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Western Lands
Road Trip part 1



Spiral Dance

Three Essays
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Towards an


RuralGay Artistry


podcast archives

520. 23 December 2006, Beloit, WI

Driving home in the afternoon today, after a late morning spent writing essays. I got home just after dark, having stopped in Rockford for a brief shopping visit; nothing major, just found a couple of cheap books on hiking in the Utah mountains.

As I crossed into Wisconsin, the energy changed, as it often seems to change crossing from state to state. Each state has its own state of mind, its own energy; reinforced no doubt by the ideation of millions of people, over time, sometimes these things do take on their own energy, their own quasi-life. It’s the same way invented religions eventually develop some spiritual power: if enough believe in something, even if it’s a silly thing to believe in, eventually it does seem to take on some life and power. Anyway, I was feeling as though Wisconsin is no longer “home ground” to me; as much as I like it here sometimes, it’s not “home” to my awareness anymore. I guess that’s California now, although I am still a nomad, and perhaps “home” is nowhere. But there are still places, local places full of local gods, that I feel very connected to; for example, Devil’s Lake, here in the hills north of the Wisconsin River, near Baraboo. And places in Minnesota. Perhaps it’s just a sign of a nomadic adaptability, that anywhere I spend a few days begins to feel like home. It took only hours to re-adapt back to feeling at home in Chicago, after that initial difficult, stressful drive yesterday. By last night, and then driving again this morning, I had adapted. All places are home, then; or none are.

Driving across northern Illinois in the dramatic cloudlight, I began to think of how to revise my next art-films, that I’ve been making as DVDs. I was thinking about “Driven,” how to revise and improve it, and this evening, after dinner, I’ve been working on it. I’m working on the opening montage to go behind the credits. I also have a new idea for the titling, which I might get to tonight, if there’s time. It feels good to get creatively active again, and make real progress on my projects.

519. 23 December 2006, Chicago, IL

I'm in Chicago for an evening and morning. After the annual recording-studio party, sleeping on the floor, wrapped in warm blankets:

Most of my dreams last night were about poetry: I am sitting in a public place, an educational park, filled with various activities, when a tall handsome man wearing a business suit (in my dream it is actor Tony Todd) comes in and wants to know about poetry; eventually, I come down off my perch and tell him I can teach him, after most everyone else there sort of stumbles or says nothing; most of what I do is correcting his cerebral ideas, when he thinks he’s understood what poetry is; at one point there’s a poster on the wall of three haiku, which he takes down to look at, copy into his notebook, and analyze, and I go over and say, No, that isn’t poetry: poetry is when something you read recreates a poetic experience inside you; you’re still thinking that poetry is all of the mind; you haven’t been moved yet, you haven’t been possessed or captured by a poem. He looks at me, sincerely wanting to learn, but going about it the wrong way; this pattern repeats several times, until sometime later, he finally stumbles across a poem that gets to him, and his stands there silent, unable to speak. The dreamscape moves on, as dreams do, but all my dreams over the night are still all about poetry, in one way or another. In the dream, there were several poems, some of mine, some others just there, including those haiku on that poster; I can’t remember any of the poems upon waking, sorry; most were nothing special. In later sequences, there are poetry readings in front of an audience; memorized poems performed; there are discussions around poetry, between poets. My mind churns this morning with lots of poetry, little fragments given in dreams, none of them adding up to a genuine poem. What have I memorized, that I would be able to recite? A few of my own shorter poems; a few other poems; a few classics. In the dream, I do recite, stumbling a little, my poem after elegies.

518. 23 December 2006, Chicago, IL

One aspect of learning to think outside the box is to always look for other options. Whenever presented with an either/or decision, look for the third option. Often it's just a different perspective on the situation, an oblique approach.

We are free. We just don't think we are. We can always choose to get out of the box we're in. The difficulty comes in whether or not we want to pay the necessary price. Sometimes it's a small price, sometimes it's much larger, and a bridge gets burned, a life changes, or more.

Do you love it or hate it? Isn't there a third option?

Hurrying to nowhere,
a lesson burned in
cedar and cement, fumed
and irrigated and
isolate; a tether
broken into, into
especial entrance. Thus
no answer no
victory for the wine, candles, or
churning ship screws; no
prevalent latent loft of memory or
timidity. No, no timorous
rhythm, no chiming solace, no
canyons of light somewhere
reflecting clouds on steel and water,
and chugging along, trained to vanish
in solace and shower, and evocation, and wish
for a long peace walking upstream towards the sun.

517. Winter Solstice, 22 December 2006, Chicago, IL

Alex has been visiting these past few days. I just dropped him off at Union Station to take the Amtrak train to Des Moines, to see his family for Xmas. Driving down here, they’re redoing the Illinois Tollway stations, to make them more automatic. But they’ve done some really incredibly stupid and annoying things with the remaining cash stations, trying no doubt to force everyone to use the automated electronic tolls from here on out. Well, too bad; some of us are just passing through, not commuters. Because of bad design, the holiday weekend, and heavy traffic, we spent 28 minutes trying to pay the toll at the Roseville toll station: three lanes down to one, people cutting in line because they missed the exit signs, and general stupidity, not to mention rude toll attendants. Nowhere did they bother to post the amount one is supposed to pay at that toll booth, either, which slowed things down even more, with a lot of people scrambling for change. This was, without exception, the longest, and stupidest, experience I have ever had on the Illinois Tollway; it was inexcusable, and it made us late for Alex’s train. We made it Union Station with only a half hour to spare, which I hope was enough time, instead of the hour we had planned. It would be incredibly stupid to have him miss the train because of the Tollway's bad engineering.

By the time I dropped him off, and headed back uptown towards the recording studio for the annual Xmas party later tonight, I was incredibly stressed, tense, and frustrated. I’ve stopped to have a slice of pizza somewhere on Ashland Ave., and to settle my nerves by sitting for awhile instead of driving. I need some time before I see people socially.

Yesterday, Alex and I drove up to Madison for the day. I sold off a bunch more books at two of the better used book stores in town, and got a few new ones in trade, but also enough cash to pay for lunch at Bahn Thai, an excellent restaurant that I used to go to when I lived in Madison, years ago. It’s still there, apparently still doing well. We had a good, filling meal. Shopping was fun, although the weather was cold and raining and miserable.

Driving down to Chicago this morning, the weather started out cold and miserable and rainy, then the skies partially cleared, and now they’re full of dramatic lighting. High winds, fast clouds, ranging in color from white to dark charcoal, the light constantly changing and shifting. Bold splashes of sun lighting farms and empty fields, against a dark, ominous backdrop, with flocks of birds whirling and turning in the middle ground: an American gothic landscape.

At the moment, I’m feeling better for having eaten my big Chicago-style pizza slice, but still in a zero-tolerance mood. It’s another sign of how close to the edge I live these days: my reserves are depleted, and my tolerance for obstacles is minimal. I don’t like living like this, but it’s all I can do to just maintain, lately. (If anyone ever tells you that caregiving is not one of the most exhausting jobs in existence, they’re lying, or ignorant; they’re full of crap, or they’ve never done it.)

It was fitfully sunny downtown, although I didn’t stop for pictures, just a few grabshots out the window while driving. Some beautiful skyscraper views, had I had time to look up into the canyons of glass, and take photos; but it was all rushed, a comedy of errors and deadlines.

Now, sitting in the window of the pizza place, typing, it turns black again, and the rain begins, big heavy drops coming straight down. But it’s a cleansing rain: rain, wash away this bad mood, and leave me empty and centered. Water heals. Water cleanses. Water caresses and touches and leaves no trace. In the southern sky, a bright window in the dark clouds, fingers of light punching through, even as the rain turns to monsoon squalls right outside this window. Then the rain slacks off, the sky lightens, blue appears through the dark clouds overhead, and the day goes onto its next mood. So much for bucolic pastorals.


Driving up Ashland Ave., after the rain shower, bright sunlight on everything, the world washed clean. And a perfect rainbow centered directly on the street ahead.

516. 17 December 2006, Beloit, WI

An afternoon break to go to a concert at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus: a small concert venue and chapel, a lovely stonework building with a belltower. I’ve seen several concerts there over the years, and it’s a very intimate space. We heard the Beloit-Janesville Symphony and the Masterworks Chorus, conducted by Robert Tomaro, do Bach’s Magnificat, and two well-known choruses from Handel’s Messiah.

I never tire of Bach, and hearing Bach live is a marvelous experience. I saw that several families brought their children, which is great exposure to good music for the kids. The piece was well-played, with only a few missed entrances and off notes; an excellent performance, considering this is a small local community orchestra and chorus, not a professional orchestra at a famous concert hall. I really enjoyed the outing, and couldn’t help tapping my foot along with the continuo parts.

We left at the interval, because the second half was going to be Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, a piece I can survive without ever hearing again. It's not that it's bad, it's that it's overdone. It’s been pulled out every Christmas for a century, and you can’t avoid it even if you wanted to, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Repetition and overexposure breed cliché. The Nutcracker is one of those works that is actually a good piece, but because it’s a sentimental favorite, it’s way overexposed, and overdone. If we could put it away for a decade, then bring it out again, after not hearing it for ten years, it would sound fresh and new, and excellent. Small chance of that, though.

Now, a cup of tea at sunset, pinking the sky across the southern and eastern horizons, and back to my other work. Like, going over to feed the neighbors’ fish, while they’re away; the neighbors, that is, not the fish; the fish are still there, doing whatever it is that fish do all day. I think I’ve said enough about that, for now.

515. 17 December 2006, Beloit, WI

A series of very good dreams: hopeful; fulfilling. I am working as an artist, probably as a temp, for a graphics firm in a big unnamed city of skyscrapers and parks; the building is under renovation and reconstruction, so there are many unsafe areas to walk in, but I go through them anyway, sure-footed; I meet two of the building’s owners and operators, a man and a woman, and over the course of several encounters we get to know an like each other; most of these dream-passages take place not during working hours, by the way, but during transit, in and out; there is always time to talk; I have long conversations, and everyone is intelligent and interested in the arts, in what we do, and they all think creatively; a city of creative people; over a lunch circle one sunny day overlooking one of the parks, we all start to talk about cities we’ve lived in, comparing them culturally; I talk about the differences between Manhattan San Francisco. I wake up thankful and refreshed, feeling connected to something artistic and whole, after the emotional turbulence of yesterday. Maybe there is a point to going on, and maybe I’m not so alone and cut-off and unappreciated. Hell can indeed by followed by heaven, and this dream was a reminder: it was very vivid, very lucid, I knew I was dreaming yet I went with the flow, and everyone I met and talked to over the course of several days was a kindred spirit and a boon companion. We were all on this same journey of life together, and we recognized our kinship, at its root, no matter what surface occupation we were involved in.

I know this was a direct dream, a reminder from those Powers behind the veil who make the connection happens. I have been feeling artistically cut-off and neglected of late; disengaged from my existing online artist and writer community, because the pace has really slacked off, and I’m not connecting at all with the people I used to connect with; these things do go through cycles, of course, and some people do move on. The dream reminds me that I am not so isolated as I feel sometimes, and compensates for the waking lack of connection and community. I can’t express how detailed, colorful, and vivid every moment was: it was a lucid, numinous dream. Or dream-sequence, since it did take place over several days and many encounters, with no sense in the dream of compressed time.

