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Spiral Dance

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XXX. 25 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM

A cooling day, a lowering sky, with streaks of rain handing underneath, sweeping across the Rio Grande Gorge towards us; but only a little rain so far. After sunset now, I'm sitting and reading and listening to The Bobs ("Be My Yoko!"), wrapped around a dinner of pasta and tomato sauce made with my new pots on the camper stove. Now, mellowing out by the heater's virtual fire, nibbling on chocolate and sipping tea, planning an evening of just lounging about and doing nothing, I am content.

I re-listened to the first part of Caroline Myss' seminal audiobook, Spiritual Madness, while cooking dinner. This is not the first time I've listened to these teachings, nor the tenth. She reminds me that the things that I have been dealing with all week–traps I fell into, even knowing at one time that they were present–are lessons about non-attachment; and that God does not play by our human rules; and that we make the mistake of wanting the Divine, when we ask what our purpose is, to give us a job description. Spirit operates on a need to know basis, and we rarely get to know.

I am reminded: I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Lessons of trust: assume that you will be taken care of, no matter what. Choosing and surrendering. You assume miracles are happening, and get past the awe that they are happening. The fear of being alone, and how it determines the choices you make, are at the core of this: it is the time of wandering in the desert–something that Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed all did. Accepting the difficulties and being present anyway. As did all the prophets in all ways.

Faith is letting go and letting be, rather than trying to control and direct things. The Separation is necessary; it is an essential part of the path. It brings out the Mystery, the part of myself that does not yet know God. So, I enter into Mysteries that I did not see coming–and the way to deal with them is to trust Divine order rather than human order (which is illusory anyway).

The part of us that talks to us in fantasy–You can have it all! You choose your own reality!–has been seduced. It wants there to be logical, rational answers to spiritual question; but there may be none. Maybe I never will get anyone to carry my artwork in their gallery; maybe I never will again be financially solvent. I honestly don't know. Non-attachment means, I honestly can't afford to care. This doesn't mean you just sit back and do nothing, and fritter away every day (as I see plenty of stoner post-hippy types do all over here in New Mexico), but it does mean: I have to let go of outcomes. I have to stop trying to manage my spiritual path. Yes, you keep applying for jobs, and going to galleries and collecting rejection slips.

(Sidebar: Objectively speaking, my art is unusual and different enough from the norm that I spend a lot of time educating, explaining, and convincing people that it is really is art, an artform, a fine art. And more than just photography. And not just "illustration." Have you visited many galleries lately? Photography itself is still only a small percentage of the work you see: there are still plenty of people who believe that if it's not a painting or a sculpture it's somehow "not Art." Well, fine: call it UN, then. My art seems to be UN, because it's not this, not that, not anything that fits into easy categories or quickie labels. If you've wandered around this website, you've seen that, at least. So, first I have convince people that photo-based manipulated imagery is a legitimate artform, then I have to convince them that my shamanic, visionary art is worth their while to look at and into. Feels like an uphill battle most of the time.)

Even not-knowing what I'm doing, why I'm here, whether it's all worth it (who can know that in advance?), I have to keep at it. Persevere. Slow down. Be unattached to any outcome whatsoever. And still keep showing up to keep at it. Truly, as Seferis wrote once, you might as well accept the fact that your life is disorganized, and always will be. The chaos never goes away.

At the Taos Public Library, a small room of used and discarded books, which cost a quarter for a paperback. So, after the farmer's market this morning, I picked up two books for a quarter apiece directly relevant to topics I'd written about earlier this week: Jacques Barzun's Classic, Romantic and Modern (1960) and Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (1981). I find it synchronistic that each book is about something I've been thinking and writing about all week.

Barzun was a historian, and historian of art and culture as well, a Berlioz scholar and something of a philosopher. I was talking earlier this week about one of the distinguishing traits of Modernism is its self-consciousness. Barzun had this to say: The first striking trait of the modern ego is self-consciousness. I say self-consciousness rather than self-awareness, because I believe that in spit of much heart-searching, the modern ego is more concerned with the way it appears in others' eyes than with learning fully about itself and admitting its troubles fearlessly. The romantics were introspective, too, but they did not fear ridicule as we do, which is why we accuse them of indecently exposing their innermost souls. They were often wrong about the value of what they had to say, but they were unafraid of being wrong, of being themselves, and of being duped. The modern ego is desperately afraid of all three. In his critique of Modernist poets such as Eliot, Pound, and even cummings, he points out: most of the important work of Ezra Pound, Cocteau, Eliot, and Apollinaire, and other representative moderns is a reiteration that things are not what they seem. This may be worth saying because reality must always be rediscovered, but the modern ego is so perpetually hurt by this need that it hides its wounds under an affectation of toughness and expresses its uneasiness by bravado. In this ubiquitous, almost automatic response to life it betrays one quality which will not keep: youth. The self-disgust implicate in the continuous self-monitoring, self-editing Modern self will eventually lead to the reactionary irrational of French Surrealism, which was also the earliest ?ism in Western art history to employ chance-based, aleatoric automatisms in creation. We become prepared for the doctrine of André Breton, the legislator of Surrealism: To compare two objects as remote in character as possible, or by any other method to put them together in a striking fashion, remains the highest task to which poetry can aspire. But early Surrealism was itself a Modernist tide, and dominated by conscious (and self-conscious) techniques that, even in their seeming irrationality, were well-planned and well-thought-out. At the time it seemed a breakthrough, indeed something radical; but in retrospect, the Surrealists produced works that were largely intellectual games. The derangement of the sense that Dali advocated was still consciously willed, an intellectual technique, not a spontaneous production of vision.

It is the lack of willingness to take risks, because of the fear of being wrong or foolish, or of offending, that cripples so much criticism in the Modern era. (Poet Conrad Aiken, whose Collected Criticism is essential reading, is a major exception, in that he was willing to speak plainly and clearly, and call a spade a spade.) Barzun continues: No doubt, to admire what is false may corrupt judgment, but to admire nothing at all, for fear of being duped, is a progressive disease of the spirit. It is, in fact, acedia.


XXIX. 25 September 2004, Taos, NM

Yesterday, drove into Santa fe to deposit a cheque and to do some long-needed and long-delayed shopping. A new friend here came along for the ride, which helped immensely. We had dinner in Santa Fe at a place that features Mediterranean cooking: excellent meats, toasted onions and peppers, rice, and pickled eggplants, buffet style.

I am today thinking of nothing. I have been getting messages over and over all week from the Powers That Be: Slow Down! Okay, so I haven't been listening that well, and so they chose to make a one hour drive yesterday take three hours, for no apparent reason, as the construction on the highway is nearing completion. But it gave us a chance to sit and talk in the car. In fact, when we got back to Taos around 9pm, we sat and talked in the living room for another six hours before I was so tired that I had to call a halt and drive home. jackrabbits everywhere in the headlights, eating the chamisa and running or freezing in fear as I drove past.

On the drive up the Rio Grande, when we came over the lip of the gorge and onto the Taos plateau, over the sacred mountains to the northeast, there was amazing lightning: flashing every few seconds, crawling across the peaks, illuminating the clouds in montages of strobe flashes and repeating flickers. It was incredibly beautiful, and made it easy to understand how the native peoples here all have Thunder Being deities, or lightning gods, or gods of the cloud and rain and lightning.


Then I got up this morning and volunteered again at the Taos County Farmer's Market. (And got some sweet corn this time, for helping out!) One item shopped for and acquired in Santa Fe, was cooking pots and so now I can make some more kinds of food in the camper. It's starting to get a little more homey in there now. I also picked up a used wool trade blanket at Goodwill, so I can make a nice warm airlock for the camper door, which has air gaps around the edges.

So, today I'm listening to the PTB, and choosing to slow down, and doing basically nothing. A little writing, I guess. I needed a day off anyway. I've been pushing myself hard, and working, and beating my head against the wall every day for weeks, about what to do here, how to get into a gallery, getting a job, and so forth. Now I need some downtime. I'll get back to it on Monday, but the message to Slow Down at the very least means, just stop for a day or so. Do soul-feeding stuff. Sleep. Read. Make art. And so forth.

XXVIII. 24 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM

Are these emotional storms I've been experiencing since I drove here real? Are they holdovers of the sturm and drang of leaving Minnesota, those difficult, exhausting weeks? A holdover, as it were; a remnant. Have I been so traumatized by the past few years of unemployment–which has been a blow to self-esteem as much as anything else, in that my self-confidence about job-finding and generating income has never been so low–those months of daily worry about lack/abundance around money and paying bills, etc., that I have more there to clear out of my system? Yeah, probably. I need to move on, anyway, and not wait for it all to be cleared beforehand; I'll work on it as I go.

Today I feel too tired to maintain any drama. I've done drama, I've been a drama queen. I can still do my own drama, even though I have little time for other peoples' drama anymore. Selfish? I suppose. Or change of perspective.

I am having to learn, as though I had never done it before, how to do a job interview, how to organize a portfolio, how to write a resumé, how to dress up and make a good first impression. These are skills, not innate gifts. Job-hunting is no more than a skillset I can re-learn. I am telling myself this to boost my own confidence about it. Reminding myself that I can succeed as well as fail in this world. It's been a long time, hasn't it? Well, good: now we know how some people live whole lives of scrambling desperation.

No more "starving artists" archetypes! From now on, we will just be Artists. Or, if you will, starting artists. A one-letter change and the whole world looks different.

A stanza from a Czeslaw Milosz Ars Poetica:

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimon,
though it's an exaggeration to say he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

Still only human after all, ennit? Still only scrabbling to survive, just like everyone else, gifted or not.

It's been said that genius is a gift for seeing patterns where other people don't; and that pattern-recognition is a fundamental building block of human consciousness, one of those tools that make us human, so commonly do we use that we don't even think about it.

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa wrote, in the 1930s or so, I desire to be a creator of myths, which is the highest mystery that any human can perform. Pessoa wrote more than once that he felt inhabited by a whole crowd of invented personalities who dictated what he wrote, but none of whom were the authentic man inside; further, that even that idea of an authentic core was to him an illusion, since who he was was so changeable, he could never know who he was. This reminds one of Paolo Ferrucci's psychological theory of subpersonalities, brilliantly laid out in his book What We May Be. This theory describes how we are a collection of at times warring sub- or micro-personalities; the goal of human growth, in this model, is to integrate all the conflicting and warring elements of self into one overarching and unified personality. Integration and union of opposites. Ferrucci is occasionally as poetic in his descriptions of this process as his contemporary, Jung, also was.

