LXXX. 16 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
A couple of days ago, I was ready to pack it in and leave. Hit the road. Disappear. Whatever.
But I gave it one last chance. Something I think the Powers That Be want me to hit the wall, and get pissed off, and summon all my rage and power, before They will act.
So I gave it the one last chance, and it paid off. I worked out some of the problems, although I have no doubt there could be more. And it ended up being a very stressful experience: the project deadline got moved ahead at the last minute, so I had to scramble, on top of everything else, not excluding driving to and from Santa Fe today to photograph the last painting.
I'll say this: I'm damn proud of my ability to photograph artwork, and get it to look right. Those months working in the studio in St. Paul paid off in practice at lighting and color correction, and setting up still-lifes to shoot. There were many good photos taken in those sessions; and there will be more, when I go back to visit.
I've decided to go back to WI and MN in mid-December, to clear out that storage locker in St. Paul and move whatever's left to Beloit, where my parents reside. But also to see people: I have been feeling desperately lonely. I'll stay there till just after Christmas, then come back West, to give it another chance once things pick again after the holidays.
This is the doldrums in Taos: nothing is happening. No tourists, which is what everyone gets their income from here. There's a small spike of activity over Thanksgiving, then nothing till Christmas and the beginning of the winter ski season. All of which is dependent, of course, on getting a good snow year. If the snow here doesn't attain a certain level, even, the Texas winter ski tourists will go elsewhere; so, everyone in Taos always hopes for lots of snow. There's been a drought here the past 5 or more years, with light winters, and dry summers. This past summer seems to indicate the drought has turned around?at least, everyone hopes so.
Me? I find I don't really care. I am not that attached to Taos, or even New Mexico. If I could get a stable income here, great. But I still don't have a place to live, and I don't know that such a place is likely to manifest this year. It may be I am meant to be on the road indefinitely, for a long time, at least another year. I find I don't mind that prospect. I've dreamed of it: traveling far and wide, while someone sells my art for me, at a gallery or as an agent; that is still what all this is working towards. But the even bigger lesson is to not think about income at all, period. To just let it happen, and not to even consider it. Focus on other things, and let it take care of itself. Big fears there, and big lessons: of course, it's my core issue this lifetime. It's not like I don't already know all this, even if I still have levels and layers of it to peel back and discard. Shedding one's personal history, which is so much of what the warrior shaman's path is all about, is something it seems to take time to do. Or, perhaps, one day I'll wake up and it's done. In fact, I can feel that potentiality approaching.
Nonetheless, even with the one last chance accomplished, things about Taos piss me off. I anticipate a lonely Thanksgiving here. I don't really know anyone well enough to be invited in to their celebrations; and I can't make it to WI in time for that, not and also do Christmas. Too many people move here to become hermits.
I am discovering that I am not a hermit. I may not want to live in the village all the time, but to be in service to the community, as I am called to do, does not allow for being a hermit. Nor do I want to. If anything, I find myself getting judgmental about how people in New Mexico are not as affined or affiliated as they could be. Too much living off in the mountains by oneself. It's not my style.
I love the silence out there tonight, though. A day of driving, a day spent in the relative noise of Santa Fe, which is not that bad but is made worse by the construction highway stupidity between Santa Fe and Española, and I am ready for a night of silence. The worst thing about big cities, for me, is the press of too many minds, the noise, the overstimulation, the overabundance of lives mixed too close together. Out here, I can hear myself think. I like the silence, and the distance. But I'd go perlerorneq, wintermind, way too quickly if I had to spend months in a small place without any conversation or connection to people. I could easily substitute the Internet and email for face-to-face contact, but I still need the daily touch of what some have the yes-I-live self-conscious awareness that all sentient beings possess. It's not enough to just have silence. Silence and non-silence exist in complementarity the same way day and night do, or yin and yang, the whirling balance of the Tao. One incomplete without the other.
So, tonight, recovering from the drive and the pressure of deadlines, tonight I feel completely exhausted but too wired to sleep right away. I while away some time with music and mindless DVD watching, the sound in the camper newly enhanced by the pair of computer speakers I bought at Target in Santa Fe today. (Yes, I did some necessary shopping, now that I have a wee bit of money; it felt great.) The joys of iTunes and the iPod with real amplification applied. Go ahead: scare the local coyotes. I am getting more tired now, but the mental wheels haven't been able to stop spinning yet. Soon, my bed. For the moment, though, catching up on all this life stuff.
There's a saying from some South American tribe that it's not wise to travel too fast, or your soul gets left behind. And if you have to travel fast, take a pause later, so that the soul can catch up with the body. This is as good an explanation for jetlag as I have ever heard. I have certainly felt the truth of it during my recent travels. Tonight, I feel it strongly. Slow Down. Take a pause. Wait awhile. Let yourself catch up to yourself. Bed sounds good, all of a sudden.
And a hawk in a tall tree over the Rio Grande, as I drove home through the golden, intense late-afternoon light, on the rush back to Taos. Watching the river. Big enough, that maybe it was an eagle, after all.
No stars out there tonight. Just layers of cloud, heavy blankets over the sky. Warm enough. But the air still and muffled, as though the world was holding its breath. The silence thicker than usual, even for night on the plateau here.
Revelations and emptiness. Exhalations of the night plateau wind.
Touch and carry, frame and fountain, lyre of entangling. Do you see this mirror.
In the light over the river, he shapes wind: febrile, embrace of lightspark and skull.
Crystalline cathedral of sky, engulfed in cliff and naked branch: a soliloquoy of nectar.
