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Road Journal

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Road Trip

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At the prompting of friends, notably writer Michael Gause, I'm writing a road journal. Although setting off with an obvious and unavoidable nod to Kerouac, I have no intention of marking time with a daily diary blog of endless minutiae of life on the road in the early 21st Century. I regard this Journal as an open-ended series of essays, creative nonfiction, sometimes poetic, that I will add to regularly if not always daily, on topics and in styles that seem to appropriate at the time. I make no claims to literary merit. It is instead experimentation, exploration.

I have no idea where this road journey is ultimately going to lead me, or who and what I will encounter along the way. Uncertainty is surely the point. Wherever that leads me as a musician, poet, writer, and visual artist, I look forward to whatever's next.

Please feel free to bookmark this page and check back periodically for updates.

CLXX. 3 March 2005, Pinole, CA

I met a guy on, he owns and runs a pottery studio in Pope Valley, in the hills north of Napa. We talked a few times, and I drove up there today and spent the afternoon. His land there is beautiful, and the drive in passes through some wild forest land that reminds me of the Short Mountain area in Tennessee: driving a narrow road through woods over a sharp precipice, water running over the edge, moss-laden boulders, and houses half-hidden in the trees. An orchard just beginning to bud out in this early California spring. Forsythia sprigs in wild yellow blush. Far below, streams and waterfalls in the ravines.

I spent a pleasant afternoon there, talking, and watching the firing of a large Japanese-style kiln; it’s a multi-day firing followed by a multi-day cooling. You have to get the temperature very high several times, and keep it there. It takes constant stoking, and several people work in teams. I was probably the only non-potter there today.

I doubt that there is any relationship possibility here. He’ s nice guy, with a good life in a good place. He says he is looking for someone to share his good life. But for anyone new to enter into his life, would disrupt his routine; change would inevitably happen. There are some other potters resident there, and in summer there are seminars and workshops, when people occupy the land. I think it’s great. And, for someone new to fit in, they would have to merge into his existing life, and probably give up their own. Would anyone do that? It’s a genuine question. But I think this could become an artistic friendship. I asked if I could come back again, and do some photography on his land; and he said, anytime. He also invited me back for the kiln opening in just over a week.

I stayed till just before dark, then drove out the unfamiliar road in the fading light. I made it to the highway just as the last light faded from the hills. It began to rain. I was listening to John Dowland’s songs on the truck stereo.

The next thing I knew, I felt waves of emotion come over me, and I was crying in the truck, with the rain and music, all the way home. Damnit, I needed the release. It suddenly was clear to me that I may never have a romantic relationship in this lifetime; that I might be the wandering wizard, sailing from island to island, I accept that. “The shaman does not live in the village,” as the saying goes. My tears were my demand to the Powers That Be that I at least be allowed to mourn and grieve, for the lost hopes and dreams, the desires that will never happen. I’ll have lots of friends, sure, I already do; but not much beyond that. So, some of this is grief; and some of it is loneliness. Despair? Perhaps, but not so deeply as to affect me; say, rather: resignation.

I’m tired of the continuous rejection. I’m tired of meeting people only to be rejected. Everyone wants to be my friend; nobody wants anything more. So. Oh well. Nevermind.

I’ll get over it. I surrender to whatever shape my life is supposed to be, to being where They send me, where I am supposed to be to do Their work. I give up any control over my own life. But I deserve, and I demand, some time to get used to the idea. And I demand to grieve for what will never come to be.

CLXIX. 1 March 2005, Pinole, CA

A dream, like the others recently, of being semi-ostracized. Moving through the group, talking to people, but being alone, having a lone purpose, and being viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Feelings of being isolated, rejected, scorned, whatever; more or less the same stuff I’ve been feeling for over a week now, waking and sleeping. I don’t engage with it, though, in the dream; I just let it be. I don’t try to talk to people who don’t want to talk to me. (I’ve heard say it is a terrible thing to get used to despair. But that’s not what this is. I am not numb; rather, I am ceasing to care what is thought of me, I am ceasing to bother about it. No drama; just a lack of worry.)

It is evening, moving into night, we’re in a three-story barn that is both a school and a residence, and on the top floor an astronomical viewing place. I want to see the stars tonight, so I go outside through the kitchen and onto the lawn. The sky is filled with bright lights, except for the clouds over the distant hills to the west. In the southern sky, the moon has a halo and rings surrounding it. Everywhere else in the sky, more starts than you have ever seen. This is the only time in the dream I feel at peace, feel happy, looking up. I want to see more, so I try to take the elevator up to the top of the barn, but it seems to be closed off and locked down, and of course no one will help me figure out how to get past that. On my own again.

The best part of the dream was looking at the stars. The sky was full beyond full with points of light, so thick you could only see new constellations, not the familiar ones. Or maybe these were indeed different constellations. The mind’s tendency to make patterns, to impose form on chaos, to invest meaning wherever there seems to be none.

So, perhaps the meaning, here, is to keep looking at the stars. I can coexist just fine with people who don’t understand me, or what I’m doing, or the directions I’m heading now. I don’t have to explain, or engage–in the dream I did neither, and even though I could feel the pressure of judgment coming in from others, I didn’t engage with it. I chose to ignore it, mostly.

I do feel somewhat cut-off, though. I’m still in a process of unwinding the vines that have kept me trapped thus far, the vines of entanglement with social and familial expectations. There are very few folks who will support me right now, if any, because to most it’s still about Getting A Job, and always will be. I can’t even articulate it that well, and I choose not to kill it by trying to explain it yet, and there is something coming over the horizon, that has nothing to do with my past life here, my past way of working, and the old patterns.

A new artist’s statement:

I’m a multimedia collage artist. I’m sort of a jack of all trades artistic. I’ve worked with photography, digital art, acrylics, fabric including quilting), found assemblages, pottery, landscape and site-specific art, natural materials, hand-made paper and books, printmaking, poetry, jewelry, woodwork, stonework, metal, chandlery, musical instrument building and design, junkmusic (homemade and found sound), computer-based creativity, and many other media, singly or (more often) in combination. I can locate as influences, in terms of technique and craft if not content, Robert Rauschenberg, Jerry Uelsmann, Susan Seddon Boulet. I have a restless imagination, and often make art of what I can find lying at hand. Bits and pieces gathered here often end up incorporated over there. What I lack in what some would call dedication to a single craft, I more than make up for with flexibility, diversity, and adaptability. My artwork has been described as shamanic, visionary, archetypal, transformative, and mythopoetic. The process matters to me as much as the product.

I have a broad-ranging and well-read background in design, visual art, art history, typography, the history of technology and engineering, poetry, music (performance, musicology, ethnomusicology, history), and cultural studies. I have experience teaching, training, and in research and consulting for all of the above.

CLXVIII. 28 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Yesterday, after doing that computer training thing, which was fine, and a little bit of cash to boot, in the falling rain I drove down the lush housed lane off Solano Ave. in Berkeley, and rediscovered the Labyrinth at St. Alban’s Episcopal. A small Chartres-style Labyrinth, with octagonal outlines. Red brick paths made vivid and beautiful in the rain. A white inlaid spirit-dove at the entranceway. It’s in a courtyard between the small sanctuary and the church offices. A tiny, pocket church with the thoughtfulness to provide a Labyrinth, and in a neighborhood full of flowers, trees, and small but lovely houses.

CLXVII. 27 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Spent much of the afternoon in Palo Alto, improvising music with a trumpeter in the mold of Jon Hassell or Nils Petter Molvaer, two musicians I like very much. I had a really good time, and I think we did some good stuff together. I enjoyed myself. There will be a gig or two that comes of this, next month. Also had a long phone talk with Sinden while driving down, which was the best part of my day: talking to someone who really understands, on all levels, that I don’t have to explain the background to, who already gets it. Tried to phone a couple other friends later, just to chat, but bad timing prevailed, and that didn’t happen.

Spent much of the evening doing computer work: file editing, copying, reformatting, for a project for the American Gamelan Institute. No problem on my puter, but their SFTP server sure is slow. Takes longer to upload a file, after editing, than it takes to do every other part of the process, combined. And I know it’s their server, as every other download and upload is smooth as silk, speedy, slick, over and done with much faster.

