BEING THE ADVENTURES OF A NOMADIC POLYMATH ARTIST, MUSICIAN & WRITER
Essays, poems, and collected ruminations are being collated and compiled in a parallel journal at Dragoncave. I never know what I'm going to write about next, so if you desire to keep up with what I'm writing and thinking about, you really need to read both journals. Some overlap may occur without prior warning; sorry about that.
610. 19 May 2007, Beloit, WI
In the fading, non-directional light of evening, just before and after the sun has set, the hundreds of greens of the trees and bushes and weeds in the woods to the south of the house fascinate me. So many shades of green, all gradually deepening and darkening as the twilight slowly fades to dark. The woods now so thick again that you cant see through them, blocking the road, the houses that way, everything. A blessing of privacy, of concealment.
Every so often, spotlights of amber sunset light poke through clouds and dense overgrowth, to pick out a certain fallen and decaying log, or flowering shrub. The trunks of trees briefly painted with gold, the branches above still only indirectly lit.
As the light fades, the shadows darken between the trees, and the tops of the leaves silver with light reflected from the pale steel sky. Then the leaves lose their shapes, the sky turns deep blue, and pale indigo, and all you can see of the trees is the line of their tops silhouetted against the darkening sky. Spots of stars appear between leaves slowing moving back and forth in a light breeze.
Now its full dark, and the windows become flat black mirrors. The only light in the room is my writing lamp, and glow from my laptop screen. The dark outside is velvet and inviting, neither terrifying nor threatening.
I am content to sit here and write in the darkened room, waiting in the silence for the inner light to emerge.
609. 19 May 2007, Beloit, WI
I awaken with images of Wright windows and designs still in the back of my mind, and the low hangs of cantilevered rooflines, the corner windows and doors. And I still want to linger with these images, be immersed in them. This is an influence I am unafraid to absorb, to be possessed by. The whole Prairie School of architecture, for that matter. When Wright talked about organic architecture, he said it had three components: landscape, structure, ornament. I find the ornaments lingering in my inner vision, still, and I want to engage with them, for as long as they linger in mind. As I said, I am unafraid to be influenced by all this.
The way Wright broke the box of the usual building rules is one of the things I like best: the L shapes of houses and walls; the use of corner entrances, so the main wall was mostly window; the stacking of shapes in asymmetrical arrangements; the strong use of diagonals to lead the eye; the long lines of views to the outside from the center of the building; rectangles and trapezoids instead of perfect squares; circular elements, that meet triangular elements. Wright also said that architecture was music, and music was so important to him that the ornamental features at Taliesin often evoke music: threes and twos, like the black keys on the piano; and the shaping of rooms to enhance musical performance by being acoustically balanced. There were numerous pianos there, and those incredible music stands.
Yesterday I also gained insight into Wrights style of drawing and drafting: very gridlike, with regions of color and line. But it is in fact representational, but with shapes on a grid. The great curtain in the theatre represents dawn in the river valley: there are shapes for clouds, mist, the rise of the hill; and there on the brow of the hill, the house itself, with smoke coming from the chimney. But its all done with rectangles and fields of solid color. I never expected to appreciate Wright as a purely visual artist, but this insight into his drawing method provides me with new ideas for my own. Not in any imitative way, because its not my style at all, but like Mondrian in terms of abstract representation. In terms of interior decoration, ornamental design, its powerful, bold, and exciting. If you look at them closely, you see the natural forms are preserved, especially in his plant-inspired drawings and designs, but theyre stylized and made geometrical: reduced to abstract geometrical components, if you will, but retaining nevertheless their original forms and shapes. Applying this aesthetic to fractal patterns found in nature, as well as to fractal geometry, one could quickly devise a new style of drawing, art glass, window ornament, and lighting fixture: integrated design aesthetic, of course.
608. 18 May 2007, Beloit, WI
We drove up to Spring Green today and spent the day at Taliesin, immersed in the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
I think my favorite place on the tour was the auditorium at Hillside, the architecture school: this is the schools remarkable and beautiful amphitheatre. Second is the living room at Taliesin, the residence itself. The object I was most drawn to, in both rooms, was a music stand built so that four players could sit in a circle, all see each other, and all face the stand. The stands center has lights that illuminate each place, and a holder for flowers in the middle. There are only 6 of these stands in existence, I was told. I think theyre brilliant; Id love to have on, or a reproduction, and have players use it for house concerts. (I wonder if there are plans to ever reproduce such design masterpieces, for the rest of the world to enjoy.) In the living room there was also his daughters Celtic harp, and a special stool he built for her to use while playing harp: the only one of its kind.
The land surrounding the buildings is part of the beautiful Wisconsin River valley system. The buildings, following Wrights organic aesthetic, blend so well into their locations, their sites, that they seem to have just grown there.
Ive always been a fan of his architecture. Now I am realizing how deeply I share many of his aesthetics. There are Japanese touches everywhere. Wright once said that going to Japan was an affirmation of his ideas. So the influence is strong. There are Buddha statues, and Hokusai and Hiroshige prints, everywhere. Apparently, there is a major collection of Japanese prints in a vault at Taliesin. Id love to go through that someday. Wright designed over a 1000 unique fireplaces in his lifetime, some completely bilaterally symmetrical, many asymmetrical, following that aesthetic, which I also believe in, that asymmetry is more pleasing to the eye, more beautiful. Many of his fireplaces are incredible sculptures in their own way, as well as functional. Everywhere, in all the buildings: natural wood and stone materials, something I also agree with.
The first time I remember hearing the comment that Asymmetry is beautiful, was many years ago, as a quote from designer Rudi Gernreich. I immediately knew that I agreed, and has always thought way myself, but I hadnt put it into words before. Of course, the idea is ancient. Its quite central to Japanese artistic aesthetics, and via Wright and his followers, and via others designers such as Gernreich, it has become an important idea in design in the West, as well.
I drove home in the late afternoon light, Dad napping beside me in the car, and I arrived back here tired and footsore, but feeling inspired. If I had a career to start all over again, I would seriously consider applying as an apprentice architect at Taliesin. It was truly an inspiring day.
I thought about going to the bookcase and looking at some other books of architectural work, that we had been talking about earlier. But the images and shapes of the day still linger, and I dont feel like breaking the mood. Id rather linger with the designs and styles of Mr. Wright.
607. 16 May 2007, Beloit, WI
My dreams this past week have been intense, turbulent, difficult, unsettling. Some mornings, I dont fell truly rested upon awakening. Ive been slow to waken since we got back from Michigan, and I feel like Ive lost whole days to exhaustion, distraction, the inability to focus. Ive also been dealing with severe allergies: the deck was painted green with pollen for several days, and yesterdays long, gentle rain only brought more strands of oak pollen down from the trees; I lost an entire day, last week, to an allergy attack, even having taken anti-histamines. I hope this vivid, fertile, vertiginous spring will be over soon, so I can go back outdoors without suffering.
606. 9 May 2007, Beloit, WI
Honors. Honors. Just honors.
At a book signing, the author initials rather than signs. You have to honor his space, as he honors yours. A mutual bow, in mutual understanding.
I spent most of today in dreaming, napping at times: recovering my strength from the recent trip to Michigan. No meaningful work got done, in the limited-scope logical-positivist sense of the word; I didnt do laundry, I didnt garden, or wash the car, or cook a meal, although I did prepare and host afternoon tea for guests. Just being the welcoming host, entertaining the angel unawares: that was enough for today. I am still integrating the trip, writing about it, going through photos, reading my notes to expand them into full essays or poems, and thinking back over recent events. I dont expect to get a lot done this week, because Im still integrating all of last weeks journeying. I yearn to return to a more contemplative life, a less social life, even though thats not realistic right now. Another word to add to the pile of words best ignored: realistic. As if anything was real. The delusion is that anything is real, not that the inner life is less real than the physical, tangible reality we play in. Real and not-real: another ridiculous dualism.