In aftermath, a scatter of leaves, left from the molting. What raptor you shape, your hope.
LXXIX. 15 November 2004, Taos, NM
Update: Well, maybe one last chance will pay off. Talked it out with the client, hopefully it will all work out. Clarity regained, but I sense the potential for many more misunderstandings there. Have to stay on your toes with some people.
No promises for the long run. In December, I plan to head back to the Midwest for a couple of weeks, to finish up some business there, close up that storage locker in St. Paul, visit the parents for Christmas, et cetera. Fly out there, probably, rather than drive. Which limits what I can bring back here, but I'll figure something out. Need to get some recording studio work done; I look forward to that.
LXXVIII. 14 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
I watch A Knight's Tale on DVD: a Chaucerian (literally) story of determination, misunderstandings, misconceptions, lies, falsehoods, and in the end honor. Sometimes I think that's all I have left. Being a true knight means tilting even when others yield. It is not in mean to yield.
I'm sick of this game. I will give it exactly one more chance; then I'm leaving. I will leave here, and go where I go. I don't care where. I am sick of this game. Even wintering over in the national parks has to be better than this. If only for the unending beauty of the land.
I make a contact, I get the promise of work from them, I tell everyone exactly who I am and what I offer, they hire me, I begin, then it becomes clear that there's been a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, and suddenly I'm labeled as bad, and left out in the cold. On my honor, I never lied. They assumed. But now it's my fault? I will give this exactly one more chance to get it right, and it's not my mistake but someone else's. I have done what I do, and I never made anyone think otherwise. Their assumptions are not my problem. I have played this game too many times. I will not yield. Last chance.
One more chance only. Then I leave. And no regrets. Just going to move on. I don't know where to go next, or what to do. But I've had it. I am sick of this game. I am sick of being dependent on the whims of people with power and money and less than half my intelligence. I am not even interested in my pride, or if they think I am something I am not, or whatever projections they substitute for the real me. I am not going to defend myself against lies or mistruths. If I lose every opportunity I have gained by the persistence I have shown so far, so be it. I will not give an inch anymore. Last chance.
Outside the stars are blind. I get out, wearing my wool greatcoat, and stare at the sky. In me, the Dragon rears, fangs bared, and Flames. One shout, just one, rips out of my throat and echoes from the nearby hills. Just one shout, magnified and cast in circles across this bay of aged rocks, thrust against the sea of air. Once into the night. I will no more.
Steady turning of the sky, wheel arrowed into target. Zoom scan constellated.
Sign of the Hunter, risen wearing cloak of fog and snow: up lunge. Leap above hills.
Blind naked sun, blind air, blinded heart. Misfit turnstyle of harbinger crows.
Go. Cease. This turning. This reptilian maze. This emblem of ancient home.
Harvest of beasts: weasel, owl, deer, mouse. The wheel. A clamor of scrape.
I dare the night to open its maw and slay me; and the night backs down. I fill it with fire. The stars are dull compared to my rage. I am the Dragon: I have always been the Dragon. When the Dragon rises, beauty and danger, passion and fierceness and loyalty, all flee before the wind of its wings.
Talking it out with Sage, I shift away from violence towards laughter. He's good for he that way. Although, of course, being the cat's scratching post has its points. The wit goes both ways.
The Dragon rises only when it needs to: survival, in the face of venality. When the Dragon rises, I become clear beyond what is usual. All senses sharpened to their finest edge: hunter's, warrior's sharpness. Second attention, altered state of consciousness, focused on prey. What we stalk, we hunter-shamans, is not always obvious. You expect linear thinking to encompass a shapechanger's tricks, a bland expectation that will leave you barren and lost in the wilderness: prey. Pray.
Deer everywhere the past few days, but not tonight. Driving up the hill, already enraged, daring the deer to appear: and they don't. Coyotes giggle inn the far distance. After my one shout, dogs barking from a homestead across the plateau. Nothing here is so far away that it is solitary, although you can get so lonely that you feel like the last person on earth.
Enough. I abjure. I pass on. Decimated wastes after the burning. The Flame that strips, that transforms, that leaves you nothing but what you are. Sediment of sentiment, a nostalgia I have neither time nor inclination to tolerate. Let there be peace, here: even if it is a peace of desert emptiness, a peace of razing, of dessication and deprivation. I will no more.
A final time I step out into the night, before bed. This time, it is utterly still and silent. The world holds its breath. Anticipating what?
LXXVII. 14 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Bad dreams in the night. Misunderstandings, misconceptions, damned lies. People make assumptions, then blame you for not living up to them. People make mistakes. In the dream, I am to give a solo performance piece as part of an evening of performances; but they put other people on first, saying I was late arriving even though I was early; postponed again, I come back from a bathroom visit to find another piece in progress already; I will have to go last, if at all. If you don't want me to perform, then why ask me, and drag me this far out of the way with enticements, and make me give up other things and go out of my way to be here. Growing frustration in the face of blatant venality. Damned lies. (At least with an honest hatred, you kow clearly where everybody stands; these cloaked, covert tactics bring out the Dragon, fangs bared, hissing, ready to Flame.)
Sunday morning. Nobody around. Even the dawn chorus of birds now silent. I could be the last person on earth. I wish humans could learn to be as clear as this sky, as precise as these rocks, as adaptable as this sage, as flexible as this wind. Maybe they can, except in my dreams.