They both saw patterns where few others did before, and recognized in historical roots that others in the past had also seen patterns yet labeled them in the language of their own eras. Hence, Jung's interest in Medieval alchemical texts, astrology, and the symbolism of the mandala; hence also Ferrucci's interest in literature and poetry.

What is an astrological chart wheel but an arrangement of subpersonalities? When we arrange our subpersonalities on a wheel, ignoring astrology and its millennia of baggage, and name them and start dialoguing with them, we see that they are none other than our sacred contract archetypes, our guides and inner voices, and out higher selves and basic selves. I find it intriguing that all the dialogues I have had, in meditation and vision and in ordinary consciousness with each of these sets of Self, they have spontaneously arranged themselves into circle and wheels with 12 segments. There is no doubt some archaic sacred numerology involved here. I am not the first to notice this, I know; Jung looked into it, and so have others in other eras. Yet, the symmetry of the arrangement, when you stumble across it yourself as I did, seems numinous and magickal and perfect: as though one had stumbled across one of the Universe' fundamental laws of Spirit.

How do you know when you stumble across such things? Firstly, they are numinous: they have an aura of the otherworldly, as though you just stepped across a threshold into a different light and atmosphere. But perhaps more importantly: they are elegant. After you have discovered them, and looked at them for awhile, they seem to have always been there, as though you always knew this on some level, even if you had never described it before. It becomes a part of the established worldview with no effort and no trace of shoehorning. And, in retrospect, they seem as if they had always been there, as if their discovery was rather a matter of you alleviating an ignorance.

XXVII. 23 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM

Last night, a first frost. Ice on the truck roof at dawn. P. pulled in some of his plants last night; we sat their admiring an echinacea plant that was so symmetrical and long-stemmed that it looked like a stereotpyical child's drawing of a flower: is it real, or is it a plastic flower? Thanks to a borrowed little electric heater that ran all night long, I slept warm inside the camper. Morning, already clear and hot and sunny again. With the cold outside, I watched the first half of Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.

Sometimes you have write sideways, writing around something that can't really be said, or which is too delicate to kill with words, or too discreet to be laid bare. Then, writing obliquely, you cast a butterfly net, and catch what you catch in it.

Thinking about IQ: as a friend wrote to remind me, it's true that numbers don't matter. No more than intellect alone matters. Mensa is full of people who have tested as very high IQ but have zero social skills, and no real ability to cope with everyday life. (I speak from personal experience.) I don't really care about the numbers, and there is more than one kind of smarts. Ideally, the person is well-rounded, well-balanced: they may be very intelligent, but they also need to be socially functional, and be willing to continue to learn. I think the original intention behind IQ tests was to locate potential that could be nurtured and taught; nowadays, like everything else, it has become a badge of identity, a way of labeling and categorizing people in ways that are convenient for the governmental bureaucracy, but do not in any way support actual growth, be it intellectual or spiritual or just plain common sense.

In reponse to a question someone asked: What keeps you alive?

Honestly, I don't know what keeps me alive. I have been asking myself that every day for the past several weeks, which have been among the hardest of my life. I completely uprooted and dislocated myself from my old stagnant life, and found a spiritual cliff and took a leap. I still haven't landed, and I don't know when or even if I will. There has been more than one day where I honestly didn't care if I lived or died. Some of that's just exhaustion. I'm not going to actively do anything about it, but more than once I have put myself in situations that could have been harmful or fatal, and left it in the hands of the Powers That Be whether i would survive or not. So far, I am still here.

A lot of people in the New Age say that we choose our own scripts, our own stories, that we create our own realities, and so forth. This has become an article of faith for many in the New Age, to the point where it often gets recited, but rarely questioned. Even more rarely, actually thought about.

The difficulty I have with the concept is that: 1. it is often used as cop-out explanation to avoid helping one another through stewardship and caritas. It sometimes comes across like blaming the victim. Oh, we can't really help him out, he chose where he is meant to be. Oh no, nothing we can do about it. 2. It's glib. The second half of the formulation is: So you don't like your story? Change it! But almost no one ever says how to change it. They tell you what to do, but don't give you practical tools for self-transformation. The end result being, even if you want to change things, you don't know where to start, or how to begin. And when you get stuck, if you get stuck, there is no manual or assistance, just more glib repetitions of truisms. This can be enormously frustrating, especially to someone starting out on a spiritual quest without support or tools. 3. There is a confusion, caused perhaps by the glib recitation of the formula, as to on what level of being we might have chosen our realities–and on what levels the spiritual part of life supports our choices. It is clear to me that most people who recite the formula do not really understand that the level on which we choose our own realities is in no way the ego-level, ther personality-level, the mental level, the physical, or emotional levels. I believe it is a choice made on the soul level–not the mental/ego/personality levels. The soul level is both higher and deepr inside the person than the ego level–and most people never see it during their lifetimes.

So, why do we choose on the soul level, then? Because of the lessons we choose to learn this lifetime, that we incarnate here in Earthschool to learn and grow from.

Let me just say that I don't disagree that we choose our own stories. But how and when we choose them, according to the most common formulations, I do disagree with. Most reciters of the cant are still thinking inside timebound consciousness: they tend to assume cause and effect, linear results, and very often also have no real understanding of the true, original meaning of the word karma and how it actually functions as a spiritual principle. They too quickly assume that personal, biographical events are of any significance whatsoever. Let me tell you right now, that the Divine does not care what you do for a living: your spiritual growth is Their concern, not how you pay your bills.

I know–in a way I can't explain adequately in words, like a logical argument, but in fact it's soul-deep Knowing that can lok like faith but isn't–that we all choose lessons we want to learn this lifetime in Earthschool, before we incarnate. (Caroline Myss calls them sacred contracts, although she's not the only source of that terminology.) I like the term sacred archetpyes: parts of ourselves that are timed to come forward as complexes to be faced and learned from at various times in our lives, when we are ready to deal with them. Why do we incarnate? To learn. To teach. To love. To grow. To Remember the Beloved, and to make the journey of the Return.

So, while it may be true that we choose everything that happens to us, this little ego-self that is the interface with the universe–the computer's viewscreen, if you will–cannot and does not have all the information at its fingertips that we do when we are between incarnations. The ego thinks it knows everything: but it only knows what it, in its limited capacity, can know. Like a computer viewscreen, it thinks it's the most essential part of the computer, because it's the user interface; but in fact, without hte support of hardware and software of which it is largely unaware (the unconscious mind and the transpersonal and collective unconsciousness levels, for example), it could not even exist. We just don't know why everything is happening to us, even though it may be an archetypal situation that we contracted to experience before we were born. The ego does not and cannot know what's going on, a lot of the time: hence, our confusion and suffering, and the questions, Why is this happening to me? and What keeps you alive?

The personality-level ego just never has all the information. It suffers because there remain mysteries beyond its experience and comprehension. One of the fruits of long-term meditation is that the personality-ego eventually begins to shut up with its constant yammering, and quiet down–and then the alert and aware meditating person can start to hear those other parts of the Self that have been previously hidden. The Voice of the Silence. The voices of guidance and intuition and the Dabhar within. Listening practice is meditation is deep consciousness diving.

(Sidebar: One of the reasons that I am drawn to the Jungian model is that Jung left room in his models for the Mystery, for the transpersonal, for the collective unconscious, and so forth. The Freudians tend to suffer from the same disease of overly rationalzing and categorizing everything that afflicts mainstream science. It kills Mystery, and leaves one no room to breathe.)

So, maybe this is what keeps me going: I Know that not one soul shall be lost. If not this lifetime, there are an infinite number available in which to "get it" later. There are many roads Home. Whenever I have a really really bad day, and I've had several lately, I have discovered that for myself, there is only one sure way out of the dark night of the soul: I make something. I take a walk with my camera; I make some art on the computer; I write something; I write a poem, maybe, or one of these rambling essays. It gets me out of myself, out of the claustrophobic bounds of my personality-ego, so that I can move to the soul level, which is a transpersonal level, and get some perspective. it doesn't always make me "feel better," and it certainly does not always resolve whatever life problem is getting me down, such as pying the bills or finding a place to live–but it does allow me to rest (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) for awhile.

I'm not presenting this worldview as a way of soliciting converts to my beliefs–my beilefs do not require that anybody else share them–or as a way to incite controversy. I am just trying to clumsily answer the question as posed.

XXVI. 22 September 2004, Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico

shock and process
of lying in bed in morning
55 degrees in here and rising
clear mountain dawn through yellow curtain
light making the white insides whiter
I lay in bed for awhile
reading Harold Horse's collected poems
big heavy book weighs at least 10 pounds
a lifetime of poetizing
and wrapped in wool blanket layers
against the cold morning air
think about writing sleeping eating fucking
writing playing music playing art games
little designs on paper or LCD screen
charting lifetime of resigned confusion
who is this I that is confused? and why
in the morning light I lay in bed
laptop where it belongs topping my lap
red wrens tap on the roof
looking for what I don't know
magpie flashes by window white and black
and incredible blue sky
untrustworthy sky lying sky
how can you be so clear light enlightenment
every morning when I can't find my shoes
or clothes in the cold
and last night you were stars and galaxies
and Orion chasing something up the bowl
but sky you keep changing now blue now grey
now constellations covered by frowns
of slow clouds at midnight last night
when I got out to pee before burrowing into blankets
who can I trust if not you sky
tell me who please tell me who

naked rain, naked sun: the baking off of historic lakes
candida, chamomile, lavender: no place here for sleep
screech owl on a disused telephone pole at midnight
wingflap and cry, silent darkglide towards house and haybale
nothing eats the sage, rabbitbrush, or cactus: clearing light

I ought to feel serious and desperate this cold clear morning, I suppose, but I can't help it, I don't. Instead I feel enlivened by this streak of sunlight that slashes through the curtains over my bedstead. I should be feeling alone and lost, but I don't. Momentary respite or corner turned, I don't dare know or care: what I fear most is the rollercoaster of high-amplitude waves of feeling, so up you soar, so down you die, all in the space of a day or less. Tragedy followed by ecstasy.