The city is just as natural as the country, lets not forget it. Theres nothing in the universe thats not natural by definition. Gary Snyder
605. 8 May 2007, Beloit, WI
During the eight days we were away, all the plants here have filled out, all the shrubs and trees and bushes are covered with new green leaves, and we live in a fresh forest again. I can open the windows on the south side again, and no one can see in. Sudden spring, sudden summer.
We had most of the day free to wander around Muskegon, do some site-seeing, visit places that are vivid in memory. Dad wanted to see the Rambergs house, as I had done the day before, so we went there again. It was another sunny, breezy day today, and wandering around the house my grandfather built was feeling more and more like a pilgrimage: something you do to restore memory of things once sacred to you.
We drove out to Lake Michigan, and Dad walked down to the shore to put his hands in the cold water; something he had wanted to do. I stood on the beach and recorded the waves gently breaking on the sand. The big lake was calm and still, with only small waves. It boded well for an easy ferry trip later.
We drove up to Duck Lake, north of Muskegon, through the state park and state forest. The roads were rural and mostly quiet, but there were a lot more houses than had been there before; lake-front property is always in demand, and many big mansions have been built where before the trees went right up to the water through the sand dunes. This is a large dune area, and some hills in the region are actually dunes that have been locked in with forested topsoil, and no longer migrate in the winds.
Duck Lake was a place we always used to go swimming when we were kids. I have fond memories of my grandfather loading us kids into the big old Chevy he owned, and driving us to the lake on a hot summer afternoon, the kids already wearing nothing but swimsuits, our hot skins sticking to the leather of the seats unless we sat on our beach towels. Duck Lake is still the same, if a little more developed; and there are state forests now, and boat landings that I dont remember from long ago.
The ferry ride across Lake Michigan, on the newer water-jet powered ferry which goes 40 knots on the water on twin hulls, was a thrill ride. I really enjoyed it. We got on the ferry, and I got Dad seated.
Then I went up to the rooftop observation deck, and rode along with other travelers until we went out the breakwater of Muskegon Lake harbor.
That red lighthouse is something I remember from many other visits, and my parents stories of their own visits there before. You can still walk out on the breakwater all the way to lighthouse, and some people were out there fishing, or just strolling. Everybody waves at the big ferry as it chugs by.
As soon as we cleared the breakwater, the jet engines took over, in a smooth powered transition. Suddenly the wind became strong and cold, as we leapt forward over the still waters of the big lake. Most people went below into the shelter of the lounge; I did, too, eventually. I took a lot of photos, and chatted with some other travelers.
Then I went down and had a grilled cheese sandwich from the food stand in the lounge; a movie began playing, something rated G for all the families traveling with kids. Dad napped. There isnt much to see on the open water, but I went up onto the deck into the windthe ferry travels at forty knots under its twin-hulled jet propulsion at full speed, so that wind is as strong as a physical blowand took more photos. At one point, Dad and I went out onto the back deck, and watched the boats twin wakes converging on the horizon. Arriving at Milwaukee was almost anti-climatic. Suddenly we were there; the sun was going behind a line of stormclouds, and turning amber in early dusk. We got off the ferry, and I drove us home to Beloit. We were both glad to get home.
It has been a good trip, despite the occasional exhaustions and emotional moments. I am glad we went, and so is Dad. I feel really tired, though, and dont plan to get much done for a few days, while I recover from the road trip, and also from being so intensely social, so much, in such a short period. It was really intense. Now I just need to listen to the silence for awhile.
604. 7 May 2007, Spring Lake, MI
After a few more visits to see places we know here in Muskegon, well be getting on the Cross-Lake Ferry, which will take us over to Milwaukee, from which its a short drive home. Im ready to go home, now. Dads really been getting on my nerves the past few days; if Ive been getting on his nerves, I dont know. But Im ready to go home, and be alone, and non-social for a day or three. All this traveling and seeing people is wonderful, but its also overstimulating and exhausting. If I could get even a little more time alone, on these trips, Id be much better, and able to be more social. As it is, sometimes, you feel forced to be upbeat and friendly when you dont feel it at all: those social masks I have spent many years getting rid of, that I dont like to wear anymore. One thing I could say for living in California: I didnt have to wear any of those masks, there; I could just be myself, wherever I was. In California, there are always people weirder than you.
603. 6 May 2007, Spring Lake, MI
This morning, while everyone else went to church in Muskegon, in the church that my grandfather built, I wandered off by myself and took photos of both the church an the house where my mother and her siblings were born and raised: the house was also built by my grandfather. It stands there looking much the same: a large house on a quiet side-street, tall maple trees shading the front lawn, and the alley besides the house full of leaf-motion and light filtered through the tall trees. The wind made the trees sing, and I walked around, feeling quite at peace. It felt like a moment of pilgrimage, almost: a serene pause in the bright morning, the sky clear, the breeze soft and cooling, the light strong and white.
Later on, we went to a good Indian restaurant, where we all ate too much. Then Dad and I and my cousin drove around the area, to visit cemeteries in Muskegon, where my grandparents are buried, and some other relatives. So, weve accomplished that goal of this trip: to take me to all of the gravesites that we know of, where I have direct family.
Im very tired. I snapped earlier, when pushed too far one last time. Then I was on the phone for awhile, talking to a friend. Now I could use a short nap.
After we did the cemetery tour, we came back and rested. I did some writing, and some emails. Most of it not very interesting stuff.
In the evening, I cooked a chicken stir-fry for the relatives here, which was greatly appreciated. I taught them how to do it, too, which was even better.
602. 5 May 2007, Spring Lake, MI
We had a leisurely breakfast at the motel, in Grand Rapids a full, real breakfast, but a light one. Weve both been overeating on this voyage. Everyone is so pleased to see us, after all this time, that they want to celebrate our visit, and wine and dine us. Its wonderful, and its also overwhelming and exhausting.
We drove into town and spent the morning at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, which is on a lovely site right on the river downtown, across from the skyline of steel and glass that marks the downtown of every city these days. I enjoyed this visit a lot. The museum itself is a beautiful piece of modern architecture, concrete and glass in a triangular form, with a long terraced fountain gracing the entrance plaza. Ford was the last Republican President I genuinely admired, a genuinely honest man with a lot of integrity. The displays in the museum are extensive and detailed, and quite interesting to read; they tell the story of his life and time in the White House very well. I learned more about his Presidency than I had ever known. Each Presidential Museum typically has a replica of the Oval Office, set up as the President had it when seated. This museum also had a replica of his cabinet room; you could sit at one of the seats at the big table, and run an interactive program about the historical decisions made in that room. There was a lot of focus on Nixons resignation, which is of course how Ford came to power, but even more focused on the legislative accomplishments that Ford put forward. There is also a wall about Betty Ford, and her contributions to our culture, with her openness and honesty leading many people to understand drug addiction and breast cancer for the first time.
Next to the building, there is a memorial walk where President Ford is buried, and where Betty Ford will eventually also lie. All of this overlooks a long lawn that leads down to the Grand River, with the downtown skyline across the river.
Afterwards, we drove over to Holland, MI. It was the first day of the huge annual tulip festival that happens there, in that little town that is so much like being in Holland itself. We spent some hours wandering around a tulip farm, with a thousand different shades of color laid in rows across acres of land, with a thousand varieties of tulips all in vibrant bloom. There were lots and lots of Indian people there, and some Japanese and Chinese; the South Asians greatly outnumbered every other group, perhaps they had driven up from Chicago and Detroit for the day.
Then we drove on to the Muskegon area, where well be for two nights, till we take the ferry back across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. Were going to tour the cemeteries and family homes here, and whatever else we feel like doing.