This mood lingers through my day as impatience, and a short temper with recalcitrant technology. I have no patience for stupidity today. On a thread on a poetry board that started being about the recent election and veered off into religious witnessing?and how much more of that will we have to put up in the next four years, since now these folk feel entitled to broadcast their "moral values" far and wide, empowered by the election results??and has turned into a thread about whose beliefs are right and whose are wrong. What utter nonsense. I took it out on them all today, perhaps unfairly, by ripping to shreds a particuiarly thoughtless post that consisted of quotes by a mainstream Catholic apologist. I suppose I ough to apologize at some point for my sarcasm; eventually. But what really annoys me is sloppy thinking supported by even sloppier scholarship, or a total lack thereof, in many cases. People tell me I'm wrong when I am quoting sources they also say they haven't even read?one can only shake one's head in awe at such lazy opinionating. At least check your facts, folks.
But then, as a friend once said to me, many years ago, in regard to the religious right: "The lobotomy comes free with the conversion."
Apparentally I also have a stalker at that same poetry board: someone who has not revealed itself to me but bitterly attacked a friend of mine on AOL for his posting "too many" posts to that board, and for "taking me away from AOL" to go over there. (Considering the ave4rage level of quality to be found in the AOL poetry chatrooms, one can only surmise the wannabe-stalker is delusional.) Attacking a friend instead of me directly. What utter nonsense. What covert crap. The world is too large, and life too short, to waste time on such petty venality. Get a life, folks!
I choose to cease to apologize for being smarter than the average, for being well-read (and for remembring most of what I read), and for being able to tie the patterns together for others to see. It is no sin to think for oneself?unless one has joined a lobotomized sect, I supposeand in this day and age, it is going to become increasingly important to speak up against the sloppy thinkers on all political and social fronts, lest by sheer force of numbers they dominate the discourse any more than they already have. As Rabbi Heschel said, "A prophet is one who interferes with injustice." This doesn't always mean having to march in the streets in protesta tactic I have participated in, in my life, and which has yet to convince me that anyone really listens toit can mean refusing to remain silent in the face of sloppy thinking about "moral values." It can also mean refusing to just sit back and let the idiots roll over you with their casual opinionating supported by nothing more than what their religious leaders tell them to think and say.
This seems to be a week for throwing down gauntlets. So be it: here's another.
LXXVI. 13 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
This morning, out the window, deer running across the plateau, darting between trees, over rocks, east to west, uphill to down. Deer all day. Driving down the hill, more deer nibbling trees by roadside. After dark, driving back up the hill, more deer, dodging between the chamisa bushes on the drive, but before that even, a doe and two yearling fawns run down the middle of the main street Arroyo Hondo in the valley below here.
It promised to snow all morning, with white clouds cloaking the hills, and streams of snow like fog in the distance. And flakes fell here, but nothing much. It did that twice today. Now I can see stars in the middle of the night. It looks like it has been snowing to the south and east of here, and in the hills of course, confounding the forecasters. I'd love to have a little bit of snow, to make things look pretty, in the next day or so, so I can do a photo shoot. But oh well.
Trees now barren. White branches of aspen, that were yellow a few weeks ago, barren of leaves. Stripped by wind and rain. The piñon pines keep their clustered shapes, even though they've dropped their seeds, which we eat as pine nuts. Some things only appear to change, while others only appear to be changeless.
Where do I fit in? Sometimes it's a loneliness I can't even fathom; sometimes a connection to the earth, the land, the planet, rather than to other people. Glenn Gould once said, ÒI can be lonely even in the middle of a crowd.Ó It's a sense of alienation and isolation, akin to death, that can come on you anywhere, anytime. No warning.
You may be part of the tribe, but not always in community. You may have to live outside the village. Being the shaman can be isolating. Here I sit, late at night, surrounded by silence and cold; the stars are out, so it will be a colder night, now. Sometimes you have to cut yourself off, by choice, because there is something there to be learned; sometimes the Powers That Be do it for you. I am stubborn, so I resist enough that They sometimes get forceful. Sometimes They shout when They don't have to, but sometimes They have to. Why am I saying this? It's nothing new?so obvious, everyone knows it. Am I just listening to myself chatter, now?
The air outside is so clear and calm that I can hear traffic on the local highway, at least a mile or two away, as though it were next to me. I see headlights on the hills across the way, and they seem to be in the driveway right here. Illusion of separation. In fact, nothing so far as distance, is distance afar: closeness is.
Clouded over again, but not much else. It is incredibly dark outside now. Only some glimmer from the nearest towns over the ridgeline. Even Taos is just a glow ten miles or so south of here. I made fresh lemonade earlier tonight; but I had to wait for the lemons to thaw; they had frozen inside my camper over the past few days. Life in winter camping out is harder, more work. No sense of leisure when survival is on the line. A house to live in over the winter would be nice. But where? Here? Somewhere nearby? A place to shelter in, to be sheltered. Am I insane to think I can winter over here, without a house and stove or heater. I looked at other types of heaters in the hardware store yesterday; perhaps, if I just can keep it livable in the camper, it will be all right. Everything freezes, though. I worry about what few chattels I have with me. I worry about damage to artwork, instruments, books, if they are subjected to freezing cold for too long. Where can I store them, sheltered, warm enough?
Questions I can't answer tonight. Maybe later, maybe never. Patience in the face of nothingness. Anxiety that makes for boring, repetitive conversations. Things I keep coming back to, when I feel at my most vulnerable and weakest. The most important question to ask, at that point, what is the purpose of this dis-ease? Why now? Why here? What is the lesson hiding under it, behind it?
I wait and wait, and the night grows darker with no relief. I read for awhile. I try to work on projects, or on art, but my heart just isn't in it. Moondark, that time of month when it seems like nothing you attempt is easy, and starting a new project is amazingly difficult, like pulling a huge stone uphill. You can do it, but it takes much more effort than usual.
