Tuesday, July 31, 2012

""He's not a nice person, he's a *******," HI is telling me at 9:45 on a Wednesday Jazz Night at Bistrot.

We've just got busy again.  The Italian couple has come upstairs.  Gray and elegant, with spectacles, Mr. Italian Diplomat, who once revealed to me the necessity not for a post-prandial walk but for, rather, a nap, for the good of the heart, comes over to shake my hand in particular.  We share a few quick laughs about the Tour de France.  "The Italian guy didn't win," each word separate just right, from Mr. Diplomat.  We joke of how we all used to smoke here upstairs at the Wine Bar.

And a three top, more traffic, for dessert back in the wine room.  The order is in for food, three entrees, for the band, singer, guitar, bass.  And then a couple comes in, a former semi-regular to the wine tasting, known as a kind of weird sort of taster but never really ordering more than a single glass of wine, with his date.  Not seen them in a  while.  Getting busy, all of a sudden, at the end, when it's been kind of a evenly slow slog all night long.

Busy things to attend to.  We are full still, and added on to, at the bad time of dessert.  The kitchen, a floor below us, reached through passing through the entire length of the main dining room, has gotten sluggish, inconsistently attentive.  They want to clean up and go home.  Water will soon be poured on the tile floor.  HI is busy.  This, that.  Busier with ten minutes to kitchen close.

HI:  You can go wait on cock******.

And a few minutes later.  HI:  "Give them tastings.  Give them 5, 6 tastings.  Give them all they want!" he says, shouts, really, with a raised voice, staring at me, sweaty face, through wire framed glasses, staring at me again.  The boss comes by, hears this, takes a bread basket and olive oil back to the office, a hint of a shrug, but not getting involved, no, not at all.

Gomer, the busboy:  "what's up with HI."  Tone of a statement.  We share a small chuckle.  "Fuck, what did I do?" emphasis on the I, I wink to Gomer, not really wink, but some form of short hand that when you do is just a whole body thing.

Over to table of longtime customer, referred to as c.s. by HI, who has dealt with him in my absence, and reached said conclusion.  "Hey, what's up, what's going on.  Good to see you, my brother.  Yeah, got up to my 25th college reunion, train goes right up there."  I go back to the bar and bring them three tastings, a pinot noir, a Languedoc, and a Bordeaux.  Mr. P is usually a Bordeaux fan.  He probably has something to do with aircraft.  He has a family up outside of NYC.  He is in good shape.  A smart guy.  A guy worth talking to on personal level.  Like mine, his favorite wines are from the Languedoc.

"Meet my friend, Wes.   Ted here, now if you come in 5 months from now, Ted will remember your name and everything about you."

Wes, how you doing, nice to meet you man.  What did you guys do for the Fourth?

"Oh, we had a family reunion, in Chicago, and we had a little pool for the kids.  Hot, it was hot.  60 people by."

HI still fuming, getting worse maybe.  Glass of sauterne, glass of lbv port, out of Juran├žon, an Armagnac VSOP.  Coffee, a decaff cappuccino, two espresso.  A bottle of sparkling water.  Clear the appetizer plates on table 54.  Bread for the coming cheese plate on 60 back in the wine room.  All the last customers from the dining room have come upstairs for dessert it seems, at an uneasy time.

The pinot is a hit with Mr. P.  HI looks at me.  The squirrelly cheapo wine taster, HI shouts at me, will have three tastes, one of the Corbieres, one of the Ventoux, and the Malbec.  This too is all my fault.  Ted the Enabler.  Special Treatment.  Give the house away.  They won't even order any wine.  HI is almost about to point at me with his finger, as if to say, 'you, you...' Yup, it's all my fault.  Free wine tasting Ted.

"I can't stand that guy.  Really, he's not a nice person."  I have explained, I think, to HI, that Mr. P's great second cousin made an important astronomical discovery in 1922 from an observatory in New Mexico.

I bring the two glasses of wine over to Wes and Mr. P., who've already had dinner, so we don't have to deal with that, cool.

I ask Mr. P. how the kids?

"They're good."  Mr. P, as calm as could be.  That's all it takes.  About ten words, a question

"Are you watching the Tour?"

Conversation ensues,  a fellow road biker, the history of doping, the joy, the beauty of the sport, and both of us, Mr. P and I, have been back riding again lately.  He on a LeMond, a sweet bike, me, Cannondale or Bianchi depending.

I've come to learn about them over the years, in the absence of a particular waitress with a low voice to match, about the kids, about what they eat, when on vacation, what dad cooks for them.

"We have a neighbor, an older woman who lives by herself, right next door, with a beautiful swimming  pool.  She's invited us over...  once, maybe, in the ten years we've been there.  So every summer, I inflate the little kiddie pool next to our house on her side.  This year it's a dragon, so when I put the hose through the dragon shoots water and the kiddies go nuts.  And I tell them to scream, yell as loud as they can, as we look over the fence at the swimming pool that never gets used."