What's to fear, though? Losing a mind that was always an illusion anyway? The recital of ego-level excitations and little fears from the basic self level: nothing but recordings, habits, transitions, and tithes. What I tithe to the eternal is something basic self can't grasp, so it shouts louder and wants my attention. You don't shut it off with suppression; you have to listen to it, let it speak, then tell it okay, thanks, I hear your concern, now we're going to do this anyway. "Fear is the mindkiller."

There's no shortage of eye-candy in hot northern New Mexico, but it's all look but don't touch, rough trade. I don't want to have to work that hard, play those stupid macho games just to get laid. And I honestly fear assault, even in these enlightened postmodern times. Careful asking leads to fists or acquiescence, either way a risk or delight. I'm not the prettiest boy on the block, I know, but I have more to offer than most. I'm not trying to kid anyone. I'm just jealous of those pairs of mates that live up here with me, those couples who spend all their time together, and talk to each other daily: the pair of ravens who live on the hill, the bluebird pair who live in the trees at the edge of what is national forest but to my Midwest eyes looks like scrub, and the canyon wrens that serenaded me for an afternoon of sunlight and planting, last week. All lovers want to be loved, too.

Do I dare risk it? Do I dare feel better today? Isn't it a risk that life will throw me down again, that famous other shoe will drop, not near me, but on me? Of course it's a risk, and a rush, and an unstable waveform. I collapse into it anyway, because I can't help it. You are not your feelings: they're something we experience, but they're not what or who we are.

I can't help it. I feel happy this morning. No reason for it, nothing's changed. It just is.

What I won't do, though everyone tells me I ought, and it's for their relief, rather than mine: I won't pretend this is any more real or lasting than any other feeling. The Buddha said it's all a ride, and the journey is to get off the rollercoaster. You just have to remember that neither peak nor valley are any more real.

(And crap: no cheque in the mail yet. Scraping the bottom monetarily. Okay, I admit, this rocks me a little. Money worries remain my biggest bane in life. You try being unemployed for several years, and see how well you handle it. Working on it, it's a core issue for me: second chakra well-being: so, oh well. Not going to let it rock me too much today, though. I may be pissed when stuff like this happens–more infernal, pointless delays–but I'm also too tired of it to get too excitable today. Cynical, maybe. Whatever.)

Why this cult of personality that has grown up around the interview with poet or writer? In the (post)Modern era, everyone has become more self-conscious about what they do, not excluding poets. But one thing you get from reading interview after interview is that most poets are inarticulate ordinary people pretending to speak eloquently: a lot of it is masks and games. Of course, that's also the academy's influence, since most poets nowadays teach at universities or writing seminars: poetry is not a profession, but teaching is. Most of these poets will claim that their teaching duties do not affect their art: but I disagree, I see the evidence of it everywhere, in little poems that are about nothing but personal details, or playing with words, or pushing form to its limits in a display of literary gymnastics. You read that stuff side by side with poets who never taught, or at least not till later in life, who continued to observe life while living it; who, even if their poems are about personal moments, you know those moments aren't imaginary but actual. Real records of real life lived. The academy is dominated by fear; well, so is most of life, but the rest don't talk about it. Write a poem, get it published somewhere–there are seemingly infinite "little magazines" now–and sinks without a ripple into the Buddha's breath and still mindfulness.

I feel no ambition to be a famous poet. I may in fact be better at essay; at least it's easier to spew. Each poem, even if I write it down in minutes, can take weeks or months to ripen inside, before I can write it down. These daily essays are quick, facile, flowing as fast as I can type as I follow the thoughts that arise; I don't entirely trust them. Perhaps that's because I want to revise and edit later; perhaps it's that they don't seem like work to create. They just go.

I've heard poets say, the Beats predominant among them, as if emulating the Buddha, "First thought, best thought." But most poems I read that are first, unedited thoughts, are little better than prose arranged crazily on the page. And the Slam poets, those young (usually horny) poets of microphone and hip-hop beat? They can get you excited when they read, but it's all performance, it's all show, it's all how they read: their words, transcribed, lie limp and boring on the page. Sometimes a poem can be achieved in one draft: I've done it myself. But that's not the norm, that's the exception. It takes a rare mind, and a practiced one, to get it out in one pass, with no rewrites. I think most poets who claim to never rewrite are probably liars; then again, the wheat from the chaff, perhaps that's true as most of what they write is not incandescent or transcendent. Even Ginsberg, late in life and career, as much as I loved and admired his chutzpah, fell into the trap of thinking he didn't need to edit.

And what of the poets who over-edit, who turn out only a few poems in a long lifetime of revision, polishing their few gems to mirror brightness? I think of Xavier Villaurrutia, I think of Edwin Denby, and a few others. Villaurrutia's nocturnes, and everything he wrote was in some ways a dream poem, are like dark wine, rich and thick and slow as the tide before a hurricane on a moonless night. Denby's seem colloquial on their surface, ordinary in tone and phrase, but they make sudden sharp turns, and you end up without realizing it facing the other direction, and how did you get there? You can't tell. His sonnets are the most interesting to me since Rilke; not for the same reasons, except for how they both disrupt the form from its centuries-old straightjacket and breathe new life into it. Both Denby and Villaurrutia produced only small or moderate-sized books; neither as effusive or prolific as a Ginsberg. I'm not sure that it's the small output, or the polish, that I find attractive; I really don't know how hard they hard to work at writing and re-writing, or how often they turned their attentions that direction. What each achieved, though, stands apart from the flood as a body of self-coherent work, self-contained, living by its own rules, and memorable. Being re-read is what poets want: not that first pass, but the savoring, the returning, the tongue remembering what it already knew.

Okay. Time to get out of the cocoon. Stuff to do today: print artist biographies, finish up the fine art portfolio, make some phone calls. Resist the entropic tide that wants to pull me back down into itself, and keep me from simply doing.

XXV. 21 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico

You Know You Might Be In New Mexico When:

• You're standing in downtown Taos, a block from the plaza, having a conversation with someone, about an hour after sunset, and not twenty feet away from you, a skunk calmly saunters across the road, under a fence, and into someone's yard. I have seen and smelled more skunks at night here than I have anywhere else, in years. (Skunk in Native American medicine folklore is about caring for one's reputation, and also about self-respect.)

• Wendy's also has a Green Chile Double Cheeseburger on their 99 cent menu. It was pretty good, too.

• New Mexico time is slower and more laid back even than Radical Faerie time. Faerie time here is a triple threat. Think really really laid back Pagan Standard Time. Mañana, baby. People really don't care what you look like, either. Some of the wealthiest people in Taos look like unwashed bums as they wander from store to store here, and no one bats an eye.

What's that ticking on my roof tonight? Could it be snow? Yes, it could. The forecast said snow at higher elevations, which I thought meant in the mountaintops, not here at a mere 7400 feet, We haven't had a frost yet, but it won't be long now. Oh well: turn on the heater, tuck it in, and watch Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.

One can only shake one's head, lay back and think of England. Or perhaps California.

Reiki works: my finger looks like it was burned a week ago, rather than last morning. And no pain, even when you press hard on the subcutaneous blister. In a day or three, it will just be a rough patch of skin, although it might dry out and peel later on. I've been through this before with Reiki and even second-degree burns. Reiki works.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Live by the computer by the computer. No compromises: I'm damn good at what I do; the trick is just to convince the right people of that. Well, ignorance is educable.

I outed myself to some new friends a couple of weeks ago, as they were going through my artwork and so forth. Outed myself not as gay–there wasn't a non-gay person in the room that night–but as smart. I still am timid about letting people know my IQ, and so forth; I still hesitate to be so open about it. Cultural background of Norwegian Lutheran tribal childhood notwithstanding, I'm still not comfortable standing out from the crowd. I force myself to get over it, though, as I can no longer to hold myself back. The past year or so has been practice in not hiding my candle under a bushel; it's been a hard set of lesson to learn. But the result is I just get to be myself more often, and not have to hide any part of myself anymore. Still, coming out as smart and as spiritual has been a longer, much more trepidatious process than coming out as gay. And most gay people I know are smarter than the average: I think maybe they've had to be, just to survive.

I think again of Lorca and Villaurrutia. But still more relevantly, I think of the word acedia. Octavio Paz, in his long essay on Villaurrutia, wrote this:

The true name of this "indolence" is acedia, the sickness of the spirit described by theologians and doctors of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is the disease of those who are contemplative and religious, the melancholy of Hamlet and of Dürer's angel Ficino's bile or black humor, Baudelaire's ennui.

The demon of midday, who appears at the moment when the sun pauses for an instant in the center of the sky, was, according to the Church Fathers, the creature who inspired the visions of acedia. The medieval demon of midday was transformed into the romantic demon of midnight. Diurnal or nocturnal, the visions it instills are at once erotic and funereal; Nerval's melancholic tenebreux is the eternal widower: his love is a shadow and the constellation shining in his lute is disputed by Saturn and Isis. Possessed by images which are alternatingly lascivious and mournful, the victim of acedia falls into a stupor that is interrupted by spasms of rage and raptures of enthusiasm. Sufferers of melancholy are both irascible and imaginative. For these reasons, it is a mistake to confuse acedia, a disease of the spirit and of those who are spiritual, with simple laziness. Acedia paralyzes its victim and yet does not permit him a moment of rest. It is both stupor and anguish, a pride that petrifies us and an anxiety that forces us into ceaseless motion, an immobility broken by bursts of creative activity. The victim of acedia cannot touch the reality that is in front of him, but he can converse with ghosts and make stones speak.

This hits very close to home. All too often, nowadays, in this post-psychological world, we ascribe psychological causes to states of being that are really spiritual. Spiritual direction, the guidance of the soul experiencing all the stages of the mystic's path, has fallen by the wayside, in favor of psychological explanations. We confuse acedia with chronic depression–then prescribe little white pills to alleviate it. Remember, the goal of traditional Western medicine is to alleviate the symptoms, not actually locate and cure the causes of suffering. You can't give someone a pill for either happiness of spiritual emergency–so they don't try. It became worse at the advent of the HMO, when the bean-counters began dictating to doctors what kinds of medicine they were allowed to practice: pills are always cheaper than therapy, and they do in the short run seem to alleviate suffering. But there is no pill for acedia, and I would never consult a doctor with the expectation of getting one.