I want to do nothing. I want to be nothing, now, for awhile. I want to disappear into the air, into falling snow, a mist inside a mist. I shape earth so easily, I want to shape air.
LXXV. 12 November 2004, Taos, NM
A dim and dreary day. Cold and snow is forecast for tonight and next few days. I drove to Espanola again today, to deposit a long-delayed freelance cheque. There are things I probably ought to be doing, but I feel unmotivated at the moment. Mindless tasks, or the terrors of entertainment seem to about my limits today.
Well, that's not strictly true. I did manage to do three work-related tasks today, including the drive to deposit the cheque. I use the word "work" in its most open sense: work that I have done, that I could be doing, that I am putting out feelers towards contacts for doing in future. Maybe that's enough. Some basic self is screaming about shelter and warmth for the winter, scared of the cold and the weather here. Some other higher self is reminding me about trust, faith, and surrender. I feel stretched tight in between.
I probably ought to wash dishes, do other mundance tasks in the last hour of daylight, nere, now that it fades so early, but again I feel unmotivated.
Attacked on all sides by intellectual lightweights. Nothing is so dangerous as a person who thinks they know all the answers, and are happy to share them with you. Fundamentalism and fanaticism, however cloaked in polite rhetoric, are the most dangerous forces on the planet today. Not just in the political sphere, but on all levels: there is a poetry bulletin board rife with it that I've been reading lately. The attitude of "I'm right and you're wrong" shows up everywhere these days, even on Stickwire for the godz sake, as if the recent electoral firestorm has empowered even the least self-aware among us to pronounce whatever judgment they would choose, no matter how poorly thought out, as gospel truth. "Gospel truth" is exactly what we have too much of, as it is. I find myself getting firmer of rhetoric, simply to be heard.
Expect things to get worse, too, before they get better. If there is one lesson to be gleaned from the recent US elections, it's that the fanatics are in complete control of all levels of government, society, and culture in these end times. (And don;t deceive yourself that this is anything new.) As I've said before, this is the Millenial Fevre?it built up towards this over the past thirty years, and will take almost that long to dissipate. What those of good conscious must do is endure. I had this insight about millenarianism, a vision of sorts, if you will, when I was all of 13 years old, and so far my predictions have been proven accurate. What hatreds and narrowmindednesses and prejudices that are driving those in political and economic power at this time are going to take some time and effort to undo. It will be as much a test of endurance for those who would like to see us keep evolving as a species towards a finer destiny and a finer world, as it will be to prevent the erosion of what we have already gained.
But the doom and gloom sayers on the left are not helping, either. As much as I respect a radio program like Deomcracy Now for reporting stories that no one else will report, and most of them stories I appreciate, their constant tone of "manning the battlements" and their continuous anger wear me down. I cannot listen to that radio show very often, or without wincing. Nor is Democracy Now the most strident example.
Yes, the world can be a very bad place, and there is much we can do to improve it. But, no, the world is not really only a negative place. Even if things are worse now than ever before in history, which I can present reasoned arguments both for and against, it does us no good to accentuate the negative to the total exclusion of the positive. This is not a plea for Pollyanna denial?rather, it's a plea to keep it all in a somewhat healthier perspective.
Driving back from Espanola today, as radio reception fell in and out of clarity in the Rio Grande Canyon for those 30 miles you drive through before climbing onto the plateau, I heard some of the more rational arguments for change that I have encountered in awhile. The program was Alternative Radio, and the speaker today was Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, an ER doctor and population health specialist in Seattle. His talk was entitled "Health and Wealth," and he pointed out clearly the connection between our population's level of health or sickness and our current social difficulties. He made a very convincing case, based entirely on verifiable data, that the most important factors affecting our health in this culture are social ones: not access to medical care, not wealth per se, but rather relative wealth. Nowadays in the US, a starting worker in many corporations earns 1/1000th in comparison to the CEO. In Japan, the healthiest nation in the world, the ratio is 11 to 1. In fact, in Japan, where so many smoke, the incidence of smoke-related illnesses is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US. Dr. Bezrucha also detailed the history of how we got this way, and how the major shifts have all happened since World War II. Fascinating listening.
LXXIV. 11 November 2004, Taos, NM
Thoughts triggered by a critique discussion of a friend's poem, which I won't quote here, but which got me thinking:
Apollonian and Dionysian, often posed as an opposition of forces within the human spirit. There is some discussion of this is Camille Paglia's writings, as well as elsewhere. Having read Paglia not recently but awhile ago, I vaguely recall her critique along these lines. I also recall not being entirely sold by her arguments. (I think her reading of Nietzche is fairly shallow.) When you talk about jazz from a Nietzchean context, the great artists are usually portrayed as supermen, heroes who by the sweat of their brow brought the new music into being; and the new music, jazz, is usually described as Dionysian. What is usually ignored in these arguments is that many artists jazz innovators were quite intelligent and intellecutal in their pursuit of new versions of jazz, new systems, new ways of making music: it was not all incoherent, intoxicated stumbling, somme of it was in fact very carefully thought out. This doesn't mean the fortuitous accident principle wasn't there, opening the doors to new ideas by serendipity. But serendipity is useless if you aren't paying attention; it happens all the time, after all. So, calling jazz only a Dionysian art?and placing it in opposition to classical music, a supposedly Apollonian art?only carries us so far, and no further.
