prowess physical, athletic, mental, reached through the cleverness of having a fine automobile or an expensive plane ticket.

But women survive to this day, as does their spirit.  And they are, if you let them be, nurturing and caring over the living beings alive in the world, sensitive toward life wherever you find it.  Interesting that that has survived all these years and all those egotistical things driven on by spirits less feminine.

Perhaps vestiges of ancient and archaic traditions respecting the feminine, the Celtic for example, as Tolle mentions, survive in semi-latent states to this day, just under the surface, about to be called into fullness at any moment.  And the 'idiots' of the world, defined as such by the collective egotism, who don't follow the defining logic of the selfish model of existence, will be received once again, accepted for just being human and good natured sorts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

But as a writer, you really have to be careful.  You have to be careful of making too much out of mental forms and thought.  Thinking is only a tiny, and oft misleading, part of the total conscious awareness.  To indulge in too much defining thought, we limit ourselves, we do not rise above...  And so you end up being wary of what is written.

So, you have to wonder.  Were the years spent writing a novel or a memoir an exercise defeating the purpose of the high consciousness one is capable of, coinciding with a period of unhappiness spent fascinated by form and egotistical things?  The life in service industry, say the restaurant business, could be construed from a number of angles as supporting the falseness of 'the pleasurable experience.'  That life could also represent a fascination with perceived inner pain of a certain kind of mentality or form of ego, a perpetuation of another kind of falseness, not being in the mode of simple alive presence that marks the proper way to be in the present.  Yes, you could look at it that way, a many pronged kind of misery marked by attachment, attachment causing suffering, the attachment to the form of 'story' (a way of 'figuring things out,' bordering, indeed, on obsession), the attachment to other satisfactions of empty pleasures, a moment of numbness, wine, song, dining, not an increase of consciousness, but a lessening thereof.

Yes, anytime you sit down to write something, or define an experience, you have to be careful and circumspect, highly present in that which is Now.

But I guess or gather that you might have to go through a way of realizing that the attachment to form isn't the way to proceed with life.  You have to learn a lesson.  And though things written may seem to ponder over materiality and the defining of everything as it is done by the Ego, maybe the larger lesson comes through, an attempt at thought.

Friday, November 9, 2012

If people were taught how to read Philip Larkin,
why, or just do it,
then they wouldn't be had,
not having to believe all that people say.

Larkin's is the energy of Being, independent of ego and falseness of self.  He is part of the awakening, of stopping to think and consider everything we claim to know by the light of greater things.  He is contrary to the blindness of doing things some people think, egotistically, they need to be doing.
Larkin never, take notice, asks for anything.  He never asks to be thought of in a certain way.  He bares some things that might invite an aggressive judger of others to think worse of him, a creepy old bachelor sort of stuff.  And Larkin is quite comfortable with himself, just as he is, his energy, his being, his reflections on life and people and England.  A beautiful outsider who invites us to be insiders with our own selves.

I should like to write a book like a long poem of his, a meditation on being, persona, individuality, truth, with nothing more to say than simply telling it like it is, the way things are, just as they are, before they fall through the cracks of all the destructive constructs of ego that take simple plain old being as a sort of failure or something to be avoided.  Yes, a book, but like a poem, in need of no conclusion or resolved arch of tension and plot, just things as they are, even without need of imposed meaning.

Mr. Larkin, I am a crazy old bachelor too,
or rather, well on my way,
and even maybe crazier than you.
I wish I had the library at Hull,
there to go
and hang my hat, a place to wear
innocuously, a dark suit
so as to be inconspicuous really.
And then take my bike rides in the country,
alone to lonely churches and church yards
forgotten by the garbage pile,
to speak in my own funny tone,
with my own funny bald head and glasses,
a bachelor dressed but with no particular place to go
on a weekend.
Mr. Larkin, like a tree,
you have figured it all out,
and made no big deal out of that,
quite excellent your disguise.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It is only because I am an honest man, or rather, try to be, that it is my habit to share with you the burden of my mind, so that you, the reader, will have clear example of what they mean when they say, "monkey mind," the incessant flipping about and pondering about bits of memory ruminated over deeply, that is to be avoided.  The thoughts of the mind are, oftentimes, best ignored, until one comes to terms more circumspectly, with a broader understanding (like that of 'mindfulness' or 'consciousness.')  It's a basic Buddhist precept.  And as a bartender, who sees every night fade into a chimera, I know it to be true.

But as I was saying... I often wonder.  Or rather I think that the ideas Abraham Lincoln was a proponent of, and a debater for, in career as a candidate and as President, are far more to the side of Egolessness than the other side, the one of the Ego's illusions, the separate self stuff.   His was a side with a good rule of thumb.  If the concept of a distinct and concrete Self was directly and foremost upon the mind bearing one's agenda, the set up is for a basic conflict with the National Purpose (defined  in the best way people can), the good of all peoples in look of a decent form of government.  Slavery, with its perspective of a Self needing the low cost labor of other human beings for the sake of selfish illusions, well, ultimately, you'd run into conflict.  For the young colonies, it was important to set up industries and economic hubs and units, and it's an argument that can be made:  slavery was highly convenient and necessary.  But, as a Nation, coherent, the idea of slavery is of course a huge huge and devastatingly important issue!  We know slavery to be wrong, immoral, and an inefficient use of resources, at the very least.