But there is another, more dangerous side to acedia. Matthew Fox, in his section on the Via Creativa in Original Blessing, says some strongly-worded, gauntlet-throwing words about it:

Where art has no role to play in education, religion, science, the media, and where it has been replaced by entertainment, sin abounds. Sins of unemployment, boredom, and the violence that accompanies boredom. Loss of art is a social sin. With that deprivation our work life becomes distorted and violent, and so too does our leisure time. Life becomes ugly–without meaning–and acedia or boredom sets in. Or titillating sex. Or titillating news. Or titillatin anything. Life can no longer be lived orcelebrated in depth. Superficiality reigns.... Just as obsessive control is a sin against the Via Creativa, so is the obsessive preoccupation with security. Security becomes an idol when creativity is banished. For, as we have seen, vulnerability is the matrix for creative birthing. Security obsessions become sources of killing the artist. As Jung puts it, "Security and peace do not lead to discoveries." Boredom and acedia do not lead to breakthroughs.

Again, this strikes close to home. Fox is using the term "breakthrough" in a multi-layered way here, which includes Meister Eckhart's usage of the term as a technical term describing breaking through to a new level of oneness with the Divine: living the life of the practical, ordinary mystic. Eckhart said, "We are all meant to be mothers of God. For God is always needing to be born." This is the fecundity, the Divine creative impulse, that lives in each of us, that is our birthright: in that we are creative, we are co-creators with the Creator of the ongoing Creation that is the Universe always coming into being, always expanding, always inventing new ways of being. Eckhart also said, "What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and my culture?" Breakthrough is that realization, wherein we at last experience and know in our blood and bones, that we are not separate from the Divine, but in fact each and every one of us, and of everything, partakes of the outward-flowing Immanence that is the Divine spark within. Tat tvam asi: Thou art that.

The mistake most Church-ensconced mystics still make is to confuse asceticism with spiritual growth and practice. This is mere spiritual athleticism, spiritual arrogance. When did we create the myth that you have to be a vegetarian to be a genuine spiritual being and an effective healer? Who decided that? It's a ridiculous idea, for healing flows through us creatively by Grace, not because of spiritual athleticism. It's a mistake to think that you can become a clearer channel for healing by depriving yourself. Asceticism is not helpful–taking care of one's body is one thing, but the belief that one must do this or that in order to purify the body/mind is often a chimera. As Eckhart said, "Asceticism is of no great importance for it creates more, rather than less, self-consciousness." If you want to be a vegan–or a breathatarian–be a vegan because you want to be a vegan, not because you think it will make you a better person or a better healer. What nonsense!

If I were God, and I wanted to pick an effective healer, do you think I would pick someone who spends all their time obsessing about food, exercise and their own health? Who spends most of their time preparing themselves to be strong enough to be a healer, rather than just going out and doing it? No way: I would pick someone who doesn't think about that at all, who is humble and plain and ordinary, and doesn't even consider what it might take to be an effective healer–but rather, just goes out and does it. The more time you waste on thinking you have to do this or that to be prepared, before you can even begin to see any clients, the less time you actually have in which to see clients.

Again, this doesn't mean that you don't take of yourself. What it does mean, though, is that it's useless to obsess about it and spend all your energy in self-absorbed preparations that may or may not make you a better healer or a more genuinely spiritual being.

Acedia is the enemy of ambition: it saps the will, it has all the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, but it is a difficulty of the spirit, not the body. I fight off acedia best by going out and being creative: taking a camera walk; writing for the sake of life and soul and sanity, as I am doing now; making a circle on the ground out of whatever is lying about, twigs, rocks, leaves, deadfall branches. By just being creative. It gets you out of yourself, and out of your self-absorbed circle of reflection and inwardness. This can be harder for a natural introvert, like myself. But the effort is not wasted, and may be the very thing that saves your sanity: today, each day, every day, day by day, choosing it over and over again, having to constantly and exhaustively keep choosing to make today a work of art. Not tomorrow, not yesterday: just today. One day at a time.

Which is where I am today. Choosing to persevere, past all exhaustion, frustration, disenchantment, and delays.


XXIV. 21 September 2004 (Mabon), Taos, New Mexico

I feel disjointed and disorganized, not sure that anything I am thinking or writing makes sense. I'm going to continue with it anyway, on the frail chance that it might make sense to me later, or to somebody, someday.

I'm all over the map today. I've been feeling really rocky the past several days, and yesterday was a real "black well" as Lorca once put it. Things are rising up that want to be said, so fast I can barely get it all out. Apologies in advance if it all sounds scattered and incoherent; I make no apologies for content, though.

I feel like I am working something out with all this writing it out. This may in fact be why I am here, why I got myself stuck here in the desert, and what I am supposed to be doing with my time. The pieces here that are about literature and the arts, maybe someday will organise themselves into coherent essays; meanwhile, at the least they are notes towards something better which maybe I can stitch together later.

My sense of vertigo shows up in my camera work the past few days, even: lots of blurred, skewed angles, filled iwth things only partly seen: the impressions of a person walking down a path who can only see backwards or sideways to rest of the world. I also pull out a little distorion lens I found when I was sorting and packing, and brought with me; a little place prism that distorts whatever you look at through it. Connections to vertigo, the terrible, and the horrible. The difference between terror and horror is that same distance between active and passive, phallic threat and vertiginous sinking into an abyss or void.


Continuous wind. The camper shakes on its footings. Walking around in it, floorboards creak and sag under my weight. The door either flies open or shut, if I don't latch it. The broken door latch was not a broken latch, but a problem with the door hanging not properly. It's too windy to work outside today, and I need a couple of tools I didn't bring with me, although I want to finish sealing those windows that got broken on the journey here. Sheets of plexiglass or corrugated polycarb; I don't care which. The door hangs to the side, so light and air noticeably leak through along its edges; I need to find a curtain to hang there, and seal to the sides with Velcro, covering those air breaches. A small borrowed electric heater the past few nights, whose noise and moving air and stink of old musk I cannot sleep with; I can at least heat the inside air to 70 before going to sleep, so that I can fall asleep more comfortably, but then I have to turn the thing off. The air inside will still cool during the night, but at least it has a head start now. A better heater to get, if I can afford it, would be a small oil heater: noiseless, and doesn't make the air it heats smell of burned ions and organic silt.

Imaginary Conversation

I will not repudiate any dark thing I've said before; they were said honestly and with sincerity in the moment, and I'd rather be honest about it. If you don't like to hear that, don't listen to it, move along.
How do I move from saying no to the things I hate and fear, and saying yes to what I do want? I don't know. I'm not sure it matters, because the things I keep saying I want I never get–at least not lately. I have gotten very clear about what I want, and I have stated over and over again in the most specific of terms, as I was taught to do: and still, either it gets continuously pushed back and delayed, or anyway it feels like that.
It could be handled. I need to improve my attention, my wakefulness, my presence in the here and now. I burned my left index finger badly on the stove today: a moment of forgetfulness. I have been feeling clumsy and ill-fitting these past weeks. I never used to bang into table edges, stumble, drop my wallet on the floor, burn my finger then five minutes later pinch that same finger in the door–I seem to lost my sense of my body's boundaries; I'm all over the place, I don't know where I end or begin anymore: and this is the physical manifestation. Perhaps it's disassociation or disconnection.
No, my finger's okay. Fifteen minutes of ice packing and an hour of Reiki, and the pain's mostly gone. It hurts to type, though, yes.
I feel vertiginous. I feel unable to articulate myself clearly. I've lost most of my confidence in my own ability to really communicate what I'm thinking and feeling: it all comes out inadequately, not quite there, not quite what I meant to say. I don't feel like I can organize or express my thoughts at all well.
Well, no. I don't entirely trust you. How can I, when it appears from my perspective that you are not entirely trustworthy? What do I mean? Well, this: you say I am doing the right thing, that I have made the right choices, but you continue to throw obstacles in my path for me to trip on. You appear to support, but you don't actually support. You impede. You hold me down, and keep me back. Yes, that's exactly what it feels like.
Faith? I have faith in the process. I have faith in the dark night, that I have come to know so well. I don't have faith that I will ever get out of it. I don't think I can afford to have that kind of faith, because it feels to me like every time I dare it, I get slammed. I don't trust hope at all.
I think, perhaps, Icame to the desert to die. Oh, don't look like that: I'm not suicidal, although if you had asked me when I was in the black pit yesterday, I would have said I didn't care if I lived or died.
That's very glib. That's easy to say to someone else, if you don't like the story you're living, just change your story, but it may not be so easy to actually put into practice. I'm not saying you're wrong, but just saying that is glib and facile: I can't do anything with it; the words just hang there, true or not, but don't give one any guidance as to how or what or when. And can you live up to your own words?
Frustration, that's what it is. I'm tired of beating my head against a wall to no apparent avail. I'm tired of the constant delays and holding patterns and put-offs. I'm just plain tired. It's been literally months and years of this crap, so far.

What I'm Reading, Continued:

I have maintained for some time, and plan to write and publish an essay on it soon, that the true heights of literary Surrealism occurred not among the French writers who founded its movements and techniques, but among the best writers of the Spanish-speaking world, especially in Latin America. Lorca was the main success in Spain, in my opinion, although he was not truly a Surrealist, and was ousted from being labeled as such after his split from Dali and Bunuel; their film Un Chien Andalou is a thinly-disguised mocking attack on Lorca. Though Dali may have been the more gifted theorist, in the long run Lorca was the deeper artist.

So, I turn to a book that helps me prove my thesis, and which will be cited later on in that as yet unfinished essay: Xavier Villaurrutia: Nostalgia for Death, his most mature book of poems. In the English translation edition by Copper Canyon Press, there is also included a long essay by Octavio Paz (himself one of the keystones of my thesis), titled Hieroglyphs of Desire, which is a long exegesis and memoir on Villaurrutia, his contemporaries, and his achievement. Paz himself was one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, but his criticism was also top-notch; his book Marcel Duchamp is laden with insights, artist to artist, and necessary reading on Dada as well as on Duchamp.