I smile, and enjoy that.  I get that.  And Mr. P is a good friend, a good heart, once you make the effort to know him.

"That's cool, man," I say, to Mr. P.  And to Wes, I say, "This man knows me better than I know myself."  Smiles all around.  Wine is a great thing to bring people together, if for but a moment.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone.

Disclaimer:  HI, fictionally, completely fictive, is a nice guy.  A dear friend, actually.  A good person, un comrade.

The Tao has an elegant way of putting things.  This includes its opening, its first verse (if that's what it's called.)

My own sense of it, it goes something like this, and I'm reading, or enlightened to the particular subtlety through the excellent Penguin Classics version translated by D.C. Lau, a venerable, obviously, scholar of Chinese Philosophy.  And I will simply quote it directly.

     The nameless was the beginning of earth and heaven;
     The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
     Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
     But always allow yourself  desires in order to observe its manifestations.

Interesting.  Let's take wine, for example, not exactly one of the myriad creatures, but a product of nature just the same.  In order to observe the manifestations of the range of wine, yes, you must allow yourself a measure of gastronomical desires, to gain a sense of the great mystery.  But, also, we are called upon to rid ourselves of desires toward wine, in order to observe the great secrets of its creation.  So, a yin and yang, desire and non-desire, manifestation, secrets beyond manifestation.

How do you read this?  One involves the gratification of ego, and the other the deep consciousness, the awareness within.  And, perhaps, there is a subtle leaning toward the necessity of the latter, after having observed the manifestations.  I mean, if you're going to be a philosopher and comprehend all there is to comprehend.

The Ted Treatment, that's what we came to our 3 o'clock meeting on a Monday to talk about.   It all started, this time around, with a guy who just is trouble.  You're nice to him, it works for awhile, but then suddenly, one day, unpredictably, the guy, let's call him Tony, a telecom exec, drives a Mercedes or a Porsche, or both, nothing against him, turns into an asshole, meaning, an egotist.

Okay, and then all the blame, comes my way.  "Oh, Ted must have been treating him well, buying him drinks, yes, Ted buys a lot of drinks, let's people taste wine, so much that they don't buy any."  And then another co worker, who's habitual hardiness and hangover I put up with, pipes in and renders, "four half glasses of wine on the table, and some more, and nothing on the check."  Which I consider an exaggeration.

You sit around on a slow night, with nothing going on, and try to entertain.  You do this for several years.  In    the     same    place     .

Proposed solutions from the negotiating International Team.   A charge, servers choice, 3 wines.  On the menu.

I could just shrug.  Just trying to entertain.  People bring in wine questions, preferences that need the shrink.

Well, so much for trying to do your job.

Oh, here's a nice BMW ad.  A military jet tanker refueling plane drops down to pour coffee for your driver of latest BMW.     Apparently fuel is an infinite resource if you have the money to buy a nice motorcar.

Two days later, couple comes in, used to the basic treatment, taste what we got.  "No, sorry, no more special treatment.  We had a meeting," I tell the guy.  "Everyone was down on me.  Everyone gets treated the same."  I made no effort to save them two bar seats on wine tasting night.  That would be special treatment.  Finally, after making plans at Equinox, the two seats become available.  They order dinner.  And a 2001 Haut Brion.  Of which they make sure to share with staff and fellow customer.

I get home finally, after setting the boss up to do inventory in the cleanest way possible.  Group like things together.  And I have here a simple gift from Bruno, the chef himself. which took the same foresight and sensitivity one might not attribute him, but which makes for a decent restaurant.  One of the simplest and most respectful gifts I've ever gotten from a boss, totally quiet.  Incense sticks, more or less.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm beginning to observe that modern technology, the cell phone, the internet screen, the television, brings us enormous distraction, feeding our egos, interfering with our need for simple clean innate consciousness.  Ego enabling.  Addictive.  Really not good for the human being.  Detaching, through heavy us, something vital and stabilizing and sensitive to the Universe.

"Oh but look, look at all it can do.  How could one live without it?"  Ego ye seek, and Ego ye shall find.  The invasive species upon our true minds.

I would know.  I'm as much an addict as anyone else.  But just that there is another way to see the whole problem.  As wiser writers than I have said, all those thoughts and forms that comprise the Ego, that's not who we basically are.  Just a bit hard to get around it.

Well, okay, a necessary state in our evolution, the ego stuff.  So that we could go beyond.

Friday, July 27, 2012

For anyone who has looked over a long period at the photographic record of Abraham Lincoln, there is the question, what do I see in him, what do you see in him.  There are the accounts of how he had to sit still for a good deal more than an instant, propositions that having to do so makes him coming out looking sleepy or detached, far away in his own space.  And yet in a good many of him, he is right there.  There is a palpable electricity coming out of him, as if we were to feel the atomic level energy field whirring within him, attuned to something, powerfully aligned.  And so I ask myself, what is it that I see, at gut level, when I look at his airy fellow who means so much to history American, not in the least, the self-made man with an early love of books and knowledge, who somehow cultivated himself so well.