Well, I think it's easy to see Lincoln has having a pretty good sensibility about it all.  But of course, a huge argument there is against that, holding him to be a tyrant bent of pressing a foreign will destructively upon whomever.  That's the State's Rights argument, that the States, individually, are concrete and distinct Selves that exist completely on their own, in their own bubblous realm.  Which of course is not the ultimate truth about them.  They exist out of a larger mystery, connected to, comprising, a whole.  The individual States do not exist on their own.  They might think they do, but they don't.

Were it not for the good things found on the web, like the NY Times review of the coming movie on Lincoln, I would say that the technology has brought to us the perfect distraction, the playground for the monkey mind jumping about from one thing to another, distracted, looking for some satisfaction.  And this is bad as it is potentially good for anyone with a task like writing before them.  Our addiction to words, our craving for thoughts, will lead us first thing of the day to see if we've missed anything, an email, a text, the most current news, as who knows, something might have happened while we slept.

But I would know, having been led astray, to spend my professional life, so it seems, in places where pleasures are sought after, entertainment, music, good feelings, fresh company, excitement, possibility...  I unwittingly beat the drum to whip up all falseness, in a curious way.  And tolerating it all has left me with not a whole lot, just as the U2 song might have predicted, 'stuck in a moment.'  And it was even over the same addictions, to listening to such songs, ironically, that have kept me too long where I am.  (Lincoln was right:  get the hell out of the tavern business.)  Was there some point I was fated to find, to stare at in the face, and maybe eventually figure out?  No one starts out wanting to be a self-denying monk of Buddhism, but what are you left with, if you don't fall for all the other occupations selling their own widgetry?  What is there that lasts, beyond Chinese medicine and meditation and walks in the great outdoors?  Of course we are all scared, scared of ending up in poverties worse than we imagined amongst violent and ill types.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I've been out walking, down past all the bars and clubs on Connecticut Avenue, on a cold Friday night, just for exercise, and to see.  You get a full eye fill walking along, people dressed to go out, spilling out onto the street.  You can stand on one side of the avenue and feel the glass of windows shake without clarity to the thumping beat, green and colored lights flashing on 3rd and 4th floors.  Dark bull-like men waiting outside, milling about, girls with short skirts and high heels... you've seen it, you don't need my description.  The loud dark noise of egos.  The cabs come through.  The lines are long.  Unhappiness everywhere.  And the wanting to fit in.

It is a good exercise, to go out walking, to feel the pull, but to see it as it is.  It's never a solution to go and do that, somehow, I don't know why, to be part of it that way.  It's never happiness.  I wish it were.  But it isn't.

The night after, I go grocery shopping.  I walk home with two bags, listening to Shane MacGowan singing Rainy Night in Soho with the Pogues, and it strikes me how far more egoless and therefore emotionally realistic it is to be musical, if that's the word.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Let Us Now Praise Empathetic Men

I was thinking the other night, as we anticipated the storm here, Sandy.  Creativity--so much like weather, weather that comes, that you go stand out in, or walk in.  It comes, and you're just open to it, just the same way these trees out here have the storm coming through them, very windy, gusting (near 60mph?)  Creativity requires a fundamental kindness, a kindness to see everything and also remember.  (Hey, at least I've learned how to type--though I wouldn't know if I'd try it on a typewriter.  Ach, virgins...)  It's just a matter of being open to it.  You almost have to be an idiot, in a way.  And you have to see humor in everything, in the way you put it down, like Kakfa intended to be funny, primarily.

Writing is an almost biological density of thought.  There are far too many thoughts in the moment to record.  So, take a slow measured time working on something manageable, ball sized--you can grasp it, or a part of it.

I find the chefs who are good at running restaurants to be pretty egoless.  They make good friends, when you've been there awhile.  They share.  They're sensitive, they are low key.  I'm glad to see, that's my chef, and his team.

One would almost want to run for political position being a nice guy.  Oh, you'd have to delegate a good bit,  but being a good politician means being a good person in a well enough forceful way, I mean, effective way, or maybe just a consistent way, a steady way.  I mean, if you were held to that, if you were held to being nice, even if it might make you look like an asshole sometimes, rather being made to look that way by people who see themselves as shrewd.

I guess that's the reason why Capra's Mr. Smith Goes To Washington strikes us.  Or Twain's political mouthpiece and friend, Huck Finn.  Or how it is right that we see Abraham Lincoln through the lens of sensitive Sandburg or even his photographers.  Let Us Now Praise Empathetic Men.

We all have to do what we have to do on a full moon when it's a storm to coincide.  The dislocation and clash of energies high and low, boiling up with the planet's moisture, the creativity comes out.  Full moon, I remember Pani Korbonska doing what she always loved to do, entertain, tell a story, tell war stories, talk about where things are in the political realm.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

You never know what a good Bordeaux can do.  It can open up and be something of alchemy, transcending its normal cépage blend.  It can have a completely different character, be completely interesting, do things strange and unexpected and good.  Something off the charts.  Strange, UFO-like.