I’m sick of poetry message boards. Even the ones that promise to give crit, I give more than I get. I will save off some my older posts, as essay fodder, then leave. Nothing really useful to me there, and I need to consolidate my forces. Most often, I get crit that is useless to me; not because it’s bad crit, but because few people seem to get what I’m really trying to do as a writer. If anything. Not really sure I am trying to do anything, honestly. It’s not really an arena in which I feel any ambition. I do it, and sometimes I’m pretty good at it, but I do it because I like to do it, not because I expect any outcome. I hate poetry boards where all they do is praise: that is worse than useless. It can actually kill you as a writer, if you come to believe your own press. Taking yourself too seriously is a sign of encroaching death.

I’m also sick of the old AOL chatrooms I used to spend time in. They have nothing to say, nothing intelligent to talk about, nothing really good to sink my teeth into. Even the friends I have made there, over the years, only occasionally have anything to say to me. It’s that impatience with time-wasting and wasted potential appearing again. What I was talking about before: an impatience with things that keep me from being the most I can be, from growing and changing, and from evolving. This arena of my online life used to occupy more of my time, and function as a support group, someone to talk to in my loneliness, and someone to connect to in my dark nights. Now, I spend almost no time there at all; it just pisses me off. It feels like a total waste. Some of my friends would affirm that, but I don’t really want to hear that: I need neither validation nor support on this. If anything, I just feel more alone; but not in a bad way, just a neutral way. None of this is angst or drama; at most, it’s a sort of quiet disgust. You want to not be judgmental about any of it; and sometimes that’s hard.

Tomorrow I am supposed to go train someone on computers and digital cameras, and I have some bad feelings about it. Which might be nothing more than my own Saboteur, or just a desire to Do Nothing for a day or so. I go from this pressure to Do Things in this desert of shallowness, these shoals of overstimulation, to the overabundance of Things To Do. Feast to famine to feast. It’s another kind of rollercoaster, not unlike that emotional rollercoaster I’ve been riding–and I am similarly sick of it. A level keel for awhile would be nice, if it were in the cards; which it’s probably not. I just feel soured tonight, on people, on plans, on Things To Do. What does any of it mean? Nothing. What does any of it add up to, in the long run? Nothing. A hundred years from now, not one piece of this will matter: so mote it be. Why wait? Give it up now, before the rush. Why bother? Who really gives a fuck? Man: the rationalizing animal.

Maybe it's time to go seek the seashore again, for an afternoon of wind, sand and sun.

CLXVI. 25 February 2005, Pinole, CA

My dreams the past few nights have been all about going it alone, against the pack. Not always conflict, not always battle, or rejection, but about making my own way independent of everyone else. Following my inner calling and guidance, despite social pressures to conform. Trusting in my vision, even if no one understands, and I end up losing all those usual social supports that people traditionally fear losing. A subtle bit of guidance to trust, surrender, trust, give over Control. (I am so not a Control Freak, yet must embrace the Shadow in that I admit that I am one, anyway. Fear makes me collapse into trying to control things, and make it happen the usual, socially-approved way: precisely the way that all the recent evidence has shown is closed to me, now. My Dreaming lesson here is not to try to beat the wall down anymore, but go around it, or just plain ignore it.)

The guidance I am getting now is to cease the traditional job-search, fruitless as it is anyway, and take the radical leap of trusting my intuition. Go to music stores and art galleries and leave posters and resumes offering my services as musician and DJ. This means I need to spend most of today developing those materials to spread around town; that’s the easiest part of it all, frankly, I have so much experience writing new resumes at this point.


Part of all this is that I increasingly catch myself feeling impatient with what I perceive as the stupidities and inadequacies of much discourse I encounter lately. Lots of folks with little education or background, for one, spouting their opinions without sufficient background knowledge to have an informed opinion. I find myself unable to be silent, at times, in the face of such ignorance, if only in an attempt to cure it. Usually it’s wasted effort; personal attacks are frequently the response.

What really irritates is willful ignorance, the usual “don’t confuse me with the facts, I already made up my mind” crap. That is so much crap. Not to mention when you run into someone who thinks they’ve discovered something new, and get snippy when you point out to them that at least 4 other books have already been written on the topic. It ends up being all about ego, in the end.

Some of this is my own stuff, at the moment, I know: the need to separate myself from the pack, in all ways, coupled to the dreams and intuitions of late. It’s all of a piece. I’m doing my best to overcome everything that has ever held me down, and refuse to be dragged back down by others, so, watching others do it to themselves brings out my perverse sense of cynical humor. It’s hard to watch, even from a distance. Where is anything in it but personal ego?

I have to say, though, my mind boggles at times at the prevalence of ignorance, stupidity, and general laziness about knowledge and wisdom, that one encounters out there.

I discovered at Goodwill today a collection of poetry, which I acquired for two bucks. One of those huge volumes, over 700 pages of close type, that tries to be definitive but like all its ilk never can be, and that somebody somewhere will use as a textbook. The Marvill Book of Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, edited by Michael Schmidt. The collection includes snippets of all the poets one would expect in such a compendium, from Thomas Hardy to Eliot and Pound, Williams, Ashbery, all the best-known names. It leaves out a few I would have included, notably Rukeyser and one or two other Modernist Americans. But this book is a little different from the usual collection of its type, in that it includes many poets not so well known as others, some of whom I would argue are deserving of greater renown than they currently have. The editor is of course an academic poet, as such collections usually are, but he is also editor of Carcanet press in England, a poetry press I have come to have some respect for. They publish at least a few of the living British poets who are actually worth reading.

One of these is Sujata Bhatt, an Indian emigrant to the West, whose poetry speaks very directly to my own life and experience. Her poetry speaks of dislocation, feeling alien, among other tropes of the emigrant experience. I share this experience because, even though I am not an emigrant to the US, I spent my earliest childhood years overseas, and only came here in later childhood. I still feel that dislocation at times, that lack of connection to any sense of hometown here in the States. It’s not a wound, it’s just a fact. You mostly notice it in brief moments of cognitive and cultural dislocation: little things that make no inherent sense. Things that people take for granted, and that you don’t. You realize at a level that many natives never will, how arbitrary and relative some cultural constructions genuinely are. Myths and worldviews that everyone here takes as fact, that you can see as constructed. Bhatt, like Bharati Mukherjee, is a brilliant writer about this sense of dislocation, alienation, and quirky memory. Things line up in your head in ways they don’t for people who grew up with them. Here’s one of her poems in this collection that I recall from her published work, that I genuinely resonate with:

A Different History


Great Pan is not dead,
he simply emigrated
     to India.
Here, the gods roam freely,
disguised as snakes or monkeys;
every tree is sacred
and it is a sin
to be rude to a book.
It is a sin to shove a book aside
     with your foot,
a sin to slam books down
     hard on a table,
a sin to toss one carelessly
     across a room.
You must learn how to turn their pages gently
without disturbing Sarasvati,
without offending the tree
from whose woods this paper was made.


Which language
has not been the oppressor’s tongue?
Which language
truly meant to murder someone?
And how does it happen
that after the torture,
after the soul has been stropped
with a long scythe swooping out
of the conqueror’s face–
the unborn grandchildren
grow to love that strange language.

This collection also includes some poems by Keith Douglas, a British poet who was killed in WWII, in the battle for Normandy. His arc of life was not unlike Wilfred Owen’s, the poet whose name will always be associated with the poetry of war, although Douglas is much less known. They both died in their twenties, in battle. Douglas served mostly in the desert of the north African war theatre, while Owen was in the Frnech foxholes of WWI. Douglas is a poet I discovered in my teens, with the purchase on a sale table of his collected poems. One or two have stuck with me all these years, although those poems are not in this collection. He wrote about the bete noir, the figure of burden carried by men who live two lives, one of civilized discourse, the other of brute force and violence. There is also a resonance with Yeats' apocalyptic rough beast, slouching towards Bethelem to be born. I can see these same sorts of eyes in the faces of the men and women returning from Iraq now, the same looks I saw in the eyes of those who returned from Vietnam, in those same years that I first read Douglas. As Owen said, earlier, All a poet can do today is warn.

Vergissmeinnicht (Forget-me-not)

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.

Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script.

We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed.

But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.

For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.