And the conclusion I come to, at this point in my own life, neither here nor there, is that we see in Lincoln something remarkable.  We see an absence, to the extent it is granted to mortals, and to mortals in high offices, a clarity, a removal of the ego, of the beam in the eye.  A state of egoless-ness.  And because of this, in each and every one of his pictures, there is something organic, a bit different, a little bit of playfulness, and certainly of not being attached to this particular place and time, though of course, 'I am.'  It let him focus.  It let him do the right thing.  It let him hide, and wait it out to the next round.  And it let him make, from his small letters to his big ones, from the debates of houses divided to addresses on portions of battlefield and dead men, on hopes and prayers, in a way quite singular and unknown throughout history--who knows what Vercingetorix had to say--a strangely important and powerful example of putting one's foot down for the morally right thing to do.

And yet, the poor fellow has been co-opted, quite often probably, a symbol up for definition.  Or, to put it another way, we might gather that a large part of his significance is not well-understood.  And he is misunderstood if we think all his goodness and wisdom and acts came from ego-based purely rational thought.

However, let's just say, or rather wonder, or think, or have a fantasy, that if he were alive today, he would read Bill McKibben's article in Rolling Stone Magazine of August 2 about the state of the planet, global warming and greedy egos of the major oil corporations, Exxon, BP, Shell, who, blinded by profit, and even full of scientific understanding, go right ahead with the profiteering that will lead to great destruction and doom on the planet.  Lincoln, he would be up for such a challenge.  He would have grasp of the great issue of the day.  He would have focus, and he would put his foot down.

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war, might speedily pass away."  He would take take this battle to everyone's living rooms.

This, definitely, is an issue, he, were he here today, would take up, as it revolves around the fault of greediness leading people to commit great and actual harm.  A moral battle, one hard to fight in the current time.  Consider how recently Dick Cheney, pride of the oil industry, champion of the many tentacles Halliburton, himself enough of an egotistical creature to have someone else's heart put in him, had such an influence to shape policy for share holders and believers.

--A House Divided, a speech, a phrase, very close to identifying the civic problem of the egotistical.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tales of This Week:

It's ended with a beautiful blowing light summer deep night breeze, the kind where you see stars again, even in a small backyard in Washington, DC.  You are home from your last shift of the week, famous Wednesday night Jazz at Bistrot de la Rue de la Upstairs de la Wine Bar de la poor bastard who works for little money but has the Chance to Learn about wine.  In poverty, and good hard work to keep from your hands being idle, comes spirituality, and a gift.

Man, chart the ups and downs, the zigs, the zags, the whoa!, the hail mary, the my god I gotta go home and listen to a few Pogues songs and wear out the last of this beauty of the Universe that is the night, the time of artist, the time of communion, the time of dreams and poetry, the time you kiss your little cat, so glad that she is with us still in this wonderful flowing hair-raising river that is always a beach, always a storm, always a forest, on firm ground, even in fixed daily drudge time, always a river, a great estuary, and this perhaps is the main reality of our lives here as we feel them actually, wondering all the while, what to do with ourselves.

It's a pure job, I would imagine, as all jobs are meant to be pure.  It's just a matter of seeing what is, what it is, that is pure, that is pure which you commune with.  It's a matter of twisting the dial (once you get warmed-up) and tuning in to whatever can be tuned into.

In this way, art is seen as that which happens when we vibrate in tune with the Universe.  And art, therefore, can have many modes.  One reason why, of course, we praise musical variety, variety of cuisine, of literature.

But let me tell you, seriously, when you vibrate in sort of how to say simpatico with the great Universe, a lot of neat things happen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My co-workers, they often blame me, as if I invented humanity and human behavior, as if I were responsible for a good portion of the 'difficult people' who come, as if they had come by my special invitation, the customers, the ones who come and say, when it's obvious I'm not there, a rude thing to do, 'where's Ted,' regulars, as we say. ( They do present a burden, the burden of making conversation.)

I'm not there.  They don't get the best service, for one reason or another, and they make it known.  Justly, or probably unjustly, they complain.  Their egos have come out, and apparently feel they have been shorted somehow, and the one person, it seems, who could disarm their egos through his own study of the matter is not around.

And so a sort of bickering arises.  'Ted gives special treatment, lets people taste any and all wines they want, cuts them deals that we don't do.'  The usual talk that goes around the workplace.  Oh, Ted's people.  Ted's people who suddenly feel slighted even as they are getting perfectly good and normal service.  He works the slow nights, who knows what he does, what he promises, what he, basically, gives away.