I needed a nap, by the time we arrived, as I was hitting the wall. I have mixed feelings. This is likely to be another overwhelming family situation, with a lot more people and noise than I am used to. Ill cope, but Im glad its only for a day or two. I need my silence and solitude. I get edgy when I get overstimulated, and Im almost already there, and we havent even gotten started yet. This whole trip is about packing a lot of experiences into a very short time, and so it gets intense and tiring.
In Muskegon, where I havent been for years, no one really knows me. I dont want to get things stirred up, but I also dont feel like pretending to be anything Im not. I dont know, well see.
As sometimes happens, I build up a charge of drama in my mind, but when things come to actually talking it out, its not so bad. At least Im going to bed more relaxed, thanks to a nice glass of wine, and feeling more grounded. Most of my doubts and emotional storms anymore are about judgments anticipated: people wont like me because of my being different, in one way or another. Thats an old, old pattern, those doubts and fears. Whats newer, and still requires some mindful attention, is my refusal to disguise, conceal, or change myself merely to make people like me. I can still get tied up in knots, in anticipation, which of course is really just fear; but I like to think Ive gotten better when it comes to the actual moment, and firmer in my own center. What knocked me off balance earlier was that people here dont really know me anymore; they know about me, some, but they dont really know me. I keep a lot of things private, when it comes to things like spirituality and love, but not because Im so afraid of people not liking me if they find out about them: more because I am not traditional, not orthodox, not ordinary, not mainstream, and the explanations and justifications that many people seem to require of anyone who isnt Just Like Them get old real fast. So, Ive learned to mostly just shut up. If someone brings it up, and asks me, Ill tell them whatever they want to know; but if they dont ask, I usually dont bring it up.
601. 4 May 2007, Grand Rapids, MI
We left Ann Arbor after another big breakfast, and drove to Troy, MI, to see the cemetery where Dads parents are buried, a place I dont like very much. It feels pretty sanitized and heartless. It was a new kind of cemetery in its time, which has become more common by now: little plaques set in the ground, rather than upright monuments, which are easy to mow right over. It makes it easier for the groundskeepers, its true; but the most beautiful cemetery Ive seen on this trip so far was the one in the countryside, with the ancient tombstones, falling down, overgrown, and a sense of the presence of deep time. Dad doesnt know why his mother chose to buy plots in this cemetery, back in the 1940s when his father died; maybe it was cheaper, being of this new style; we dont know. Traffic was difficult, and everyone in Detroit is moving at a much faster pace of life then Im used to now. I didnt like it at all. I suppose its no worse than Chicago, but theres also a layer of emotional baggage here for me that Chicago doesnt have; and perhaps that added to the tensions of the day.
Then we drove back towards the western suburbs to have lunch with the family of my sisters husband, our in-laws who we really like and havent seen in awhile. We ate at a nice Indian restaurant in Livonia; another good road meal. Also, in that same little mall the restaurant was in, I shopped at a Japanese grocery store, a very authentic store with very little signage in English. I bought some sumie ink for calligraphy, some shoji paper, and exquisite red lacquer chopsticks with maple leaves. They offered us the chance to spend the evening with them, but we both agreed to press on, so that we could have an open day in Grand Rapids; and also, because I really needed a night alone, a night where I didnt have to be social an friendly. After several days, I was really at my ropes end. I love everybody were seeing, and its hard on me, on top of the driving, and helping Dad with everything as usual, to have to be on all the time, or upbeat all the time. I need my downtime, and I havent been getting it.
So, I had a bad day, overall, and we chose to press on and get a night off-stage. I was tense and irritable all day long. Driving in the Detroit area was hard; people are not good drivers around there, rushing too fast, and the roads are not too logical in their layout, in my opinion.
So, we drove on up to Grand Rapids, in heavy weekend traffic, slowed down by construction, and by the time we got there, I was really ready to stop. We got a hotel, and had a light meal, then went to our separate rooms. I needed a quiet night, and fortunately I got one.
600. 3 May 2007, Ann Arbor, MI
We went to visit the School of Music today, my alma mater, and I walked around in the mostly-empty building; the semester ended a week or so ago, an few students were around. We found that the Stearns Collection, which is an amazing collection of historic and worldwide musical instruments, is now housed over in the newest part of the building, as is Kyai Telaga Madu (Venerable Lake of Honey), the Javanese gamelan ensemble upon which I first studied gamelan, way back in 1978. The room was open, and so I went in and said hello to my old friends among the instruments; they look in good shape, and sound terrific, as always. I could not help but touch a few old friends, to elicit their remembered voices.
We also went over and looked at the new drama center, and the Arthur Miller Theatre. There is a lot of new building on North Campus: its really become its own campus now. The Engineering school complex is huge, and there is a lot of public art mixed in with the buildings, and a new carillon tower. (Ive played the Carillon in the bell tower on the main campus, downtown. The gamelan used to be housed there, too, in Burton Tower.)
Dad also took a quick tour of the new addition to the Public Health school building. Its a really lovely addition, towering over the medical complex off Observatory Road, on the hill overlooking downtown. Behind it is still the Arboreteum where I used to do ritual and picnics, and the old cemetery.
Later on in the day, doing some shopping, I went over to Zingermans Deli, still the greatest deli ever, in my opinion, and bought a few things. Clancys Fancy hot sauce, for one. Some exquisite Chinese green tea from Huangzhou.
I found an art gallery on State St. that ha been recommended, where there was a show of book arts going on, as well as pieces by a local artists; collective. One of the artists was running the gallery today, and we chatted for several minutes about various thing. I really liked the place. Later on, in Kerrytown, I located the book arts store she had suggested I check out. Its a huge paper and arts store, with workhops taught in the basement, on papermaking, bookbinding, all the book arts. I looked down through the window and saw platen presses on a worktable. A fascinating place. I bought a few things, and some lovely origami paper.
Later in the afternoon, stealing a few moments of solitude for myself, I drove over and parked next to the Thurston Nature Center pond, which I used to spend hours in, and which I passed through every day on the way to elementary school. The redwing blackbirds were singing in the trees and perching on the cattails, and I recorded them for awhile. (The same place, these same birds, as in that first vision, 40 years ago, when I was 8, and fell into the mind of the bird, and was lost in wonder. One of the earliest visions I can remember.) This moment of peace at an old sanctuary of peace in nature, from when I was a boy, was one of the best moments of this entire trip.
I am happy to be enjoying my visit to what was once my home. It feels good to be here, and so much has remained the same while so much else has changed. Some famous old bookstores are still where they were, and thriving. The campus looks great, with all the trees in blossom right now, red and white flowers everywhere, and tulips and daffodils all around. I felt at times pretty excited and ecstatic, exploring this remembered yet changed world. But Im also feeling overwhelmed, and need a break.
Still a little wired, I stay up late, writing and reading. Outside the window, spring peepers (tree frogs) in the woods behind the house of the old friends we are visiting and staying with, are calling intermittently. I can hear the interstate, not too far away. All else is restful silence. I am remembering many late nights, in my own bedroom of our house, here, when I stayed up late, writing and reading, when I was a teenager, and listened to the sounds of nature outside my window, just as I am tonight. Its not nostalgia, its memory, and the eternal return.
late night sounds, near sleep,
wake me to ask urgent things:
that so small a frog
should make such a noise!
599. 2 May 2007, Ann Arbor, MI
Breakfast day rush out go go go stop take photos go go on talk chat jabber wait no silence no time out of mind. Rush rush rush meet too many people talk too much try to seem interested too long which is too much work no silence no solitude getting frayed at the edges. Drive drive drive no stopping no standing no parking no walking just go too far too fast to really soak it in no silence noise of rubber on road rush of air no still calm no ever rest and stop.