Of course the truth that Lorca and Villaurrutia were both gay poets is part of my attraction to them. But while Federico lived a mostly closeted life–so common among Hispanic men who do not wish to upset that most weighty of social cornerstones: their families–Villaurrutia was openly gay even in the face of the absurdist macho Mexican culture, whose machismo is largely defined by its hatred and fear of all forms of effeminacy, whether they appear amongst women or men, straight or gay. It is rabid to this day: I have already met Latino men here in New Mexico for whom their gayness, which is an open secret to all, can never be formally acknowledged by coming out, until after both parents are deceased. As long as you don't talk about it, it can be ignored. Of course, the result is a lot of skulking about in the shadows, never being open or proud, and never openly talking about it. It is reminiscent of pre-Stonewall America mainly in that everybody knows but no one talks about it. Furtiveness and shame.

Villaurrutia was, by Paz' account, who knew him personally, a man enamored of traditional social values and roles, while at the same time being openly gay. His plays are beyond conventional: they are mostly bloodless rehearsals of manners that were antique even during his lifetime, in which the dramatic hinge was the disruption of the family order by some social-sexual calamity as adultery, bastardism, or incest–although the worst of these are never more than talked around, rather than openly described.

But his poetry! His poetry is incandescent. His territory was the realm of sleep, dreams, and wakefulness. (Wakefulness I need to rediscover myself.) At his most homoerotic, he reminds me somewhat (in Eliot Weinberger's lucid translations) of Cavafy: not explicit, but erotically charged and laden with signs and encoded symbols. But at his very best, he is unique, for example, in Nocturne: Fear:

Everything lives at night in secret doubt:
silence and sound, place and time.
Asleep unmoving or aleepwalking awake,
nothing can be done for that secret dread.

And it's useless to close your eyes in the shadows:
to sink them in sleep so they'll not keep seeing,
for in the hardening shadows, the cave of dreams,
the same nocturnal light will wake again.

Then, with the shuffle of the suddenly woken,
aimlessly, pointlessly, you start walking.
Night spills its mysteries over you,
and something tells you that to die is to wake up.

In the shadows of a deserted street, on a wall,
in the deep purple mirror of loneliness, who
hasn't seen himself on the way to or from some encounter,
and not felt the fear and wretchedness and fatal doubt?

The fear of being nothing but an empty body
that anybody–I or anyone else–could occupy,
and the wretchedness of watching yourself, alive,
and the doubt that it is–it is not–real.

These last two stanzas, and especially the final one, speak to me very directly right now. That place where you're not sure what's real and what isn't, what is dream and what is not, whether you are connected to the source, or not. All tangled together in vines made of red lightning and bleak wind. Villaurrutia's belief was that all good criticism was self-criticism–that is, self-exploration–I think is borne out often enough among gay writers, be they poets or critics or both. I think of Edwin Denby's writing on dance, and his surprising, lucid sonnets, as another case in point.

As for Surrealism, I like to believe that André Breton, who was very much the enforcer of the code of Surrealism, he who was the designated voice of authority when some poet or artist stepped out of line–I like to believe that Breton matured towards the end of his life, for example, during his exile in North America during the last years of World War II, when he lived in remote seacoastal Canada and wrote Arcanum 17, for example. Changed and deepened by suffering, Breton finally came into his own real self, and was the better writer for it. I like to believe that.

Then I turn again to Villaurrutia, and read his Nocturne: The Statue, and know that he arrived in those dry lands long before any of the French Surrealists imagined them:

Dream, dream of night, the street, the stairway
and the scream of the statue unrounding the corner.

Run to the statue, and find only the scream,
long to touch the scream, and find only its echo,
long to grasp the echo, and find only the wall,
run to the wall and touch a mirror.
Find in the mirror the assassinated statue,
pull it out from the blood of its shadow,
dress it in a flutter of eyes,
caress it like a sister who suddenly appears,
shuffle the chips of its fingers
and repeat in its ear a hundred times a hundred hundred times
until you hear it say: "I'm dying of sleep."

This poem can give you the same nightmares as a de Chirico painting. What is present, is absent. What is absent, lingers obsessively with you, the echo of a shout down the hill. But it also demonstrates how the maturity of Surrealism, its full blooming, came not from intellectualism but from edxperience. Something most French philosophers suffer from is rather too much intellectualism and theorizing, and a surfeit of living and doing and being. Irregardless of the source of Villaurrutia's depth, be it personal experience, rebellion, or the Surrealist tradition of oneirism, his mature voice is consistently more convincing than virtually all of the French Surrealists added together. I feel this to be true of most of those Latin American poets who ventured in this direction, among them: Paz, Neruda, Vallejo, Borges, Cesar Moro (coincidentally another gay poet?), and others.

I'm also reading Lorca's Poet in New York. With its darknesses and themes of blood and mire, this book is not always appreciated by those prefer the more delicate Lorca of the folk songs, gypsy ballads and children's verses, strange as they are at times, and upon which he made his early reputation.

The single best-known poem of this collection is the Ode to Walt Whitman, which, following the example of the poet who is its inspiration, is a celebration. It is in some ways Lorca's most openly homoerotic poem, wherein nothing is coded or hidden, where a fairy is called a fairy; there are obvious ties here to the Calamus poems in Leaves of Grass. But it is also a dark celebration: a warning to the masses who cringe before the unknown that these men who are hated and feared and suppressed, will not be destroyed because of the Love in your eyes, Walt Whitman. You are their champion and guidepost, and savior, and Friend. So, out of the filth that Lorca sees in New York everywhere he turns, there arises a specter of redemption.

And What I'm Watching

I brought a few cases of CDs with me: somme artwork, archives of my own creative work; some music to listen to; and a few DVDs to watch. Knowing that I would have times when watching a movie (on my laptop) would be all I could stand to do. I never thought I would avail myself so much of this option, though.

So, with my meager resources, not totally broke but by no means solvent at the moment, I still have made an effort to acquire one or two necessities for my mental health: one or two DVDs, and an album. The album, predictably, since you know how much I care for the show, was Mark Snow's The Best of MilleniuM, over an hour of original music from the show. This was the first download I ever paid for from Apple's iTunes download MP3 store. (Since I see they have most of Caroline Myss' audio series, too, I will be downloading the ones I don't have, and burning them to CD so I can listen to them in the car.) Actually cheaper to but the album this way than in a store; actually, this is the only way to get this terrific music, since it isn't released on CD. So, that's what I listened all day yesterday as I drove through the cold, grey landscape, in between bouts of rain. Mark Snow's music is atmospheric, fluid, and evocative; it repeatedly captures that sense of existential loneliness that was a hallmark of the show.

Since I arrived here, I've watched several movies on DVD, including those I brought with me: mostly science fiction and fantasy, although Lawrence of Arabia is high on my list now that it's available, Gee, what a surprise, watching a movie about a guy in a desert. Sound familiar? Anyway. What I've been watching: Deep Impact; The Day the Earth Stood Still; Stargate. All three are terrific movies.

Stargate was a movie I went to in the theatre when it first came out, not expecting much. I expected a typical boy's adventure story predictable sort of thing, and instead I got a really excellent script, well-acted and well-directed, about very interesting people. It was a movie that had adventure, but the characters were memorable and compelling.

Deep Impact came out the same year as that other "we're going to get hit by an asteroid" movie, Armageddon. Deep Impact was by far the better movie of the two. It had both epic scale events and small-scale human stories, neatly meshed together in a story that had perfect pacing and excellent subplots. The other movie, by contrast, really was a boy's adventure tale; it was predictably macho, had predictable plot twists, and a totally predictable ending.

Compare the two: the better movie, like better poetry, like better literature, had depth and a slower pace that didn't try to dazzle you with blindingly obvious witty commentary. The terrifying elements of the story were just presented, so matter of factly that you just took them as real. Simply presented, and simply absorbed, and so they got under your skin. It had character moments where nothing happened–except that you came to care about these people. It had only instances of snappy repartee in its entire duration; its opposite number by contrast had no end of snappy dialogue: the ironic wisecracking that passes for rhetoric nowadays I virtually every forum from movies to talk radio to TV sitcoms. Just more pointless series of wise-acre putdowns by everyone of everyone else. A lot of sentimentality, but no real depth of feeling. The characters in Deep Impact spoke like real people, rather that TV sitcom stereotypes. The dialogue difference was the like the difference between those flashy 1980s ultrahip, ultracool novels by such hacks as Bret Easton Ellis, as compared to the genuine wit and weight of E.M. Forster. Those flash novels you can read once and forget about; but Forster stays with you for years.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is simply one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Its tone, its characters, and its message, delivered in a dramatic speech by the lead character at the very end of the movie, hold up to the present day, and do not look at all dated. The writers and director wisely followed the dictates of Clarke's Law ("Any technology sufficiently advanced as to be incomprehensible is indistinguishable from magic") and did not try to explain everything. Consequently, the sets and designs of the alien ship in particular look just as fresh today as when the movie was filmed, fifty years ago.

There are also layers of meaning in this film that make it resonant and timeless: lowkey and intimate moments about freedom and the necessity to choose wisely; the moments of tension and terror are brilliantly underplayed. Nobody chews the scenery here, which makes it all the more realistic. The only real didactic moment comes with that final speech, but it feels natural as it has been so well set up. You want to hear the speech by this time; and the speech itself is shocking: a warning to the peoples of earth that it's time to grow up some, and stop hurting ourselves. The same message is also delivered, as a similar warning, by the aliens we meet near the end of The Abyss, in my opinion still the best of James Cameron's films. Grow up, folks: learn to live together in peace. Or else.

XXIII. 20 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico

I swear I do not know what I'm doing, or what to do anymore. After a totally sleepless night, because in the hard wind and rain yesterday, the camper leaked water all over my bedding–wool aside, cold wet bedding is not conducive to falling asleep–which meant I could not get comfortable or warm or dry. Finally, I just fell asleep, I guess, out of exhaustion. This afternoon, I feel groggy and and out of it, and know that I have to caulk up the holes in the camper before the weather turns cold and winter sets in.