We all need to pay more attention to our dreams, and not just dismiss them upon waking, as though they were unreal and waking life was all there was. Dreams are how the parts of ourselves, those parts that are so much bigger than we are normally aware, communicate with us, comfort us, send us messages and warnings: we are all much bigger than we know.

Update: an essay on poetry and dreams.

514. 16 December 2006, Beloit, WI

(A winter diptych: two poems written after watching again on DVD that fine example of poetically-styled cinema, Snow Falling on Cedars.)

And so you crave something deeper,
richer: salmon, fresh pulled from the sea,
flopping on the slick deck in hard grey light,
the mountains of the islands around you
crested white and fog-wrapped, rising
sudden and close out of the black waves,
the shocked fish blood-red and gasping.

And something more real: to be held,
just for a minute, in falling snow, wrapped
and scarved against the inevitable;
something an old man says in the lamplight,
about endings, and the loss of things.
Brown wool beckons the coughing-cloth.

And something richer, deeper: blue lanterns
of lighthouse cedars, bent beneath hard wind
and horizontal snowfall, till the ice infects
your eyes, and you lose your arms and feet,
but for phantom tingles, memories of limbs
lost like gray cedar logs the tide threw up
onto the beaches, scaled, worn, drummed.

And the rising, the craving, the urge under
hollow cave-trees large enough to hostel
beasts, sought rain-shelter and dripping:
and so you let it fall away, from the last,
to you, your stray hand, cold lips pursed;
and sink; and stand, to get up, walk home,

content to be solitary: and embraced.

Descending lines of violins repeat phrases,
chords, and gestures akin to whirling snow;
a bell rings across an empty white field.

Remember that old summery strawberry patch,
now just a hump under banks of drift and slop,
a lost basket torn shelter for huddled mice.

Even the crows are silent as the trees satchel
and pack storms around their eaves; out of closed
lacquer beaks, not even a trill of recognition.

Cold steel-blue ramparts of rising mist make
fog-angels in the blank field beside the road;
till wind shakes loose a plopping full tree branch.

A lone flute echoes from cedar caves,
the hollowed hills, brisk whips of moss,
following vanished tracks towards silence.

513. 12 December 2006, Beloit, WI

After a week of white wintry landscapes, it’s begun to be warm (relatively) and rainy. Dreary, actually, under gray skies and a constant drizzle. I am lying naked on the downstairs couch, typing this, and right outside the window is a green lawn with islands of melting ice dotting the distance. There is actual fog out among the trees across the river. The rosebush has bright green leaves dangling across the view.

This room is still cluttered, but it’s a cleaner, more organized clutter. My back hurt yesterday from lifting and moving so many heavy boxes. It’s a sensual pleasure lying here in the morning, before I begin my day. I have to go be social in an hour, when I’d rather just be solitary. Some days, you have to take the morning slowly, while you still feel fragile and not quite awake; then the day begins, and somehow you get through it.

The fog is very thick down by the river. It moves in slow, viscous tendrils across the blank ice crust. Underneath, water, dark and gelid, moves slowly. You stand on black ice, slick and glassy beneath your feet, and it’s just like standing on an abyss of nothingness. It seems to go down forever, beyond even the center of the planet, and the rule of stars beyond. It goes down into an inner place where no light shines.

All around you, peoples’ lives continue to go on. An author I know has a book signing on the same day as my father begins a new course of radiation treatments for cancer. Children play in the snow and rain. An aunt has died, and because of our medical schedule, we can’t drive to the funeral and back in time. Water flows across gutters choked with ancient ice. A boy bundled in hat and gloves chips at the decaying ice on the sidewalk in front of his family’s home, warm yellow light splashing from the kitchen windows. Cars race by in the slushy streets, going who knows where at speed, hurrying towards oblivion or ecstasy, and you can’t tell which car is headed where. Unless of course you believe the cynics who claim we’re all, ultimately, headed for oblivion. There’s no sunset, just a gradual dimming and bluing of the light. The trees make darker lines against an indigo sky dripping with fog, drizzle, and melting ice. People ignore the land outside their boxed-in windows, its moods and lighting, and write endless reams of meaningless opinion; none of which will outlive the land. As much as I love to use new technologies, none of them matter as much as a brush, an inkstone, and a blank notebook page: calligraphy of nothing, of silence. The white page the only still point in a snowstorm of refuge.

After a day of furious hurrying from meeting to meeting, hurtling from appointment to luncheon to doctor’s consulting, I am back on the couch, lying down, covered with blankets. Even a cup of tea isn’t keeping me from feeling like napping. The dreary day and the early sunset rob me of the will to endure, the desire to get up and do something. I’ll fight back against entropy later, after spending some time recovering my strength. I cannot get comfortable, with a sore hip and a hard seat. Eventually, you just ignore it, turn over and fall asleep, as though willed by the gods into slumber: a day for napping and hot cocoa.

512. 10 December 2006, Beloit, WI

Yesterday I went and bought a couple of new bookshelves, and set them up in the basement. Today, I emptied out several of my boxes of books that have been in storage the past two years, so that I can see them all in one place again. This will help me sort through them, and continue to pare down and get rid of what I absolutely can live without. Plus, frankly, shelves trump boxes both logistically and aesthetically: you can get more on them (two tall shelves hold 12 boxes' worth), and you have access to them without having to dig, which can be a major production. And they just look better than stacks of boxes.

I am gradually converting the basement living room into my sitting room and library. If I am going to be living here for an extenced period, rather than continuing to just camp out, I need to do this. I need more personal space, and retreat space, and solitude, and this is one way to get it. It’s not a final solution. Someday, everything will have to go back into boxes, and I’ll probably hit the road again, till I find a more settled place to live long-term. in the meantime, though, it gives me a room I dream of: a comfortable sofa, all my books to hand, good reading light, and a fireplace. I have to find a chimney sweep to clean both fireplaces in the house, so I can use them again. A cup of hot cocoa with a shot of brandy in it, a warm fire, a comfortable chair, a good book, and a warm lap blanket: ah, paradise!

511. 7 December 2006, Beloit, WI

The snow storm ended up giving us around a foot of snow in our area, although the official count was 7 or 8 inches. Tell that to my legs which went into the undrifted snow in the backyard over a foot deep. I was out walking, after the storm had passed, and the air cleared. In the back yard there were numerous deer tracks. I went over to the woods on the south side, and startled the buck that lives around here, with a small group of does and yearlings. He’s a six-point buck, and I got the camera up at almost the perfect moment; a second either way, and the shot would have been ruined.

The roads in our part of town, though plowed once, are still icy and snowbound. The main roads, and the highway are all clear now, although we’ve had some high winds, and snow has drifted across some of the open stretches of county highway, creating bad sections that had been previously plowed.

It’s my first real winter in a couple of years. I love the beauty of the snow. I’m okay driving, although as usual my real fear is of the other drivers out there, who don’t know what they’re doing. It only takes one inattentive idiot to start a chain-reaction. We keep the house very warm, so I haven’t suffered too much; plus, I have my knit blankets to curl up in, on cooler mornings. The temperature outside has gone to zero for the past four nights, coming up to the 20s and 30s during the day, then back down to zero at night.

I remember what it is about winter I dislike most, though: the dry air. The heater dries the air, the cold weather dries the air, my lips crack, my gums bleed, I get daily nosebleeds whenever I blow my nose, my skin itches and flakes, static electricity makes my hair crackly, all of that and more. My bad knees hate this weather: they crackle and mutter whenever I walk up and down stairs; my knees are only happen in warm, wet environments: the tropics, or those few hot, humid weeks at the height of every summer. Even in the desert, it was never this bad, and of course, in California I was near the ocean, so the problem was the cold-damp days, not the cold-dry days.

Outside my window, I’ve been watching the river at the end of our yard. It’s called Turtle Creek, but it’s really a small river, a tributary of the Rock River that flows through the downtown here, and eventually to the Mississippi down in Illinois. The river was gray and turgid this morning, with big chunks of ice in it. Gradually, over the course of the morning, the ice has filled up by the bridge downstream, where the river narrows and begins to loop its way through the fields. Every year during melte ice-dams get stuck in that part of the river. I’ve been the watching all morning, and the chunks of ice that have been flowing downstream began to backfill the open water. First there was a rough white barge of ice. Then, the near shore began to fill up with icefloe, while the deeper cutbank waters on the opposite shore, below the river’s floodplain, still contained moving water. Then, the trees overhanging the opposite bank, and the sandbar underneath, began to be choked. Now, the entire river in my view is still, silver and white, choked with backed-up ice. Tonight, in the extreme cold, the floes will freeze solid, and for the first time this winter, the river will have a solid crust. I may not see the river flowing again till melte, unless we have an unusual midwinter thaw. And so, even the waters and land move into winter’s stillness and silence, and everything freezes outside my window, where I sit and write every morning. Only the deer and wild turkey tracks give any sense of remembered movement now, as the land turns to dormancy, stillness, loss, sleep, and isolation. I need to keep my heart warm, here, lest it too freeze up, get backed up with ice, and become still and silent.

Two recent essays:

Photography Is An Artform, Just Get Over It

Music I Still Dream Of

510. 1 December 2006, Beloit, WI

After a bad day, and another restless, sleepless night, waking up to a day full of appointments, it’s the first major storm of the winter: a complete and utter white-out, heavy snow falling, 6 or 7 inches already on the ground, and at least that much more on the way, before the day is done. I could have slept in, but I’m too agitated. I want total silence this morning, but of course we just have to watch the storm on the fucking TV weather channel. It’s snowing hard: I don’t need to watch the goddamn TV to tell me it’s snowing. The windows are enough to watch.

Black naked limbs of trees on white snow, broken by fat white flakes: calligraphy of winter.

I put on my big boots, my winter coat, and tromped outside to see what I could see. The snow was pristine everywhere, but there were deer tracks around the back yard. I was down by the river, taking photos, and I startled the buck who lives across the river, in the floodplain, with his does and fawns. He was in the woods south of the house, next to the back yard. I quickly snapped a photo, and a second later he was gone.

The heavy snow gradually tapered off and stopped after noon. The roads were cursorily plowed, but our street reminas covered with snow and ice. The clouds thinned towards sunset, and the sky turned yellow-pink. We ventured out for tea with friends, but decided to get back home before dark, just to be safe. As we were pulling in, the neighbor across the street came over and offered to shovel our drive and walkway, a blessing for which my aching back was very grateful.