After all too large a breakfast, we got on the road again and went to visit aging family friends in Jackson. (Another one of those conversations where the old folks pull down their shirts to compare scars, talk about their ailments, and who has died. I left the room, pretending I needed to visit the bathroom.) Their condo in the progressive care facility is beautiful, overlooking a pond, and filled with antique wooden furniture: a cherrywood folding table; a secretary desk; small round birch boxes; interesting carved chests. They are cleaning out more of their belongings, and I was given a book of Paul Klee paintings, which I will surely treasure.
Then we drove on to my old hometown, if I ever had one, Ann Arbor. Traffic was heavy, but not too bad. We got off the highway on the east side of town, and drove through the downtown past Main St., and on through the University of Michigan campus, which I still dream about at times. All the crabapples and other flowering trees are in peak bloom, covering the trees with a riot of reds, pinks, whites, and glorious light. I know Ann Arbor well, still, although much has changed. New buildings everywhere, but much I still recognize.
We stopped to look at the house I grew up in, on Lexington Drive. We moved there when I was 8, and going to elementary school; we left when I was in college. It was the first house my parents had ever owned, after our years in the mission in India, then renting when we came back. Our first years back were very lean, until Dad got work as a doctor at the University of Michigan Health Service, where he took care of students and faculty for some years. The trees that Dad planted at our house, being the dedicated gardener that he was, dogwoods and redbuds and pink crabapples, are still there, much larger now, and bursting into full bloom. The fence that Dad built was still there, but in poor repair. The place has not been well cared for recently; its overgrown, weedy, and the walkways and fence are overgrown and crumbling. Everything looks shaggy. I feel strangely sad, strangely disappointed, even, oddly, somewhat violated. Its odd to realize that we moved into that house in the summer of 1967, almost 40 years ago. In my dreams, in my memories, the neighborhood is pristine, the trees much smaller, the lawns tidier. As they do to a child, now grown, everything seemed larger and farther apart back then. I still have dreams that take place in these surroundings, from time to time.
Its strange to be back in Ann Arbor right now. Its partly just that Im overstimulated and tired, tonight, after packing so much, the past few days. I need a quiet night to myself, to let things soak in.
598. 1 May 2007, Dimondale, MI
All day today Ive been driving around the county, doing genealogy with my father and uncle. We visited three graveyards, two in the Lansing city area, where my great-grandparents are buried, and the third cemetery out in the countryside, in Wheatfield Township, out off Holt Road, on Meech Road. That latter cemetery is where my great-great-grandfather is buried.
Its a crumbling, untended, antique graveyard, with Civil War-era stones, and some more recent ones. My ancestors is covered with lichen, although you can still read the carving on it. His name is on one side of the stele, and his second wifes is on the other; we are descended via his first wife, who died, then he remarried. (He was named Marquis de Lafeyette Durkee, named for the famous and popular general, who had traveled in the US after the Revolutionary War; he was called Marcus, and the name has appeared in the family line, as Marcus or Marc, more than once since then.)
Many other stones nearby are indecipherable, etched or lichened or blurred by time. The cemetery is a corner pocket of field under old trees, wedged in between existing farms, decaying slowly into the soil. Thousands of tiny white flowers cover the ground near my ancestors stone. A quiet, ancient spot, replete with memory, history, and dreams.
sleep of deep time
slowly covered by green age-spots
outcropped burial mounds
After looking around there for awhile, we drove over to meet a woman my uncle had contacted, who was a descendent of my ancestors second wife; she lives in a newer house across from the house one of my ancestors built after returning from the Civil War, just a mile or two south down Meech Road. Its a stone house, built in 1865, and on the historic registry now; still lived in, still in good condition. This house, 140 or so years old, is old for the USA, if not for Europe.
It has rained, sometimes with hard lightning and thunder, since we got here yesterday. The first graveyard, we got out and it was still raining, though lightly. After looking around there, we went over to the cemetery office, and got copies from the graves registry, of our familys plots there; this was new genealogical material, new copies of original source materials none of us had seen before. The second graveyard is the newer one for the city, and is still being filled. The graves there were new, the monuments less weathered with time and age. Everywhere, trees beginning to flower.
Driving back, I asked to stop twice to take photos, for my own projects. A temporary lake created by all the recent rain, standing around the trunks of trees, the trees reflected in the standing mirrors of the water.
Disused barns, falling down, drunkenly, holes in them, rotting wood everywhere. An old farmhouse with its awnings fallen, its shed caved in, its roof open to the sky.
Another set of old barns, further down the road, a single man standing in the rafters, carefully prying out the old beams and logs; perhaps to re-use them in making a new barn, the way the Amish do, or perhaps to sell them to a decorator to use as recycled wood in a new condominium somewhere. Scattered visions of empty fields, a single row of trees on the horizon, under a lowering, threatening, shapeless sky.
dead leaves, spring greens,
mingled at the oaks knee
We also drove through the Michigan State University campus today, where my parents both went to college. I felt happy to see the building where my mother, a musician like me, had studied music. Two or three additions have been made, but the original building is still there. I jumped out to take photos of it. Both my father and uncle went to college there, and had lots of stories to tell. We stopped for a scoop of the ice cream they make on campus, as part of the agricultural department; thats a tradition that goes back decades. We also stopped at a garden walk where theres a plaque left in memory of my fathers mother: a garden place like many she enjoyed during her life, she who was a gardener all her life. Then, I danced on the squares of a kinetic musical instrument laid into the ground of the neighboring childrens garden: you jump on metal squares, and a bell is rung underneath. Once I figured out the tuning, I composed a short piece played by stomping on the plates, and recorded it.
So, a long day of research, discovery, and genealogy. I took numerous new photos, and recorded several conversations, out and about. Its been a dark, wet day for weather, though. Weve all gotten a little wet, and Im tired enough to rest awhile before cooking dinner. (Im going to grill some chicken Ive marinated for an hour.)
Photos of graveyards, especially old ones. Photos of old, falling-down barns. Photos of brooding clouds over newly greened fields. Moody, dark, sepiatone prints of ancient gravestones, gothically dark and historic. Dark grey and black skies, lighter charcoal light on the flowering crabapples, pink and white. Flower petals scattered on the ground around their trunks. Lets talk about mood photography.
lichened and mossed with time
a thousand white flowers
597. 1 May 2007, Dimondale, MI
Yesterday, we left Michigan City after breakfast and drove into Michigan. All the fruit tree orchards and vineyards were beginning to flower. Peaches, apples, pears, grapes. Cherries are farmed further north from here. A lot more vineyards than there use to be.
I havent been here in years. I used to call Michigan home, but Ive been away so long I feel like a stranger. Ive lost my feel for the land. Im having some mixed feelings about being back. Theres a lot of emotional baggage herenot mine, necessarily, but belonging to people we have to meet and deal with, and family I havent seen in years, and a lot more. Many people I used to know well still live here, while I have continued to travel, and move on down the road. Ive changed a great deal, but have they?
We drove up to the Lansing area, where my fathers family has roots and history, and arrived at my uncles place here in Dimondale after lunch. We forgot there was a time-zone change, and that threw off our eating schedule. Because of Dads diabetes and need to take all those pills, we have to be careful on this trip: traveling throws off routines, and timing, for meals and pills. No problems so far, but it takes some extra vigilance to keep it all together.
Anyway, we hung out with family for the afternoon, and went out for an excellent dinner at Claras, a restaurant thats in the old train station downtown: the same station where my parents used to take trains around the state, and from which they took the train from home, to leave for India, back in 1952. The food was excellent; I had a Cajun-blackened steak with grilled zucchini and other vegetables. After dinner, we all came back here and talked into the evening. My relatives can be very loud; I found it a little overwhelming, with so many people and dogs in one space. I excused myself to meditate and go to bed, eventually; mostly to have some peace and silence, and try to come back to center.
Today we plan to go around the area, and visit the gravesites of some of my ancestors and relatives. I will be recording a lot, and taking lots of photos, no doubt. Probably too much information for me to ever retain coherently, but worth recording, for later review.