As someone who often straddles these binary delineations, I find (once again) a binary opposition to be less than useful. Binary polarities are so built into the Western way of thinking, that we take them for granted. But there is almost always more nuance than a binary opposition allows us to think about. (V. Woolf: Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.)
The Apollo/Dionysus polarity becomes especially ironic in the conext of what Wynton Marsalis and his followers are doing, which is to "museumify" jazz?for example, Lincoln Center performances that exactly reproduce 1920s seminal jazz performances. This is a dominantly Apollonian approach, if you will. It is essentially a Western classical music approach to jazz, an act of reproduction rather than fresh creation, which I find to be arguably against the whole spirit of jazz. Playing faithfully some earlier jazzman's improvised solos, rather than improvsing a new solo on the spot?which is what jazz is all about?seems contrary to the spirit of "jazz" itself. Not to mention that Wynton has a tendency to deify Louis Armstrong, who I do consider a great jazzman, but whom is deified by these folks far beyond what is either required or seemly.
Not to mention that this whole Apollonian trend in jazz history wishes that all the innovators of the 50s and 60s would just go away, so they could safely ignore them and not have to talk about them or deal with them. The blindness of focusing on one era of an evolving artform and labelling that one era as the archetypal One Truth is nothing less than a form of fundamentalism. It is questionable at best, insidious to history at worst.
So, here's an example where the line between Apollo and Dionysus just falls apart. Hmn?
LXXIII. 10 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
The dryness of winter, whether it's arctic or intermontane, is deadly. The drying wind pulls the moisture right out of you, leaving you as dessicated as an arctic mummy found in the littoral sandbank of a Paleolithic burial site. This dryness is older than anything you know; it's the dryness of space, pricking at your skin with a million decompressive needles. I drink water continuously, and tea before bed, till I must wake in the night to excrete, but I still feel dry-lipped, parched, dessicated.
Animal spirits flicker in the dimness of this light: guillemot evoked by Arctic seaspray, blackbirds on white fields; the loon's midnight concert you've heard so often in the northwoods, red-eyed, white-necklaced spirit-bird; a drive down the hill this morning reveals four or more mule deer plucking at the dried-out trees; in the distance, coyotes; the bears, after a good fruit and berry season, bearberries and apples in abundance, hunker down to estivate till spring's dawn; somewhere, in the far hills still white with snowcover even after today's sublimating sun that has stripped away most remnants of last night's snowfall, there are beings moving high in the rocks and taiga and alpine cirques: memories of Devonian sea-creatures, trilobites and mollusks and sea-cucumbers, ghost-memories of a long-dried ghost-ocean. You can see them all in the new moon's darkening light, as clouds cover the stars, blanketing the mesa with warmer air than expected, tonight.
I think of perlerorneq again. Wintermind. The weight of existence. Lopez writes, in Arctic Dreams:
Winter darkness shuts off the far view. The cold drives you deep into your clothing, muscles you back into your home. Even the mind retreats into itself.
It's true. The claustrophobia of being trapped indoors, because of killing cold outside, is what white homesteaders call cabin fever; it can strike otherwise sane folk, who will strike out into the winter landscape and lose themselves in the trackless snow, blinded by the sun reflected off the land, forgetting proper eyewear and clothing in their frantic haste to escape the shadow within.
The ice can break under your feet at any moment, and you fall in. Even the ice coating the land can plummet you into the abyss. The Void. My first vision of this void happened in deep winter, in Wisconsin, on a cold New Year's Eve, on a hillside covered with snow and lichen, surrounded by pine trees. Something primal woke up in me as I felt the world fall away beneath my feet; I have rarely felt so prehistoric. An instinct for survival that I cannot reckon, to this day, as anything but a possessing force from some other spiritual realm, that fused with me to keep me alive, hovering, suspended over the abyss, even as I continued to feel gravity tug me down.
I am not alone in this plunge. Lopez writes:
I recall a day of errors, hunting seals in the ice of the Beaufort Sea. I felt whatever trouble we had that day was due to my failures of attitude, though this was self-indulgent thinking. I was skinning a bearded seal on a small ice cake with another man, in silence. The ocean?still as a pane of glass. One call only, from a loon. I thought how the ice under my feet could suddenly melt. I was standing on water over the water. My heart went into my neck. Later we ate. I ate the meat of the seal.
Some beauty is so powerful that it makes you weep. Some land and sky is so intensely beautiful that it also makes you afraid. Rilke: Beauty is the beginning or terror; and, from the Duino Elegies, Every angel is terrifying.
An angel is something of ice and light. Something we perceive only by its refraction of the light of night and day, here in this illusion of life. A mirage, a fata morgana, a lensing of air and light into an illusion of oasis. The hissing aurora.
I am to spend this new year exploring my relationship with the Eagle spirit. This is one of my principal totems, so it is not as though we have never spoken. But, to deepen, to explore, to extend, to incorporate and embody: that is the task. Such tasks can take a year or more; a mayfly's day, or a blue whale's lifetime. I have seen bald eagles soaring above the Mississippi River in the bluffed canyon of downtown Minneapolis, only yards from households and University laboratories. I have watched bald eagles mate in the cold air on an overcast day at Prairie du Sac on the Wisconsin River, less than an hour's drive west of Madison, their January nesting grounds. I have seen golden eagles soar above Idaho riverine cliffs; the pillar basalt of the Snake River Valley, as it winds through its bed south of Craters of the Moon National Park. (I have also slept under so many stars in a clear, bonfire-lit night at Craters, that you couldn't see the constellations, the stars were so thick.) I have seen osprey fly past blue herons, ignoring each other, at Willow River State Park, just north of Hudson, Wisconsin. I have seen fishhawks dive through the coastal air of Oregon and northern California, parting the fog and seaspray mist like intelligent bullets. I have seen thousands of hawks circling, perched, and diving: this whole journey has been a haven for hawks.
eagle: feather of mind, talon sign of the hunter.
an iridescent surplice in golden eyes of implacable waiting: oh bright eye.
gift of sky to sea: fish jump, salmon caught midair as they leap homeward.
levitation of thermal precipice. red cliffs absorb the hunter's nest and shadow.
elevation of the sorrows of carrion-crows. estuaries of innocence. a brilliance of scree.