And the latest incident of this leaves me up at 5:17 in the morning troubled by all this.  The regular who comes in with his wife, who got so upset about the service he received one night that he went downstairs to seek out the manager with complaints about everything.  100$ check comped.  "the food was awful, the service was terrible, etc., etc."  And what do I want to do now really the next time he comes in but show up at his table with a bowl of soapy water, dip my hands in, rub them, dry them with a towel, hold out clean hands and say, 'bro, I don't know you anymore.'  Maybe my coworkers are right, on certain levels.  Maybe my tolerance is too high.

I've always sensed that it is foolish to enter into confrontation and childish things.  There are certain people in the world who aren't into ego, and humanity needs such people.  The customers come, and before the inner light, they are calmed, and find their own inner light, or at least so might you think, a Tolstoy on a good day.

But my coworkers at the old bistro do not always see it that way.

Tao Lesson to be learned:  Never show up to work in a good mood.
(sound of gong in background)

"Here Comes Everybody," accordionist James Fearnley's book about the Pogues, brings across a MacGowan condemned to his own private hell and sleeplessness.  I have no doubts about that, but his music is amongst the most calming I know.

There is a place for kindness, beyond whatever roles we are stuck in.

Monday, July 23, 2012

And who, or what, bought all the ammo to be shown off at the Batman movie?  The ego.  And kids are subjected to nothing but that.  Guns don't kill people (yeah, right.)  People buy guns, I suppose that's fair enough, but ultimately it is the Ego within them that decides, like putting trust in a crazy person, what to do with them.

Video games do not have checks on the Ego that I know of.  Movies, the old ones, they used to, being morality tales.  If you paid attention, maybe you learned something.  Rock n roll, the Stones, are bad enough at enchanting everyone, making them stupid, lazy, looking for their own self-satisfaction, even illicit as humans.  But then it got worse, a video game showing a world for ego's actions to run rampant.

Guns?  They shouldn't be allowed, if one really understood all the risks.  But the NRA, and so many, just too egotistical, and necessarily entrenched in their own egos and the all-knowing judgments of such, to even get it, not in the slightest.

The national curse that came with democracy?  No, just a cynical misuse of human life.

From the Mitchell translation of the Tao Teh Ching, from the handy Wayist.Org website:

 Music or the smell of good cooking may make people stop and enjoy. 
35.3 But words that point to the Tao seem monotonous and without flavour. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

Food for thought.

I have stood at the bar late at night and listened to lesser minds, made rich and confident by business dealings in software ventures with wise-sounding names attached to them (like 'Avatar,' or 'Guru,' bla bla bla, and confident in knowledge of fine Bordeaux) speak confidently about David Foster Wallace, as if they were Douglas, about 'what was wrong with him.'  The barman's own fault, for not  getting rid of them before the last egotistical wine bottle.  (He doesn't notice his peers, specially imported, say 'like,' as part of speech as a teenage would, 'he went, like, xxx, and then I was, like, yyy, and then she says, like, zzz...'  On top of being boring, aggressive and unfriendly, not to mention arrogant--where do you find these people?)  Mr. Wallace never got rich, never reached a sense of security, but yet he made a lasting contribution to the world, to humanity, to letters, any way you want to slice it, in a way you never will.  No, he did not get business school rich.  No, he did not do that.

(No, it's not quite the same inspiration as Yeats' Easter 1916.)
The 2012 Tour de France has come to a finish.  Like the riders, I am a bit glad.  The commercials, the hype.  Released from my duties, I can now google my torturers, in particular the songs attached to the latest Michelob Ultra ad and the new Spicy McChicken McBites (I did my high school duty of putting on the blue polyester and flipping more than my share of 20 billion hamburgers.)  Strangely enough, finding them finally on YouTube, the songs, independent of the same scenes I've been stuck watching as I wait for the next view of the Pyrenees, aren't that bad, and my spite has left.  I guess it was the set-up of the commercials, the egotistical quality, a lack of humor.  Bob Roll shined in his.

After three weeks, less than that, I stopped watching.  At my age, it's not the race, the 'who wins' sort of thing.  Lance Armstrong must have coincided with my own need for some grandiose egotism, I suppose, but, to be fair, also my great joy that the Tour de France was finally being covered on television, so that on a daily basis, you could see them actually going up roads you've read about in Tour mythology.  It's an amazing job they do, primarily the pictures brought to you by French TV, via helicopter and motorcycle and satellite.  And good news:  France is not overspread by suburban sprawl and landscapes flattened by lights as you would see them in webs from airplanes while thinking of a Larkin poem about vanishing English countryside.  There is the countryside, and small farming operations, and villages with the church in the center, and some form of castle fortress up on high ground, often worn down by the elements.  France is a treasure, preserved by agriculture and certainly vineyards, its share of mountains and rugged streams, rolling hills, estuaries.  Houses built to last, form meets function, simple, golden rectangle.  It's the background of a movie.  And the star of the movie is one person on a bike.  Yes, there are teammates, favorites, stars, notables, the domestique, but it boils down to one rider,  an anonymous ideal but regular person with two legs who looks comfortable on the thing (and without too much ego and vanity), I think they generally look the sort of cool that you can stand, as they do their jobs, unlike, say, the person  you see walking down the street in your own little city neighborhood who is certain of their own coolness (give me a break, I didn't know you were a fancy movie star, an unattainable paragon of all that is stylishly distinctive and beautiful, apparently so very rich as the .01 %.)  A person on a bike.  It's pretty simple.  And incredible, I mean, in the good old way we used to say, 'that's incredible.'