596. 29 April 2007, Michigan City, IN
For dinner, we went back downtown and got in line at Dairy Queen. The line of cars to the drive-up went out into the street, and the line inside was also very long. It had been a sunny day, and a couple of young men in line in front of us were bright red with sunburn. We took our food and ate in the warm deep-blue evening outside, watching the traffic and the people. It was loud, but nice.
Late at night, after Dad had gone to bed, I sat working with photos, and listening to the wind. I went outside to get a pop to drink, and the air was thick and heavy, the sort of hot wind you get before a storm. Soon, lightning and thunder shook the world, and I felt the air cool off.
a warm, wild wind blows
after dark, shaking white blossoms
from the trees
In the early morning in Michigan City, I lay awake, my mind racing for awhile. There was a thunderstorm in the night, then the birds resumed singing. (I recorded an ambient out the door of my hotel room, sitting on the floor, nodding off.) I came to the realization, lying in bed, unable to get back to sleep right away, about another thing that has changed since the road trip out to the West and back: quality of life matters a great deal more to me now than it ever has before. Life is too short for me to be required to tolerate or put up bullshit from other people: their crap is not my crap, and never was.
in the morning light,
white petals strewn on the pavement
clear skies after the storm
595. 29 April 2007, Michigan City, IN
We left for a weeklong road trip to Michigan this morning, Dad and I, and spent the day doing various stops in Illinois, and now Im here for the night. Were taking it slow, in small steps per day, not trying to drive too far, or too long. Im doing all the driving, this trip, which suits me just fine, and I dont mind regular rest stops.
Im in a hotel near the highway, after spending an hour shopping at the outlet mall down by Lake Michigan, in the shadow of the cylindrical cooling tower of the nuclear power plant here. Dad agreed that separate rooms were okay, which I appreciate: it gives me some space, some privacy, and some solitude. Its been a beautiful day, hot and clear. Im sitting typing with the door proper open to let in the fresh air. My room faces west, away from the street, surrounded by trees and birds. I flung open the curtains to let the light in, and the door to let the air in. The crabapples are beginning to bloom, white and pink. Redwing blackbirds are singing in the rushes by the road, and in the trees.
all day long the roads,
ditches and fences shrouded
a thousand blackbirds
I bought myself a gift: tumblers and wineglasses of German leaded crystal, in a pattern of incised ribs up and down the walls of each glass, and a turning spiral spinning up and down, a single spiral rising into the air. Ive never bought myself beautiful things like this before. I get my taste for Danish Modern design from my mother, but I also have a taste for Japanese wabi-sabi, elegant natural simplicity, wherever I encounter it. There are a treat for myself, to myself.
Dad and I left Beloit mid-morning, and drove down through Illinois on Highway 39 till we reached State Highway 52. Then we cut over to Norway, IL, which has a memorial for the first Norwegian immigrants to the USA, we arrived are settled there over 150 years ago. There is a memorial to the first settler, and his daughter is buried in the small cemetery there, which used to be a cemetery that was a corner of a farm. The memorial was erected in the 1970s, and Norways King Olav came over to visit it at that time.
crumble under white pine boughs
dreams of a new world
There was a general store with some Norsk imported goods, food items, some souvenirs. I bought a Lofoten soup packet, for a fish dinner, an some postcards. Behind the store, just back form the highway, the old church is now a museum. This was the first Norwegian Lutheran church in the US, apparently, with the first Norwegian pastor. No doubt far more conservative, at the time, than Lutherans are now, no doubt stoic and repressed. The kind of church my mother grew up as a member of, up in Muskegon, MI, where well be going to visit at the end of this weeklong road trip.
We drove down to Seneca, on the Illinois River, and ended up at a restaurant at the marina, called Boondocks. Clearly this is a bikers destination, as there were a hundred motorcycles there, gleaming in the sun. Mostly Harley-Davidson, but a few others, and a lone purple Honda Goldwing touring bike. We sat in the corner of the screened-in porch, in the breeze from over the river. Service was slow, as the place was jammed. The breeze and open air kept the cigarette smoke from bothering me. We watched a long barge go upriver towards Joliet. Dad told some stories while we waited for our food, which, when it finally came, was delicious. In these river valley towns, you come off the flatland prairie, down steep slopes, and theres the river. The bridge here is an old steel bridge, green girders and two narrow lanes, raised high so the ships can pass underneath. The restaurant was packed and busy. There was a freestanding outdoor bar, with a handpainted sign that read Tiki Bar, over by the marina. Inside, the inevitable sports game on the TV in the corner. Smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke everywhere. Lots of black leather jackets with decals and signs and symbols all over them. Everyone wearing jeans, and most wearing boots. A peaceful, exuberant place, full of atmosphere. A destination: where riders come to spend a pleasant weekend afternoon, after riding to it from the city, an before the ride back. The country roads here are quite pretty, too, especially along the river.
parks above the village
covered with bright redbuds:
river valley noon
Im going to go out, in a minute, and photograph the crabapple trees in the last of the light, backlit by a cloud-veiled setting sun. But its nice to sit and listen to the birds chattering, while the day fades down to nothing.
I was a little tense today, while driving. Some of that is that there was sometimes a strong crosswind, and Dads little red car is light, and I had to grip the wheel to hold my course at times. It tires out the forearms, always having to hold a course like that. Some of the tension is just general anxiety about this trip. Probably Ill relax more as time goes by. I just want to get through it, and enjoy it as much as I can. At some point, in the afternoon, I noticed that I was focusing on seeing what was there, in these small towns that Ive never been to before, seeing the sights, noticing the people, taking in the vibe. I was focused on that, for awhile, and forgot to be tense or worried about Dad, or traveling together on this trip. Having my own room really helps: my own mental space, as much as anything else. And it feels nice not to have to drive all day, an arrive after dark, as I did when I went out West. This trip is less of a physical endurance test, and more of an emotional one.
594. 28 April 2007, Beloit, WI
There are a lot of deep feelings moving in the dark places at the bottom of my mind. Not all of them can be put into words. Many of them are darkly inarticulate, rejecting words altogether. I can talk about them, and talk around them, but its hard to hand them my voice and cajole them to speak directly. They resist easy formulation, glib sentencing, quick lines of poetry that seem to be profound but say nothing.
After two days of being open and exuberant, and myself, it was a shock last night to get back here and be confronted with Dads fears and worries and griefs. Hed had a bad day, and was worried about Mom, and my aunt and uncle, both of whom are also very ill, and maybe dying, and a family friend, who is also failing. Its all at once. It was brutal to go from such forward-thinking, life-affirming, creative work, to such fear and grief. I felt myself shutting down, felt myself concealing, felt myself resenting it even though I could not stop it. It leaked out as anger, or frustration. Fairly or unfairly, reasonable or not, there it was.
I need time to integrate everything that we pulled together in Chicago, but Im not going to get it. Today we drive to Milwaukee for lunch and an afternoon with friends. Then we rush back here to pack for a week-long trip to Michigan. We leave tomorrow. Im mostly packed already; I packed most of it before leaving for Chicago, and I have learned to travel as light as possible, on the recent road trips. I usually took only the backpack with the laptop and my overnight bag with toiletries and clothes in the hotel, each night as I decamped from driving all day. I took in the small camera bag, of course, to download the days photos.
Its hard not to get sucked into other peoples ideas and fears and beliefs, when youre open in yourself. Ive been wide open in Chicago, these past few days, which in itself is a relief. I feel comfortable in Chicago, and San Francisco, in a way I usually dont in big cities; theyre dont scare me, or oppress me, so I feel more open in them, more able to drop masks and shields, and just be myself. Now, back here, even though my job is to be a caregiver, I have to put all those layers, those cloaks and masks, back on. Mostly to protect my own self from the overwhelming presence of others. Its hard to do, after having them open and relaxed for even a little while. Its hard to not resent it, but just accept it as a physical necessity of being, for now, for this cycle of my life. I wonder again how I am hurting myself, and being hurt, by doing all this. Its like living with grief and death and horror and fear for weeks and months on end, with no relief. It makes we want to think and talk about other things. I get tired of every conversation being about my fathers health, and none about mine. Does that seem selfish? Its necessary, though, to protect and care for my own self, too, though, or there wont be anything available for others.