I was also pleased to see herein a sampling of poems by Judith Wright, a brilliant Australian poet who is not nearly well-known enough. She has depth and resonance beyond what most can achieve. As much as May Sarton (not included here) wanted to be remembered as a poet, she will probably be best-remembered for her published journals, two or three of her novels, and only then will her poems be considered. Judith Wright is hardly known at all, outside some Commonwealth circles, Watch what she can do with a ghazal form in English:


In my sixty-eighth year drought stopped the song of the rivers,
sent ghosts of wheatfields blowing over the sky.

In the swimming-hole the water’s dropped so low
I bruise my knees on rocks which are new acquaintances.

The daybreak moon is blurred in a gauze of dust.
Long ago my mother’s face looked through a grey motor-veil.

Fallen leaves on the current scarcely move.
But the azure kingfisher flashes up the river still.

Poems written in age confuse the years.
We all live, said Basho, in a phantom dwelling.

I’m not saying, rush out and buy this anthology book. It's not that essential, and I might have recommended a few different poems to represent some of the poets. But if you happen to run across it, pick it up and introduce yourself to some strangers who might become new friends.

CLXV. 22 February 2005, Pinole, CA

I’ve had an idea for an SF story I plan to write soon: a paleontologist with a special gift for reconstructing the past lives of fossils. No one knows why/ His secret: when he touches a fossil, he sees and feels the whole life story of it: psychometry of the past, visions of what was. How his secret is revealed is the story.

I’m also writing a story set in New Mexico, more of a Barry Lopez style story. Something about the winds, and the break with nature. When we imagine ourselves separate from nature, we place ourselves in a position to desecrate it.

I find short story writing–fiction writing –to be excruciatingly difficult. Essays and poems are easy by comparison. I’m not the most dedicated writer: it tends to be the artform wherein I wait for inspiration, rather than going in search of it. I can sit down and make simply by booting up the computer; it’s effortless as breathing. Not always brilliant, mind you; just not difficult. Music, the closest art to my soul, is the one that I can’t do every day, but when I do, is the most satisfying. I feel like some steam is building up there; like I’m getting ready to record something soon.

In my dream last night, I quickly drew three sketches: fast, effortless, easy, drawing with a complete style that I’ve never done before. The images were relevant to the dream scenario, but the symbolism I see at present is that it’s about creation. My path is about creativity, about Making. Inn the dream, I made these drawings effortlessly; I have never before dreamed about drawing, much less so fluidly. I’ve written music in my dreams before, I’ve spun words into being.

The mind-drama the past week has been about not being able to find a job. But what have I been doing? I’ve collapsed back into that familial pattern of thinking it’s all about the job. So, the dream tells me to shift back to seeking not a job but right livelihood. Re-focus. Go for the income that makes no sense. Things I have tried before in the past aren’t going to work; they’ve not been working at all, for years, I’ve just been stubborn about letting that go. So, I have to follow the bliss, the creative path, the path that makes no sense. That’s the way.

The Divine works in paradox: what you think is small is really large; what you think is huge, is really small.

How can you imagine something you’ve never done before? You have to pay attention to the signs, and let your intuition pull you into the direction you need to go, and don’t resist it. I still don’t know where this is going: I may not ever know. I still am seeking to discover more faith and trust in all this, with mixed results. I don’t need proof of how the Divine works: I already have that proof. I even have proof that what I think, manifests. That’s been happening a lot since I got here; in small ways, to be sure, but again, the small is what’s really large. And I keep getting led to those places I need to be.

What does this solve? Nothing. It’s another insight; I hear the voices of the Divine saying Yes to all this. And I still have to somehow generate an income source. Or several.

Drove down to Pescadero again a couple of days ago, and also along the rigdeline highway. In the redwoods and the steam rising from the recent rain, to make mist over the land with sun streaming through. Discovered a pocket valley park inland from Pescadero, with redwoods and giant ferns: the forest primeval in miniature, only minutes from the beach.

CLXIV. 19 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Here’s an absurdist news tidbit directed my way earlier today. Direct from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp., that is):

US bans time-honoured typeface

In a sign that no matter is too small to affect international diplomacy, the US State Department has issued an edict banning its longtime standard typeface from all official correspondence and replacing it with a "more modern" font.

In an internal memorandum distributed on Wednesday, the department declared "Courier New 12" - the font and size decreed for US diplomatic documents for years - to be obsolete and unacceptable after February 1.

"In response to many requests and with a view to making our written work easier to read, we are moving to a new standard font: 'Times New Roman 14'," said the memorandum.

The new font "takes up almost exactly the same area on the page as Courier New 12, while offering a crisper, cleaner, more modern look," it said, adding that after February 1 "only Times New Roman 14 will be accepted."

"This applies to diplomatic notes," the memorandum said tersely.

There are only three exceptions to the draconian new typographical rules: telegrams, treaty materials prepared by the State Department's legal affairs office and documents drawn up for the president's signature, it said.

The memorandum offered no explanation for the exceptions, leaving foreign service officers to speculate as to whether the White House, US treaty partners and telegram readers are not yet able to handle the change.

-- AFP

All us font designers bow down in awe. Perhaps there is indeed hope for the future. Next, we need to ban Helvetica! It's been abused too many times since the invention of the personal computer. Put typefaces in the amateurs and they think they know how to set type! Bad newsletters! Bad printing! Ugly DTP magazines! What were they thinking!?

Now, if only the State Dept. would ban ideological policymakers from directing them to ignore good diplomacy. But I digress.

So–Quick! All you rebels and poetic terrorists! Now you now what typeface to sue to shock and are the forces of repressive governmental lackeys! The horror! The horror! What’s next? Could it be? The death of Helvetica? The horror!

As another article on the matter (by Paul Shaw, AIGA) put it: Whenever type or typography make the news–even in an age when everyone from our children to our butcher is seemingly familiar with fonts–it is always a surprise to designers. But such surprises are rarely happy ones.

Unfortunately, that is very true. Does anyone but us type designers perceive the Kafka-esque absurdity of all this? So, since making art is the best revenge, I made a quickie typeface, Courier RIP. Here it is:

Mac version (PostCrypt Type I)

Windows versions (TrueType)

CLXIII. 18 February 2005, Pinole, CA

I’m feeling rejected all around. I just an email rejection from one of those online poetry mags; trust me, my feelings are not hurt by it, and I am noticing a pattern. I had my heart set on a certain Mac-oriented temp agency based in the East Bay that seemed like a good prospect, and they have done nothing but blow me off. Two days ago I called them again, and they claimed they’d call me back in the morning, but of course, two days later, no call. What do I have, bad breath or something? In fact, no one is calling me back about much of anything. Yes, we all have busy lives. Well, actually, I don’t; I don’t have a life at all, is what it feels like. I don’t really have the energy or focus to convert this crap into anything artistic today, either. It’s all distractions and vague uncertainties.

And waiting on other people. And being passive, or feeling forced to be passive by the Powers That Be, who won’t give you a clue to Their sense of timing.

Holding still, holding on, letting go. Like any of it matters. Everything always happens tomorrow anyway; never, it seems, today.


Drove down in afternoon sunlight, with towering clouds building all around, for lunch at an Indian café with Bob C., a Stick player and friend. We talked about life over lunch, tandoori salmon over rice, simply delicious. On the way back, I stopped at the Berkeley Marina, walked the trails of the park there, and photographed the clouds and light over the Bay. As I left, the rains began, and were heavy by the time I got home. I stopped to get fresh lemons to make lemonade; also had a donut.

The day can be lost in description, which is a form of redemption: slicing a lemon can be the door to enlightenment. Is this a way out?

You know what pisses me off? Since I’m on the rejection topic, what pisses me off is when you are invited to submit to a reader-written journal, more than once, and either you never hear anything about it, and never hear from them again, or you get a polite rejection letter saying they can’t possibly accept all submissions, they get so many. Who do you believe? Or, rather, which lie do you choose to believe? At least some editors actually deign to reply. And why can’t temp agencies call you back? Is that so fucking difficult? At the very least, it seems unprofessional.

And you know what ticks me off more? The fact that the mags who never even acknowledged getting anything are supposedly reputable RadFae mags like RFD and White Crane. That’s really annoying. You feel even more isolated when your own supposed tribe ignores you, rejects you, leaves you hanging. Victim, victim, victim. Fuck being a victim. I’m pissed. So I’ll name names if I feel like it. Sorta makes you wonder why you even bother. Then again, I’m wondering that I lot lately.