509. 28 November 2006, Beloit, WI

A restless night. One of those occasional insomniac nights where the monkey mind won’t stop chattering, and it keeps you awake. I had done a lot of organizing tasks yesterday, cleaning and sorting, and setting up my music studio computer, which after months of trying I finally was able to get online, and have it touch the Internet. I have been thinking a lot about my next road journey, scheduled for late January, when I intend to do a long loop out West, to visit people, take lots of new photos, do some winter camping, visit some national parks, and tie up my affairs in San Francisco. I need to ship back to myself all of my remaining belongings there, because even though I would love to live there again, I don’t know when I will; for now, I need to be in the Midwest, caregiving for my father in this last stage of his life, as he deals with cancer, my Mom’s Alzheimer’s, and whatever else comes up in the next couple of years. I don’t know what will happen; and my life my be unsettled for a couple more years; so, it makes sense to think about consolidating my chattels in one place. Meanwhile I’ve been thinking and dreaming about the journey, about where to go and who to see, and what to do. I have a new, more powerful digital camera now, and time to learn it before the journey. A lot of stress goes with the caregiving job, and find myself, too often lately, unable to relax before sleep. I’ve learned to not toss and turn, though, as that only makes it worse. When I have an insomniac night, I get up and do something, or make something, or write. Last night, I grabbed one of my Japanese calligraphy brush pens, some loose pages from an old notebook, and wrote three pages of haiku, plus one or two drawings. I wrote about the memories and dreams that were in my mind. I wrote about the brush itself. I wrote memories of camping in my tent, and anticipations of my next road journey. I wrote till the words stopped spilling out of me, as they apparently had wanted to do. I wrote till the tidal push was over, and the pressure was off, then I could fall asleep peacefully, my whirling mind calmed and settled. I awoke feeling calm and refreshed, with a mind of quietness, more at peace than ever in the past few weeks. Zen mind, brush mind, meditation mind. Most of the haiku I wrote last night were about the brush pen, about calligraphy and haiga and the uses of the brush to aid meditation. One thought, one brush, many poems.

In the yard, a dozen wild turkeys. Four of them keep spiraling in an endless series of circles, irritated with each other, pecking at each other, or interposing themselves between the peckers to keep things non-violent. The rest of the flock preens, unconcerned, or works the ground, pecking for seeds. A sudden gust of high winds makes them all fluff their feathers.

When I first arose this morning, several of them were right outside the backyard basement window: eye to eye with me, before I went upstairs. Later, in a sudden heavy downpour of rain, they stood stupidly where they were, like statues, waiting for the rain to subside, before going on about their wild turkey business. At night, I see them fly into the trees in the woods on either side of the yard, sometimes flying across the yard’s wide opening to the other side, hopscotching their way to the higher branches, to roost for the night, safe from ground-locked predators. In the morning, they float down again, surprisingly graceful for such ungainly birds.

508. 26 November 2006, Beloit, WI

I don't usually trumpet this sort of thing about, but just this once I shall:

I have nine images (they're calling them photomontages there, although I call them digital collages) from my series Spiral Dance on display at the new issue of Unlikely. It's an interesting, lively place, well worth a visit and a browse.

Also, my poem after elegies has just been published in the Sunday Book Section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Many thanks to book editor Frank Wilson.

It's nice to be published, whenever it happens. I've been getting poems and bits and pieces of my artwork published since the early 1980s, but it remains a thrill. Too young at heart to become jaded? Or just too naive, maybe.

507. 25 November 2006, Beloit, WI

I’m seeing a lot of drama enacted lately, online and offline, and friends and loved ones are feeling under attack, under stress. It seems to be a virtually universal condition at the moment. The worst online are those who go out of their way to be dismissive and insulting, for no apparent reason other than that tearing others down makes them feel good.

I would love to have a conversation with like-minded people, about creativity, spirituality, sexuality, ecology, and how those all overlap and intermingle. Such conversations seem to be rare. I get them occasionally, but then, more often than not, some troll comes along who diverts things into self-absorbed attack or defense. Topics veer off-course, conversations get abandoned by the very people who need to keep them going, because they’re all sick of the trolls: they leave because it becomes a waste of effort to stay. I can’t say I ever blame them; I often feel the same way.

Why do we hurt ourselves so much? Why is it so necessary to be a troll? to lash out at anyone and anything who threatens you and your viewpoint? Are you so small in spirit that you cannot get past your own fears? I feel sad, when I see that. I feel pity. I feel disappointed. With the opening of the Sacred Heart, I feel pain within my own heart, when I see those who are too afraid to break out of their own shields and shells.

I keep looking for these conversations, and I keep having to move on, because not enough wish to play openly by rules that risk love and opening. Is it so much to ask, for a little civil conversation?


I’ve been doing a lot of writing and revising of old essays about poetry, haiku, creativity and literature, over at the Dragoncave. Most of my writing time has been going into that, this past week or two, with little left over. I’m in the middle of collating a series of essays on Zen in haiku, the influence of Zen on poetry, and related subjects. A lot of this is scattered material, and collating it puts it into some semblance of balanced order. It’s a work in progress, though.

I’ve been having intense dreams again, but they’re not always worth reporting, and I never intended this Road Journal to turn into a simple diary or blog. So, get over it. I’m not writing a lot of new poems right now, either. Most of my time and energy is being co-opted by my caregiving duties, with not much left over. I’m not feeling up to much, right now. I spent some time today trying to do some projects long on hold, with mixed success. Every little drop in the bucket. But it’s sisyphean at times, and I never feel like I’m getting anywhere, even though I must be, even if I can’t perceive it. And the downside of the blog world is that you often like you’re shouting down a well, and getting no echo back: it’s not really a conversation, it’s more a bunch of talking heads.

506. Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 2006, Beloit, WI

I speak the truth as I see it, sometimes, and people immediately get defensive, hostile, antagonistic, dismissive. It’s a shame when the need to Be Right makes us hateful, when our desire to Be In The Right makes us want to put everyone else in the wrong. It’s no fun being on the receiving end of that pattern; which I have been several times this past week. I recognize the pattern, and I know it would be directed at anyone who stepped into its path, not just me; so I don’t take it too personally. Truisms real their ugly heads: A prophet is never loved in his own village. Speaking the truth winds no friends. Things like that. Facile stand-ins for actual feelings: signs instead of realities. Perhaps it’s unavoidable: when someone’s buttons stick out feet in front of them, you can’t avoid pushing them, even accidentally. Some folks are so curmudgeonly, in their desire to always be right, that they will even reject an olive branch. Even an offer to help, to be supportive, will be slapped down with a dismissal. Still, it seems regrettable. It can make me sad: the terrible things we do to each other, and to ourselves. Nonetheless, keeping mum is no solution: avoidance solves nothing. Every finished pearl begins as an irritant.

505. 20 November 2006, Beloit, WI

Ask, and ye shall receive. Following a tug to Goodwill yesterday, I found a copy of Moby Dick. It’s the Penguin Classic paperback edition, with an extra couple of hundred pages of glossaries, commentaries, appendices, and so forth; so it has a nice heft. How do ya like them synchronicities?

I also found a hardcover copy of William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways; this is a book I’ve owned a copy of before, but never got into very deeply. Now, having lived it, I find it very easy and familiar reading. It's a book that belongs with my other travel books, about the poetics aof travel as much as the practicalities. Many of the places he visits west of the Mississippi are places I know, have visited myself, and have my own experiences of. There is much I see in this book that is familiar and typical. I haven’t been to the Northeast of Southeast lately, though, so there are discoveries of those regions in this book that I appreciate. I should probably visit Nantucket and Maine in the near future. Maybe all these whaling books I’ve been poring over recently are preparation. Homework before the fact.

504. 17 November 2006, Beloit, WI

Blank white sky, stare tree curl inward at edges, sharp fractal points of fire oak roost. Unknown anchor of tremble. Red eyed dogs prowl underhill, leaves prints in fading snow around the boles of vined rootballs. Sniffing after prayers. Sometime in the afternoon, a clenched heart rises in the breast, stifle surge panic upset, vapors of anxious avenues and sodium lights.

Worry for the mother who wants to go outside, who refuses to return, who most days must be delivered back home. She wants to walk home, not knowing how far or where home is anymore. She is lost, she can’t remember anyone here, won’t take a bath, won’t take off her gloves. The dusk fading, her light footfall.

Recent discussions with friends about anger, its uses and misuses, and an email from another friend who suffers from depression, prompted me to go back and re-read something of what I wrote about depression and anger earlier this year. Last Fourth of July I wrote a long response to Andrew Solomon’s book The Noonday Demon; I still believe everything I wrote there, as an overall philosophy, even though circumstances here in my situation caregiving for my father who is being treated for cancer have brought some contradictions to light. I have always said that anti-depressant drugs do work for some people, and at the same time I do still believe they are over-prescribed and dangerously overused by many others. There are some folks for whom they have been helpful; this is a truth. I have met cancer patients, when I take my father to various clinics and doctors’ visits and chemotherapy treatment wards, whose use of anti-depressants have allowed them to be functional, able to cope, able to get out of the sinkhole of depression that illness often causes. Yet I remain personally skeptical about anti-depressants in general, and know in my bones, with a knowing that is like an alarm bell in the back of my mind that rings whenever true danger arises, that such panaceas are not for me. They would not help me.

I cope with depression and anger through essentially psychological and spiritual means. Giving care for my father has occasionally been extremely painful and difficult. Well-intentioned friends have suggested go see a doctor and get a prescription for anti-depressant pills if I really can’t cope; but I will not. What good is a blissed-out caregiver? I have explained before why I have such a strong negative reaction to medicating myself against depression, an attitude that is not new, but dates back many, many years.

I have other ways of coping with anger and depression, which I have developed over many years, and which I accept and use as imperfect solutions for a pained, imperfect universe. They’re the best that I can do, for now, and I forgive myself for not being able to do any better, for not being able to be perfect about it.

When I get stress- or sinus-related migraines, and I’ve had more of these since moving back here to be my father’s caregiver, than I had had for some years previously, I take three ibuprofen (I’m allergic to acetaminophen) and do acupressure or shiatsu in the occipital region at the back of my head, the top of the spine. I poke and prod in there till I feel the pain-pressure start to break up, then with a deep breath or three, I feel the tension break away and I can breathe freely. The pain subsides enough for me to function. I have suffered from migraines my whole life, but using this technique, if I catch the storm while it is still building before it breaks, I can prevent the worst aspects of the migraine. I can get through the day, even if I’m not functioning at 100 percent. Shiatsu alone works, too, without the ibuprofen, but it takes longer to make the same shift.

People who don’t experience chronic pain never understand how tense it makes you: your body constantly armors up, your muscles tense up, and need somatic relaxation therapies such as massage and shiatsu to get them loose again. I became a Reiki Master and studied other bodywork and energy work modalities, mostly to learn self-care. I also help other people, but I really learned it to be able to take care of myself.

When I am unable to shield, when I’m too exhausted or upset, when I feel like I’ve been the target of other peoples’ toxic emotions—the crazy bad shit that gets generated when some people go into their drama—when I feel like I can’t take anymore without exploding, then I know I need to get it out of my body. I mean that literally and physically, as well as energetically. I need to get the toxic emotions out of my system, and out of my body—or I risk cancer or worse, because energetic imbalances will eventually show up in your cell tissue, if you don’t resolve them on the energetic level. These are things no-one needs to hold onto.

When I lived like a monk in the New Mexico desert, I discovered a few techniques that worked to get the toxic emotions out of my body. Some nights, I would stand under the River of Stars and howl with the coyotes till tears ran down my face and dripped off my chin. Sometimes, I would go out and pick up small rocks, and put all my anger and hatred and bad feeling into each rock as I held them in my clenched fist, then hurl the rock away from me, as far and as fast as I was able. Some afternoons, I pounded my fist against the countertop, in my monk’s trailer, just once. Some nights, I just gave it all to the earth, placing my hands against the ground, weeping, crying, shouting.