I swear, if I had the money, I would turn around right now and give up and go back to Wisconsin, or whatever. How the hell am I supposed to get anything done, when every time it looks like things are going forward, there are fresh delays? Don't tell me to be patient: this crap has been consistent for weeks and months now. No, I don't expect everything to work out the way I want it to all the time–but, never? I mean, even the goddamn new website? I register the domain, but I can't get FTP access, for totally obscure reasons that are ridiculously improbable; just like everything else in life, I guess. And so, once again, I am reduced to enduring while I wait for other people to fix things so, maybe, just maybe, they will operate as advertised.

And for our next adventure in things not operating as advertised: I was supposed to get a freelance cheque in the mail today, which would hopefully have paid my way for a few weeks, maybe even allowed me to afford to dupe slides to give to art galleries in case they were remotely interested in my work. Now, instead, I get a purchase order instead of a cheque, which I have to sign and send back, and then wait–who knows how long–for the real cheque to arrive. Could be a week, could be three months. Don't you love bureaucracy? Meanwhile, I might have enough change in my pocket to be able to afford gas to get back and forth to the camper. Food is a luxury, I guess. The bigger luxury is getting anything printed, like resumes or business cards, that might actuallly contribute towards movinng this venture forward, since buying office materials or printing paper will have to wait, again, until that stupid cheque does arrive; whenever that will be.

I feel totally trapped here at the moment.

I am so sick of these constant delays. My whole life has been reduced to endurance and holding patterns for months and years now. If you want me to move forward, God, would you mind not putting more obstacles in the way all the damn time? Big deal. I was going to the Post Office today to pick up the expected mail, and crossing the highway, and some asshole yells at me to "Slow down!" when I was only going 15mph anyway. What am I supposed to do, hmn? If that's a message from Spirit to slow down, fine, I have no other apparent choice. I've lost all momentum anyway, and certainly don't have the wherewithal at the moment to get a goddamn thing done.

Fine. So you take care of it. I'm going back to bed.

It's rained all night and all day and all night again. Now, after midnight, the wind is picking up again, rocking the trailer, and seeping through the places where it's not airtight. Am I prepared to winter over in here? I don't know. I think part of October will be spent in California, visiting friends but also shopping my art around and taking photos. I've been reading John McPhee's Assembling California, part of his series of books about geology with the overall title Annals of the Former World. McPhee is a terrific writer about geology, in part because he chooses to accompany on their peregrinations some of the best living geologists across the USA. The books are all fascinating reading, and take me back to my days in college when I considered declaring for a geology major.

But can I live all winter in this fiberglass can? I doubt it. If I can find a job here, it may not be essential that I do. I might be able to rent a place with real walls, real heat, and so forth.

I'm not so quick to give my nomadic status, though. I require some proof and guarantees that signing another apartment lease, even here, is worth it.

XXII. 19 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico

What I'm Reading Today, Always, Again

Glad that I brought along certain books, even though the mass was a pain to haul at times. Things I have read, or am re-reading, that are relevant to yesterday's long essay, are:

W.H. Auden: The Enchafèd Flood, or, The romantic iconography of the sea. In the book's first section, The Sea and the Desert, Auden makes a long contrasting study of three pairs of symbols:

1. The desert and the sea.
2. The stone of abstract geometry, and the shell of imagination or instinct, which between them offer alternative routes of salvation from the anxiety of the dreamer, a promise which is not realized.
3. The double-natured hero, half-Bedouin, i.e., Ishmael, the exile, the Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman, and half Don Quixote, i.e., the dedicated man, the Knight of Faith who would restore the Age of Gold.

When you read this book in combination with Paulo Coelho's The Valkyries, a story of a pilgrimage of self-knowledge that takes place in California's Mojave Desert, you realize anew that the real contrasting archetypes involved, or at least the ones relevant to my own pilgrimage, are Wilderness and City. City stands in for all those things we accrue in a technical civilization, banded together in group-housings ranging in size from little pueblos to metropolitan megacities. Wilderness stands in for those areas of the world that citified people have no use for, generally, except as they realms to be crossed between Cities, and/or play-parks to be enjoyed and/or exploited for recreation. I have almost always preferred small towns to big cities; the notable exceptions are San Francisco and Chicago, which for reasons I don't fully understand, I feel totally at home and comfortable in. I can stand about 4 days of New York City before I want to leave, and Los Angeles about the same. I can be a monk at times, an anchorite in the wilderness needing only my connection to the Divine, which I continuously feel whenever I am making art. But I'm also gregarious, and crave human company as often as I crave solitude; daily, in some cases. I sometimes miss my closest friends back in the Midwest; miss them painfully. But I also can get in the truck, drive out into the desert here, and make art; which never fails to shift my mood.

In a poem written some years ago, I thought of myself as a roving wolf, who travels, who goes over the mountain to see what's there, but also likes to know where the old den is, and has the pack to return to when I want company. I do indeed accept the labels of waymaker, pathfinder, wayseeker, and explorer.

Note that, in Auden's symbol-pairs, the wandering exile is someone who exists between Cities, unable to roost, or even enter, therein. Someone who travels but can never find a homeplace. This person lives instioctually, creatively, footloose, by his or her wits. The contrasting person is one who is a civilization-builder or restorer: the Apollonian archetype (solar divinity) or organizer.

I find that Auden's meditations on sea and desert as both being placed of change, of growth, of renewal, and of danger and opportunity both, to be particularly relevant. I am currently working through this book in the light of the archetypal life-journey work that I find in many Jungian writings, and which I also get from Dr. Caroline Myss' teachings.

The Sea is that chaotic fluid out of which "God made the firmament, and divided the waters." What is this but the archetype of man creating civilization out of chaos? Symbolically, there is nothing, then there is something, and the Creative Force (Creator, God, Divine Man) establishes order. So, the Sea is the symbol for primary, undifferentiated Chaos: always in flux; the raw material building blocks of nature out of which from is made manifest. Some recent physics talks about how the smallest level of existence that can be still be considered to be a part of our Universe, a level smaller than subatomic particles, is a zone where particles arise out of the sea of energy and fall back into it spontaneously; this has been called the quantum foam. (Any particle smaller than 10 to the minus 33 dots per centimeter can be considered as not really in our Universe; this is our Universe's dot-matrix limit, or limit of resolution, if you will.) So, the Sea also stands for what is unmanifest, and in the social arena, that barbaric vagueness (anarchy) and disorder out of which civilization arose and into which, unless saved by the efforts of gods and men, it is always liable to collapse.

The Desert is the Sea's opposite in many ways: it is the place where water is lacking, the valley of Ezekiel's dry bones. It is also a place of exile and punishment for those evicted from the City. But it is also a place of voluntary retreat, or hermitage, where a soul goes to strip away everything unnecessary and inconsequential: to find out what really matters; to discover who we really are, at core. It is a place of essentials. Of essences. "The perfume of the desert is the rarest and finest of them all."

But–and this is what most interests me at the moment–both Sea and Desert are symbolically placed in opposition to what we call civilization, specifically, human-created order. Both are seen as untamed Wilderness. At best they are zones of terror to be crossed between Cities, places with fortressed walls wherein we are to be safe.

But what of those of us, outsiders all, who choose to live outside City? Who make Wilderness our home? Of course, we are seen by the agents of Control and Management as dangerous, not because we oppose those social systems of control that City embodies; but rather, because we are indifferent to them. Because we do not care about them. Because we feel free to ignore them. Nothing pisses of those who would like to be in Control more than being ignored. They will do everything in their power to tame you, to reel you in, to wall you in, and if need be, to terminate your independent existence. They do not understand that the desire to live Outside is a separate choice, and not a rebellion against Control. They can only think inside that box, and can't see outside their own thinking. This is the machine world: the world of binary logic, either/or 1 or 0, 0 or 1, on or off, this or that, with us or against us.

But there are stable states outside the One and the Zero. There are fractional dimensions. There are degrees of co-habitation. There is the mindset of both/and, which both includes and transcends binary logic.

My life at present, on this pilgrimage (for what better word do I have for it?), is a vibrating string moving between Sea and Desert. I am drawn to both, in their unique yet opposed beauties and challenges. You could drown in a sandstorm. You could be lost at sea, with no drinkable water. Both can be places of extreme thirst, both uninhabitable and engulfing.

This is where my thinking departs from Auden's, because he is primarily examining a set of Romantic literary symbols. But I think they are Symbolic archetypes, both deeper and truer than mere literary conventions.

Matthew Fox: Original Blessing: A primer in creation spirituality. This book, which I have reading then re-reading for about four years now, is central to my library at this time. It is a reference, really, full of quotes and concepts, in which Fox lays out the fourfold path of the creation-centered spiritual tradition within Western tradition. This is a key text for starting out on the path of being or becoming a modern mystic; and if you are already on that path, this book is essential for support and direction, not least because it is a collection of quotes and references to the writings of many who have walked this path before us.

This is a largely hidden, often-suppressed tradition, that includes in its lineage most of the great Christian mystics of the Middle Ages and the eras since–many of whom, it should be noted, were condemned by the official, doctrinaire (mainstream, Tribal) Church for improper thinking, heresy, and worse. Some of these thinkers were later incorporated back into the Church, mostly because they had to be, but some remain on the condemned rolls to this day. The agents of Control have been in charge of the organized Christian religion since St. Augustine's day; in fact, it is Augustine himself who set in motion many of the still-dominant dogmatic attitudes of the Church, from body-hating self-abnegation, to the suppression of sexuality, to the institutionalization of sexism and homophobia.

This is a poetic and polemic book, both, which goes to show how prophecy is both creative and political. The four paths Fox outlines are:

1. Befriending Creation (Via Positiva): the Divinely creative urge towards embodiment itself; and panentheism, the realization that Spirit is in all things, everywhere, at all times: there is no speck of this Universe that is not Divine.
2. Befriending Darkness, Letting Go and Letting be (Via Negativa): the sinking into Nothingness and letting nothingness be nothingness; in Abrahamic religious terms, this is a true theology of the Cross, of internal jihad, of the remembrance of Mystery.
3. Befriending Creativity, and Befriending our own Divinity (Via Creativa): remembering that we, as creative beings, partake of the Divine Creative Force, and are not separate from it, and are part and parcel of its unfolding, whenever we act creatively; God is bothmother and child.
4. Befriending New Creation, which manifests as compassion, celebration, social action, erotic justice, and so forth (Via Transformativa): the image of God as the Spirit that Moves In All Things, as the Dancer; faith is trusting the call to prophecy, and the call to prophecy is none other than compassionate social engagement: we are all One; we are all Divine.