The 2009 Lirac, Reserve Saint Dominique,  has finally opened up.  It's been open three days at least, three nights in the refrigerator, and it just toning down its fruitiness to reveal its underlying pillars of resin and smoke, fog and mists that are smoke, strong thick stemmed herbs, young tiny stalked tree saplings,  truffle routines...  my god, this is a good wine!  Eric Bonnet, raised to tend the vines, care for the vine stock the whole way through life and death, as he put it to me once, raised by, to, his father, a vigneron, excellent... Thank you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Remembering George McGovern

When I first came to Washington, clueless as to what I was doing, I went to check out one of those 'grass roots politics' jobs.  The office was on Connecticut Avenue above Dupont Circle in a large townhouse.  The office was up on one of the top floors, and when I got there the space was cramped, full of boxes.  A guy sat at a small desk lit by one low craned utility desk lamp, with a telephone and some papers.  The roof tilted in over his space.  He looked up at me, like it really made no difference, and said, 'look, here's what you do...'  And he explained it quickly in a nutshell.  You go out and stand on a street corner with a clipboard and try to ask people if they'd like to be a part of, whatever it was, Greenpeace.  And that was about it.  He handed me a mimeographed piece of paper with some lines on it, the phone rang, and he said, 'think it over,' without much hope as to the necessity of my commitment or participation.  The illusions had been stripped from his own eyes, and he spoke directively to whoever was on the other end of the line.  I didn't have a job, or perhaps had discovered the realities of temping in offices, and so I said I would think it over.  Yup.

So I got back into the elevator when it showed up, thinking, "well, at least I tried," turned around and looked at the buttons, I look over to my right at the tall man already in, and it's George McGovern.  I look up at him, and then with the softest kindest voice, just as I turned, he was holding out his hand to shake mine, and saying, in a reassuring and definitively fatherly tone, "I'm George McGovern."  I can almost still hear that pleasing softness of his voice, and it was as if it were there specifically to come to my rescue, almost.

I can't remember exactly what I said.  I'm sure I lit up, though you never know, when you're kind of startled like that, and I think I knew enough to address him as Senator, and said how proud I was to meet him.  We might have talked a little bit, where I was from, in the short ride down four floors.  And he probably said something kind, and maybe Mid-Western, like "have a nice day," when he parted, but you could tell he really meant it, and that somehow he had the power of granting just such a thing, and from my family of course I held him in reverence, as one of those 'good and decent men.'

There I was, in an elevator, with a true egoless Buddha of American politics, a true war hero, and with his characteristic warm natural sort of suntan tone.  Handsome guy, maybe with a sadness of eye out of which an overriding joyful accepting twinkle came.

Nixon and the GOP found him easily to malign.  His own acceptance speech at his party's convention fell at an odd hour, late, for reasons I would have to go and read Hunter S. Thompson to remember.  But of course, the big Egos, the big defined selves of politics, they fall hard, just as Nixon fell for his tricks.  And today the nation remembers a good guy, whose decency points to the future.  And one has a thought;  it is the good guys who make life worth living.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kerouac's is a reaction to the mass pleasure-seeking culture of popular times, the happy hamburger, the pleasure of the automobile, the safe politics of his times, that simple sweet candy of the American Dream.  He had to know it from within to recognize it;  it's not unknown of him to write of sensual desire and drunken attempts to find It in the blowings of a jazz man on a wild Saturday night.  He did his share, but he also sensed himself as fated to see through it all.

Kerouac sought to produce a product that compensated the faults of sensuality with wisdom, somewhat like the newspaper, a realistic look at life, helpful and informative, real, a full story.  He suffered alongside Cassidy the great empty chase not for all the apparent thrills but to tell--quite bravely--a chastened and sobering story.  In his travels he found Buddhism, fated for it and its understanding of the root of suffering.  But as if stuck in telling the same story, it seems he was unable to save himself, as if there were no place for him to find shelter in his own times.  He was left with too many challenges to find the scholarly peace he needed to continue his development, as it would have required of him the abandonment of the sensual pleasures the market demanded him to write about, and an escape from the light of fame as King of the Beats as well.  Even as the writing of books required of him to write about sensations and worldly observations (of the kind Buddhism tells us are best left ignored), it's interesting that what often emerges is the teacher.   The lengths he had to go to, to put tension in his story line, to not be 'pontificating,' it all didn't do him any good.  One wishes a position, a kind of teaching gig, could have been found for him.

To me there is always hope in Kerouac, though, a calm sensitivity to understand, on the verge of figuring it all out, but out of some strange thing related to compassion, falling back in.  And I think it takes a lot of guts for an American at that time to think about the Noble Truths, of how our quest for pleasure and happiness would leave us unsatisfied and even set up the harms that would come our way, as the politics of the time just wasn't ready for something so deep as to realize that level of interconnection.

Yes, it takes something fine for a person to realize what life has been subtly telling him all his life, and fine for him to then and go write about it, really for the sake of trying to save the rest.

I think there is some room for consideration of what you might call, A Buddhist Novel.  Maybe such a think has been in the works for a while, with Kafka, or Faulkner maybe.  A novelistic work which doesn't have to burdened by that artificial placement of concrete thought and sensual outcome, all that stuff regarded as necessary to create the tension that makes a work 'readable.'  As opposed to 'plotless.'  So, what you would have is something like Zen, like Kurosawa, a work showing the texture of life, like the grain in wood or in muscle, with no outside structure or desire for resolution imposed upon it, as it is truthfully represented, life as is, from which we can then draw a meaning from.  No winners, no losers, no 'man versus nature or himself or other,' just being.  Serving to reinforce the understanding of the connectedness of life, of the illusory quality of a concrete Ego/self.  Like the fine moments in Chekhov, the ending of "The Lady with the Pet Dog."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yes, as a writer, you have to ask yourself why, why do it, why pollute the airwaves already full, why write obscure novel-like things, why rattle on.  But for the forgiving spirit with which literary attempts are often regarded...