To the list of known influences, I am reminded by a friend, I need to add Loren Eiseley and Antoine de Ste.-Exupery. Two writers of considerable lyricism and beauty, and whom, like the others, I have read and re-read. You only need to read Finnegan's Wake once, but you keep coming back to re-read To the Lighthouse.
LXXII. 10 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
Light snow last night, dusting the ground with white lace, pooling in the truck ruts of the unpaved road, coating the sage with candy-confection crystals. The mountains are touched with white, which mostly burns off through the day's light, except for the highest peaks, now almost permanently white. Winter is approaching. The weather yesterday was wet and rainy for most of the day; that cold dampness that gets into your bones. The lacy snow began after 10pm, and was so light that individual flakes barely registered as they fell through my flashlight beam.
In the bright morning light, before the wind kicks in from the north later, I lay in bed and read from Barry Lopez' Arctic Dreams:
Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land, however, no matter how profound or accurate, we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression?its weathers and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you are there.
I think of the Luminist painters of late 19th century America; how there quest for a healing, soothing light came at least in part as a reaction to the horrors of the Civil War. (As much we abhor the loss of life in Vietnam and now the Middle East, it might be worth remembering what we did to ourselves in the 1860s, when in some battles more soldiers died in a day than in all of the Vietnam undeclared war.) The Luminists sought perfect clarity of light, and so were drawn to the seashores of northern New England. I have seen this same subtlety of light here in the mountains of New Mexico, with their high clear air, and all over the desert Southwest in my recent travels. I have also seen it at dawn and dusk at the Pacific Ocean shore: a clarity into the far distance, but also the foreground seaspray like frost and fog, the light streaming through clouds to stretch fingers of Renaissance god-touch illumination onto the waves. Finding words for these qualities of light stretches the vocabulary to its poetic limits. You fall back on clichés because nothing else can convey it to anyone who hasn't experienced it for themselves.
I look at the birds here, unnamed to my knowledge, many species new to me. That one there, with its splash of red underwing; the black and white stripes of local magpies. And as you lose language into vision, you realize that the birds recognize each other without need of words or names. This redbird flickers into green trees, casting a shadow where a blackbird flew yesterday, croaking. You lose language into the silence that you also lose your self into. The mind quiets, silences. Air movements. Sounds in the silence across the open spaces. This light. This weightless sky.
Contact. Connection. Networking. These are the things that make you a sustainable income. Getting to know everyone in town, walking in doors with you portfolio, whether or not they really want to look at it. Nothing but the chance of a connection.
I recognize in my writing some of Lopez' cadence, some of McPhee's, even some of Camus' from Exile and the Kingdom and the Lyrical Essays. All this training to be a writer, by writing, by doing. More than imitation: absorption. Resonance. My poetry has been compared favorably with Gary Snyder's on more than one occasion; certainly I have read Snyder, and three or four of his poems ring in my memory when others by other writers fade. But do we really care about influence? Does it get you more than recognition, academic labeling, connections? I find I don't think about it all that much. Everyone struggles to be so original these days, that we rabidly deny our influences; I think this is irrelevant. Rather than deny an influence, acknowledge it for what it is: seeds planted in the soul's ground. You make your own language and style not by trying to be different from everyone else, but by trying to be most true to your inner voices, wherever they lead you. Style for style's sake is ultimately a wasteland, not worth mapping. There are probably other hints and echoes and voices that readers will hear in my writing voice of which I am totally unaware; that's inevitable. The worst thing you can do is edit as you write; self-censorship is the most insidious form, and self-editing is a sure road to writing nothing.
I constantly throw down gauntlets these days, in the face of what irritates and annoys me: most of which is life-denying rather than life-supporting. The idiocy or mockery that leads to self-doubt. The parallel contemptibility of putting down what you are afraid of, to try to deflect others from it, not just oneself. Thoughts too dangerous to pursue must be pursued anyway, or they rule you: the only way out is through. Here's a forest of acclamation to be navigated; here a pool of denigration, slicked over with the oily veneer of social respectability. You cross a high pass between social approval and social judgment, tightroped in high winds, your feet barely touching the soil. Then you're in a valley of inertia and lethargy, taking all your effort to cross it. It's the basin and range all over again; or perhaps, basin and rage.
Today I find myself indifferent to the demands of those who tell us not to say what must be said, for fear of giving offense or causing discomfort. I find myself having to speak the truth, my own truth if no one else's, strong enough in my own convictions to be indifferent to the tides of social approval that surge all around. I've spent too much of my life pleasing others; I know the desire to be loved at all costs far too intimately. What approval you need cannot come from the Tribe, if you ever expect to grow up and evolve.