CLXII. 18 February 2005, Pinole, CA

It’s late at night. I just finished the artwork and sleeve design for my DVD, Basin & Range. The DVD has four short movies on it, as I mentioned before. (They can be seen on this website.) The music and poetry and visual art, are all mine. This feels like a creative milestone, to create a DVD like this. I hope to do a second one, and probably revise this first one, before the Yearwheel turns again. I expect I’ll be in Chicago again some time later this year, and I can do it then. Meanwhile, a sense of completion. There are two words in the English language I am very fond of: DONE and NEXT.

A famous Canadian experimental filmmaker was once asked, What is the meaning of life. He replied: Do the next thing. That is a good philosophy, worth remembering and following.

CLXI. 15 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Weeks later, lying in bed in morning, the terror and fear of the whole experience of losing the Scamp camper over a cliff in New Mexico comes back to me full-force. And the frustration and existential anger spread over the days after the event itself, spent in frustration and hopelessness and tears, about whether to get it going or leave it. Finally deciding to leave it there was the first moment of clarity in the whole business. Of course, I left other things there, too, which I would have wished not to abandon, but I only had so much room left in the truck, even after FedExing a bunch of boxes of other stuff on ahead. Some things you regret leaving behind, even given no choice. Nothing irreplaceable, of course, but in this current continuing poverty, nothing easily replaced, either.

And then the heady rush of NAMM, the arrival here, and the time to settle in and get organized, and then the heady rush and frustration of hunting for work. Not a moment to pause in between. Not a moment to slow down and integrate the depth of the experience. This is the first time I’ve actually had the time to go back and look at my feelings over it all, and it terrifies me. It could have been much worse: and it was nonetheless a brush with mortality and death, a very close call. I survived it, but I am more than usually aware of mortality lately, of the dangers of life.

There was an article in the New York Times a few years ago about a researcher who had interviewed every single person who had ever jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, and survived. And every single one, without exception, said that about two-thirds of the way down they realized that all their problems in life that had seemed so insurmountable, every one, without exception, could be overcome. Except that now they were two-thirds of the way down the slide of air above the ocean, and it might be too late.

I feel like I was both incredibly lucky and forgiven, to have survived my own fall. I am not sure I am not still falling, though, down some slide of air into an abyss. And it terrifies me, the not-knowing. Where is the clarity, the meaning, of it all? If there is any meaning to it, and there may not be. The experience was a serious wake-up call, a clarion call to be something other than what I was before. And I have heard it, and done my best to follow it. I do feel different. Although this cold rainy day I feel like doing nothing so much as staying wrapped in blankets and huddling in my room, I do feel liberated. I feel freed from some of the ordinary, petty concerns that had plagued me before. Although I continue to hunt for an income, I no longer care if I ever work at a traditional bread-winning job, ever again. It all just seems like vapor. The desert and the sea are both vast and unforgiving and careless; and I have survived them both, so far. I feel as though meant to carry on, even though today I feel sessile, and don’t know what it looks like, to carry on.

Meister Eckhart said: People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.

Be who you are, not what you’re expected to be. The crash ripped away my remaining illusions about what I can expect from life and people, and left me gasping ashore, like the first amphibian who crawled onland to become something else than what he had been born to be. The other amphibians doubtless neither understood not approved, although, in time, some did follow. I’m being a waymaker and pathfinder again, this time having shed both hubris and loneliness. I no longer want to drag my Tribe along with me. But still, I’m scared, today. It’s daunting, and I feel small and not up to the task. But here is a reminder of the symptoms of being on the path.


All that a man bears for God's sake, God makes light and sweet for him.

If all was right with you, your sufferings would no longer be suffering, but love and comfort.

True suffering is a mother of all the virtues.

Do I claim to have suffered more than others? Not at all. I claim to have suffered less. And as usual the paradox of the Divine is that it doesn’t matter what happens to you but how you respond to it. I spent two years praying, never sure to Whom or What, a most dangerous prayer: Thy Will Be Done. This is a dangerous prayer. Do not pray this prayer unless you are ready to have your life disrupted in the most powerful ways. If you open that door, you may not be able to close it again.

Eckhart: We say every day in prayer to our Father, Thy will be done. And yet when His will is done, we grumble at it, and find no pleasure in His will. If our prayers were sincere, we should certainly think His will, and what He does, to be the best, and that the very best had happened to us.

The truth of this I have seen for myself, both in my own uncertainty and ingratitude, and in my impatience with the Divine Will. One keeps trying to impose one’s own will on things, instead of abandoning any control over events and focusing instead where one is intended to focus: on the goodness of one’s self and being.

I find myself turning to Eckhart today as though to reviving and clarifying water. First drink of the day. The clarity and purity. How could his thinking ever have been termed difficult? It is as transparent as a mountain stream, as bracing and as clear.

CLX. 13 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Disturbed dreams. I feel shaky this morning, and know I’m clearing out some old, old angers and resentments. In the dream, awake while everyone else is asleep I am moving around a large mansion, as silently as possible, doing what I need to be doing, trying not to wake anyone. In the dream feeling isolated and wired; feeling like I am doing things on the sly to avoid being analyzed, judged, and observed by everyone else. That if they all knew what I was doing, they would criticize me, interfere, even try to stop me; and what I am doing is important, and has to be done. I know the rightness of it, and I just don’t want to deal with their interference. So, I sneak around, careful to open and close doors as silently as possible, returning frequently to the roof, my perch, where I am assembling something; I’m unclear what it is I’m assembling, I just know it has to be done.

Turbulence of life. Coming back to center, having again to remind myself not to care what others may think of me, or my actions. Got to be open, not hidden. I am good at stealth, being invisible and unobserved. But I can take that too far, and then feel resentment at being overlooked and uncredited. A little ego crap in play here, ennit? Just say what you have to say, do what needs to be done, and if someone tries to shut you down because what you’re doing doesn’t fit their image of you, ignore it and walk away (but don’t suppress or repress it; just don’t engage in petty conflict), or speak up. Sometimes I just have to say what I have to say.

I posted a critique on a new poetry board, one Penshells by name, one I had been personally invited to because I was told people wanted my crit there; so, I posted a crit of a poem, and the poet came back saying that I couldn’t crit that poem that way. No response to the actual comments on the poem, just a slap on the wrist that something I said didn’t belong in this forum. Like, there’s a right and proper way to crit a poem? I can predict where this is going, because the people involved are not even conscious of what they’re doing. These are the people who left or got banned from another poetry site, The Critical Poet by name, for speaking their minds too freely and openly. (Yes, I will name names, if I choose, rather than let things fester under a pale shroud of innuendo.) Now, without even realizing it, they do the same thing to others that was done to them. They tell people how to behave, when that is exactly what they were rebelling against, being told how to behave. This mirror dance prompts hilarity on one level, pity on another. I’ve looked over the rest of the crit on this new site: it is universally bland, therapy/support crit; no meat to it at all, and no actual technical craft crit, just emo-crit. So, I deleted my crit, and left. Waste of energy to expend any more there. There. Now I’ve vented about it. End of story.


Had a long phone talk with my sister Pam, who’s here from Holland for a week or two. Well, not here, but in Wisconsin. I feel a little better for having vented some, to someone who can listen and understand. I need distance and time. I’m burnt out right now, and have to take time and space for myself. No more family drama for awhile.

All day spent in a half-life sort of state. Deep tihnking of things. Contemplation of the inevitable. I could say something Shakespearean here, I suppose, but I'll settle for Marlowe instead: Don't be an ass upon the fray.

CLIX. 12 February 2005, Pinole, CA

This past week has been frustrating: lots of people on the job and arts fronts who say they’ll call you back, and never do, then you end up calling them, and they’re not together enough to get anything done. I need help, I need support, and I need other people to get done in life those things I need to get done. And, sometimes, I really wonder if it’s worth it, or even possible, because they evidence just keeps mounting that you can’t ever rely on other people to do what they say they’ll do. Now, I can forgive a lot. But when it turns into a consistent, week-long pattern, there’s something else going on here, and it pisses me off. Missed connections. Misunderstandings. Miscommunications. All leading up to missed chances, and missing out on my own fucking life. You really want to piss me off, make me sit here waiting for you and your agenda. I will only tolerate so much of that. Life is too short to put up with lots of other peoples’ bullshit (when my own is so much more entertaining), and sitting around waiting for them to get their acts together.