The mind insists on doing its work.  Traced in the geological recording of mental events (broadest thoughts and conscious intuitions, meditations), something of a meaningful conclusion, perhaps hidden, perhaps uneasily stepped around for a time, is present and accountable.

Dostoevsky quotes from John to begin The Brothers Karamazov, on the kernel of wheat falling to the ground.  What does it mean, by itself or in context of Dostoevsky's story?  Why did I put something like it in a passage from A Hero For Our Time just after the guy has met the girl?  In conventional narrative arcs, they get together at the end, so why put in that harbinger of an end that is unsatisfactory as far as resolving what appears to be the plot?  (Why or how could such a fellow be, in his right mind, thinking such deep thoughts and not with utter pretension?  Well, college age, sigh, maybe the writer can get away with it.)

Great Literature aspires.  It offers a philosophical conclusion, however ambiguous it might seem initially to the eye, and perhaps never quite explicitly discernible.  Take Anna Karenina.  It's there somewhere.

Later on, what sprung out unconsciously becomes clearer.  For one writer, it might go something like this, not to bore anyone:  only after a full season, when that kernel of wheat does fall to the ground and die, then it will be on its way to bringing forth fruit;  only after the individual becomes finally 'grown-up,' finally privy to the great illusions of separate distinctive Self, finally aware of the falseness of the Ego, only after a great purifying offered up by slowly fallen wisdom through the course of life's journey, only then would one really be capable and ready for the great relationship.

I wonder, if you take any thinker, is there not a sense of fatalism within.  Lincoln was a fatalistic sort, and perhaps oddly, through long thought processes, he took the things that had happened to him, observed them, and made some sort of poetic sense of them;  and then we see the sense of meaning he distilled from life in his great thoughts of the meaning of a nation and government of the people, by the people and for the people, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  It is necessary for us to submit our own egos, as much as we might like the economic power of a valuable commodity (such as slaves), to a fair national sense of the greater good, right and wrong.  The meanings taken from one aspect of life may indeed have a broader and proper applicability.  And that is what makes writing worth it, in the end, the discovery of those touchstones.

And so there is Levin, Tolstoy's stand-in, out there scything at wheat with his peasants in the summer sun, as if he is engaged in the very act of recording his thoughts, or what you might call thoughts, but maybe which are potentially the 'space between thoughts.'  (The author recording the thoughts of a man who is thinking, the thoughts of a man who is thinking also about what he is thinking.)  As the writer is recording his thoughts, here caught in the lens of art, he is showing us the methods by which he works, which then become, at least the harbingers of, the deeper more conclusive thoughts to render.  (It is appropriate that we find a fine very early example of stream of consciousness in Anna Karenina, the thoughts of Anna as she goes to the train station to her suicide.)  And maybe just in and of itself, the recording of thought is enough to be a great achievement, by itself, without need of any handed down conclusions.

Interestingly enough, the story of Anna Karenina is about what we do with our thoughts.  Do we take them seriously, at face value?  Or do we step back, seeking a deeper circumspection?  At face value everything is fine and good if our thoughts and mental conclusions about the state of things are good and happy, but what if they are not?  They have the potential to lead us to destruction, indeed.  But, on the other hand, if the thoughts themselves are bad and dark, if we are able to step back from them they are not so harmful.  And if we are in the habit of stepping back from our thoughts, finding space between them and relying more on deeper consciousness without its tendency to constantly label, we step perhaps toward a crucial enlightenment, content once again.  Anna the thinker is left to choose destruction, where Levin seems to take everything in stride and with some patience end up reasonably happy.  Particularly in later works, Tolstoy loved simple stories with a moral (as in 'the moral of the story is...'), and perhaps this is one of them as well.

It is a good feeling to find within an independent confirmation of the Buddha's wisdom, through your own math and calculations, through your own experience and reflection.  The world is enchanted with pleasure, and being part of the world that can happen to you too, before you see your own perpetual dissatisfaction with the outcomes of pleasure-seeking, the creation of more problems.  You want to understand clearly what you are, and then have a way to teach it, to whatever extent you can in whatever form it might take.   And then to finally figure out the root of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, just as the Buddha found, that is a moment of happiness.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If the corporation is, in the eyes of the laws of justice, an individual, then the corporation is subject to the same Buddhist laws concerning the illusion of a distinct self and the truth of interconnectedness of all beings.  McDonald's is a corporation, for profit, its own profits.  But the trash it generates we all have to deal with in the public garbage dump.  The effects of ill health, the sugar, the fried food, the meager nutrition in say its hamburger buns, these too are public costs.  The corporation would like to believe that its own responsibility ends with the happy customer enjoying a cheeseburger, fries and soda.  Its restaurants have their trash bins and bathrooms, and beyond that, its the risks assumed by the consumer who comes of free will, the growing trash pile and teenage diabetes and obese work adult work force not knowing any better but to eat at McDonalds where it is, at least, cheap, convenient and familiar.  I've been a happy patron myself, more or less, and in high school I worked at one myself.