Did the commercials serve that one little Ulysses on a bike, or whoever he or she is, at the center of the roaded landscape, that one person blurred into the wearers of the different jerseys and the, I dunno, 160 or 170 individuals who start the race and hopefully finish?  Oh, probably not.  But then, the Tour always will be, always has been, a parade, a convoy of fun commercial stuff.

This year, we got Mich Ultra (sans the beleaguered Lance Armstrong, but hitting golfballs and going to the same sort of parties, after playing hard, same attitude as he, why be so disloyal to him?), and spicy mc-whatever ( feed them to your chihuahua, if not your vaguely ethnic lady friends), what else?

Except for Bob Roll and Road ID ( an actual useful product for cyclist, especially given the egotistical I-don't-give-a-shit, in-fact-I'm-happy-to-try-to-hurt-you for the sake of the deregulated road type of driver taking a cue from, hmm, where...) the commercials beckon a crumbling empire, a willing fakeness, boredom, a lack of intellectual curiosity.  Or, perhaps they are just jarring, set against a hundred year old bike race that seemingly goes back to the poor Cathars.  That is, one gathers, what to expect from a culture so bombarded with the latest thing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Perhaps it was metaphorical from them as well, going down into the caves to make their animal paintings.  They would have been leaving, even then, the world of words, the forms and logic of the ego behind, in the fire-lit darkness meditating in a way to reach the simple awareness of consciousness.  Dreams and reality they painted.  In the cave they were clear of the excess of thoughts and concerns.  They were close to nature, a part of it, again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My idea for a musical:

Shane MacGowan sings Pogues songs, both with band, and quietly by self.  Lives.  Talks about spiritual things, Zen code, Joyce, literary history, meaning of songs.

That's all it takes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Showing up.  It's always a good thing in the restaurant business.  That's what you do. ( The subsidiary of that being, that's what a waiter is;  you wait.  you stand there.)  And you know, it's a marvelous exercise.  A good training ground.  Go up on a small stage, all at face level, while engaged in a carefully arrayed set of activities that must respond to a flow, and talk to people.  Entertain.  Advise.  Serve.  Listen.  Enjoy.

Wine, a custodian of our thoughts.

The laws of physics allow us to draw portraits.

'Who's Very Important?'  NY Times  Krugman nails it again.

The sickness of egotism, the self important in a frenzy to elect a tax cheat as President...  What says, 'I don't give a crap,' any better?  Ahh, but he was a winning smile.

Add to this "The Rush to Abandon the Poor," 17 July Editorial in the NY Times.  Ever since Reagan, politicians (hard core Republican) have decided not to help people, not do the right thing by them, hurt them when they are vulnerable.  Which has moved the other side, Democrats and whoever else on up the liberal spectrum into higher thought, into their own self-created black hole (where money is sucked out of the general normal honest work life and into the hands of the .01 percent), pulled away from their own basic idea of service to humanity at a good price through enlightened thinking and generosity and poetic thinking, so that they also have to deal with rich stuffed pro-deregulators, slowly losing their own high ground.  Ever since Reagan, Republicans have become obstructionist, not just in the race of the election campaign, but in everything they touch (except of course for one thing, though I can't say what that is exactly, as I am not as well tuned to the center of their dark atomic gravity.)  It has become their knee jerk reaction, and they like to be good at it.  NOTE:  There are good Republicans, who don't fall into this, I would imagine.

The ego was a later development long after humanity was up and running.  The results of this have been a bit mixed, taking everything into consideration.  Sure, it's done some good, somewhere, this invention of the implanted ego.

Earlier, there was awareness, there was consciousness.  And this helped people not get too worried about going out and hunting and food gathering.  (News, such as we know it, wasn't necessary.)  People generally found themselves far less confused and more in a natural state about how to go about living.  Relationships were egoless, but for a few instinctive basics.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Like any art form writing is an attempt at authenticity, to reach the awareness that is beyond and independent from the ego.  It is not an easy thing to do, until it becomes an easy thing to do.  There are many forms of ego encountered along the way.  The Universe has need of authenticity, just like we need plankton in the ocean here on Earth, and so it sprouts forth evolutionary attempts at it, with success on different scales, simple humble garden variety type efforts like yours and mine.

The authenticity comes to be more important than the art of the form.  Kundera might well be concerned about literature strangling itself off through its impossible proliferation, everyone a writer now, no longer any way to navigate in all the clutter.  But he might well applaud the efforts within to save humanity and the world from killing itself off through egotistical acts, to find the simple plain consciousness within.