How often do we need an antidote to the usual mindsets of our daily lives of quiet desperation? There is wisdom here, culled from all places and times, to serve as a balm for the history-haunted.

One of the greatest creation-centered mystics, 14th Century preacher and Dominican monk/teacher, Meister Eckhart–who is still on the Church's condemned lists–said, "The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me." And: "In this life we are to become heaven so that God might find a home here." And: "Remember this: All suffering comes to an end. And whatever you suffer authentically, God has suffered from it first." And: "God is voluptuous and delicious."

Eckhart is central to this path.

In 1960, Thomas Merton, who had until that time been a fairly conventional monk and Christian writer, had a public dialogue with Dr. Daisetz Suzuki, well-known Japanese scholar who taught Zen Buddhism the US, and was one of the first to bring Zen to the West. (His lectures on Zen were also to change John Cage's life and way of thinking.) Merton, as the conventional Church-indoctrinated Christian, dialogued for several hours with Suzuki until, finally, Suzuki said, "You will never understand Zen until you read the one Western thinker who has previously understood Zen, Meister Eckhart." Suzuki had read Eckhart, but Merton had not thought to, as Eckhart was suppressed by the Church. It was this encounter with Zen, and from reading Eckhart, that in the years until his death in 1968, transformed Merton from a conventional Christian thinker into the mature modern mystic that he became. He later wrote that his personal evolution as mystic was directly inspired by this encounter with Eckhart.

I could say the same, frankly. Eckhart truly is a Zen Christian. I find him utterly transparent and clear, and he makes total sense to me. There is an academic (and probably doctrinaire) myth that says Eckhart is hard to understand; nothing could be further from the truth. Any modern mystic can understand him perfectly clearly, because he speaks directly to you; his messages are ideas you will have already experienced and felt for yourself.The advantage here is in knowing that you are not alone, that in fact you do have a long and respectable spiritual lineage.

A sudden fierce wind yesterday, followed by a night and day of hard rain here. I welcome it, as it matches my introspective mood–even though I've discovered a couple of places where the camper leaks water, and which I will have to patch when we dry out later. Paul is collecting water in all his many cisterns, to later use in his greenhouse. The drumming of sudden fierce rain on the greenhouse's drumhead roof is deafening, overwhelming, a sound too loud to hear but one you can only be absorbed in.

I have spent last night and today working on revising my fine art portfolio. With Pau's help and feedback, sorting images into true art, and art I would do better to market as illustration work. I'm too close to it, so I appreciate the objective eye.

Clouds move in the mountains and canyons. The grey sky is low enough that the highest peaks are trimmed off at the knees. The plateau itself turns into a feast of red mud, which clings to your boots as you walk, until you feet become so heavy you feel like a cartoon spaceman, slogging through slippery clay that eventually forms so many layers on your footgear that you seem after awhile to be wearing cartoon moonboots. So much water today, after weeks of hot, dry wind. My allergies have been bad the past few days; mica dust is everywhere, and plant pollens new to my senses. Now the air is scrubbed dry, and you can't imagine it could have been so bone-dry just a day ago, when your entire existence seems mired in wet, muddy, sodden air, and all your windows film over with cold condensation an drip onto the sheets.

The Desert and the Sea, interchanging, trading places, dance partners exchanging hands and patterns. Both wildernesses of inaction, encompassing every small little human thing I undertake.

Now the rain builds and builds until it overwhelms eveything, and there is nothing of me left.


XXI. 18 September 2004, Taos, New Mexico

Venting Fuel on the Via Negativa
Is Control controlled by its need to control? Wait: the answer is so simple

Well, I'm ready. I'm ready for it to happen. I've been waiting and working and hoping and praying and busting my ass to change my life for the better, and I'm still waiting. I'm ready now. I really am. I'm here.

No, I don't expect it to fall into my lap. I know I have to work for it. I know it takes effort, and struggle, and sometimes strain and hardship. I've been told over and over that when the journey is hard and difficult, there is always a good result, a payoff, after it's all over and done. I cannot find that belief in myself this week, when it feels like I've spent myself doing everything I'm supposed to do, to no apparent avail.

(I need to write through all this. Get it all down, and get it out of my own system. Don't take anything I write here too literally. Understand that venting needs a listener, but doesn't require responsive action.)

I abjure the reward-punishment mindset common to post-Christian culture. Even the New Age is infested with it: If you only do this and this and this, you will be rewarded. The converse is, always: if you don't get your reward, you're being punished, or you didn't do something right. As if getting rewarded for effort was a magic formula, and you just had to follow the instructions. Even the New Age can't away from the old Abrahamic religions and their search to appease a vengeful God. You can spout all the positive-thought rhetoric in the world, but if some part of you thinks you're being punished, you'll still end up sabotaging everything you attempt.

Am I dead or am I living?
I'm too afraid to care, too afraid to know.
Too afraid to look behind me
At the feast of the carrion crows.

–Sting, "Something the Boy Said" from Ten Summoner's Tales

You listen to the Scherzo of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony again, and you can feel the fatalistic absurdity laced through his music and soul. You read it in Pasternak, you see it in post-Soviet movies. Russian fatalism: after all, when your homeland has been continuously overrun, dominated, and crushed under the bootheel of foreign invaders for over 700 years, of course you'll end up a little pessimistic. Russians tend to expect the worst, and are rarely disappointed.

You can say what you like about your beliefs dictating your reality, and only perceiving what your filters let you perceive, and at the end of the day you still have to deal with it. If it were that easy to just think positive and make your life turn around for the better, everyone would do it all the time, and the New Age would be an practical spiritual movement. And it's not always that easy.

Well, "Rus" also meant "slave" in old, old Norse: the language of my Viking ancestors who were one of those waves who overran Russia several hundred years ago, and conquered, and settled. Leaving their blond children there, too. Establishing Kiev and its river trade routes that have lasted for centuries, although silver and spices are no longer the dominant trade items. When the conquerors have to manage the conquered, establish a government, and make things run on time, who then is conquered? Who, then, is in charge, in reality? Who has to invest more of their energy making it work? The Rus and the Vikings have become so intertwined, it's all one global village, now. History tends to become an Ouroborous at the least little provocation. All systems of control control the controllers, who are controlled by their need to control.

No place is better than any other. These are the same dark nights I've had the past few years in Minnesota. You take yourself with you wherever you go, after all.

I went out to the bridge on Highway 64 over the Rio Grande gorge today: a thin sliver of flexible steel 700 feet above the abyss. The rapids down there in the shadowed gorge seem tiny and distant, but by the laws of fractal self-similarity, you know those rapids could swallow this road, were they up here instead of down there.

This bridge terrifies me. I haven't had genuine acrophobia since I was a young boy. But when I walk out onto the observation platform, I find myself nervous about approaching the railing, and I hold on tight. I am afraid to take my camera out of my pocket and snap some photos, because I'm afraid some gust of wind, or my own vertigo, will rip it out of my hands and send it plummeting into the abyss. I'm afraid to drive over the bridge, in case the steel should become brittle all of a sudden, and crumble underneath me.

I remember the camera I lost over a waterfall in a gorge in Ithaca, New York; I might have followed the camera, that afternoon, over the precipice, but for choosing to let the camera fall so I could hold onto the rocks and save myself. The gorges run right through Cornell's campus, and try to secure them as the authorities might, the gorges take lives every year, from misadventure or intentional suicide.

The summer I drove out to Ithaca for several weeks of intensive Indonesian language classes, 1990, I had just that New Year's Eve run up against the first vision of the Void. As I drove through the mountains and valleys of eastern Pennsylvania, and western New York State, on my way to Cornell for the summer, I found myself clutching the wheel till my fingers ached and my forehead broke out in sweat. I was fighting for my life, literally: fighting the impulse to throw the wheel to the right every time the road came to a bridge or roadside gully or gorge or valley; fighting to stay on the road, stay alive, against every entropic urge the Shadow dangled, to throw the car off the road and into the abyss. Into the Void.

I was in no shape to be a Good Little Student that summer. The Void was too close, and I was heartsick every day. I tried, I really did; I just wasn't strong enough. I had been given a tuition grant, and I so disappointed the administrators and directors of the summer language intensive program, that I ended up being blacklisted from any future attendance. I didn't even get much language learning out of it. I was too distracted, and unable to focus in the ways my teachers wanted. It was no one's fault but mine, a product of my circumstances. I didn't do much better in graduate school, overall, for some of the same reasons. The teachers kept wanting me to take more advanced language classes, too, and pushing me past the level I was at; they thought it was flattering, and I should have felt honoured. But I didn't, and they never understood: I was fighting Wintermind every day. (This was the dark night of the senses. It lasted 4 years, 3 months, and 14 days: until the second vision of the Void.)

No, wait, here's the real fear of heights: as long as my feet are on solid earth, the basalt of the boulders littering the talus slope below, I feel perfectly safe. I can stand on a cliff overlooking a huge emptiness, even in high wind, and feel perfectly calm. It is man-made structures I do not trust. What I doubt is humanity's engineering hubris, our incessant (phallic?) desire to out-build our ancestors, to make things ever more gigantic and impressive. This has led to some beautiful structures, but it has also led to some famous collapses. I trust Frank Gehry's buildings partly because they are so organic in form, modeled as many are on natural and animal forms. I trust Bucky Fuiller's tensegrity spheres and dymaxion domes and tetrahedral constructions, because they imitate stable atomic structures, and the Universe's basic building blocks. And they work. They hold together; they are stable and strong, precisely because they are built in imitation of nature.

None of the circumstances I took for granted, when I chose to leave home and come here, have come to fruition. Everything will be delayed for at least a year. So, I have no living situation, no real place to stay, no real friends, no real opportunities to improve my life here. That's what it feels like tonight: nothing is what it was supposed to be. Don't even know if I can find a job. Actually, I don't even know if I still know how to find a job, or hold one down, it's been so long since I had so-called regular employment.