Free enterprise, beautiful system.  And yet, we are all interconnected, and we are finding this out more and more.  Carbon footprints, global warming, health and well-being.
The Buddha achieved Enlightenment after leaving the palace of his father and the pleasured life he led as a child growing up.  It wasn't particularly his own fault that he liked that life of pleasure.  And to his credit, he was curious, inquiring from the first at the signs of impermanence and suffering in the world.

In keeping with cultural differences, here in the West, as major world religions give us the concept of Sin, one passes through to an awakening commonly through prodigal sinning.  It seems a pattern we like somehow.  It gives one credential.  Sin is, of course, a bad thing.  We're really supposed to avoid it in the very first place and be good little boys and girls and stay that way.

But in the same, here, we like the story of "Amazing Grace (...) that saved a wretch, like me..."  We know of addictions, bad behavior, stupidity, poor judgment.  We have the sense that perhaps one does have to fall to the low of the bottom if he truly is to be 'reborn.'  Redemption is a good story, one we like.  Preachers, and the sort, like sin, the sin that leads to, of course, grace.

For the Buddha, the emphasis is on logic and good sense.  Having that lasting sense of the unsatisfactory, as we perceive things to be, we finally realize the source of the error, that being the illusion of a solid self distinct from other things, the ego being the great problem to dispel.  There seems far less carrying on about sins, prodigal passages to hellish bottoms and then to see the light.  To the Buddha, such 'mistakes' are just a  part of life, that we have to go through, for our eventual betterment and even perfection.

Perhaps 'redemption' for the West is the same as the 'awakening' of the East.  In the West, there is more emphasis on the great forgiving.  In the East, the emphasis is on going through karma, eventually, all paths, leading to enlightenment.

Like all individuals who participate directly in such tales, the Buddha had a strong sense of story, a sense of pre-ordainment.  And so when he had finally achieved awakening, nibana, nirvana, while he could have remained in his noble state, he knew that in the same that selflessness is the same as compassion and that therefore it was appropriate for him to go and teach and share his lesson and his wisdom.  To share the peace that he had attained, this seemed to him a suitable job, a task for him to do,  and went and did it, laying down the basics first, explaining, creating, involving in dialog, and keeping the story, as it were, ongoing.  Not easy to do.  And so he was able to make sense of his entire life history.

Here in the West, I suppose, we amiably go along with the program, hang out with such n such, go to work, etc., but all the while, we too have a story, a progression of conclusions to draw from our own behavior and the corrections we might writ upon it all.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Perhaps it is the two glasses of pinot noir from the Kahul region of Moldova, that did not mix well with the Kermit Lynch (who you can always always trust) Corbieres, that lead me feel like I am a prime candidate for Buddhism.  What addictive illusion of the self led me to venture by Russia House while a Bolognese sauce simmered on the stove?  How much damage could I do, the cook thought, and the next day was a crippling headache.  You have to wonder, what do they put in some wines?  What are their methods?  Is this the punishment due from drinking cheap wine (I admit it)?  Well...  YEAH.  duh.  Oh, but it shouldn't have to be that way, one laments as his head throbs with a Chernobyl-like vibe.  (In France, they have very strict laws about all aspects of wine-making.)  And this is also a lesson:  pick one wine, and stick with it, enjoy the godly benefits of marriage.

But yes, surely there must be some illusion, that leads me to think I will find something and the night's return is always low, and the next day a horrible price to pay...  Compassion, a lack of compassion, I think, which is perfectly tied to the illusion of a concrete self.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jesus took naps.  A storm was blowing and there he was, curled up peacefully in the ropes.  What the hell, Jesus?!  Oh, just have some faith.

This is where you get your ideas, the things you'll jot down.  The stuff of thought floats down as you rest, covering you like a fine litter, like leaves or ashes, like archeological bits and pieces, fragmented, unrelated.  You lie there and take it in, the strange things that don't make sense, the things that do make sense, intuitively, perhaps poetically.

Without the influence of a great father who loves you, you would get egotistical, perhaps.  You'd want to win races and conquer other men and women.  The honor involved in a duty would be less important to you.  You wouldn't love things as a loving father had taught you.

But with a good father, you don't forget about anyone.  You love them all, even if it must be a fair and even private love, of the kind found in dreams.   Your love of humanity might make you sad sometimes.  There's not much you can do to help the sick.  You're not one to upbraid them when they are sort of mean to you.  So, yes, from time to time you might walk around a little sad, for not doing a better job helping people, ever wondering how, or of what you should be doing.  You can only be very private about all this.  It can never be said.  You can only help people by being there, by being present in life, even if it is far away and unseen.   Nature is the only real help for them anyway.

Writing is found in an area where the unconscious is permeable.  You find things that don't make a whole lot of sense (as then they would be conscious) and you entertain them.  Maybe they are things that keep you going, as they are interesting, when you are bored and discouraged and no longer know how to put things into words and simply want to take a long nap, as if you were sick and could do nothing else but lie there half-conscious.

You give out your gifts, small gifts, unselfishly, and peacefully, gently, in tune with the nature around you that is always remembered, always sensed, even though it might not seem so.  And people will think their complicated conscious thoughts about such actions as yours and come to the conclusion that you are screwy, a bird, off, not headed in a positive logical economic direction.  And you can never argue with them or refute them, being largely incapable of that.  The great divide between the logical egotist, concerned with the world of society and the being who still manages to be part of nature and the natural world, once a more primary reality... what can you do about it?  Seasons go by, and you try to stay in touch with them with walks in the woods and things like that.  You nap, and things float down upon you the way they are and in half-dreams you sort of piece some sense about or out of them.