Spent much of the afternoon walking around SF today, photographing. Walked up through Chinatown to Pier 39, the marina, and back down the quayside the Embarcadero. Beautiful sunny, clear day. I am doing more of these long walks now, to the benefit of my health and strength. Not to mention the photos captured along the way. One of these days I’ll walk up to Coit Tower and see the views. At Pier 39, walked through the crowd and out to the waterside, where hardly anyone was. Beautiful views of the bridges, Alcatraz, and sailboats on the Bay. In the distance, the coastal ranges rise above the water, blued and heavy with light.

At sunset, from the East Bay, clouds hang over the hills and the Bay. Fog moves in the valleys of Marin, and the Golden Gate, and mist begins to turn the blue slops of Mt. Tamalpais to white. Magic and light are located in place, not time. And magic is nothing but change. Change yourself, change the universe. The light fades to blue, and stars on the hills and above the sky emerge. The train is heavy with footsteps. Stairs and highways blur in the shadows. I wait.

I’m tired. I’m tired from the long walk today, but more importantly, emotionally wiped out from the ridiculous amount of free-floating plan-changes that happened this week. Too much turbulence. Who needs it? Too much drama. I’m angrier about it than I thought I was, but not than I thought I thought I was, or expected would come up when I had time to think about it. I don’t like this new tactic, born somewhere in the past year, of suppressing emotions till later. It costs me too much. It’s not about tact, or discretion, or just keeping silent in the face of stupidity. No one makes me suppress my feelings like my family does; every contact lately has been toxic and debilitating and has taken me days to get over. I can’t afford it right now. I love my family, and I can’t afford to get sucked into old patterns anymore. Fighting for my life, against drowning. That’s exactly what it feels like. Don’t ask me about how it’s going, about what I’m going to do, or where I intend to do it. Don’t ask me any of that, at all. I can’t afford to talk about it, right now, because I can’t afford the luxury of the negativity it sucks me down into. If you want to learn trust, shut up and do it. Just shut up and do it.

CLVIII. 10 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Sensual pleasures:
being naked,
sunlight on your skin,
and when you can combine all of them into one experience.

I had lunch today with someone who could turn out to be a fun friend. The sky is clear today, and the air is warm, even with a gentle sea breeze raking the ivy leaves on the back patio as I sun and relax in the hot tub. I lay there, feeling soothed.

I posted to Craigslist about being a Stick player new in the area. Have received a whole fistful of responses, which I’ll work through. Tonight I’m going into SF proper for a concert. So, today is for music. Yesterday and tomorrow for job-hunting, today for music.


I went into SF today for a concert. But when I got to the space, in a dodgy area of Market, no one was there, the door was locked, and no one answered the door. I didn't feel like standing there, as I was getting panhandled continuously, and no thank you to getting mugged, so I walked back down Market and took the BART home. Not a loss. Walked around shooting some night pics.

The BART is a source of people-watching and photos. Always interesting to view humanity in the tunnels, on the platforms, on the trains, waiting.

CLVII. 9 February 2005, Pinole, CA

I applied for jobs again today, then went for dinner with J. and P. A vibrant sunset in the distance, a sociocultural adventure in the foreground. Shopping in a mall, in line behind two toy-buying kids at a dollar store.

I also spent a lot of time today adding material to the design sections of the website: adding book and magazine design samples, because the jobs I applied for today were all book and magazine design jobs. I could readily work this material again; I always liked typography, anyway.

I also hit Goodwill earlier today and found two back issues of Parabola, an SF anthology, and one or two other little books. I had been thinking about what leisure reading I’ve been wanting to do, in my quiet moments, and thinking about SF short stories. I like reading short stories more than novels, most of the time, and the SF short story is a brilliant and underrated art form. So, the universe paid attention and almost instantly manifested a collection. I have to watch it; it’s getting almost too quick and easy.

I actually haven’t done any leisure reading since I went back to the Midwest for Xmas, and returned: it’s all been such a whirl, a continuous stressful drama, that I haven’t even thought about it much. I just realized, I haven’t watched a single DVD or sat down just to read, in weeks. Some TV, here and there. The past weeks have been so focused on things that I had to do, had to get done, must do, Leisure has been a rare moment, here and there: a nap in the desert; a little TV watched in hotel rooms. I’m only just now starting to. Slow. Down. Has it been that long? I guess it has.

Here I am in California. Feeling, I realize, more at home than I ever did in Taos. I love the desert, as much as I love the sea: wilderness and city, the enchafed flood (Auden again). I just feel natural here: at rest, at home, familiar and fitting in. Have I ever felt this way before? Perhaps, but it’s been awhile and I don’t remember when. Ages, anyway. Maybe some sacred places in the Midwest. It just feels natural here.

Can I explain it? No. I’m writing to know what I already know, to figure it out. Exploratory notes. All that time spent in the desert, wherein I was forced by circumstance, and not against my will, to slow down: that was the introspection time. Not that it’s over. If anything it’s just getting deeper, but at the same time more integrated with everyday life. I work hours a day at a job-search, at the same time staying in a mental state filled with thoughts and insights. It’s the Zone.

What do I do with this? Well, nothing, at the moment. Applying for jobs. Surviving. Imperative. Whatever. I fell real ambitious tonight. Yeah. Think I’ll watch a movie. Oooh. Popcorn! Oh yeah. Laundry. Now let me tell you about–

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CLVI. 8 February 2005, Pinole, CA

locate this nightwatch,
placed between sleepless turmoil emotional storms
and exhausted shivering:
I hope this is a clearing,
because it hurts too much if purposeless.
I hope it's a barn burning,
a night split with thunder,
a sorrow etched with sparrows and cats,
a twist of sky damp with sea fog and soil,
because this urge to tear it up is too
close to being lost asea, unframed, overboard.
give me dreams that navigate and course-correct,
that fallow the hearths of ashen waves.
dreamstone, give
me up to fullness, dreams of something
more than just survival.

Dreams of bridges. But bridges that endanger rather than protect. Bridhe overrun with an icy flood. Riding motorcycles around a city that has been torn down to be rebuilt, and into slot canyons in the road. A bridge over a city in Spanish California, whose railings fall out and people go over in huge waves, leaving uniformed soldiers to cling humorously for their lives, till the vibration of distant cannons shake them loose, as well. Bridge covered with ice and flooded with icy water mid-span, that my friends want to go out on and explore; I am dragged against my will out there, too, to take photos of the ice patterns on the concrete. These are all things I witness, from a distance, without really being a part of them. They happen but I am a mostly-dispassionate observer.

Bridges failing. Nowhere in the dream do the spans rupture, though. Their spans are tested, and twisted, warp, but do not shatter. Railings fail, and decks are overrun with nature. People are thrown off, or swept aside. In the humorous California dream there is a Zorro-like her who evades death and capture numerous times; disguised as a soldier, he is on the bridge when it goes, but survives and escapes with flair and style. He is not me; I observe him in the dream without being him. Of course, awake, you know these things are aspects of yourself, symbols from the unconscious. His style of humorous survival is worth emulating; his aplomb in the face of disaster. But the bridge itself is a living thing, a character in the drama. It throws off the unwanted. It has a living presence.

You know how messages come to you from the Divine through the world channel, the apparent mundane. One came through for me this morning, in an email from a very dear friend. He reminded me of this, as we had been talking about my current spate of self-worth and self-esteem problems, trying to find a healthy balance for them. He wrote this:

I am reminded of a time back in college when one of my dorm mates was talking about how some/many people don’t know how to accept compliments, how they feel uncomfortable about being praised, recognized with awards, or given gifts. He pointed out that there are powerful social pressures to make responses like, “I don’t deserve this or that”, or, “Oh no, you’re exaggerating, you can’t mean that”, etc. This supposedly is to demonstrate one’s modesty/humility, but as he was saying, from another point of view, it can be seen as calling into question the assessment of the person giving the compliment. It’s as if to say, “You don’t know what you are talking about; you are wrong to say such things about me,” and thus, in a way, challenging their faculties of discernment…. His appeal therefore, was to the stronger social code of not insulting the complimentor, or even not accusing the complimentor of, in a way, even lying. This definitely had an effect on his listeners. His recommendation was to simply respond by saying “Thank you.” Do not be so humble, whether it be truly or falsely, that you deny the favor being done to you.