LXXI. 7 November 2004, Arroyo Hondo, NM
In San Francisco, I bought a total of three DVDsSF is a great place to shop for stuff you find it hard to locate in most other placesall of them music DVDs, all ones by favorite musicians.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: :Playback. A compilation of music videos by someone who kept pushing the envelope of what music videos could be. Petty always tried to push videos from being a promotional tool to being a genuine art form. At his best, I think he succeeded. He did some things no one else thought of before, He treated his clips as small films, and tried experiments that consistently got copied by other, less creative bands. The surrealist Alice In Wonderland Don't Come Around Here No More, the lyricism of Free Fallin' (a song I genuinely like, too, as a song), and the rise and fall pop star narrative of Into the Great Wide Open all deserve to be viewed as short films in their own right. Each is experimental, and uses ideas rarely seen in either music videos or mainstream films.
One thing you notice in Petty's videos is that a lot of them are framed by little storytelling sequences: a book opens to a blank page, in which the video frame appears; at the end of the video, we pull back to the book, and it's slammed closed by a pair of hands that, as you pull back, belong to Petty. Books appear in several of these framing sequences. It's a trope, but it's also archetypal: Petty was indeed trying to be a storyteller in these little films, and the books provide both a frame and a literary reference.
King Crimson: Neal and Jack and Me. This is actually a compilation of two concert films made in 1982 and 1984, plus a music video for Sleepless and some other extra materials. These two concert videos are, in my opinion, not just good films of Crimson in action, with the 1980s line-up of Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew on guitars, Tony Levin on bass and Stick, and Bill Bruford on drums?they are great concert films.
The concert film genre is one that has been greatly supported by DVD. A lot of films have been released on DVD that were hard to come by on video, and rarely if ever seen in theaters. The Band's The Last Waltz, Joni Mitchell's Shadows and Light, Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock (there are actually several Hendrix films out now), and several others. This is not just something for documentation, but, for musicians like myself, is a fabulous way of getting a music lesson from one's musical forebears and influences.
The 1982 Live at Frejus film included here on the King Crimson video was one of the first films I ever saw Tony Levin play Stick in?and Stick has become my main instrument, since the early 1990s. Watching Tony is not only inspirational, it's educational. I've had the pleasure of playing music with Adrian Belew a couple of times, and he's not only a genuinely nice man, he's one of the most amazing sound painters I've ever encountered.
I'm not a big fan of guitarists. I generally find that too much ego gets in the way of the music, and guitarists are often prone to that (as are other "front row" or "lead" instruments in other contexts: sopranos and saxophonists, for example). I don't like the "Guitar Gods" hero-worship thing at all; in fact, worshipping jazz or rock god guitarists usually turns me right off, or makes me think of Spinal Tap. (I would much rather we all built our own gardens rather than idolize those of others.) This particular line-up of Crimson contains two of my favorite guitarists, of the dozen or so I really admire, all of whom are experimental, risk-takers, and do things way beyond the mainstream. (The list also includes Sonny Sharrock, Nicky Skopelitis, Bill Frisell, Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, and a few others.)
John Cage: From Zero. These are four experimental films by Frank Sheffer and Andrew Culver. I am a serious Cage collector; I have a substantial collection of his recordings, films about him, books of his writings or about him, and so forth. I am particularly fond of Cage reading, performing, or being interviewed: his voice is something I find endlessly listenable. (I feel the same way about William S. Burroughs, and have a similar collection of recordings of Burroughs reading and performing his writings.)
Some of these films include recorded performances of Cage's musical works, and the films themselves have been subjected to the same chance operations that permeate the music, deciding things such as lighting, film editing, position and operation of the cameras, and so forth.
Now, I've written before about how necessary I find chance operations and chance itself to be to my own artwork, music, and writing. In this, I am a Cagean, I suppose?just as I am a Jungian in other ways, and a McLuhanite and Fullerian. I find films about Cage to be infinitely inspirational, because I learn from them how to open my attention to ordinary things, and to be open to experience, to the music of whatever happens.
There is a freshness to Cage's work, and these films, that is remarkable. Because of the chance operations, you never know what's going to happen. No two performances can be alike, even of the same work. No two versions of these films could have been alike, as well. This very unpredictability lies at the root of what makes Cage's material so always fresh, so appealing, so surprising?and often, so funny. There is often a sly sense of humor going on, on some level.
There is a level of attention required to absorb a Cage piece that is much more profound than the usual concert music, of whatever genre. Because you never know what's going to happen next, or how the elements will come into relationship (because they were assembled without the intention to be related), your ears sit on the edge of their seat. Your attention is heightened. You never drift into autopilot, the way you can at a symphony or jazz concert. It can be exhausting, but it's always a joy. This sort of listening is active listening, rather than passive listening: it required the full attention of your entire being, to be present, to witness, to participate, to merge with whatever is happening. It's exactly the way we are meant to experience life itself, unedited, unmediated, uncensored, dynamic and active. This is the state of being that comes to you after years of Zen meditation, perhaps, where you perceive things just as they are, as they are happening, without judgment or filters.
Watching through these films, including the extra material on the DVD, brings the experiencer to that place of full attention. For that reason alone, regardless of anything else, this is a very important film collection.
I also find Andrew Culver's ideas, some of them newly introduced to me on this DVD, to be very interesting. I recommend visiting his website Anarchic Harmony.
In the films such as Overpopulation and Art and Paying Attention, where the filmic attributes of camerawork, sound, and editing are also subjected to chance operations, there is an homage to Cage's own methods, transferred to a new medium: the visual. Of course, you are limited by the screen itself, but there is within the frame still many things that can be chance-determined.