Who knows, maybe, what it means.  But you take it as a kind of a job.  Maybe people later on will make sense out of it, be understanding toward your dreams and habits, see something of themselves, as in a thousand years from now, making classical thinkers out of us, or simply understanding something about a humanity which is shared across the ages.

To be honest, you think of people you cannot forget sometimes in such states.  Maybe part of you regrets not imposing an understanding upon them.  Such things make you sad, but there was always the matter of not fitting into the world so smoothly and easily as you would have liked, but that too was why you became a writer, an interpreter of dreams, one who muses and thinks of thoughts that aren't of the nailed-down put-on-the-news kind, a child of "God."

Life, such a disappointment, at least if you set yourself up for that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I am reminded of the history of the written word as I read Stephen Greenblatt's thoroughly enjoyable The Swerve, deserved winner of The National Book Award.  Centuries ago, writing involved parchment.  It was rare and expensive, not for jotting, to be beautifully and painstakingly scribed upon.  It was a different world from ours, no pen and paper, no computer screens through which to share typed script.

And so, the meditative task that writing inherently is, as I might argue, began as religious thought and story (along with early scientific writing and histories), as the clerical organizations were entrusted with parchment and writing technology.  As history and writing progressed, religious story became embellished.  The developments of literature created the form of the morality play to lend presence to the discoveries of inner musings.  Wise people authored themselves into existence, outlining their inner revelations, as Christs and Buddhas.  They were teachers, able to rise above the preoccupations and realities of the day.  They saw broadly and without judgment toward others.

Writing establishes basic human truths.  It touches upon the main issues of life.  Stories and musings explore human psychology.  Whatever forms of writing we would create, the question would evolve, how to achieve a perspective outside, therefore wiser, than our own, in short, how to listen to what is the world telling us, beyond our own limited perspectives.  Writing would explore our highest thinking about the nature of the Ego.

Modern fiction, based in reality, took up, as did Shakespeare, the basic form of the morality play, the forms of myth and story.  Take, let's say, For Whom the Bell Tolls, adventure story set in wartime, but still not far away from the morality tale, characters personifying different attitudes and elements of human nature, as characters in modern times are multi-dimensional if they are to be believable and real to the reader.  Big questions as to what is the cost of Ego and what are the distortions it keeps are given form through character and personification.  On and on...  And any work of literature, say, Sherwood Anderson's stories, or Faulkner, or Tolstoy, that stands the test of time has, of course artfully, the tension of Ego within, as a deeper plot-line, sometimes hidden, as if not to take priority from more evident and palpable tension, but always there if you look for it with some sensitivity.

And so, perhaps for similar reasons as were involved due to the scarcity of writing materials and forms of paper, to garner the attention of readership, the basic exercise of writing--which is deeply meditative and not unrelated to things like yoga, along with other forms of art--had to have a plot, tension, characters, so as to have a raison d'être, so to be entertaining enough for the general readership fond of story and oral tradition.  So that it could then eventually all boil over and be placed on TV, ha ha.  The progression on up, or backwards, to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ would only be logical, as if led by forces similar to those of the digestive tract.

Because of the inherent nature in writing, a million poets have sprung up, something perhaps anticipated in the East, reverent toward form, forms like the haiku, like the expressive form of the Tao, an emphasis on nature, on 'wisdom,' less on the individual practitioner and personality.  In the Western world of the individual, each person feeling capable enough of writing may launch individual attempts to gain perspective.   Perhaps it is necessary for basic sanity for the individual to give a take on the egotistical things we all can get carried away with, to provide an acknowledgement of our own sins and imperfections.  ("Headpiece filled with clay," as Eliot puts it.)

And so, our jobs, those places where we put up our egos to be subsumed if we are to act effectively... a lesson in politics, a lesson in life...  are a natural source for musings on paper, an exercise away from the usual discussions which are allowed in the situations.  Take the restaurant business, the basic fact of waiting on someone, bound to school one on Ego and to even encourage an amount of egolessness.

Great moments of literature take us here, as in the speech of the ghost of Hamlet's father elucidating upon his sins in life, standing out in the play, before we deal with the egotistical sins of the usurping brother, before bringing on the paradoxes furthered by Hamlet's own ego's attempts to bring justice to the matter, the creation of yet more living and present sins and sorrows.  The tension within Shakespeare, that it was all a great misunderstanding, certain parties abetting the misunderstanding through distortion, certain parties helping us toward the truth, the ego-free purity of the innocent, the recognizable quality of those who fall into the trap of misunderstanding, the punishment of the virtuous, makes him readable to the ages.  Lear and Cordelia are never far from us, even if we have a bias that we've thought of everyone fairly and thoroughly, a habit of media belief and righteousness, that we like to pin things down in order to feel calm and sane.  In truth, a great misunderstanding might be far more prevalent than we would think given our advancements.