One reason the shaman doesn't always live in the village is that the villagers are sometimes afraid of the shaman; and that gets oppressive. Another reason is that the shaman needs to nurture his own inner voices, without distraction or interruption. Still another reason, and its a good one, is that if the shaman doesnt have time to protect and care for his own needs, hell burn out, and be no good to anyone.
I have fear about cooped up in a car for a week with Dad, certainly. I have concern about not being able to get any solitude and silence during the triptwo things I need as much as breathing itself, to maintain my spiritual and mental health. I have anxiety, right now, about feeling trapped, unable to go off for myself for a few hours, and just be silent and alone. I need that to integrate events into myself, and to be able to hear my own inner voices (quiet, easily drowned out by too much outer noise), to come to center and be at ease.
593. 27 April 2007, Chicago, IL
The past two nights and afternoons, Ive been down at the studio. We mixed several pieces of music for Dolby 5.1 Surround, which is addictive: surround mixing adds so much space to the mix, like in the old days of audiophile quadraphonics, that it feels constraining to return to simple stereo. I may have to invest in a surround rig for mixing. Stereo mixes can still be done on such a rig, of course.
We also recorded several hours of new HD video, and I have all the material as files on my hard drive, to take home and edit into our next DVD film. Very abstract materials, very conceptual, non-narrative, almost anti-cinema: which is no bad thing. Im sick of the unspoken rules of cinema, anyway, and am going to break them as I see fit, with no guilt. I also worked more on my second DVD, refining some of my mastering techniques. Enough material to gather together and make our next DVD.
I have a new little handheld digital recorder. Its very compact, but it has an excellent stereo microphone attached to it, which captures very good sound to digital files, which I can then move onto my laptop and edit as sound files. New material for the podcast, and the beginning of a whole new genre of Stealth Recording for my podcast, not unlike the stealth photography I have been practicing for years. The audio equivalent of candid photography.
This new recorder is potentially going to be extremely useful for ambient recordings, too. The miniature microphone is that good. I recorded some birdsounds at 4am tonight, right outside the house here, and the sound is crisp and loud. A plane flew overhead, but I got over 3 minutes of pure night bird song. The whole neighborhood is filled with these loud nocturnal songbirds, singing for spring, and mating season. Really impressive stuff.
The new recorders potential is superb, not only for ambient recordings, but for voice recordings (its original intention), and podcast entries. I can record something anywhere, anytime, with a unit so small and easy to use (and to conceal) that no one even notices its presence (hence the Stealth Recorder possibilities), but also with extreme convenience to my own artistic spontaneity. Expect a lot more short bits on the podcast in the near future. I havent felt this excited about recording gear since I first had my laptop, and before that, since I first had my Marantz 420 portable cassette deck; the one I took to Java for my Fulbright year there, and with which recorded so many hours of gamelan and ambients, and the one that I used for years afterwards for ambient and home recording. That was simply an amazing pro-level portable cassette deck, and Ive missed having something like it, in these intervening years.
592. 20 April 2007, Beloit, WI
A long talk last night with someone I love, realizing that all things are still enclosed in the circle of being. Hes been having a hard time with school, housemates, asthma, life. (Asthma always has a spiritual or emotional component. Its amazing how often it just goes away, once one gets past the fear-triggers.)
Today, at last, its sunny and warm. Almost 80: my comfort zone. I went out into the back yard for an hour to pull dead branches out of the flower beds. Theres a small garden plot in the middle of the yard; frankly its an eyesore. Its where an old tree fell, and where my parents then planted sedum and poppies, and other flowers. But its surrounded by one of those stupid wire fences that keep the deer out, and its ugly. Im thinking of planting a juniper bush there, and letting it grow. At some point, then, it becomes a shrub, and the fences can go away. The deer overpopulation in Wisconsin is so bad, and we live in the woods, so the deer eat a lot of the flowers, if theyre not protected. The rhododendron on the front of the house are a lost cause. Id rather re-plant with things that are low-maintenance, look good, and that the deer wont eat, like hosta or juniper, so that I can take out those ugly anti-deer fences. I dont plan to spend a lot of time or energy on the project, mind you. Its just one of those things that I think about when the weather turns nice, and I want to be outdoors. Dads gardens are quite pretty, when all the flowers are in bloom; and I want to keep that. But if Im going to participate in gardening here, I have my own ideas of beauty and appropriate gardening for a house like this. Flowers are sexy, flowers are fun; but theyre also ephemeral, and dont endure. And then you have the rest of the year to stare at the plants.
591. 18 April 2007, Beloit, WI
The past few days, struggling to break free of depression, some nights and days have been tense and sleepless. This morning, even, I woke up and couldnt get back to sleep for awhile. Sleep is full of intense dreams, many of them filled with conflict and lucid dreaming. Its powerful, and in a way its good, but its not restful. Its not the shutdown and silence Im craving.
The past two days Ive been fighting back by finally getting the studio computer software glitches ironed out, and spent some time this evening re-editing one of those new DVD videos. I am still pulling material together, but more readily than before. At least it seems to be working now. I still have to finish setting up the mixer and rack, so that when I want to play, all I have to do is plug in, with no extra set-up time to kill the moment, or the momentum.
Ive written some strong poems, I think, in the past week. Several new pieces, some haiku. And I think I invented a new form. Or maybe not. It might just be a mannerism, and maybe wont endure as a discreet form. I intend to play with it for awhile, and see what happens, though.
I had the experience today, while driving home after grocery shopping, and idly thinking about writing, and a whole image sprung into my mind's eye, laid holographically across my vision like a heads-up display in a stealth helicopter, of a complete, new poetic form. It felt as if it was "given." I knew I had to write in this form today, and did so as soon as I got home and put away the groceries. We'll see where that goes. (It's not the first form I've "invented.") I had no idea what I was going to write about, or what the words inside the form were going to be: but I could see it there. I even knew which typeface it should be set in, eventually (Baskerville).
So, in this instance of writing, I very much knew exactly what I wanted to do, where the poem would go, and how it would finish. My job was to fit my writing into the new form, which I did. The topic ended up being something I hadn't expected, though. That came out the way poems usually come out: start writing, follow the images and tones where they want to go, and see where you end up: "follow the brush." I've learned to not force a poem, ever, or to try to force it to do what I think it should do, versus what it wants to do. If a topic veers off, I follow it, and go where it leads.
99 percent of the time, I have no idea where I'm going to end up. Starting down a new path to see where it takes me is much more typical of my writing practice. I almost always don't know even what form the poem is going to take, until it tells meit becomes clear during the writing process itself. I've invented a couple of other forms by doing just that: following the brush to see where it leads, then later knowing I had invented a form only when other poems seemed to want to shape themselves into that same form. A nice pattern and style evolved into something I use more than once, and it ends up being an actual form. I prefer my invented forms to inherited ones, usually. I have no feel for sonnets, sestinas, or other classical European poetic forms; they dont resonate with me.
Most of the time I have no clue what's going to happen, and I've learned to let it happen without trying to guide or interfere in the process. I usually let it go wherever it wants. It can feel like dictation at times. My job most of the time is to be ready and willing to listen, and follow. In fact, most of the time, I don't even set down to write a poem. Fairly often, I think I'm sitting down to read my email, or write an essay, or update my Road Journal, and a poem starts whispering in the back of my mind, wanting to get out. I've learned to let that happen, too.
It's all in the Whispering. (Ask your cats about the Whispering. They'll deny everything, of course.)