Mother Earth is big enough and loving enough to absorb all this. She is our Mother, our Progenitor, our balm. I learned this truth when I learned to lead sweatlodge ceremonies: the Earth is our Mother, and she does take in whatever toxic emotions we put into Her, then transmutes them and absorbs them and returns them as pure love, and white light. I know this to be true, because I have experienced it in every sweatlodge I’ve ever entered, naked and afraid and sick at heart, to emerge exhausted, cleansed, lightened and freed.

Later, when I leaving the desert and the Scamp trailer broke loose and went over the cliff to be lost, I changed. It changed me, the event, or the aftermath. I only rarely vent my anger by slamming my fist against the counter anymore, because some part of me wondered if I had put too much into the trailer and accelerated its destruction; on the other hand, it was old when I got it, and well-used, and had served more than one owner as shelter and home. The Powers That Be took it away from me when I no longer needed it in my life, and even though that happened in a way that cause some post-traumatic stress symptoms, it did lighten the load. And my need for venting that way also diminished, once I was no longer living in the desert’s pressure cooker of solitude and silence.

But still, some nights, here and now, I must go out into the garage and yell and scream, or go down into the basement and punch cardboard boxes. It's a valid, imperfect means of coping, on the worst days and nights, but it is a means that is useful and life-affirming, for me, in the end. Perhaps it’s not the best solution, but it works. I live my life at a fairly intense level, as a mystic who been in the dark night of the soul, back there in the New Mexico desert, a shaman who been to see Death and come back, and now as someone who is giving care for his aging, dying parents. This level of intensity is not something that every person can or would choose to live; it is who I am, however, and no pill could make it right.

I will no longer apologize for being who I am; I will no more hide my light under a bushel; I will no longer accept the verdict of the tribe, that there must be something wrong with me if I do not act exactly as the tribe would have me act. Fuck all that: I am who I am, and those I love best accept me just as I am, as I also accept them.

I have always known that I contain the capacity for great anger and great violence, as well as great depression, and I choose to not direct it at other people, or violate them. I choose not to hurt others, or myself, if at all possible. Yet I still must get these feelings out of my body, and so this is what I do.

I need to get the anger out of my body, before it makes me ill: when I hit a box with my fist, I put all my rage and power into my fist, and after I hit the box, the rage is gone, and I am cleansed. It literally is getting the energy out of my body.

This is a valid means of taking care of myself. People who are caregivers always forget to take care of themselves, which is why they burn out; and I am guilty of this, too. So, I view my means of self-care as valid and necessary.

Out of all this, there are two fundamental truths I have learned, living in the desert as I did, and living through everything that has followed that dark night time:

1. I am not my emotions. I have emotions, and I am not my emotions: I don't identify them as myself. They are ripples on the surface of a deep river that has a deep steady stillness in its depths. They pass. They don't linger.

2. Emotions are incredibly fluid and changing. Ripples on a pond really is a good analogy, because I have learned, by observation, that one can be happy 25 times a day, and sad 25 times a day, and depressed 25 times a day, and none of that changes who one really is, at core.

For me, at least, the thing with ALL emotional states that I have come to learn through the hard experiences of these past few years, is how quickly emotions change. Just sit back and watch sometime: it’s like a show. My emotions are fluid and mercurial: they change rapidly, and I don't cling to them, or try to control them, or "manage" them. I let them be what they are, even if I sometimes have to leave the room when we have guests.

2.a. corollary: The real problem people have with their toxic emotions is that they cling to them: they identify them with their selves, and they assume that because they feel this way today that will inevitably feel the same way tomorrow, and forever. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I vent, and then it's out of the body, and gone. You can, too. It works.

503. 16 November 2006, Beloit, WI

Shall I not go to sea? And yet I find myself reading novels set during the height of the Nantucket whaling days, set aboard tall ships and the people who sailed them. The romance of those dark days. The blend of light and shadow, in the sea and the storm-tossed shore. I’m reading Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer. I recently re-read Hilbert Schenk’s At the Eye of the Ocean. I find myself wanting to read Moby Dick again, as it for the first time. I also find myself wanting to find a good edition of it, unabridged, and not a student paperback, but some sturdy, even illustrated, volume. The best way to read such long books, and books like Huckleberry Finn, is in hardcover, with some weight and heft to them, so that they mass as much as the weight of their stories. I can read Moby Dick on my laptop at any time, it’s one of the books I have as e-texts on there, available for whenever I wish to consult it. And I read chapters that way. But the true weight of the book deserves the heft of a solid object, a real, bound book. So be it.

502. 15 November 2006, Beloit, WI

This has been a year of big changes, in the lives of those I love, and my own. Illness, death, danger, initiation, rites of passage. Some days it's hard to want to be inspiring, be true, keep your chin up, want to go on. Sometimes it's reduced to simple endurance: get through the day, and the night, knowing only that tomorrow it will be different. Not necessarily better or worse: just different. We push at what we have to do, hoping to have enough energy left over to do what we desire.

I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on. —Samuel Beckett

In the light of recent losses of friends, family members at risk from illness and surgery, and my own uncertainties about who to be next, I re-read through some older poems, and come across one I originally wrote in 1984 or '85, which has been given to more than one grieving friend, and otherwise used in times of sorrow or grief. What good is poetry if it's not useful, at least sometimes?

after elegies

we move normally, as though
nothing were changed.
but the lie is made by the hands
that, filling a glass,
slow and become still,
as though remembering.
and we move quietly, just as if
you were sleeping in the
next room. give us time;

"now, it will take some time,"
they said. but i still
pause in moving, as though
you had just spoken a word,
stepping out of the bedroom,
into the light,
into me.

501. 13 November 2006, Beloit, WI

An intense, vivid dream, out of which I jerk awake so suddenly that I’m disoriented for a minute, not sure where I am: I am sorting through the bins at a used comic book store with my friend D., when this dark-haired, dark-eyed woman comes up to the other side of the rack and introduces herself; she says, I hear you’re a cannibal, I am too; I say, I’m not, really, but I don’t deny the reputation is useful at times; the three of us make some very rude, very gross and hilarious jokes for awhile, like, “You always eat the one you love;” then, very seriously, she asks me if I really am a cannibal, and I say no; she gets momentarily very serious and very intense, and says, don’t ever do it, the burden is too much, the social price too great; she is a dark beauty, her presence is very intense and strong, although her features are ordinary, and her skin seems pale compared to the deep black of her hair and eyes; she is cheerful and smiling much of the time, until turning serious when she admonishes me the one time; we chat some more, turning to other things; I jerk awake with a start; it’s later in the morning than I think.

Was this an encounter with anima? with archetype? with one of the Powers? I’m not sure, but it was intense and vivid, numinous in that lucid way that significant dreams are. I don’t know if it was a visitation, or something else. I woke up startled and feeling a little wobbly; I’m sure I’ll be thinking about the dream most of today.

There are many ways to interpret something like this: all of them symbolic, none of them literal. It could be about anything. I have to think on it.

500. 11 November 2006, Beloit, WI

Why a five-line poem form? Because there are five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and spirit; because there are five points on the circle of a pentagram; because there are four directions, plus within; because many of the world’s mythologies have four-fold cosmograms, four-leaf mandalas, plus the silent direction of inwardness; there are five lobes on the maple leaf; 5 a stable prime number, in sacred geometry, and the first prime number after a non-prime number appears in the number sequence (or maybe I made all that up); the lore of the number five continues: pursue it.

Surrealism is a tool, not an end in itself. As Conrad Aiken wrote about Lorca: surrealism is perhaps one of many names, merely, for the substratum out of which poetry is made. It is a means to an end, not an end. To mistake it for an end is to make the mistake of thinking that the car is the road. Look at what Paz does in A Tale of Two Gardens:

                                        A sneak in the grass,
Demosthenes the cat is a luminous coal;
the female, Semiramis, chases ghosts,
reflections, shadows, echoes.
the sarcastic crows;
                              the capercaillie and his mate,
exiled princes;
the hoopoe,
crest and beak a fancy brooch;
the green artillery of the parakeets;
bats the color of nightfall.

His wild imagery serves the purpose of his poem, but it is not pyrotechnic, not foreground. It creates the mood out of which the images and memories and dreams arise. It is the context. I find myself pulled in almost as much by the smells as by the images: my own memories of the India that Paz is evoking. When I lived in Indonesia for a year, many childhood memories of India emerged, drawn out by the light, the smells, the green of the banana leaves, the wild hibiscus: smell is very tightly connected to memory. Smells create links between memory and dream. When Paz describes the neem tree under the stars:

                                        I heard a dark green murmur
burst from the center of the night: the neem tree.
On its shoulders,
                         the sky
will all its barbarian jewels.
The heat was a huge closing hand,
one could hear the roots panting,
space expanding,
the crumbling of the year.
                                      The tree would not give way.
Huge as a monument to patience,
fair as the balance that weighs
                                           a dewdrop,
                                           a grain of light,
                                           an instant.
Many moons fit in its branches.
House of squirrels,
                            blackbird inn.

I recall similar trees I have dwelt under. The become the One Tree, the archetype itself, the universal Tree of Life, and also the Tree of Death upon which both a desert-dwelling savior and a Norse god were hung, crucified, and the corpse-hooks upon which Inanna was hung. And like the tree, each of these transhuman figures was resurrected, and returned from the Underworld with new knowledge, new life, new wisdom.

499. 10 November 2006, Beloit, WI

After two days of glorious Indian Summer, in the 70s in the afternoon, and sunny, today the clouds came back in. Around tea-time in the afternoon, sudden rain, mixed with hail, sleet, and ice. After tea, drove home through icy roads, snow on the lawns, and sleet coming down hard. And all through this: lightning and thunder. It’s rare, but it was a winter thunderstorm: snow and lightning together. I’m sitting here now after dark, and listening to the hard rain and ice spattering on the windows, blown in irregular gusts as the storm continues. It might continue all night, with snow in the morning.

I’m thinking about the nude beaches south of San Francisco, wishing I could be there, naked in the warm air and hot light.

My early Xmas gift from Dad is to be an upgrade of my digital camera, which is on its last legs. After all, I’ve abused it for three years now, it’s been dropped in the Pacific Ocean once or twice, fallen out of my pocket onto rocks and earth, and taken many thousands of photos for me, since before I hit the road back in August 2004, when I began this Road Journal. Pretty much every photo you see on this Journal has been taken with this camera. Now, I’m going to keep it as a snapshooter, but I’m also upgrading to a much more powerful camera, with double the digital pixel resolution. I have to buy some more memory cards, too, but that’s an ongoing project. Memory cards have gotten so cheap, they’re almost free compared to what I had to pay for them when I first began shooting digital photos.

498. 9 November 2006, Beloit, WI

I realize that I am, gradually, writing a book.