Who have we ourselves judged?  What patterns of egotistical thought have we fallen into?  What illusions do we subscribe to in order to not feel a great loneliness?  What lamentable habits have we allowed?  What poor gentle beings have we unintentionally snubbed?  How to get out of it all but by some all-encompassing and present forgiveness of sins of the very kind salvation preaches, a day we all forgive ourselves and other people for acting, not so much out of any real fault or intention, like jerks?  How can one escape the great sadnesses caused by human stupidity and loneliness itself, without a great act of forgiveness spanning the globe?  What way to tell people, 'no, you were just seeing things incorrectly, and it wasn't your fault?'

Redemption, what else would we ask for?

(What would happen, one wonders, if we were ego-free?  What would we be like if we were 'self-less' and virtuous?  What would that look like as far as the individual first fitting into the economy and maintaining himself?  If a corporation were so staffed with ego-free people, what would that corporation achieve, and would it continue to exist and how?  How could you portray people and life with all other issues that people, normally selfish, must occupy themselves with subsumed?)

You get through the week, sleep it off, start the household chores and grocery lists.  You wonder, what a freedom from the ego would entail in this life.   How would you interact with other people?  Would you be preachy?  Would you lead by subtle example?  After it was all done, you might take a moment to write a few things down, to see where you came out.  Scratch the head, light some incense, take in some peace, but knowing deep down that there are other duties.

Friday, October 5, 2012

An inventory of missed thoughts.

In Platonov's story Amongst Animals and Plants, a whole lifetime of the experience of communing with nature and walking in forests distilled in a few fine passages.  It seems one rarely has a chance to write about nature in such a way given how stories must be told.  In those passages, the depths of all stories, which is why we are drawn to them.

I get through the work week.  Mom's train is running late.  I stop for a salad at Simple Green.  There is, of course, an attractive young woman a few tables away, but somehow I feel down, traumatized, an irrational fear of a sharp harsh reaction to innocent friendliness.  Which sounds too stupid to mention.  After a certain number of years bar tending, being an oddball, out of synch with the normal I feel, I don't know, ineligible, that it would take a unique person and unique circumstances to make a relationship possible, given my job, my hours...  It's a pained realization to stare at.  And all that friendliness, that has some outlet engaging with people at work at the bar, sitting unused, by myself while the town is lively with Thursday night.

The best of thinking happens--and this is a Buddhist notion--in the spaces of awareness that are free of the ongoing commentary and ceaseless flow of thoughts, in the spaces in between.  And this applies to political thinking too, along with literary thinking.  I wish Kirkus book reviewers thought so, but, they must take their jobs as critics to have the explicit and defined thoughts which have already been thought so that they may be applied, preexisting terms handed down over a work, judging it, when doing so entirely misses the point.

And here is this Romney, channeling the Ronald Reagan playbook of looking affable, optimistic, determined, full of answers, critical, playing the blame game, and doing the old trick of telling people what they want to hear so that they respond in their infantile way.  Then going on to act as if he is The Conscience of the Entire Universe, shooting straight from his belief systems, as if lighted by a glorious inner Cheney.  He's campaigning.

And the President continues to be a nice guy.  Though one wonders what a second Clinton administration, one more realistic about the nitty gritty of politics, shorn of idealism, would have looked like.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It had gotten to the point where my iPhone 3 would no longer return to the main screen from each separate function.  I'd waited long enough, and finally iPhone 5 came.  The monkey mind had even looked forward to it.  No, come to find out, turning it on was not an awesome experience of 2001 A Space Odyssey, the black tablet, the strange rectangle in space one could enter other realms through...  In fact, as the set up might have clearly warned, I, bearer of said monkey mind always thinking about something, find myself disappointed somehow.  Oh, don't get me wrong, it's sleek and everything, and it works, and the screen for perusing the New York Times web page is certainly sharper, quicker, and far more easily manipulated.

Hmm.  Well, maybe it's some problem with being new to iCloud.  Go and download some software updates.  Synch new phone in meantime.

At least I was up at a reasonable hour, and so did a decent yoga routine.  That is good.

In the meanwhile, the same stream of thoughts come through.  The same need to meditate, to acknowledge the brief open spaces between the thoughts, allowing room, room for some other way of thinking that is calmer.

Yes, technology...

It took turning it off, and then, and only then did it join with the LTE network.  The earplugs work, the music works again.  I just need a case for it.

So, it turns out to be a fine device after all.  Now, to get used to the protective case.

Long anticipation, joy, followed by let-down, followed by an appreciation based on realism...  Yes, follow the Middle Path, as Buddha said.  Neither starve yourself, nor be a glutton.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The NY Times Anxiety blog, I can relate to.  Traumatized by certain aspects of college, yes, I abandoned the idea that life was all about being happy.  Academia, as much as I felt at home, I guess I could see that the way it was going, it wouldn't really work for me, and so, yes, by definition, my life would never really be all that happy.  I am not part of the stylish regime that took over the humanities, and nor am I disposed to fit in with the micro litmus tests of science.  Paint me as the palooka that I am. Can't keep up with the latest self promoters, and of course, to even say that is absolutely horrible, stone age, and a huge sign...  that I am not as bright and astute a cultural critic.  Relegate me to the Neanderthals.  I don't deny a common brotherhood with any thinking of any sort, but it just seems, wow, things are made pretty complicated right off the bat, if you enter into the modern dialectic of post deconstructionist so that we are to question our very sexual identity.