The act of literature, to celebrate a place that still has a relationship with nature, let's say, or to portray a relationship that is real, not a convention of societal roles and psychological complexes. or even a simple moment of authenticity, is, as it always was, more important than, or rather the ultimate source of, its form and its inherent quality to thence be debated by people who must bother over the less important features of a manifestation.

As I go to my job, of course I too have danger of falling into inauthenticity and ego.  I can fall into a role, or feel its imagined consequences, putting on the role of a Chekhovian lackey, or being stuck in my role as 'wine guy,' or 'server,' or 'bartender.'  Perhaps inevitable, to some extent, less and less I hope.  And this is a battle we all face in all aspects of our lives, so I think it bears mentioning.  For the good of the world, I am beyond that, more than simply that, or at least striving to be.  I will defend a restaurant as being a place that allows some relationships that are real and authentic as much as those not.

Egos are defeated, short circuited, put aside, often by non-engagement, by simple noticing and awareness, more than direct confrontation, it seems.  If you don't engage your own, you stand a chance to diffuse the workings of another.

Friday, July 13, 2012

There is a large house, a mansion you might call it, toward the top of a hill where I go cycling not far away.  It was built within recent memory, an ostentatious castle of a structure, grandly landscaped, such that a neighbor once shared a speculation that something was buried beneath a certain mound toward its rear.  Its steep lines and broad turret tower over the last ramps of the hill I climb.  Its high walls are faced with stone.

During a recent storm a strong wind came through along with driving rains and thunder and lightning.  Great oaks were toppled, downing lines.  The master of the great house was electrocuted when he came out of his front door to put out the fire caused when power lines fell on his Maserati.  Two weeks afterward, the burnt Maserati is gone, but for some charred remains, a strip of burnt metal lies on the stone driveway before the front door of the house, a used fire extinguisher, its own bright red burnt off by fire, nearby, and not far away, the remnants of a street lamp, the cut off metal glass encased bulb end at the foot of a new stained pine timber utility pole freshly planted.

Further up the side street there are two freshly sawed smooth oak stumps of grand size still with the odor of sawdust.  I pulled aside one of them, the further one, leaned over from my bicycle and counted the growth rings from the center out to the thick bark.  Roughly seventy, upon a patient counting, very close to the years of the deceased owner of the castle-like mansion and the Maserati.
It takes me an hour, of sort of rummaging around, to think of writing anything these days.  And that might not seem terribly productive.  An hour, at least, of wasted time, it seems, making tea, feeding the cat, breaking down and eating something, sorting out some laundry, all the while wondering, why write anyway? what is there to write about it, and to what purpose, we all need a purpose.  I think of my father's generation of scientist, mentored by rich 19th Century minds, schooled on G.I. Bill benefit after WWII, maintaining standards of classical thought and educational philosophy, big minded, before the specialist, botany departments giving way to microbiology and the technical narrowness required by expertise, undergraduate education becoming a less an awakening to broad and deep encompassing thought than a focus on particular technological training.  A generation savvy to a treason of the cleric.

It's as if I was raised by fireside tales of Ancient Irish culture, something I will always deeply want, on all levels of consciousness, to preserve, uphold and defend, even as I fell out of the academy and somehow was never able to get back in, much to my chagrin.  Science has always been the calling.  No idea how I ended up as I have.  Laziness, bad influences, misplaced faith, stupidity, confusion, a touch of being manic and high strung enough to need constant self-regulation.  An inability to get it together, as they say.  (Or was there something I took exception to down in the marrow of bones?)

No wonder I would find the music of Shane MacGowan and the Pogues so friendly to my own way of thinking.  But, like MacGowan, I suppose you have to pay for wanting to preserve an old culture against the pervasive involvement in the self-expedient fascination with technological development.

I still want to go back to school, to listen to scientists, to ponder big ideas with them like things Higgs Boson.  I'm probably not alone.

And yet, what does a day bring but simple things, like the wisdom to be free from the troubles over material possessions and unhealthy entanglements.  You must take good care of yourself first before helping others.

It is the artist's science to study the potential of human fruition, to study the spiritual capacity inherent within.  What would this look like?  Of course the general reaction could be dismissive, skeptical, cautionary in the wake of 'the master race' and 'the kool aid.'  Would the work of the spiritual itself be regarded as childish, out of place, immature, ineffectual, misguided, attentions better spent on matters practical and retirement accounts?  Would the advancements and insights associated with such speculative experiments be noticed, welcomed, shunned, take life only the glass case of a Brothers Karamazov or an Anna Karenina, in an Eliot poem, studied but not taken as a vital part of truly being alive?