It’s a book of literary criticism, theory and philosophy: three things that I have openly dismissed, as a writer, in favor of praxis. At least I have followed my own dictum, that theory must follow praxis, and describe it, and can never dictate it. I have had several decades of creative praxis under my belt before I attempted this book of theory: I have committed the disreputable practice of making poems, after all, for some years now. Most of these essays that are combining into a book have been committed, as thought they were furtive acts of desperation, over the past year or so, after having traveled out West, having been in and lived in the West: a journey that has obviously cleared enough clutter out of my head that I am able to write down my previously inarticulate feelings in some semblance of disorder.

So, I seem to be in the process of committing the sin of writing a book. It has accumulated geologically, a layer at a time, like some sedimentary rocks, sand and silt settling through recurrent whirlpools onto the stream-bed, being pressed into a rock full of ripple-marks, folded and bent and crumbled, and exposed again to the light a million years later.

My life has become a writer’s life: somewhat settled in one place, free enough to every day be able to write something down, no matter how futile or unnecessary. Frequently, I wake up in the morning, and in that first hour, which I always reserve for myself, as best as I can, circumstances permitting; that hour in which I like to read, to meditate, to do Reiki on myself, and to write; in that first hour, over the months, these thoughts converge around a cluster of ideas, and I spiral around my topics like water in a drain, and what results is somewhat turbulent but ever clearer, in my own mind.

It doesn’t mean this book will mean anything, or be publishable, or that anyone will want to read it. Nevertheless, here it is, a work in progress, at the Dragoncave.

Far too much poetry that is committed nowadays really has nothing to say: it's all surface, with nothing underneath. We can idolize (iconize, worship) the rapid developments of surface change, which are like ripples on top of a river, wind-tossed and ever-shifting; or we can go deeper, and look for the real fish, in the darker depths, where what is fundamentally human isn't as subject to the winds of surface fashion. I prefer the depths.

497. 5 November 2006, Beloit, WI


I feel the call of the ocean, but I have never gone to sea.
Were I at sea, I could not feel the ground under my feet.
Everywhere I go, I can always feel the earth under me,
its turns and shapes, its folded canyons, down through crust to mantle and core.
Always a sense of its presence. When I am too far away from it, I feel anxiety.
Looking back, this accounts for the fear of flying,
and why I trust Earth to hold me in place when I stand on the lip of the Grand Canyon
and stare down into empty miles of nothing, an abyss of light, a waterrfall of air,
but if I do the same from on top of tall bridge or skyscraper, I feel deep terror.
Always afraid wind will gust and rip my camera away from my hand, to fall forever, and be lost.
I trust the Earth to hold me, but I lack trust in the made things of men.
So, I am an Earthmaster. I must learn the other elements as well.
I must fly, as well as land.

Deer move among trees across the river in fading afternoon light, nosing along the banks.
Perhaps searching for a place to cross over.
They are safer in there, in that floodplain where no one will hunt them,
than they can be, on this inhabited side of the waters.
The deer speculate about the theology of water, and turn inland,
having come to no certain conclusions.

Moonrise red-amber through naked lightning-branched oak and fisted maple.
Wild turkeys roost, hop flying branch to higher branch, settling in
under moonlight and fading purple skies for sleep.
Moon rising, turning silver, as the large ungainly birds fly high across the yard
from tree to opposing tree, before becoming still for the dark hours.
As it darkens, illuminating things you can only see without eyes.

Brown Man

Rise up falling, corn-sheaves bunched gather rustling stacks by porch swing pillar gate, tan brown still green, green man greening fading to browning man brown cornstalk effigy, leaffall crackle redtouch handscorched bright mark crumble. Old year humus sweat water shell, fill soak forest floor, redbird chitter pine call. Tone of oakleaf belling tree, chime of branch on trunk. Matted brow unfold from mushroom-capped tree-crook. Tamarack and fire maple, twine wind twist vinehair eye open to aching blue of sky. Pines laugh unfallen. Sudden torso, mossed limbs. Heart leaves opening, petaled fingers spread reach grasp out to touch. Wrapped in brown stag cloak and river shimmer, tired eyes drooping towards winter, dissolve merge burrow sink in leaf loam, wild turkeys fly between bare tree branches high over red amber moonrise.

land soon covered
with memory of snow—
acorn dreaming

496. 4 November 2006, Beloit, WI

A few snow flurries today, but nothing sticks. The air outside is wintry, in the 20s now, and for the next few days. We had one day on Indian Summer, when it got up to 70, last week.

Poems escape around the edges, if you don’t get a chance to write them down. Blank pages between revelations. By telling our stories, we make them true.

I dislike a poetry that’s all cleverness and no pity.

495. All Saint’s Day 2006, Beloit, WI

Depth Charges

In his Fourth Letter to the young poet Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, in the Letters to a Young Poet:

Don't be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live the mystery falsely and badly (and they are very many) lose it only for themselves and nevertheless pass it on like a sealed letter, without knowing it.

Sam Hamill, writes in his essay A Poet's Place, from his essay collection A Poet's Work (Broken Moon Press, 1990):

When Marx declares "the bourgeoisie has turned the doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, and the man of science into paid servants," he is wrong only in regard to the true poet. Even in Marx's lifetime, the patronization of poetry on any significant level was nonexistent. Even then, poets existed outside the comfortable drawing rooms of the bourgeoisie. By the Age of Marx, the poet has become a religious heretic, one who believes in divine inspiration and its revelatory powers, one who believes, indeed, that all religions are one, and that the revelations that serve as the roots of religion are in fact expressions of the poetic experience. Or, as [Octavio] Paz says, that “religion is the poetry of mankind.”

In the twentieth century, we see such poets as Rilke, Yeats, Eliot and H.D. becoming immersed in hermetic studies, in explorations of comparative religions; we find Rexroth schooling himself deeply in all the world’s major religions, and especially in Buddhism and Gnosticism; we find Robert Duncan’s explorations of the Talmudic tradition and Gary Snyder’s search for the continuous thread that leads from primitive shamanism up through the ages into materialist culture.

This search for origins, for ancestry, is the search for a sense of place in a culture which has no means for justification of the spiritual exercise of divine revelation. The poet returns to tribal culture and gathers a few initiates into the spiritual community, into the secret society of poetry.

I identify with Snyder’s search for “the continuous thread.” I have undertaken a similar search myself, beginning at a very young age:

It is 7th Grade at Tappan Junior High School in Ann Arbor, MI; I am 13 years old. In my Civics class that year, I discovered for the first time how the Christian holiday festivities I had taken for granted my whole life were borrowed or stolen from existing pre-Christian holidays, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia, and the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Yule or Tannenbaum trees. This was revelatory: I realized at that age that all religious practices have a timeline of historical development. Later on, in graduate school, reading David Lowenthal's book The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge University Press, 1985), I came to realize that every tradition is an invented tradition. In fact, I realized that in this 7th Grade Civics class, in our weeks-long unit on comparative religion; but I was unable to articulate it clearly until I had read Lowenthal, years later.

Some insights sink into the bone, even before you have words to express them: and that is what poetry is for. Some things are best expressed in poetry, and song.

That same year, in that religious studies unit of that same Civics class, I read for the first time Huston Smith's classic of comparative religious studies, The Religions of Man. I had spent the first half of my childhood in southern India: I was the only person in my Civics class who had seen Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam being practiced at first hand, in my presence. I had a feel for comparative religion that my classmates didn't share; I think my teacher recognized it, though, because in retrospect I believe she encouraged me to go further with my studies than most of my classmates did.

I also at that time began to read a classic anthology of spiritual literature: The Choice Is Always Ours, ed. by Dorothy Phillips, Elizabeth Howes and Lucille Nixon (originally published in the middle of the 20th Century; there is available an 1989 unabridged reprint from HarperCollins). This tremendous anthology contains large excerpts, organized thematically, of spiritual, religious, and psychological literature. Looking back, I am sure that this book was my first introduction to the writings and sayings of Rainer Maria Rilke, Carl Gustav Jung, Meister Eckhart, Sheila Moon, and many other writers I now view as central to my education: my mentors. I had already read Moon’s young-adult novel, Knee Deep In Thunder, which is based on the Navajo creation myths—which Moon had also written a nonfiction study of, from a poet’s and Jungian’s perspective—and I had already started reading and studying all I could find about the Navajo (Dineh) people. The Choice Is Always Ours became for me both a guide and index for who I needed to go search and read in more depth, and a kind of a substitute bible. Since bible essentially means a collection of books, I began at that time to collect together my own books, into my own personal ur-bible. I still keep a collection of books, only it is very much larger now; but there is a small subset of books I keep on hand to read, and reread, and a few of which I always take with me when I travel.

All this information about religion was revelatory to me. It began my life-long tendency to Question Authority. It was the beginning of my understanding that life is always more rich and complex than you believe it to be. It began a life-long study of the history of ideas. It was also the beginning of the end of my unthinking devotion to the faith of my parents, who were rationalistic Lutherans. (Lutherans tend to be pragmatic; they largely don't believe in mysticism. They are devoted to improving the quality of life of this world, in fact the reason I grew up in India was because my father was a doctor who spent ten years doing medicine, and teaching it, in India, sponsored by the Lutheran Church in America.) This was the time of my life I began to realize that I was a mystic, although, again, I did not have the language to describe it at that time. I had already been seeing visions of other levels of reality, which were largely ignored or dismissed by the rationalist branch of Lutheranism that was the norm of the church my parents attended. (The pastor at our church in Ann Arbor was personally very supportive of me, but he didn’t pretend to understand me.) We had a lot of college people, professors and staff, at that church. We had a terrific church choir, because the choir director was also a choir director at the University of Michigan. I sang in that choir out of the pleasure of singing, for several years after I had lost all faith in Christianity. This time, when I was age 13, was when I began to lose that childhood faith. By the time I finished confirmation studies, at age 15, and was confirmed, I no longer considered myself any species of ordinary Christian. Everyday Christianity could no longer fulfill my needs, and no longer spoke to me rationally or theologically.

What I did understand, at age 13, and what I was able to articulate to myself, even then, was that all the existing religions had forerunners: None of them had sprung out of whole cloth, in the fixed forms in which they now existed. None had sprung forth fully formed, by divine fiat. They had all evolved. All of them had accrued cultural habits of practice that may or may not have been true to their original revelations. (Go look up why Catholics eat fish on Friday: the reason for that is nowhere in the Bible.) I began a quest of study for myself, at age 13, to search for what I then formulated as “the original religion.” I formulated this, even at that time, as the spiritual revelations, experiences, and sacred technologies that underlie all the world’s existing religious institutions. I set about to study religions almost as an anthropologist would, and within 3 or 4 years of reading, felt I had found something of an answer to my quest. Others had made the same search before me, and written about it:

My search for the original religions led me, eventually, to shamanism, what Mircea Eliade in his groundbreaking academic study of shamanism termed archaic techniques of ecstasy. Shamanism, I discovered, was ecumenical: it exists, or existed, in every cultural stream, in every civilization or tradition, in every culture, worldwide. Shamanism is a spiritual technology, not a religion. You can be a practicing member of any of the dominant organized religions, and still be a shaman. Shaman deal with the divine, or its helper spirits, directly, on many levels. Shaman tend to be pantheistic, or panentheistic. As a Tungus shaman once told an anthropologist: Everything that is, is alive. This is what I discovered, in my religious studies, as the best candidate for ‘the oldest religion”—even though, technically, it’s not a religion, but a set of near-universal ecstatic practices, trance states, ecopoetry, and pharmacology. Shamanism is everywhere, even if it has been subsumed by later ritual practices, or condemned by later orthodoxies. Shamanism is universal, and heterodox. And shamanism, as are all spiritual technologies, is a form of pragmatic or practical mysticism. This is the worldview I have come to subscribe to, more deeply than any other.