I am reminded of my own work inspired by and in homage to Cage, the piece I composed for radiobroadcast originally in the early 1980s, Collections & Re-Collections Re: and Not-Re: John Cage. This is a piece that takes multiple sources of sonic material, and mixes them together for radiobroadcast using chance operations. I performed the piece live 8 or 9 times on WCBN-FM Ann Arbor and WORT-FM Madison between 1982 and 1997. In some later performances, I used taped recordings of the earlier performances as one of the elements. Recently, I digitized a couple of these versions onto CD; at some point, I plan to transcribe them all onto CD.
All of the source materials were either recordings of Cage pieces, or Cage himself talking or reading or performing or being interviewed. I have always appreciated Cage as a writer and poet, and have always enjoyed hearing him read his own material. From the 1950s recording of Indeterminacy to his last completed writing, Overpopulation and Art, which in some ways was a last summation of his thinking, he consistently makes the reader think, and requires one to Pay Attention in a most profound way.
In some versions of the piece, because of the chance operations, there are moments of not much going on, and even silence. In other sections, things can get quite thick. One eventually divorces meaning from content, and just listens. A snatch here, a phrase there, might make verbal sense, but also just the tone of voice, the blend of voice and sound, becomes just another sound element.
To me, this is background music. I listen to the tapes of this piece as I do other things. Sometimes a particularly non-intentional relationship makes me laugh out loud. Other times, I want to stop and integrate something especially wise that Cage has said; but I let the piece roll on, without stopping.
Too much of what we take for granted on the radio is crap. Too many clichés, not enough actual listening. Why does every piece of music have to have a beat, a pulse, a backbeat? There are more than 12 notes per octave, but we go on as if there weren't. In fact, sound is infinitely varied, pitch is infinitely divisible: a continuum. Every sound that happens within the frame and context of a performance is intended, if only because the time-frame provided for the performance is intentionally determined.
Very little of any sort of adventurous or experimental music actually gets on the radio anymore. I have been largely disappointed with most public performances, including radio, in the past few years. Nothing makes me sit up and listen. Very little requires that I pay attention. Most of it is designed to entertain, which is the antithesis of art.
Rob Breszny: Performance is Life. Entertainment is Death.
Hakim Bey: The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by Poetic Terrorism ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror?powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst?no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is ";signed" or anonymous, if it does not change someone's life (aside from the artist) it fails.
Let's take the usual diatribe against the commercialized distortion of art and music as written: a familiar argument only half-believed, at best laced with apathetic ennui and perceived powerlessness. Because of our apathy in the face of bland entertainment, because of our complicit perpetration of the culture of mediocrity?complicity by our refusal to refuse bad art and music from infiltrating our lives?because of our sense of helplessness in the shadow of the overwhelming forces brought to bear by the wealth and power of the entertainment industries: because of all of these, we only half-believe that we can do anything to change things for the better. But we can change whatever we want to change.
It's simple: as Cage said in Overpopulation and Art, what we need is more unemployment, because unemployment is self-employment. We need less government, and more primary education: education being what we teach ourselves.
Entertainment is death precisely to the extent that it is passive listening rather than active listening: to the extent we shut ourselves down, turn off our awareness and attention and mindfulness, we die. We are not alive, nor dare we call ourselves human, without active awareness and attention to what we being and doing. It may be easier to just sit back and let the TV drown your cares, as addictively as some use alcohol or sex for the same purpose, but it life-denying rather than life-affirming to give up your own desires and dreams for those manufactured by others as entertainment. Never forget that entertainment is always a commercial commodity, made by "content providers"; for the overlords of distribution and marketing.
Performance is life precisely to the extent that we realize that all life is performance: a game, a role-play, an illusion. When we perform we consciously take on a role, an act, a purpose, even if that role is to be the most authentically who we are that we can be in this moment. This is why all clothing is drag. Drag is not merely crossdressing or genderfuck, drag is boy-drag or girl-drag or work-drag or school-drag or naked-drag to the extent that we consciously choose to wear what we wear. Even if it's skin. The key word here is consciously: to live with conscious awareness and attention, to Pay Attention to what we are being and doing, to be scrupulous with our intentions and motivations, and to resist the undertow of entropy and lassitude that tells us we can't do anything without the mediation of others. (The verbal form of entertainment media is entertained mediation.) Performing our lives is living them, and not letting someone else mediate what you perceive. Educate yourself: primary education.
Cage also says, perhaps the most radical thing an artist can pursue these days is beauty and upliftment. The avant-garde has sold itself, like the Surrealists did earlier, to the cultural undertow, the miasma of belief that hipness and coolness must be about denial and negativity and urban angst and malaise. Coolness itself is death: because it is cool. The English rock trio Kitchens of Distinction produced an album called The Death of Cool, which is all about ekstasis and eros, about being alive even in uncertain times, about how fear rules me easily/ it takes lust and strength to turn to you and say/ that I want you/ I need you...
The opposite of cool is hot: ekstasis. The opposite of hipness is un-self-conscious acting out: eros. We are not living in the present or the past, we are living in the future.
Hakim Bey: Existence itself may be considered an abyss possessed of no meaning. I do not read this as a pessimistic statement. If it be true, then I can see in it nothing else but a declaration of autonomy for my imagination & will--& for the most beautiful act they can conceive with which to bestow meaning upon existenceÉ.
Even if I'd given up all hope in art, however, all expectation of exaltation, I would still refuse to put up with art that merely exacerbates my misery, or indulges in schadenfreude, "delight in the misery of others." I turn away from certain art as a dog would turn away howling from the corpse of its companion. I'd like to renounce the sophistication which would permit me to sniff it with detached curiosity as yet another example of post-industrial decomposition.
from Against the Reproduction of Death
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