Meanwhile, the artist tinkers, finds related work (say, in the deeply spiritual and informed element of Shane MacGowan's understanding of the larger issues that then make their ways into songs like Old Main Drag or Sunny Side of the Street) to provide a bit of a tailwind to his sketches.  He sees it exists in paintings, in nature, even in his earthly work as a barman (heretically enough, or simply laughable from certain perspectives.)  We aren't allowed anything dramatic and resounding like forty days out in the desert or a father's palace to leave in this mundane life under the rubric of modern science and as an economic entity who must learn the ins and outs of marketing.  Our feet are earth-bound.  Nor are we political rebels or revolutionaries, but neither then was anyone else.

Study...  it's an odd and interesting term, with rich potential.  About such things, I am skeptical myself, but those matters seem inherently worth speculating about somehow, as if though we no longer write Constitutions of new and better forms of government we could still understand our own nature a good deal better, finding not a threatened and aggressive animal intent on taking what he can, but a humble generous kind patient enlightened being, an inherent teacher of better ways with an energy within, as beautiful as any act of nature.  And so, back to our work as Da Vinci types, diagraming the reach of our arms and the spread of our legs along with painting enigmatic Mona Lisa and a whole range of things bearing upon nature.

It makes sense that to redeem and bring back into play a spiritual life that goes beyond rote belief in the way that he did, applying it to the grit of London life, Shane MacGowan would pay a price.  His was a unique focus somehow, bold and contrary and meaningful, not for sissies, a gift he possesses.   Criticize him for a lot of things, but not for his empathy and his heart.  Listening allows for a certain awakening to things deeper than normally talked about in conversations or even covered well by mass popular culture's artistic efforts, basic raw stuff considering the human condition.   MacGowan's work is a tribute to the fact that first one must ask questions, that curiously asking them allows him to find a satisfying answer.  There is a lot of living in MacGowan, maybe not enough self-protection.  As he himself has said, they thought they could beat the system (referring to the music business) when you can't beat the system.  His retreat, portrayed as his own personal hell in the new book by Pogues accordionist James Fearnley, somehow makes sense, to me anyway.   In order to write at all, one needs less the time eaten up by an attempted social life, more time doing healthy and self-rewarding things as time spent exercising and getting the work done.

William Blake was correct in his estimation of the necessity of a real spiritual life to vibrate at the necessary frequency to open up to the making of observations that will be art.  That is a brave thing.  And MacGowan is brave on many counts for his embrace of spiritual life and sensibility, as one risks fucking himself up, physically and professionally, risks being thought ill of (being a musician one way to not look like a complete asshole), risks thinking badly of himself for the life he has created for himself, must ask himself if it was worth the cost.  Well, that's life for you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Murakami is right.  You need exercise, for energy, for discipline, for clarity of mind.  Helps you keep tethered to the peace of thinking your own thoughts.

Einstein called himself early in his career an 'official ink-pisser,' a civil servant by day, a bit of a drop out as far as landing a gig in the academy.  In his desk drawer, he kept his own "department of theoretical physics."  He was one of those people, an independent thinker, on the rare order of those who come along and change the way we think in the direction of accuracy and insight.  Interestingly enough, and not surprisingly, as a young fellow he played violin for his women friends and seems to have been a bit of a ladies man, to use an archaic term, hopefully without offense.  He had a certain energy about him.

And so it's not a bad call on the part of Marilyn Monroe to regard Abraham Lincoln as the sexiest man in American History (from the New York Times Civil War Timeline's piece of on the growth of Presidential whiskers.)   Takes one to know one.  We read, in the same piece, that Picasso kept pictures of Lincoln, regarding him as the height of American elegance, important to a Spaniard.  One abundant creative force recognizing another across history, challenges and occupations.  A great writer, a great thinker, an artist, really, and it shows.  Could it be that thinking deep thoughts, fleshing out beautiful theories, that writing immortal lines of balance and power and truth is, well, part and parcel of abundant hotness, tied to a certain observable sexual vitality.

Kerouac did his headstands (good for the chakras.)  JFK, the modern artist of statecraft, of charming and formidable intellect, of grace and power, of great clarity of public thought, was a bit of a life-long sex addict, it seems.  What can you do?  Hemingway was dumped by his nurse, and all that energy had to go somewhere, channeling back into Nick Adams adventures big and small, some of them quite frankly sexual.  Of course he tried to work it all out, his once happy relationship with Agnes Von Kurowsky, in A Farewell to Arms, to whatever extent he could, not that it necessarily did him all good.

The physicists are discovering that the force of gravity and that of the weak force operating on the atomic level are basically one and the same, just operating in different fields.  It is a bit of a poetic stretch to see that the form of big thinking, the kind we rightly get remembered for, and the form of little thinking, which healthily happens quite often and every day (and sometimes preoccupying) and much more privately, are of the same.

Well, duh.  Yoga began as an enhancement of the sexual.  Maybe writing and thinking broadly and independently, with as much originality as one cares to claim, are the same sort of happy chakra business.  And maybe that's why people write.