So, my somewhat precocious search for the roots of religion led me eventually to mysticism—which, in its depths, is the same as poetry. Poetry for me remains a taproot to the divine. I am a poetic heretic in this rational, language-based day and age, and I proudly admit it: for me, poetry at its best is never about just the mind or intellect, never about playing word games, never about intellectual puzzlery, never about academic theorizing. Poetry at its best, for me, is revelatory, divine, deep, resonant, spiritual, evocative, concretely imagistic, and, yes, inspired. I find most modern poetry, with its focus on self-conscious self-revelation—the celebration of the self—to be shallow. Even poems I admire, but poets I admire, in this modern age, lack spiritual depth. I agree with Gary Snyder when he says, As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. I agree with this sentence; my artistic inspirations are paleolithic as often as they are modern, and they intermingle with each other, with complex, fractal edges. As a poet, I am of this paleolithic, ancient tradition, as well.

So: All my life, poetry has been my mysticism, and mysticism has been my religion. I subscribe to no creed favored by established, organized religions. (I prefer what you might call disorganized religions.) Yet I do find wisdom and truth in the creeds of all the world’s great religions. I find great poetry in their wisdom traditions. I have felt it to be true, since I was a boy, that at their hearts, in their depths, at their roots, all the world’s great religions have an essentially similar mystical experience, of Union with the Divine. The differences between the religions, I feel, grow out of their local languages, customs, and beliefs—those local systems of mythology that color perception of the Undescribable. At their cores, all of the religions speak of similar things; and it is most remarkable how the mystical teachings and writings, of all these diverse religions, all depict some very similar, even identical, wisdom teachings.

And, just as it was for many of those poets, artists, and musicians, who I deeply admire and emulate, and who I view as my mentors, creativity is my spiritual practice. And Frederick Franck has said, Art is a Way.

(For a summary review-article on poetry and the Paleolithic, read here. For a Gary Snyder essay on the Tribe, read here.)

494. Samhain 2006, Beloit, WI

Finally getting around to reading scriptures, I open Rilke’s wise book Letters to a Young Poet, and read:

Don't be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live the mystery falsely and badly (and they are very many) lose it only for themselves and nevertheless pass it on like a sealed letter, without knowing it.

This speaks to me, out of what I have already been thinking about today: how timing is individual. Even those who choose not to address the mirror of the world pass on wisdom: they cannot help it, it is a human birthright.

In wider context, here is the larger passage from which this pertinent quote comes, from the Fourth Letter:

In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with majesty and exaltation. And those who come together in the nights and are entwined in rocking delight perform a solemn task and gather sweetness, depth, and strength for the song of some future poets, who will appear in order to say ecstasies that are unsayable. And they call forth the future; and even if they have made a mistake and embrace blindly, the future comes anyway, a new human being arises, and on the foundation of the accident that seems to be accomplished here, there awakens the law by which a strong, determined seed forces its way through to the egg cell that openly advances to meet it. Don't be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live the mystery falsely and badly (and they are very many) lose it only for themselves and nevertheless pass it on like a sealed letter, without knowing it. And don't be puzzled by how many names there are and how complex each life seems. Perhaps above them all there is a great motherhood, in the form of a communal yearning. The beauty of the girl, a being who (as you so beautifully say) "has not yet achieved anything," is motherhood that has a presentiment of itself and begins to prepare, becomes anxious, yearns. And the mother's beauty is motherhood that serves, and in the old woman there is a great remembering. And in the man too there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and mental; his engendering is also a kind of birthing, and it is birthing when he creates out of his innermost fullness. And perhaps the sexes are more akin than people think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in one phenomenon: that man and woman, freed from all mistaken feelings and aversions, will seek each other not as opposites but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to bear in common, simply, earnestly, and patiently, the heavy sex that has been laid upon them.

493. Samhain 2006, Beloit, WI

I slept better than I have in over a week, and had vivid dreams, the kind I like to have, even when they’re meaningless, because they mean I’m sleeping soundly, and dreaming deeply. Last night’s dreams were vivid, but not shamanic or memorable (except of course that everything is, always). I awoke wanting to read scriptures from some wisdom tradition, but before I could get into that, I had an insight:

Double standards: when someone refuses to let you do something they themselves indulge in. When people allow themselves a treasure they won’t allow anyone else. When they get angry at someone else for doing the same things they just did. “Do as I say, not as I do.” The unfairness of double standards, the irrationality and illogic, the social injustice.

Looking back over the past few months, the thing that has upset me the most is when I feel a victim of an irrational double standard (and they are all irrational, in the end). It makes me frustrated at my inability to communicate my perspective, and frustrated at the other person’s apparent unwillingness to hear my truth. (Not the truth, some objective ultimate truth, but my truth.) All they want to hear is their own truth: they want to right, in the right, correct, at all costs. They want to be right, and they assert it with all their force, even when they are wrong.

The image comes to me (and I want to draw it with my left hand) of a one-way glass mirror: standing on one side of the mirror, one can see through the glass; standing on the other side, one sees only a mirror: one sees only oneself, reflected back. The divided self standing on both sides of the mirror—the self that is unaware of all of itself, unconscious of its dark half, its shadow—the self standing on one side of the mirror can see all of itself, both through the glass and reflected in the glass, while the self standing on the other side can see only what is reflected, and cannot see its own hidden components. How we project onto the world what we do not like in ourselves, and the world mirrors it back. How to see through the mirror of the world, to see what the world actually is, with clarity, even only partial clarity, is to see past the mirror of projection to what is really there. Illumination, enlightenment, awakening: all of these refer to seeing past the mirror, the filters, the projections—to see what is actually there. Removing the blinders from the eye. Removing the pole that is in your own eye, before you remove the splinter from your neighbor’s eye.

Some of what upsets me is when someone has not the self-awareness to see clearly when they apply a double standard to me or others. But what also upsets me is their apparent lack of self-awareness, the way they unconsciously apply the double standard, the way they cannot see what they are doing, objectively, from the outside—from the other side of the mirror. In my public visibility, in my role as wizard, shaman, healer, and artist, I often find myself on the see-through side of the mirror: knowing that I am being projected on, knowing that I can see through the mirror (in that moment, if not always) while all they are seeing is their own reflection. How do I get through to them? How can they be shown that all they are seeing is a mirror, onto which they are projecting? I admit to frustration: when one side of the mirror has insight, and the other side of the mirror seems to willfully choose to avoid insight. You can’t force wisdom and insight onto the other: they have to learn it for themselves. The injustice is being projected onto, being painted as something I am not; even if by doing so, I am serving the other as a healer, even if the healing is to shake their assumptions loose, so that their shadow can emerge into the light. I get tired of being painted as bad and wrong, when all I do is stand there. Its exhausting to be the punching bag so often, and having to hold my own ethic on non-violence in place. The paradox of the spiritual warrior: take all the blows, but don’t give them back, except surgically: to heal. The temptation is always to retaliate in kind: and that is always wrong action. Oh, but some days, when I’m tired and upset and have had enough, it’s tempting.

Why do I get so upset at double standards? (Of course it has as much to do with me as it does with the world.) Is it only because of the injustice of it?

There is a social justice component. One wishes to show the truth to those who are willfully blinkered and self-blinded. Sometimes wants to violently show them the truth, in ways that will shake them up, terrify them, because that seems like the only way to get through to them. My own double-standard about people is that I often unconsciously expect people to be as strong as self-analysis, self-awareness, at confession, as I am myself. I have to admit: not everyone can take, and not everyone wants to be so nakedly revealed to themselves. The world will not judge us: only we ourselves judge ourselves, or each other. The world is indifferent at worst, and otherwise compassionate. The world is reflective in ways we often choose not to be. I admit it: I assume that everyone is capable of doing what I can do, and I am often caught up short, shocked, and surprised, when it turns out that they cannot, or will not.

Elitism. I resist it, even as part of me acknowledges that not all are created equal, after all. I may be smarter than some, but that doesn’t mean I deserve special rights. They are also human beings, with the same rights—and responsibilities—as I. My own double-standard about elitism is to reverse it, to prefer that all play on a level playing-field, with as clear and honest a set of motivations as I strive to find in myself. I want everyone to be like me. I want everyone to be how I think I am, myself. I get tripped up when I see someone lash out in ways that make no sense to me, and I have to stop and go inside them, using all my skills of intuition and empathy, to understand why they would do such a thing. I get tripped up on my own assumptions. In my defense, I stipulate that I often assume the best about people, rather than the worst. When I assume the worst, it’s because that’s all I can see in my own mirror at the moment: my own darknesses. My choice, when I am clear enough to know that everything is a choice—everything, no exceptions—than I usually choose the positive option. (Though there are occasions when I feel the need to spelunk my own darker emotions, and I will choose to go into my own shadow, and see what’s there, what’s rising up at the moment. But that is another topic entirely.)

Reverse elitism. I want everyone to be equal, when I know deep down that they are not. I want to believe in democratic ideals, even when the evidence suggests that meritocracy is a more accurate picture of the world. I don’t want to stick out. I don’t want to be a target anymore. I want to blend in; I don’t want to be seen as different, special, unique, gifted, or brilliant. Even when I acknowledge to myself, inwardly, that I am all those things, I want to hide those things from the rest of the world, and I want others to know and believe the same things about themselves. Even I realize that not everyone has the will, desire, or fortitude to know themselves as thoroughly as I work to know myself, I project my own (assumed) good motivations on them.

I don’t want to be part of an elite, I don’t want to be an elitist. I want everyone to like me, and I have learned through bitter experience, since I was child, that to stand out as an Individual, apart from the Tribe, apart from the Tribe’s projected assumptions about what is good, what matters, what the world is like—to stand out is to be attacked. I feel under attack a lot lately; I feel anxiety about how I am doing, about revealing myself too openly, for fear of being attacked. No, for fear of being attacked again.

I don’t want to be an egotist. “If a nail sticks up, hit it back down.” That kind of conformity, enforced by the Tribe through judgment, mob rule, and ostracism, is truly painful to adhere to. I don’t want to be special, although I have to admit I am. I want everyone else to be special, too: we are all gods, or none of us are.

I want everyone to understand themselves as well as I understand them. (This is intuitive, not intellectual.) The insights that I get, as healer, shaman, wizard, intuitive: it’s like I can see right into people, sometimes; can see right into their fears and motivations, and how their shadow is controlling them, because they have not mastered it. These are insights that I cannot tell people, except under special circumstances, within safe space, in the setting of the healing circle. I get the insights all the time, continuously, every day, but I cannot do anything with them. That can get frustrating. I usually have to wait for people to ask me what I See in them. Most people will never ask, though, because they are afraid of what they learn about themselves. It is easier to go through life unconsciously, than to Awaken. It is easier to be asleep, not responsible for one’s actions, caught the in puppet-strings of one’s own unconscious desires and cravings and hatreds, than it is to own one’s own shadow, and take full responsibility for all of one’s own actions. To take responsibility for one’s own actions requires one to become an adult: mentally, emotionally, and most important of all, spiritually. Instead, we are often a species of children, kept infantile by our own consent, refusing to wake up, because it’s too hard, too much work, too painful.