Conversely, most poems that I intentionally set out to writefor example, if I'm thinking about something Ive been reading about, and I feel the need to sit down and write about it, to express myself, or whatevermost of the time, those writings suck. Mostly, they're useless, and get put in the "Do Not Share In Public" bin. Sometimes I'll pull them out, save a few nice fragments, trash the rest, and see what the good bits want to have happen to them.
The truth is: writing for "self-expression," or out of some ego-need to express myself, almost always yields bad writing. Therapy-poems, journal poems, pedantic lecturing, whatever, it sucks. I don't willingly inflict my version of that crap on the rest of the world. (Whole pages in my past journals are nothing but venting and yelling, and I don't care to share that, either.) Artistic distance is necessary. Raw screaming is just bad art, self-indulgent and rude.
My writing process is actually not as passive a process as it sounds, in this description. It requires a high level of engagement and discipline. (Go ahead, still your mind enough to listen, Right Now! Not as easy as it seems, is it?) I have found that 20-plus years of regular meditation, dream-journaling, and general writing practice (without necessarily having poetry in mind), have contributed to making the process easier, and especially in making it much easier for me to quiet my own mind so that I can hear that inner whispering.
590. 13 April 2007, Beloit, WI
Of course, all this is a big lesson in taking care of myself, too.
I talked to Dad and encouraged him to keep saying Yes to social events. The other side of it, for him, of course, is that he doesnt know what the future holds for him, and he wants to enjoy himself, and see as many people as he can, while he can. Hes a much more social person than I. I told him, and I think he understands, that I want him to always say Yes to invitations, but that there will in future be times when I dont go along, if someone invites him to dinner, or a play, or whatever. I may take the day or evening to myself, to have time to myself, unwind, or work on my own projects.
I look back over the past few weeks, and I think now that Ive been fighting off a bout of depression. Today is the first sunny day outdoors in a week, which helps. You combine cloudy cold depressing weather with everything else Im trying to deal with, then add to it every conversation Ive had in the past two weeks being about illness, death, and mental instability, and its enough to wear down even the sunniest disposition; and Ive never had the sunniest disposition, to begin with. I dont pretend to know whats coming next. I am hoping for a good, summery turn to the weather, soon, as that really does help me deal with the rest of it. Im sensitive to my environment.
And then, there have been so many conversations of late, on these social visits, when Ive been not only the youngest person in the room, but also the only one who doesnt have major health issues at the forefront of their awareness of their own lives. On more than one occasion, Ive wanted to change the subject, just to talk about something other than death, illness, depression, or memories of long-ago years.
Ive been dealing with my own fear of death, fears of contagion, and lack of shields and boundaries. Ive been too tired to remember to raise shields in company that I shouldnt have to raise shields in. Im that worn down, and worn out. (And how long will it take to rebuild my own boundaries and reserves, after all this?) Its nice that so many people want to spend time with Dad, but when Im included in those visits, again, I am usually the youngest person in the room, and most of the talk is about who died, whos dying, how theyre dying, what current illnesses everyone has, and how theyre dealing with them. Its true: when people age, the topics of their conversations change. The cliché about aging people getting together for tea, then talking about nothing but their failing inner organs, and who died since they last spoke, has a lot of truth to it, at least in my recent experience. Gods forbid if all my aging friends start talking about their health problems, too. Ill have to run screaming from the room. I have so much death and depression going on around me, on a weekly basis, that I cant bear it any more. I just want to talk about something sunny and shallow, at times. Ive been distracting myself by spending a lot of time online, writing and readingwhich is probably a mistake, since the average denizen of the online poetry world is a shallow drama junkie; and those friends who I would like to be spending time with are mostly absent right now, no doubt dealing with their own lives. Its spring fever, too: the annual antsy feelings we all get when were sick of being kept indoors all winter. It makes people prickly, and its an annual thing youd think all of us Northerners would remember from year to year, instead of having to remind ourselves about it, every spring. Winter breakup sucks.
589. 9 April 2007, Beloit, WI
Conversely, once Im in bed, I dont want to get up, in the morning. Sometimes I hit the snooze button several times. Im scared all the time. I feel like I have no boundaries, no shields. I feel unprotected, unsafe, very much alone. Im terrified of contagion, the paradigm of contagion-shamanism, where the shaman takes the patients illness into his own body, then expels it. Im terrified I might already be doing that, on some unconscious level. I feel sick all the time, and depressed. Is this my stuff, or Dads? Because if the shaman cant then get the sickness out of his own body, it can kill him. Because I dont want to die from this, or become ill for this. I dont owe my life to it. I dont want to give up my own life for this, or sacrifice myself as some damn martyr. I want to live, and I want to live beyond this time of caring for ill parents. I want my own life back. I want to live. I want to be able to resume my own life and interests, when this is all over, and take up travel again. Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi. (I want to live a thousand years more. Chairil Anwar)
Im on edge all the time, scared all the time, anxious all the time. For myself as well as for my parents. I feel like I dont have any boundaries anymore, and I cant tell if these are my fears, or theirs. I dont know what to do. I really dont.
On Writing Poetry Criticism While Watching Jeremiah Johnson
Crow attack singly, honor
bound up in killing the singular enemy
wagons trail-stuck, mired in ice
a priest who desecrates the holy grounds
of others without irony
priesthood of grammar on the defensive
wagons of literary ideologies circling
attacked on all sides by the savage dissenters
whats a good word-slave to do
make a cabin till it burns
a good horse, fresh air
no one to bother you
occasional meetings with ones countrymen
enough for any poet in the mountains of the mind
588. 8 April 2007, Beloit, WI
A few nights ago: Late night, unable to sleep again. Afraid to sleep. The dreams are so intense these days, and the waking no better. I seek solace in dreams, but waking returns me to this place. The dreams are not restful.
The past few days, Ive been consciously working to flush my system, after feeling drowned in toxic waste for weeks on end. Ive been feeling sick, lethargic, even depressed. Under the circumstances, its no wonder. Ive also been feeling physically ill. Im not completely clear if its just toxic dumping, or something more. I dont feel right, or true. I worry about my own health, in the midst of taking care of Dads. At the moment, its pretty overwhelming, and I dont feel able to deal with it at all.
Going to visit Mom at the Alzheimers care facility has become increasingly difficult for me. Im so overwhelmed with being around Dad, I cant take on Mom, toosomething Dad will never understand. So he pushes at me. I am feeling forced into doing something I dont want to do. I dont expect anything to change, or for understanding to suddenly awaken.
Am I just making this into more than it needs to be? Cant I just be rational about it, bite the bullet and go on? Maybe. But I also deserve my time to vent, and worry, and then get over it. Otherwise, if you dont get it out of your system, it just festers, and turns nasty. I think its been festering already, and Im catching up now with the detox.
We went and saw Mom, and brought along Easter chocolates, and she was in a good space, so it was a good visit. Still hard for me, though. Then we went out for a late midday meal with friends; we drove over to Millies, just the best country-style restaurant in the region. A good meal, and then some browsing in the shops.
587. 5 April 2007, Beloit, WI
Just over a week ago, we discovered that Dads cancer has spread again. Theres a spot on his right adrenal gland, and a new spot on his liver. That was a blow. He had been feeling very well, and was hoping that nothing new had developed, so he could go on feeling well. We had a two-month respite with no treatments, and now its back to chemotherapy, this time in oral pill form. Seven pills a day, plus three vitamin supplements. Emotions have been running high. I havent been sleeping well, and am on edge most of the time. There have been some altercations, which have mostly been anxieties deflected inappropriately onto little things, because the big picture is too terrifying to contemplate. His cognitive powers are not what they were, either, but face it: hes eighty, and hes been dealing with illness for almost a year now; hes doing pretty well, all things considered.