And I wrote in response, and am repeating it here because I need to hear this over and over again right now:

Actually I completely agree with your dorm mate: it is a slap in the face to accept a gift ungraciously. I completely agree with the polite Thank You response as being fitting, and not telling the other person you don't deserve it. Paradoxically, of course, this is easier to pull off, for me, with fellow humans, than it is with the PTB. Needless to say, all this crap I'm dealing with right now, all the self-doubts coming to the surface to be cleared and released, is exactly the point: the lesson is to receive THEIR gifts as graciously, and as a being of worthiness to receive Them…. I feel like I already "got it" on the mundane level, now it's time to take it deeper and higher, if you know what I mean. It's a good reminder: the PTB would not be giving me these gifts if I was unworthy of Them. Shit. I am tearing up just writing this. So it must be true.

In a further synchronicity, I stumble across a couple of relevant May Sarton quotes in my wanderings today. Both, I think, are from the Journal of a Solitude, still her best-known book:

The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not to try to be or do anything whatever.

Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.

Nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. The lesson of endurance: you can outlast anything, because everything changes. Even suffering. Even death.

Last night, in my emotional turbulence that led to insomnia, I pulled out some old design projects and converted them to PDFs and JPGs so I could put them up as samples on the website. This was more of a browse than a deliberate search, I was looking for an old photo retouching project I need to send as a sample for a job application, which I still can’t locate. (I’ll give it one more shot before moving on.) But reviewing a few past successful projects was helpful. I am still working on that balance. Some days it seems like it takes all the energy I have, just to not plummet into some mire or abyss. Struggling with that today. I also, because of the insomnia, overslept way beyond anything normal. But I need to take this time to myself, nevertheless, and go within. This is my place and time, now, to rest and recuperate, as much as anything else. It has been such a killing struggle these past few months, I feel like I need what time I can garner just to recover my strength.

Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries. –Theodore Roethke

Even in these times of bleakness and restoration, when it can appear to me that many people I encounter are working so hard simply to avoid facing these Dragons, I have to be open and vulnerable to whatever the universe brings. Maybe now more than ever. Maybe especially now. It does seem at times like we expend most of our energy working in ways designed to prevent us from going into our sufferings. Thus, we can avoid dealing with the Shadow, wrestling the Ouroborous, facing up our own monsters. The amount of energy we expend in avoidance seems directly proportional to level of fear. What are phobias but ways to avoid facing the reality of our own vulnerability and death? They keep us busy, they occupy our attention, they serve us by distracting us.

The bridge railing fails, and everybody falls. They fall like black rain over a red desert, from the span between two mesas.

We invest our energy in coping strategies, survival strategies, many of which no longer serve us, and we must fight to reclaim our energies.

Our Hero leaps over the abyss, and does not fall in. He doffs his stolen soldier’s uniform, and hides within the crowd of spectators.

You could do worse than Zorro as an archetype, because even as he fights for survival and freedom and the well-being of others, he remembers to laugh at it all. Zorro means The Fox. This archetype pulls up craftiness, opportunistic flexibility, the ability to disguise and camouflage oneself in any terrain, in any crowd. To move quickly and confidently, to run along either forest floor or tree-top with ease. Speed and flexibility, and ease of transition.

CLV. 7 February 2005, Pinole, CA

Everyone else in my life is so focused on me getting a job I almost feel like I don’t have to think about it, since everyone else is. Old friends, new friends, family, that’s all anyone wants to talk to me about. It’s exactly what I don’t want to talk about. Of course I am sending out applications. I applied for around 20 jobs last week, with some follow-up to do this week, and of course I’ll apply for another 20 or so this week. I sent out three more this morning. It’s true that I’m down to my last ten dollars in life, and probably won’t be able to drive to an interview if I can’t get gas for the car. It’s true I’ll run out of cash sometime soon, and don’t know where the next bit of cash will arrive from, or when.

But it’s irrelevant. Today I feel divorced from the drama: it’s over there in another room somewhere. Give me a day where I don’t have to give a fuck, where I can just wait for the roots to grow underground, before they pop up to the surface. Everyone constantly asking me if I have found a job yet just feeds the drama. I am not my emotions, and today at least I am clear that I am not this job drama, either. It’s a pattern with its own life-force that is not who I am, not my identity, and not anything I have to react to, positively or negatively. It’s just there. I’ve wasted too much of my life energy on it–and today I have the epiphany that some of that wasted energy was because I was playing the social game of feeling like I had to worry about it: it’s the thing to do, since in our shallow too-late-capitalist culture your identity defined by your job and your income. You do it is because is tribally expected and socially accepted. Too much of that game, for me, was tied up in wanting to be liked, wanting to please others, wanting to fit in, wanting to be loved. All very much about poor self-esteem.

Today I feel freed from all that. I’ve stepped back and can look at it neutrally. I have enough money on my BART ticket to go into the city and walk the Labyrinth again, if I fell the need, or to get to a job interview, if I need to. The Labyrinth itself is a form of spiritual direction, an old friend. There is food in the fridge, a little gas in the car, and I can always take a walk. It’s not just about getting a job. It’s also about quality of life. Don’t get me wrong: I can pretty much do any kind of job offered, and I’ll take what I can get. And the issue of right livelihood and right attitude has come to the fore. Attitude has to matter, here. If you stress out about getting a job, you set it up so that the job you get is a stressor. If you seek calmly, the job you get will sustain tranquility. People are not stupid: if you act desperate, that turns people off; so does acting complacent. Finding the right balance of interest, focus, and relaxation means a lot here. Don’t throw me off by adding more drama to the mix.

Yesterday I spent most of the day cleaning in the kitchen with J. while P. cleaned elsewhere. Got a lot done. The countertops by the sink are sparkling, and the stove looks brand new. We disposed of dead biological hazards right and left, and polished their old habitats. We scourged the empires of lost bacterial snivellizations, razed them with cleaning chemicals, and even went grocery shopping for a few items. I love a clean kitchen.

CLIV. 5 February 2005, Pinole, CA

A magical convergence:

In doing a web search for Robert Leverant, author of a book I first read in my late teens, Zen in the Art of Photography (1969), I discover a connection to artists born by Caesarean section. Also featured prominently on that page is Jane English, photographer and co-translator of one of my favorite editions of the Tao Te Ching. Leverant’s book, written when he was a pro photographer, and before he later became a psychotherapist, was one of the most important influences on my early artistic life. I’ve carried this book around with me for decades. I’ve recommended it as a textbook for teaching photography more than once. When I was in Wisconsin over Xmas, I read Jane English’s illustrated memoir on her life and work: a spiritual autobiography. It’s titled Fingers Pointing to the Moon: Words and Images of Paradox-Common Sense-Whimsy-Transcendence (1999). One of the few books I have carried with me on this journey, where I have had to pare down and carry with me only essential texts, is the Jane English and Giu-Fa Feng translation of the Tao Te Ching. There is also a companion translation of Chuang Tzu, the other great Taoist master, called Inner Chapters. These two books have been continuously in print for over two decades. Here is Jane English’s Caesarean page.

Another contributor on the Caesarean site is Stanislav Grof, someone whose work I have also followed for decades, and whose Holotropic Breathwork transpersonal therapy system I have participated in over a dozen times. The book he co-edited with his wife Cristina, Spiritual Emergency, a book about how spiritual emergence can become a spiritual emergency, is a book that speaks directly to my own life, now more than ever.

It’s strange and beautiful how many of the things in life I am interested converge like this.

Leverant’s Zen in the Art of Photography stood alone as the only text of its kind for a very long time. Only recently have similar photography books been published. White Cloud Workshop has a short list of titles, some of which I’ve encountered before. They also share my opinion that Leverant’s book remains first choice among such books, if you can find it. But it was only in the past five years or so that a new wave of Zen and Taoist photography books has started to appear, to fill the gap in the seeker’s quest for this way of seeing the world. The mystical literature is rich with it; the photographic literature is by contrast sparsely sown.