I own that I suffer from the vice of impatience, which comes in part from Seeing: when I give in to this vice, it seems so obvious what a person needs to do to heal themselves—which is freeing themselves from what has bound them to the past—perfect health exists in the present moment, and is unfettered to past or future—that I just want them to quite wasting time and get on with it. I want everyone to be enlightened Right Now. No waiting! No dawdling! Get on with it! I have to sometimes restrain myself from leaping in and giving them the information that my intuition tells me that they need, and I must remind myself to be patient: not everyone progresses at the same speed, and not everyone is in the same place in their story. I remind myself to slow down, and be still, and Listen. I remind myself that being on the fast track to personal growth is not for everyone, and not everyone would choose it if they could. I remind myself that I cannot intervene, even if I am impatient: so, let it go, let it be, be present. Sometimes the most you can do is hold space for someone else’s process to unfold at its own best pace. When I am confronted with my own impatience, when it feels like everyone else is going too slowly, it is the world reflecting back to me, as in a mirror, a reminder to be patient with everyone, and with myself. I direct my impatience at myself, and I beat myself up, too, for not being already enlightened Right Now. The mirror reminds me to slow down, and go at the pace best suited for me, too.

There is an element to projection that does pertain to creating equality and social justice: If you expect people to act beyond themselves, better than they normally do, with altruism and compassion, then they often do. If you assume the world is a finer place, just doing that can make it so: locally, for awhile, even if not forever. The double standards fall away. Belief creates reality, and what we will changes the world. (Is this magical? Of course, but then, everything is magical, and wondrous, and magic is nothing else but changing the world, and our perception of the world.)

I’ve seen this principle in action on the streets of San Francisco, walking to the train station to ride home, walking through the homeless people after Chorus practice. One small act of lovingkindness is so magnified, there, because the people are so reduced to the basics of survival, that it seems like a world-changing, epic event. One act of charity. I see them take care of each other. They know each other well, what their strengths and weaknesses are. When you are reduced to the basics, just eating and sleeping, no leisure for philosophy or self-centeredness, actions take on much more resonance and power. Everything becomes significant.

When I’ve been homeless myself (relatively speaking), living out of the truck, traveling, nomadic, with nothing to my name, and no demands on me from other people projecting their needs onto me, that’s when I’ve been happiest. No cares, no concerns, no projections: just contemplating the world, as if it were myself, as it truly is, as I am also the world. My own cares and needs are reduced to traveling, arriving, and Seeing everything that I pass by as I travel. See the world as you travel through it. Stop and smell the flowers—and take photographs of them. When I have no more desire or necessity than this, I am truly at peace. Tranquility comes for me, sometimes unexpected, when I let everything else fall away, and sink and cool into just seeing, without having to do anything. At those times, the mirrors seem to fall completely away, and the world takes on its ascended luminosity: everything glows from within with divine light, both immanent and transcendent. The rocks and the life that grows in between them: all alive with godhead. I stop for gas in a small Nevada town, miles from anywhere else, and every conversation, every moment of interaction with the people there, is heightened, magnified, significant, radiant. They are healed by my mere presence, and I am likewise healed by theirs. This is true equality: we illuminate each other, we heal each other, by our everyday interactions. What is ordinary takes on the liminal glow of exaltation. Divine grace is expressed when the gas station attendant touches your palm when she hands you your change: and she becomes Kannon, Kuan Shih Yin, Avalokiteshvara, Mercy: the Goddess of Compassion, the Virgin of Grace. The Holy Virgin shines within everywoman, no matter how wrinkled and beaten down by life; the God shine within everyman, even that homeless man pushing his shopping cart along the steaming sidewalk, looking for a place to sleep that’s warm and dry, and out of the rain.

This is where we are going: exaltation, satori and salvation. This is how we get there: together, holding hands, picking each other up when we fall.

A Spiral Dance Essay, © 2006 AP Durkee. All Rights Reserved.

492. 30 October 2006, Beloit, WI

Doing what matters, instead of what’s expedient. The mind of poetry, the mind of clover. The necessity to speak up, speak out. The borderline between liminal poetry and political haranguing. I received word today that a poet I knew, not well, but in every communication she had demonstrated remarkable generosity and thoughtfulness, had committed suicide. I cannot know what her demons were; we all have demons. I cannot keep silent about the sense of tragedy and anger I am feeling tonight, after living with this truth for a day. The mess that’s left behind for the living to clean up. How can this matter? How can you make some sense out of it? You always ask yourself, futilely: was there some way I could have been a better friend, that might somehow have prevented this extreme action? Something that could have mattered? Even when you know there was nothing, and there is no blame, it still leaves an ache of wondering.

Here’s the truth of poetry, though: as much as things need to be spoken about, rather than fester in silence, it’s difficult to separate feeling from artistry. And they must be separated: or rather, feeling alone does not make a poem, but the discipline (such a reviled word nowadays) and experience necessary to make poetry, must also be present.

I read essays justifying the political in poetry, and they all make sense, but I remain unconvinced. It may be merely a fundamental difference of worldview: contemplative, rather than activist, in my case. Not that I abjure activism: it’s a road I’ve traveled before, and may yet again. But activism in poetry always carries a whiff of self-righteousness and sanctimony: as though the poet was still the king’s fool, the skald who could tell Lear the truth when no-one else would. I think of Wilfred Owen’s famous comment, All a poet can do today is warn. How can a poet be confident today that anyone is listening, or that anything matters, that he or she can say? In the face of the immenseness of death, of non-existence, even of the postulated wheel of rebirth, everything human seems so small. It’s hard not to assume that the game means nothing, even when the chance to create a personal meaning stands before us.

491. 28 October 2006, Beloit, WI

A clear fall sky today, with wind all day, chilly in the morning, contemplative in the late afternoon. A perfect afternoon for poetry, music, art. The lowering sun slants into the big windows of the living room’s south side, casting tree-dappled moving light on the rugs and furniture, and my legs and arms. I write while staring into the sun. I worked in the garage for awhile, just now, enough to build up a sweat, arranging, organizing, sorting boxes into piles that must be thrown away or recycled. Then I go out back and take photos of the trees against the sky. Bright aspen backlit by low sun-rays. Red oak leaves crimson against the pale blue. High thing clouds moving slowly across the background, over the trees on the floodplain across the river. I sit by my eastern windows, and leaves constantly fall across my gaze, blown off the roof overhead. The lawn still dark green. A red bright fire-shrub next to the thin roses. Dying flower stalks everywhere. Wild turkeys, more of them now, wander across the yard and through the barren trees. I sit and watch the light and think nothing. A great silence grows in the center of my mind, like a mushroom high in a tree-fork across the river: white, fruiting, filling everything to the margins. Words fail me. But this light: this perfected autumnal light.

490. 26 October 2006, Beloit, WI

So what did you do today? Did you go to the beach? take a nap? spend the day slaving over a hot computer?

This is what I did today:

Two root canals and a temporary filling. (Yes, that's a file sticking out of my tooth in one of those pictures. Some would say that the file went all the way into my brain, accounting for some of my less brilliant moments. But I maintain I was that way long before the file got shoved up my tooth.) No complaints. I have a lot of dental work to get done, still, but it’s overdue, and I’m appreciating the results.

Meanwhile, a blustery day: heavy rain, cold winds, lots of dark clouds.

I’m on a DVD kick lately. I have a little money at the moment, and since Dad and I both prefer watching movies to bad TV (which is most of TV, here), I’ve been picking up DVDs on sale, on closeout, used, and otherwise. Mostly I’m not paying full-price for anything, but I am quickly amassing a large and diverse library of movies, many of which I think get towards that occasionally-rarified zone of Great Art. At some point, I’ll do some more detailed movie reviews here—or should we call them cinema reviews?—as I have done previously, from time to time.

There’s this one Blockbuster store in Janesville that keeps having good sales on pre-viewed DVDs. Out of their stacks of used-for-sale movies, I’ve found several foreign and art-house films, including some foregin gay-themed films that were a pleasant surprise. I also have found a few I had been wanting for a long time, like Go Fish. I’ve also picked up more mainstream Hollywood films, for example: Batman Begins (the best of that franchise), Brokeback Mountain (a friend of mine thought I didn’t like this film, because I had called it emotionally manipulative; in fact, I think it’s a terrific film; it happens to be a Hollywood weepie, and the genre by nature is emotionally manipulative, but this is also just a great, great film), Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (an affectionate romp that well represents the tone of the original books, featuring standout moments by Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, and all those dolphins doing the opening music video), Fantastic Four (Marvel Comics is on a roll with their movie adaptations: some have been quite good, one or two have been excellent), King Arthur (I don’t know why some of the reviewers panned this smart film: it’s quite historically plausible; and besides, I’ve liked Clive Owen ever since I saw him in the BBC/Mystery series Second Sight).

I’ve got a few TV series on DVD too, now. First was MilleniuM, one of my favorite series ever. But now I also have Angels in America, The Sentinel, Starhunter. I just saw that the first season of the original Addams Family TV series is just out on DVD; that was always a favorite in my family when we were kids: witty social satire, cultural reversals, weirdness galore, but in which the two lead characters, Gomez and Morticia, are clearly deeply in love with each other. I guess you could call it, a non-traditional love story.

489. 23 October 2006, Beloit, WI

Just got home from a Fuzzy Logic gig in Madison. It was basically a reunion of Dangerous Odds, with several of us from the original core group present, musicians and poet. Also, two or three old Madison friends were at the gig, so I got to chat a lot. I mostly played Stick, but also strapped on my fretless a couple of times. An old industrial building, now an artspace, called the Ironworks. I recorded the gig to laptop, and will no doubt post a couple of MP3s to the podcast later. One piece we all played bass, so it was 4 bass guitars, drums, and poet: very sludgy, very cool. Listening to it on playback, it’s got that Cop Shoot Cop vibe going. Who needs guitars, anyway?

I drove home listening to a CD of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. One of the greatest choral works of the 20th C., and one of the most beautiful pieces of sacred choral music, ever.

Impressions: group of poets reading one after another: serial language; language not always tuned to a poet’s ear, though; sometimes bland, sometimes prosaic, sometimes political; the refrain of politicized protest poetry only a step away from diatribe; a cold, unheated, dim space; scattered art installations in the dimness; two women on swings, wearing white, in a space where objects are hung, with projections on them as they swing in front of the screen; many of these installations have video projection elements: live pictures the only moving things, kinetic elements in otherwise dead art; sometimes you see the pretentions of art, even as you buy into them; the permeable barrier between performance art and static art, violated numerous times this evening by our own performance; the pleasure of playing music in a big band of people who listen to each other well, leaving space for the poet and the other players; playing with lasers during load-out; documentation recording on my laptop; photos; the art pieces, even the big ones, actually dwarfed by the recovered industrial space, especially in the semi-darkness; how the light changes what is seen; or unseen;

488. 20 October 2006, Beloit, WI

Last evening, I drove up near Cambridge, WI, to a rehearsal for a music gig next Monday in Madison. The group is called Fuzzy Logic, and in many ways this is a reunion gig for Dangerous Odds, the poetry-improv band I was involved with for several years when I was based in Madison.