If you've had any experience dealing with people, not just telling them from on high what they should be doing, how they should think, you'll quickly discover an entire spectroscopy of human shades, quite as if each seed of humanity produced, indeed, an entirely different and unique individual, of course.  That goes without saying.

Well, my laboratory is a neighborhood restaurant bar.  Sort of like a duck blind, but of course the blind part is instantly gone.  Yes, quickly, very quickly, you are one person, dealing with other people.  This is the water in which we swim, and yes, swimming is what we do.  It is the root of community, the root of politics, the root of tribal belonging, of neighborhood, of basically the deepest friendships you are allowed finally.

Each night, then, resembles something of a performance, on all parts, on the part of all players.  If you are in the right sort of bar the relationships are far more on the real side, even if just in passing, then the artifice.  The performance, being live, takes a lot of energy, an engagement of six hours.

And so, that scholar, fallen from the academy, dives each time into the unknown, and people come, complete strangers, people you've known for years.  A light goes on, it's live 'TV', and life is shared, as people need to share.  I am touched by what my friends from the years share with me.  Breast cancer, a coming operation followed by chemotherapy.  And when people can share, though it might not help the  bottom line directly, though it does, I can sense I'm doing something right.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The secret to life, perhaps, is obscurity.  Think of it.  How many artistic people, people sensitive to the arts, are there, first of all.  That means, let's just assume for the sake of argument, that if you achieve something in the field of arts, of an artistic nature that is somehow simply fine and good in its own right,   sensitive to life as art should be, must be, that if you make something that is art, there will not be but more than a very few out there to actually receive it, given that the other artistic people of the world will probably be engaged, engaged either in their own survival, or in the appreciation of art, or in the making of art themselves, or in simply, perhaps stupidly and haphazardly, enjoying some form of relaxation be it of mindfulness or less so of mind.  (This too, of course, is intelligent, a renewal, a grist for the mill found in random and rhythm.  Einstein knew well enough the source of his own creativity, something like goofing off and daydreaming out windows.)

And think of it again.  How much art is there now, given that there are many people on the face of the earth.  Even to catch up with the essentials of the history of art would take years, and then add on top of that the ever volcanic cascade of current art, dubious or not, satisfying the style of a time, that must be kept up with, an ever more complicated situation, increasingly complicated by the strangeness of the tastes offered through friendship.  If, say, you were to come across a person sensitive to the arts, and by some incredibly rare circumstance that one person were to read, take in, listen, comprehend, absorb some form of art you had helped create, get the culture behind it so that the great embarrassment fraught in such dealings would be minimized such so that the encounter happens on the same planet, if by some miraculous circumstance such were to happen, it would be startling and pleasant all at once.

Dear reader, so many, thousands of millions of us, and each of us is by birth entitled to making art, enjoying the creativity of life.  But what if we all, say, 5 percent of us, or 1 percent, or, put a decimal and zeroes in front and go to an even smaller group, were to write, or paint, or make music, how many of us remaining would there be to find the raised questions posed to be so deep that would warrant attention from our own individual spheres of consciousness?

But who does one have time for now?   Beethoven?  The Beatles?  A glass of wine?  Abraham Lincoln?  Kundera?  All, one shrugs, a matter of taste.  And yet, where does taste come from?  From the ghosts that inhabit the lives we lead?

But the match.  The match between, let us just say, two people.  Both artists, both in a relationship, the relationship of writing which is reading and reading which is writing, of listening that is music and music that is listening, of standing and being seen and seeing and standing in a background that is relational and of the same flesh.

Point being, that a great artist is one ready for the match and capable of maintaining the relationship, and that all he/she has created is the making of his/her own attachments back through life and into the reader who is, of course, living and quite alive and dealing with life in all its baffling frightful joyful business, tedium, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Our time is saved for those who are widely popular, living and dead.  They have told, are telling, the myths we need in a complete enough ever unfolding way.  They are a reference book for the living of life, and each small act of art helps us in our journeys immensely.  We could indeed jump in to the middle of the river of art, and find that which greatly sustains.  We wouldn't even need to look for anything new, not bother ourselves with the current fashions, as fashions merely repeat and reiterate and exist only to delineate a style, an in group of knowers opposed to those lagging, even though we all know basically that its the same stuff reinvented, digested, offered up in new form but, the same.

In life, we take a chance on a friend, on a reading, on an evening, on a story, on a thought, on a song, on a peek at the newspaper, or a browsing of movies offered through cable TV.  Sometimes, we connect.  Sometimes we are in the mood particular to take in, say, The Shining.  To pay attention to the living creator, to wade in, I would say that is probably an act of sainthood, high, I mean, wild and organic in the sense of nature having its own ways.

When we are all dead, then it's probably a lot easier.  "Oh, that is a good book, that one," someone will say, long after us, though we know not their future judgments.  "I like Beethoven, and Mozart, and I also like Fauré, and Stravinsky."  But yet, there is a part of us that knows, that we must send up our own little shoots, and do what little we can, even if it falls short a bit.  That is within our nature and in our will to survive, digesting life through things like words and memory.

Do we now, in our own time, have the right or the duty to create, yes, no, maybe?  Saying we do, we know it not to be taken lightly.

Something worth looking at:  "Dead Horse of Confederate Colonel; both killed at Battle of Antietam," by Alexander Gardner, a photograph belonging to the Library of Congress, and written about in
DISUNION September 24, 2012, 12:30 PM

The Dead of Antietam