A more recent book. Tom Ang’s The Tao of Photography, has also caught my attention lately. Another title that found a place on my nomadic bookshelf is The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing (2001), by Phillipe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro. So you see, there is a new wave of interest in the convergence of Zen and photography. Photograhy has always been a tool for Seeing, but not always recognized as such. On the drawing side there has always been Frederick Franck’s series of books beginning with The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation. Franck's best book, to my mind, is Art As A Way: it can function as a spiritual for artists of all kinds. But on the photography side, the books have always been dominated by technique books, or the ego of individual monographs versus the egolessness of Zen photography. Some of the few exceptions have been Minor White’s books about the spirit and photography, which moves into the mystical arena. But White, for all the depth of his photography that showed he really did get it, remained strangely inarticulate about it on the verbal level. He could show, he could point the way; but his words sometimes got in the way, instead. But do read White’s books for the luminous photos.

A comment made at White Cloud Workshop’s site, about how many people conflate Zen and photography as being simply formless abstracts or abstract nature landscapes, or pictures of Zen gardens, amplifies one’s awareness of this trend. I did a search online for Zen photography books and Tao photography books, and I ran into multiple websites wherein the contents were abstract, oblique, and pseudo-mystical. This seems a shallow understanding of Zen, and has led to a frankly mannerist style of photography. There are photos of single rocks; single blades of grass on a white background; single clouds in a black sky. A tree branch. A stream. All intended as objects for contemplation and meditation, but, sadly, still objectified as objects. The spirit that moves within the world is entirely absent from these photographs. (The Western gaze still sees things as objects removed from their contexts, as things to gaze upon divorced from the messiness of living. The history of the nude figure in Western art notoriously contributes to the objectification of people as objects to be gazed upon, not persons dialogued with as subjects.) Have I mentioned yet how virtually all of this pseudo-Zen photography is in black and white? This too in mannerist. People still think B&W photos are somehow more pure, more artistic, more relevant than color photos. Even photographers buy into it. (As of course they must, if they are to sell their work.) I have heard photographers talk about their use of B&W as being able to reduce form to essence, without the distraction of the color field: pure form, pure line. Pure abstraction. But this is reductionist, rather than all-embracing. Pseudo-Zen photographers thus use B&W to make abstract miniatures intended to be contemplated like stones in a Zen garden, charming little perfect images with a single theme, single thought, simple depth. A beginning photographer could make most of these photos. They’re austerely pretty. They show a yearning for perfection: the perfectionism of perfect lighting, perfect form. They look good on the wall: but there is no real spirit to them, no wabi-sabi, no complexity, no real depth. And not a single breath of actual life. There is no spontaneity here; the tao does not flow downstream here.

This form of “Zen” has more to do with graphic design and marketing, frankly, and not real Zen. I am reminded of Alan Watts’ essay, Beat Zen, Square Zen, Zen (1959), wherein he muses:

But the Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously. He must really have come to terms with the Lord God Jehovah and with his Hebrew-Christian conscience so that he can take it or leave it without fear or rebellion. He must be free of the urge to justify himself. Lacking this, his Zen will be either "beat" or "square," either a revolt from the culture and social order or a new form of stuffiness and respectability. For Zen is above all the liberation of the mind from conventional thought, and this is something utterly different from rebellion against convention, on the one hand, or adapting foreign conventions, on the other.

Following up on Watts’ thinking, here’s an essay on Zen and art-making that includes a look at John Cage: Zen Buddhism And Its Relationship to Elements of Eastern And Western Arts. Cage of course is one of my own artistic mentors. The convergences continue to spin outward and inward.

CLIII. 4 February 2005, Pinole, CA

A whole bunch more of my NAMM 2005 photos and videos are on the web now, for your listening and viewing pleasure, thanks to Jim Reilly at StickNews:

The latest issue of Stick Enterprises' StickNews on the web features numerous photos and videos from the 2005 NAMM show in Los Angeles, in late January 2005. This is a highlight of the year for Stick players in general, and was a major thrill for me to be there. The following StickNews items, by Jim Reilly, are laced through with photos and videos by yours truly. Thanks to SE and everyone involved for letting me be there to capture it all!


NAMM 2005

Stick Nite in Hollywood

Someone forwarded to me a link to an article by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, A Premature Obituary for Books. Very interesting indeed.

He makes some valid points, but is not entirely convincing. It is too early to forge a paean to the book as a physical object, for one thing. Every time some new computer based reading techonlogy comes online, we get one of these paeans to the demise of the book, and the demise of reading. Yet the book, as a physical object, keeps being made, cherished, and passed on as an object of desire. So far, all these paeans seems premature.

One wonders if a non-writer or non-librarian would care so deeply about the demise of the book itself? Actually, let me revise that: most of the librarians I know embrace new information technologies. They tend to embrace things that make information retrieval and dissemination easier and more fluid, as a general rule.

Is this a loss or a change? Is not multimedia and computer usage rather a new form of literacy? Did writers lament the death of the scroll when the bound book began to emerge?

Whenever one of these paeans emerges, I have to look at the age of the author, and wonder about an aging author's nostalgia for the familiar, in the face of chaos and change. I also have to wonder at all the neo-Luddite leanings such paeans articulate. They rarely, actually, do more than rehearse the argument that rapid technological change is a priori bad (i.e. difficult to absorb for those who didn't grow up with it).

Frankly, aside from Mr. Vargas Llosa's masterly prose, there is nothing new to this argument, including most of the opinions expressed.


A misty San Francisco day, the sunlight filtered through light fog that smelled of the sea. Salt corrosion has got to be an environmental hazard here. In the middle of the day I went out to the hot tub. Lying naked in the tub with the sun overhead was a new experience I could get used to: very sensual, very relaxing. I am somewhat clearer today, a better mood. I went out for awhile, just to be out. Didn’t really go anywhere; Goodwill, one or two other places. Not for shopping, as I didn’t buy anything, just to be out and about. Some good things come down the email wire, then a day of just catching up. Washed a lot of dishes in the kitchen; I needed to do that, to cook, and I made chicken curry tonight. Everyone liked it. I’m just taking a night off, I guess.

So what if you end up getting an arts McJob. Anything at this point would be a glory.

I love a clean kitchen.


I have a second poem featured this month at the Erotic Poetry Gallery. I received a fan email almost immediately about the poem that really made my day. Some of it is as follows:

Your poem, with imagery I could taste and smell, made me wet!
It's a wonderful poem, and I look forward to reading more of your work.

Bravo! Now I must find a towel..

High praise indeed!

CLII. 3 February 2005, Pinole, CA

A frustrating day. Sometimes you beat your head against the wall all day, and nothing happens. Like that. Add on the frustration of feeling trapped by being broke, and then getting bounced all over the cyberspace map whenever you try to apply for something, and you can get really, really angry. No place to vent, either. Go for a walk? Maybe. Shout a little. Whatever.

Like any of it does any fucking good.

I don’t care what’s next. I still can’t seem to get a fucking job, as if that were all it’s about. I’m so sick of this. I know I can’t afford the luxury of negative thinking, and I need to wallow in it sometimes to get it out of my body. Right now it just sucks. I still don’t know where I will end up.

Yeah, I’m just a walking pus-pool of negativity right now, and can’t seem to do anything about it. Who cares.

But you know what? It’s not me that’s wrong. The dream showed me that.

David Cooper: Mental illness is a form of collusion, by which we elect others to live out the chaos that we refuse to confront in ourselves.

Arnold Mindell wrote something very similar in City Shadows. Gail & Snell Putney wrote something very similar in The Adjusted American. But wait! There’s more.

John H. Pflaum, in Delightism, wrote: The nonconforming or the unusual are taught to be contemptuous of themselves and to esteem those who intimidate them. Relief and comfort are to be sought from their "betters.” We are all expected to identify with and aspire toward the oppressor elite and their role. We learn to look up to our heavenly and earthly masters and down upon our inferiors. Our lives are arranged in columns. Victims of a vertical world-view, we look above and ahead–discouraged from soliciting help or meaningful inspiration from our social equals.

Keeping up appearances. Movin’ on up, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.

What if the most radical truth was that we really were all equal?