I was driving along those two-laned state and county highways after dark, last night, and having strong memories of when I used to live in this area, and often drove these roads at night. I lived in Cambridge and Jefferson for three years, before moving up to the Twin Cities, and I was often driving these roads after dark.

Last night, I dreamed of driving along these roads at night. Several vivid memory-dreams, several powerful feelings of the dark gods out there at night, who wander the land and sky. It is not always a safe place to be at night; Things move in the places outside the light.

I found at Goodwill the other day a small book I had first read many years ago: The Gospel According to Zen: Beyond the death of god, ed. by Robert Sohl and Audrey Carr. From 1970, this was one of that wave of books that used excerpts to show the unity of mysticism around the world’s different religious traditions; although the book doesn’t explicitly talk about mysticism, that’s really it’s topic. I probably first read this small volume in my teens or twenties, and it was probably one of my first encounters with Meister Eckhart or the Gospel of Thomas; both have several excerpts herein. Also quoted are D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, Paul Reps, Ryokan, and many others. On almost every page, side by side, we get quotes from the Christian and Zen traditions; it is easy to see, when they are laid out together like this, how the Gospels and the Zen masters’ sayings often inhabit the same ground.

Ultimately this book, long out of print and worth grabbing if you ever find it, argues (by example rather than by academic philosophical discourse) in support of a tenet that I have long believed: that at the heart of every major religion lies a single, mystical experience of Union with the Divine. What differentiates many of the world’s religions are the cultural tropes and habits that surround their founders, combined with the accrued interpretative baggage of the millennia. But at their core, which is always a mystical experience, they all say some very similar things. Here is the book’s back-cover blurb, which says this very well:

At the living heart of both Christianity and Zen likes a single, luminous perception: Whether it is called Satori or Salvation, it is nothing less than the perfect knowledge of God. This unusual book brings together the most enlightening parables, riddles, and poems of East and West, to explore and illuminate this “new consciousness” that is thrusting modern religious thought beyond theology.

Beyond theology: theology is the logical, academic discourse of the study of God. Theology is writing term papers and Ph.D. theses about experiences that ultimately cannot be put into words. Theology is the pursuit of rational discourse about the sublimely irrational. Meister Eckhart was condemned not only for preaching to his congregations in the vernacular, but also for going beyond theology. His sermons and other writings are grounded in reality and practical experience; they are very earthy, even when he uses neologisms to try to explain his sense of the Divine. D.T. Suzuki once said to Thomas Merton, “Meister Eckhart is the closest that Christianity comes to Zen.” (This led to Merton’s own studies of Eckhart and Zen, and eventually to his own awakening.) Hence, Eckhart has become one of the most widely-read of the Medieval Christian mystics, nowadays, although he remains condemned by the official Church.

Meister Eckhart met a beautiful naked boy.
He asked him where he came from.
He said: “I come from God.”
Where did you leave him?
“In virtuous hearts.”
Where are you going?
“To God.”
Where do you find him?
“Where I part with all creatures.”
Who are you?
“A king.”
Where is your kingdom?
“In my heart.”
Take care that no one divide it with you!
“I shall.”
Then he led him to his cell.
Take whichever coat you will.
“Then I should be no king!”
And he disappeared.
For it was God himself—
Who was having a bit of fun.

487. 19 October 2006, Beloit, WI

I had vivid dreams all night long of dark rooms, a dark cathedral, late at night, no lights, fighting off swarms of black-bodied, red-eyed vampiric entities with a lightsaber. I wasn’t alone, some others were fighting with me, but I was constantly swinging my ligtyhsaber through the shadows, which were infested with vampires, and chopping them up with the light; also, special large handmade bullets that were the only defense against a large dark beast that only came in the quiet of the night; huge, dark, indistinct, moving too quickly to be easily seen; long arms and claws, faceless; a shadow-beast of enormous power; the bullets were large and like glad capsules filled with holy water, liquid light, special elements; literally, magic bullets;

486. 18 October 2006, Beloit, WI

I’m feeling very prickly tonight. It’s hard not to get judgmental, when it seems like people are judging you all over the place, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I feel under attack from several directions, and don’t feel like being kind and gentle about it. I feel surrounded by dull snails, who haven’t a clue as to what’s really going on. I feel incredibly willing to lash back, although I’m restraining myself. I feel like taking heads off, if one more person says something brainless and stupid to me. I’m so sick of idiots dressed in the cloak of righteousness. I’m sick of people treating me as their ideological punching bag, when they really need to look in a mirror. I’m sick of being kind and gentle about it.

485. 16 October 2006, Beloit, WI

A desire to be silent today, to do nothing: to integrate the lessons from the weekend. I sleep in, after having intense dreams, and wake late. Not quite ready to take up my caregiving duties yet, although Dad is doing well at the moment, and was good, over the weekend while I was gone. I feel a little fragile and slow-moving this morning, and I don’t want to push at it: let my energy come up back to normal levels by itself. When you go on retreat like this, it’s wise to take some time to re-enter daily life, rather than just plunging right in. Time to integrate. When you complete a retreat like this, you are so wide open, compared to the shut-down state we all often spend our daily lives in, that you can be hypersensitive to anything and everything. So, be gentle with yourself.

In addition to the “Zen telegrams,” this weekend also produce a poem or two, and some other materials. Most of it exercise-quality, not finished quality: but then, that was the whole purpose, to do some inner work through creative means.

I stopped for an hour at Volo Bog Natural Area, near Richmond, IL. It’s a huge bog filling one of those glacial gouges in the bedrock, with zones of marsh, brush, tamarack, and the central pond filled with scummy algae and peat. The place was busy with tourists, but large enough that I got some nice solitary time, and several very good photos. Many of the leaves had already fallen, but the cat-tails in the marsh were moving in the wind, and the sky was full of dramatic sunbeams through the patchy clouds overhead. I waited several minutes for the light to be just right before taking some good photos. Then I had to retreat to the truck, because I was getting cold. All in all, a very nice nature moment, and a place I’d like to return to, for further photographic moments.

On the drive home, I drove through Lake Geneva, just on a whim. It’s a very beautiful setting, there by the lake, and the city beach is lovely. But it’s also a tiny little town for the number of tourists who come through. I was driving westwards on Highway 50, but the eastbound lane was backed up for miles, west of the downtown shopping district.

I decided I needed fast food by the time I got to Delavan. I was in line at the window, when I realized that there had to be a Goodwill nearby: I could feel it. I drove through the little town, eating my fast food crap, then found the Goodwill near the highway exit: a large one, and a very busy one, full of shoppers, as they were having a big Halloween sale. I found a CD and a few books, then drove on home.

As I said, after a weekend’s retreat to do soul work, one is very wide open, for awhile afterwards. I was very tuned in, and all my stops on the trip home were good, and I trusted my intuition in each case. There’s no trick to becoming an effective intuitive: you just have to listen, and trust that what you’re getting is true and accurate. You have to have faith in your data, and in yourself, no matter how far out they seem; eventually, you’ll be vindicated. I was intuitive all Saturday night, and jumped in to help out with a few process pieces. Part of the wizard’s way is timing: the right moment to act, so that the smallest effort produces the greatest result. This can require great patience. But inevitably you will be given a clue when to act: some indicator, like a chime in the back of your mind, that will indicate that Now is the time. At that point, there’s no choice but to step in and act, no matter how odd it might seem. You have to trust your inner wisdom, your intuition, and your guides, to let you know what to do, and when to do it. That act of trust is your job: the rest is not yours, or even up to you.

This intuition has also been serving me lately in my role as caregiver. I often know what Dad wants for dinner, before I ask. I’m usually right when, if I give him a list of options, he picks the one I think he will.

Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others. —Edward Abbey

484. 15 October 2006, Fish Lake, IL

In the morning, instead of doing a directed writing exercise, I found myself (thinking outside the box again) harking back to something I first encountered many years ago in a small book called Zen Telegrams, by Paul Reps. A translator, poet, Zen student, and author and editor, Reps followed in the haiga tradition of combining poems and pictures with calligraphic images—his “telegrams”—accompanied by short haiku-like poems. This morning, getting out my Japanese calligraphy brush-pen, first I started writing, then I ended up doing these sorts of images with words, small telegrams moving ever closer to silence, but also to healing: my hands, traced, with chakras illuminated. One page of text I wrote with my left hand: slowly and carefully, but it is recognizably my brush-style handwriting.

I want to pursue this drawing with the left hand more. It slows me down, and I am at least as proficient (or not) as with my right hand—but because I must go more slowly and carefully, I am more mindful of the act: its muscle motion, its notational memory in the drawing that remains after the action has already moved on, or ceased.

483. 14 October 2006, Fish Lake, IL

A perfect fall day: a breeze, a clear sky, and plenty of fallen leaves to kick on the path, pile up, jump into, kick around, and watch as they blow everywhere.

Drawing as a notational record of physical motion: drawing the line from the hip, from the center, from the hara or one-point. Drawing as a record of action. When I draw a symbolic drawing today, I use both hands: I draw some elements with right hand, and others with left hand. The feel of the elements is different for each hand. But what I discover is a facility with drawing with my left hand that I had never imagined, thought of, or discovered previously. It’s not meant to be great art, or fine art; it’s just a drawing. But there’s a looseness with the left hand that is also rooted in the soma, the body. This is a new discovery for me: someone who has always believed he can’t draw. (It’s one of the reasons I turned to photography, originally.) I make no attempt to differentiate: I have always been ambidextrous, really. (The union of opposites, the resolution of polarities: two-spirited, boundary-crossing, right-left uniting, etc. All those multiple layers of Self united in One.)

light shimmer on lake
reflects mountain hermitage—
home now for crickets

river carry me
across the frozen waters
to my lotus home

482. 12 October 2006, Beloit, WI

In my dream, I startle a large bee, and it stings the back of my right thumb, then buzzes and lands around my neck and head, before disappearing; bee symbols, fertility, the land speaking to me of its wisdom and veriditas.

I wake to falling snow, and a white land.

(Of course, by noon it's all melted away. Oh well.)

481. 10 October 2006, Beloit, WI

Finally, at last, I made some new music tonight. It’s been a rough, emotional day for me, partly due to not being able to sleep last night, partly because of the tooth extraction this morning. (My teeth are getting worked on, and everything is going to be much better, in the long run. But today, we extracted that one molar that could not be saved on the upper right. Number 3, for you dentally-knowledgeable geeks out there.) It was easy, but I was still wiped out afterwards.

I took more steps towards establishing an office and studio for myself in the dining room area. I brought more gear in, and did some easy computer-music work for the podcast, and edited a few more files for uploading. Despite the sore jaw, and the tiredness, I actually feel like I got something done today. Not that I got done those few tasks that still need doing, that are urgently awaiting my attention; but I got something done. It’s important to do creative work for myself, for its own sake, and just for me, not for others. I’ve been neglecting that, and I needed to do this, today. It’s necessary. The rest will still be there, when I get back to it.





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