Now naturally people, with all this energy coursing through them, will find ways to let it out.  They will misbehave, even the most modest and pure of motive, even the socially adept, the energy's abundance leading them to alternative ways of well being.  They'll go out and sometimes act like fools and have more wine than is good for them as they are taken with the mood of liberation.  Less restrained, bawdiness will come out. And so the energy is put into love letters, poetry, and symphonies, which may be, practically speaking just as foolish and ineffectual and even counterproductive.  And this is, I suppose, why there is the forgiveness, why there is religion.  And of course, there is, after all, the great almost surprising utter cleanliness of sex, the healthiest thing for you, as 'dirty' as it may be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It strikes me as addictive behavior, and I see it in myself.  Wake up.  First thing, check my iPhone.  Did I get any emails (that aren't junk)?  I get up, make my green tea.   My consciousness wanders, finds the blankness of morning and waking a little curious.  So what do you do?  You fire up the internet, you look at the headlines, you turn on the telly and see what the Weather Channel and its radar map has to say.  And of course, just doing so you've already caught, or been subjected to, a commercial, someone brightly telling you that now you can see that your (latch-key) children have arrived safely home through the monitor on your laptop screen from the remoteness of your office, "aren't you clever."

In contrast to just sitting down and facing your own thoughts, such as they have accumulated with you not being able to sit down and sort them out, which has made you cranky, wondering what you've done with life and your own intelligence.

What was I thinking, back before, as Dylan Thomas put it, 'the English and the motorcar,' back before being sucked in by all the hype that must inevitably come with viewing the sporting event, back before the inbox threw all it could at my consciousness just through its quick little suggestions about good wine values and super sales, and my own conscience worried about keeping up with powers of wealth trying to buy the Presidential election for the pro tax cuts for the rich and down with regulation Republicans (they have so much at stake as far as personal monetary concerns, of course they are trying to buy the election), what was I thinking?  What was my brain trying to fire as far as a clear idea or an understanding, something to hold on to, something I was trying to grasp?

Like observing the simple difference between the two sides of the current political battle boiling down to a basic difference of religion, of spiritual understanding, of a simple difference as far as how basic worldly reality is viewed.  One side, generally Republican, besides this hokum about 'job creators' and 'trickle down economics,' is simply about utter selfishness.  Opportunity, they might call it.  Smaller government, they might call it.  But what it means is pretty basic, a free run at what they want to do, at what they feel they have an innate right to, which can often equate to trampling on something, like cutting down a forest that took the Universe, oh, about four billion years to create in the space of an afternoon.  Of course, all of this is done, they claim, to fuel the economy and create jobs.  And I suppose they have a point.  The economy is their God.

On the other side, you tend to find a little more circumspection.  Like, hmm, maybe we shouldn't just chop that old growth forest that took four billion years to create all down, as maybe there is something in it that has a curious long term benefit for our general well being as designed by the great plan of nature like the little plankton in the sea that make oxygen doing what they do so that we can breath.  And people treated the same way, with some innate respect, not as numbers, stats, blank units to be outsourced.  In the religion of the Democrat, and we see this thoughtfulness and consideration for the greater reality quite well in President Obama, there is a greater picture to keep in mind, as if there were in fact meaning to existence, meaning to the Big Bang and the little tiny particle and all the atoms that were created, a whole periodic table, and then life emerging through little cells cooperating with each other with some inner ticking wisdom worth whispering about to children and people less jaded than our own world weary selves (education, basically.)

But, I am not a job creator as I sit here with my tea and my thoughts trying to hold off my own addictions to that which intrudes upon the great consciousness we share.  I am not a factor in the great Republican 'how are we going to charge people for something so that we can mark it up enough to make money' plans.  Indeed, I barely exist.  I bought a few bicycles over the years (which don't pollute and which are simple to fix), I bought a few guitars over the years, enough clothes, basically functional,  I suppose, a decent backpack to go hiking.  I work in a service sector job not far away from entry level. To the Republican, I know, I am a madman, a dropout, and even, I'm sure, a disappointment for not cultivating my talents through entering the marketplace (a chicken shit thing to do) and giving it a fair go.  Yup, that's me.  I'm sorry.

I look up the stars though.  I find a benefit in yoga and the exercise and healthy living that I can manage, as basic rank and file people have done for hundreds of thousands of years.  I leave things be.  I try to read a book, I guess, from time to time, like Journey of the Universe, by Brian Thomas Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, though I'm unhappily not much of a scholar, not too big a book, but a book with ideas, that provokes good thinking, like thoughts about who we are, how we're all deeply connected and also vulnerable, and all that rot.

And tonight I will go in to work, the economy having made my choices for me, put on my clown suit theatricals and perform the wine tasting ritual, eventually succumbing to another kind of addictive behavior perhaps.  Hopefully, a Buddha wisdom will be there to guard me and all others against Mara and all the tempting devils.