Harry Hay wrote about subject-subject consciousness as a means of overcoming the hierarchical mindset from within. He wrote from within a gay context, and pointed out that one requirement of subject-subject consciousness being possible to enact in the wider hetero context requires the true emancipation and equality of women. Kenneth Pitchford, the unjustly little known poet of social change and gay pride, called himself an effeminist: an effeminate gay man who stood up for women’s rights, too. If you think the battles are separate, then the oppressor has already won, by dividing and conquering.

In the dream, I was neither wrong when vilified nor right when praised. Neither mattered, I just did the work that had to be done. I seek the heart of the Labyrinth again, as a safe space for myself, a protected and shield place within which to do the work. There is work to be done, and I will do it.

But as an artist, you also have to be against the reproduction of death.

John Pflaum again: The arts reflect the nature of the System. The poet, painter, musician, and novelist are concerned with the same problems that torment us all. The themes prevalent in most serious works involve conflict, disillusionment, deprivation, death, revolution, and alienation. The artists’ greater sensitivity to these problems magnifies them so that they can be seen, heard, and understood by their audience.

Art often inadvertently perpetuates and reinforces the social system, thus serving as an important means of social control and influence…. The beauty, symmetry, and grandeur of great works of art often mask or make palatable the evils of society. Art gives order when there is chaos. It creates a pleasant atmosphere where there is conflict and anxiety. Mmusic, religious and martial, for example, attempts to foster patriotism and tradition in the midst of war and revolution.

World Entertainment War, by Rob Breszny: Art is life. Entertainment is death. As artists we must know the difference between entertainment and art.

R.D. Laing: The family’s function is to repress Eros . . . to deny death by avoiding life, to cut off transcendence; to believe in God, not to experience the Void; to create, in short, one-dimensional man.

I’m in this battle for my life and sanity. My family, my birth Tribe, is not going to support me in this. They never have, except in my illusions. The first chakra is territory I must reclaim as my own.

A.S. Neill: The suppression of genitality is the suppression of noise and activity in all spheres. It was William Reich who said that the ruling classes encouraged infant sex repression on the grounds that if you psychologically castrate the young they will grow up to be emasculated men who have not the guts to challenge anything.

Shut up, little man! That’s the message we hear over and over again.

Why am I encountering these quotes right now? Because they are exactly what I need to hear, in the battle I am waging with the Tribe. The sexual suppression of genitality, and its free expression, is especially hard on gay men, who carry a doubled load of self-hatred and humility because of the vilification of the Tribe. It is bad enough that you express your genitality with the “wrong” gender, do you have to do it in public too? But if you keep adding steam to a pressure cooker, eventually it explodes. Which led to the Stonewall riots that triggered the late-modern gay rights movement; the free sex years before the AIDS crisis were also the release valve required to reduce the steam pressure. As promiscuous and distorted as they were at times, they were still at root psychologically healthy because necessary.

My battle is with my family and my Tribe. Seek no support or understanding there. I have to overcome my own limiting self-doubts and sense of being unworthy. The gifts I have been given, I am worthy of them, I do deserve them. Repeat that till I believe it.

What scares us most is the vision of delight. Some are born to sweet delight; some are born to darkest night. We encourage and embrace the dark, and are suspicious of the brighter, looser half. The skin is a sex organ. Living is dancing. Sensuality is nothing apart from living. You wanted to make love to the whole night sky, once; but you thought you were too small. The surprising thing is: you’re not. The Universe is exactly as expanded as your consciousness: the noopshere needs an operator, a consciousness with which to perceive its own consciousness. We are elected.

Making art is sexual, sensual, delightful. Making a poem is immersion in eros. Making music, because hearing is an immersive, multidimensional sensorium, non-linear and holographic, is totally engaging of all the senses. Make all aesthetes into synaesthetes. Synaesthesia is synergy. Don’t settle for produced entertainment when you can make Do It Yourself art. If you have to, follow the FYIDIM principle: Fuck you, I’ll do it myself. Don’t kill your television, ignore it: let it die a natural death. Stop dusting it, put plants on it. Turn it into furniture. Are you reading this on your computer? Have you opened a new window to read it? How many windows did you close, in order to open this one?

Dip into the Delightist Oracle: Your life is without compensation. You are choosing death over liberty. Intense insincerity is the key to delight. You see your ex-life pass by. In delight there is no question of involvement. Your sex is a cosmetic accident. There is nothing so hostile as your shyness. Know delight with your third eye. Use everyone improperly. Listen to advice only from a failure. Cultivate your false hopes. You are what you hate. Sacrifice what cannot be saved. Make your protest a carnival. Have sex with someone you hate. Your identity is a form of loneliness. Flowers have no fear of dying. You have learned to be insensitive to survive. Your art should be disposable. Next to alcohol, children are the most abused pleasures. Art is arting. Fall in fun with someone. Cure others and they will cure you. Learn from the ignorant. Learn how to be used. You are qualified. Each day you deny a miracle. See everything and everyone as a sex object for one day. Wake up imagining that you are of the opposite sex. The artistic life is rare. Identity is skin deep. Molest someone. You have learned how to be in hate with yourself. Make a fool of yourself with unreasonable demands. To be made to feel delight is to transcend good and evil. Educate for pleasure. You must play the fool in sacred groves.

CLI. 3 February 2005, Pinole, CA

There seems to be some confusion about the small but critical difference between where one's ideas come from–one's inspiration(s)–and where one happens to be located when one gets those ideas. Where your ideas come to you–driving, walking, whatever it is you're doing–is not the same thing as inspiration.

My ideas come to me anywhere and everywhere. While driving. In the hot tub or shower. Lying in bed. Taking a walk. The locale doesn't matter, and I have gotten ideas in the strangest places.

What matters is that I am prepared to receive them, and capture them, when they do come to me, wherever and whenever that is. This is preparedness. It is, quite literally, the core of my artistic practice: being prepared. My main job as a writer and artist and musician is to get my ego out of the way and get it down as it comes in. I have no regular, disciplined writing practice–a fact that seems to drive some folks crazy. I have no daily practice, except perhaps to write, period, which usually means to journal. Poems make their first appearance in the journal, but I do not consider them finished therein; and I do not show folks my journal or self-therapy poems. So, writing can happen anytime, anywhere.

This is not the same thing as what inspires me. Where and when ideas come to me in not about inspiration, it's about receptivity. I politely but firmly point out that many poets mistake receptivity for inspiration.

So, what is my inspiration? Everything. Anything. I almost never set down to write with something in mind–in fact, I never set down to write at all, I just practice being receptive, which is more akin to meditation than anything else. I have learned that when I, personally, sit down with the intention to write a poem, especially to write a poem about something in mind, the results that come out usually, well, suck. When I must write on demand, I can write advertising copy, I can write improv stream of consciousness text which might or might not be considered poetic, and I can write essays. I'm actually a pretty good essayist.

But poems happen to me, sometimes for no reason that I can discern. I know from experience that poems come to me when I am in a certain state of being that is akin to meditation, or an altered state of consciousness such as a visionary or mystical experience, or in one of those moments when your senses suddenly sharpen into crystal clarity and the world suddenly seems perfect and absolute, just as it is. There is an element of mystery to all this. Writing poetry is, for me, a non-rational, right-brain process. I know many poets who think their poems through before they ever set down to write; who write from their left, logical brains; who actually plan out their writing the way a novelist might outline a plot. Sometimes this yields good fruit, and sometimes it's very dry and formalistic. I do not advocate inspiration over craft, or some Romantic claptrap about the muse being more important than the editor's red pencil: we need both. Both craft and inspiration. A lot of poetry I see published nowadays, in book form or online or elsewhere, is heavy on craft and short on inspiration. We've let our left-brain culture unbalance us as artists and writers.

I do know that a poem is often triggered by a visual experience, for me. A painting or a vision or a sunset or the ocean or seeing people interacting, have all been triggers. If that is inspiration, so be it.

Truthfully, I can't tell you what inspires me, I can only tell you what has, in the past, inspired me. Things like: the silence of a desert sunset, horses and ant mounds in the distance; sex; the roar of the ocean; archways in the sandstone; children laughing in the street outside my window; the sound of cicadas on a hot August afternoon; music; books I've read; driving across the Big Empty, no destination in mind; the wind in the leaves, the sun on my shoulders and back; visionary experiences. The list is as long as my list of finished poems, and indeed, most of what has inspired me to write a poem can be found within the body of the poems themselves.



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