So, what do you do? Perhaps it's an invitation to stay nomadic, to stay rootless, to keep going down the road, to make no plans, to see where the Spirits lead me.

Oh, yes. Trust. Do I trust the spirits, the Powers That Be? Not entirely. It feels a lot lately like They've been playing games with me, rather than helping me. I know that's an ego-level illusion, so spare me the newage (rhymes with sewage) lectures about creating one's own reality, and expectations, and so forth. When one is suffering, that's just so much salt in the wound. Get stuffed. You can also keep the lecture about how none of this really comes from outside forces, but is all created from within: we do it to ourselves. And so forth. I know all that. So what. Get double-stuffed Oreos.

I don't care if this is reward/punishment. That whole paradigm is so much wasted energy and hot air. It's so very Abrahamic in origin, no matter what pretty language you dress it up with. Thinking about rewards is absolutely beside the point. I cannot afford to assume that, just because the journey has been this hard, that it will at all be worth it. (To misquote Nietzsche, Whatever doesn't kill you ...missed.) I don't know that, you don't know that. None of us can know that, Whether it's outside forces of fate, or internal Shadow-driven archetypes, or whether they are one and the same, doesn't matter when your wheels fall off and leave you stranded and stunned by the side of the road. When the worst happens. When you don't really care if you live or die, at the worst.

Maybe the light will come tomorrow, after all. Maybe. I find I don't really care.

You have to realize: this is a discipline. The Yoga of Darkness. The Rite of Shiva. The offering of all negativities, as they rise up in you, to Mahakala, the transcending lord of destruction. The Wrathful Deities are nothing but the Shadow aspects of the Peaceful Deities: another chance to get it right, to escape this Bardo, this Maya, this Butterfly Dreaming. Sometimes the only way out is through. (In Abrahamic terms: the way back to Eden leads through Gethsemane and Golgotha both.) Via Negativa. Dark Night of the Soul. The experience of nothingness. The shredding. The rising of the beast within, bete noire, red-eyed, mewling, clawed and torn. Wintermind.

This is what Lorca felt on his stay in New York, and out of which some of his darkest, most challenging poems were written, in Poet in New York. He arrived in New York City just in time to witness the economic crash that initiated the Great Depression in the fall of 1929. And on the way back to Spain, months later, in 1930, over a brief stay in Havana, he wrote and delivered his famous lecture on the duende that has become a classic poetic theory of that dark soul:

These "black sounds" are the mystery, the roots that probe through the mire that we all know of and do not understand, but which furnishes us with whatever is sustaining in art.... The duende, then, is a power and not a construct, is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old guitarist, an true virtuoso, remark, "The duende is not in the throat, the duende comes up fromm inside, up from the very soles of the feet." That is to say, it is not a question of aptitude, but of a true and viable styte–of blood, in other words; of what is oldest in culture: of creation made act.
–Federico Garcia Lorca, The Duende: Theory and Divertissement

Every true visionary poet has known this, from Rumi to Rilke, and most powerfully for our times in the words of the modern Greeks: Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis. George Seferis writes in A Poet's Journal (1946): Suddenly you discover that you'll spend your entire life in disorder. It's all that you have; you must learn to live with it. I find great kinship here, and in the rest of Seferis' Journal, because it speaks so directly my own circumstances. What Saul Bellow in an early, forgotten novel called existing as a dangling man. Sometimes the universe isn't ready for you, any more than you are for it, so you spend time in endurance. (In durance vile.)

A part of the furniture, you witness the businessman explaining why nothing you have to offer will work for their needs, as if you're not there. As if the voices were coming from the next room. As if you were a disembodied ear, you take it all in, and the world passes you by, leaving you hung in the wind. At least you have an explanation, false as it is, for why nothing seems to move forward; for why you must continue to endure.

Can you blame them? No: their lives are as bound up with their own survival needs as are you with yours. But the bitter taste of continuous rejection lingers. We all have moments of selfishness–even of selfish self-destructiveness. It's coming together in alliance and community, those moments where we help each other out, that sustains us. My bitterness comes from an imbalance: it always seems like I am helping other people out, because I genuinely care about them, but when I need help the most, myself, everyone seems to vanish. It has to be a reciprocal, two-way street, or it is nothing. A lie of community, rather than an actual communion. You cannot pay lip-service to building community and not expect the gods to hold you to living out what you say. People cannot only like you at those when you have no needs, and call themselves true stewards.

And, sometimes, when I seek to step back and seek to become more objective, more dispassionate (in the Buddhist sense of the term: nonattachment to outcome), I get accused, in self-absorbed and infantile ways, of being unfeeling and uncaring. Well, kids, you can't have it both ways. This is again about trying to Control outcomes, so that are never any risks, and no one will ever come to harm. It's an infantile approach towards life, reminiscent of the use in some churches of intercessory prayer to try to force happy endings on everyone's path through life. It entirely misses the point. By contrast, it is possible to have an adult attitude towards life, elegantly expressed by the great Lakota shaman Frank Fools Crow, when asked if he could cure cancer: "I can heal you, although I may not be able to cure you." Understanding that important distinction between healing and curing is a symptom of spiritual maturity.


The rarely-discussed dark side of the New Age Light-chasers is that, all too often, they willfully repress and deny their own Shadows, individually and collectively. They want to cling to the Via Positiva, and ignore or repress or deny the Via Negativa. This is why so many of them never actually advance. Oh, I suppose it's vaguely possible to go directly from the Via Positiva to the Via Creativa and the Via Transformitiva, and avoid the Via Negativa entirely. But the Creative and Transformative stages of the journey would have no depth, no guts: they would be robbed of any but superficial meaning. Their beauty would be shallow, even if polished to a high gloss, like the marketing of shiny newly-minted Hallmark greeting cards. It would all be sentiment rather than passion.

These Light-chasers would renounce all parts of the world they find unattractive and difficult and bloody and messy and challenging. Leaving behind only the superficial sentiments commonly found at most arts and crafts shows nowadays: all pretty flowers and decorative touches, but with no real body to the soup. It is a bodiless sentimentality, and in that, despite how many New Agers abjure any historicism or connection to their roots in the Abrahamic religions, it is nothing new. We've seen it all before in the body-hating, earth-hating, heaven-hunting philosophies of the past two thousand years of Western thought. Poet Wendell Berry warns us: Renunciation of the world may sustain religious or artistic fervor for a while, but sooner or later it becomes suicidal. These same deniers are also those who denounce the genuinely mystical thread of Western spirituality that runs, concealed, from Eckhart to Merton to, perhaps, you and I: the thread of veriditas, of greening, of creation-centered spirituality, or a theology of embodiment and social justice.

No. No one who denies their own Shadow will ever come to terms with it. You have to face it head-on, willingly dive into its darkest waters, and risk drowning. You have be willing to experience the beauty of ugliness: not a simple paradox, but the embracing of all that people normally find unspeakable and unseeable. You have to just wade in, and see what's really there. You have to abandon Control. Via Negativa: the stripping away of everything you ever thought you knew, you ever thought you believed, and you ever imagined had meaning and worth. You have to abandon it to the Night. Sometimes it strips you naked of everything you've ever invested any value in, be it belief, religion, philosophy, material possession, or even sense of self. You can end up not knowing who you are, or what to believe, or if you even believe in anything at all. Via Negativa. Wintermind.

Without the Via Negativa, there can be no depth. Life becomes superficial, as boring as it is violent, and as cheap. It becomes infantile, and easily manipulated. This is the end result of the Modern era, an entire three hundred year history of denial of the Shadow. With rare exceptions, this also means, then, that we have had no prophets in recent, Modernist times: no one to go into the wilderness, seek out the Voice of the Divine, and bring it back to us. Would we listen to a real prophet, if one were to appear today, any more than prophets were listened to in the past? Probably not. As the great 20th Century Jewish rabbi and mystic, Abraham Heschel, once said: "A prophet is one who interferes with injustice." And that will never win you friends in the boardrooms of power.

The accusation of the New Age Light-chasers, predictably, is that I "dwell too much" or "overemphasize" or "focus on" pain and darkness. I would counter by saying that, simply acknowledging its existence is not dwelling on it. Simply noticing that it is there is not dwelling on it. If I talk about it more than you personally want to hear, you could ask yourself why you don't want to hear about it; or you could just file it under redressing an imbalance. My accusers would conflate non-suppression with obsession, but I would say that their continuous denial of its presence is the real obsession. You can't suppress it, and remain whole, healthy, or complete. You have to be able to see it there in front of you, or it will pop up behind you.

And when its pressure becomes its fiercest, you've got to get it out of you, before it eats you alive from the inside. This is not a life-denying pressure, but a life-supporting one. Tantra is harnessing this power as fuel for growth and change; tantra looks directly into the dark smoking mirror of the God of Death and chooses to leave nothing out of the sacrifice. Tantra refuses to suppress and deny: it is the path of true integration, without denial or evasion. Even fear is the way: fear, hate, anger, rage, pain, suffering, humility; all those things the Light-chasers so often overlook or outright try to avoid. You cannot avoid the Shadow; if you try to suppress it here, it will only pop up over there, unexpectedly, with twice the force, and byte you in the ass. The drive to integration will not be denied.

No: the Via Negativa is letting go and letting be: of surrendering, in the deepest sense of that word, all efforts towards Control. The Light-chasers, though they try to deny it, are fascistic hoarders and worshippers of Control: they will have their lives shaped just so, or not at all. They would dictate God's plan to God. But God is chaotic: God disrupts. The Spirit catches you, and you fall. Those who seek only the Light and try to deny the Shadow can never understand why all their plans and purposes come to nothing; why they are constantly denied their perfection; why they are constantly deflected away from their stated goals.

Well, I'm ready. I'm ready for it to happen. I've been waiting and working and hoping and praying and busting my ass to change my life for the better, and I'm still waiting. I'm ready now. I really am. I'm here.

That one thing left to experience, past all the crap and suffering: the real Light, the real abundance, the real Presence of the Beloved. No more starving artists. Just artists. So mote it be.




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