I realized last night that my live-in caregiver job means that, if Dad dies quietly some night, or has a heart attack, Im most likely going to be the one to find his body. That set me back. (Its not the body; Ive seen dead bodies before, more than once.) If things get real bad, and he has to go into hospice, then I will most likely be present at his death. I can only hope for a good and easeful death for him. I knew all this intellectually before, of course, but now its come to me emotionally, as well. At the moment, it feels like one more burden on top of the pile of all the other burdens.
What is all this doing to me? I wonder what it is doing to my spirit, my soul. There are times I feel scarred, as well as scared. These are life-changing experiences, and I dont ever expect to be the same again, afterwards. Im not sure I like that, and I know that I dont like each and every change Ive been through, so far. I feel brittle or fragile a lot of the time; my own emotions are often very close to the surface. Some changes feel like they could take years to recover from, and Im not sure I have enough years left, on my own, to do that work. Some days I feel like I am being irreparably wounded by having to go through all this, and everything involved with caregiving for an aging parent, and I flinch away from the prospect. I want to run away from it, but feel trapped, as if I have no real choice. Theres always more than you bargained for, and more than you could imagine, when you first set out on a course like this. I feel like Im flailing at shadows, and I often feel like Im failing. As though someone else could do a much better job of things. (Rationally, I know they probably couldnt.)
I also dont feel like there are many people I can talk to about this, because even our most well-meaning friends dont get it, unless theyve been through it themselves. A few close friends get it, and many more do not. I realize that one change thats occurred in me is that I feel a yawning abyss of non-understanding opening between me and people I know, who cant really see whats going on. Well, I dont blame them; its overwhelming, and too much to take in, even for me. But Im left feeling lonely, isolated, and without support, most of the timeI should say, rather, without the right kind of support.
We do get a lot of well-meant support; but some of it actually grates on my nerves, and makes things worse, because its not the right kind of support, in that moment. I dont expect or demand that anyone do any better. I dont expect them not to be clueless. But there are lots of people who want to see Dad, and spend time with him, and I often get included in the social whirlwind even when I dont want to. Being politely appreciative and faux cheerful, when I dont feel like it, is yet one more burden on me, and it drains me to have to pretend to be politely accepting of the support that is offered, when what I really want and need is something else entirely, like silence and solitude. Its one of the things that keeps me feeling exhausted all the time. That yawning abyss of non-understanding has made it harder for me to communicate, to ask for what I want, to receive what I need, and to just generally be open. I feel at times like Im stuffing things back into the emotional closet, after having spent years taking them out to airand I resent that. I actively resent the fact that I have to go back into that closet, on so many fronts, too many to even list. I feel even more lonely and isolated, because of it.
Two days ago I got on my knees in the garden and planted five new lily bulbs. Dad supervises the garden work, since its his garden, but I do take credit for actually doing it. We have a host of perennials that come up every year, without having to be replanted. Two days ago it was warm and sunny. Now, although its sunny this noon, its cold and icy. We are supposed to have several days of bitter cold, and Im afraid its going to kill all the fresh flowers that only just came up. Up north, theyre having spring snow blizzards. Yesterday, a few tiny flakes fell for an hour, here. Winter in my heart and mind, and the world reflects it.
586. 4 April 2007, Beloit, WI
peace of a lightless room. soft enveloping.
stillness at days end: looming, the dark windows.
all fading into silence. glare of red eyes from the trees.
nothing left but the small gestures of a fires lap.
nothing left to be. a river of generous stones, sifting.
585. 29 March 2007, Beloit, WI
What Is Lost
Chance for respite. The sign of the wild tom turkey spreading his fan in the sunset light of the greening backyard. chance for long talk into the years. Grim dreams of history, too grim, like black lung, or heartburn. Homestead in the stream hills.
The news is always bad. Spots on the liver, the right adrenal. Having to take pills that make you sick, to make you well. Small chance of success. Another spot near the spine, still there, still eroding bone.
A skeleton, wind-carved, grit-polished, with a nick out of it where living tissue ate into itself, devouring its own essence. Ablation of the memory of function.
Everything we say we hate, we become, unless we love it instead. So hard to love it, though. Living it, enduring it, is killing me. Give up everything of my own, and no promise I'll ever get it back. Some illusion of reward, at the end of all this hardship? It's never been given before, I don't believe in it, or in punishment. Just endurance.
Like the rocks endure: geologic; uplifting, and eroding, one faster than the other, trading places; carved into gorgon shapes in the Badlands my soul cries out, seeing its own shape. I seek out the desert because it's what I feel. A place to be home: desolate, unforgiving, familiar.
Hold space for the infinite. Only chance of respite. Small chance, no chance. I endure. Not liking it very much. Just enduring. Hold space. Just hold.
584. 26 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Road Trip Wrapup
That's a misleading phrase, though, since nothing is ever really wrapped up, tied up in a nice neat little bow, and finished with no loose ends dangling. Rather, events, dreams, memories, photographs: they all linger on, and resonate down the line, for months and years to come.
I've been telling people, since I got back, that things are changed: something permanent, in me, has changed, as a result of this month-long road trip, that I have now been back from, for another month. I can't make a list, as some changes I'm not able to articulate; other changes, more mundane, are scarce worth mentioning. I've of course written about them elsewhere, mostly for my own sake. (Because writers write; and I am a writer, even if I think of myself as a musician and artist first.)
I do my best thinking during those long drives, and when I stop to take photos and just look at the land and listen to the wind. The long drives integrate things that would not otherwise mesh: insight, opportunity, the proper unfolding of the Universe. Those long drives, and the people you meet, and the moments you experience, each exactly what they were supposed to be, with exactly the right timing, if only we'd pay close attention, are enough to turn you Taoist. It all seems inevitable, in memory. It couldn't have gone a different way, because that would have made another Universe, not this one I'm writing about, now.
The many-worlds theorem in some versions of quantum physics: each choice, each turn, or at least each strongest turn and choice that affects a macrocosm, branches off a new Universe, a new limb on the Tree of Life. With imagination, and vision, we can see those other branches of the Treeand see when they cast a shadow on our own world. And we can see where we might have gone: what might have happened.
It will take me months to sort through and get to know the many thousands of photos I took on this road trip. The trip had several purposes, several reasons for making it, and taking photos was one of the prime movers. Eventually, I'll make art, and art-films, out of the images gathered from the journey. Some will get printed, perhaps gallery-hung, perhaps just gifted.
My favorite days? Those days spent in the lonely places: the empty places, the silent (except for the sounds of wave and wind and bird) places, the places where you can be alone for a long time before meeting another, encountering that other self that is your mirror, this moment; the places where nothing happens, everything is still, and the world seems to catch and hold its breath, if just for a moment. Those eternal silences, eternal moments that can fit into a nanosecond, in between louder times. An afternoon of this blissful silence serves to heal a month of overstimulation and an equal time of pointless worries. You come to center, and extend: and everything stops, and you are still, needing nothing, needing to do nothing: just being.
I could be talking about driving as meditation, photography as Zen. I suppose I am.
583. 23 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Perennial lilies poke their still pale green heads above the loam. They demand I attack the humus overlying them with workglove, rake, and hand, stripping off the layers of last falls detriments, so they can breathe. I carry it all in a crumbling blue tarp down to the riverbank, and fling it over the edge. A growing mound of yardwaste, soil, leafrot, and compost to fertilize the woods next year. Perhaps the deer will nose it, wondering where these bittersweet flavors came from. The buds still pale, the sedum still white rather than green, not yet chlorophylled and ready to stir. Something tentative as memory in this brown waste. The first hard rain has washed away the dirt from the streets, and prepared the lawn for greening. Still sleepy, the land begins to wake. Black earth under brown forest humus. Deep stake of root, into earth vine crawling born white worm porous soil lunging. Awakening from sleep rest times, the soil. Subsiding mound over groundhog burrow, collapsing into flat earth again. Shape of the world. The rake, the leaves, the lawn, the blue tarp being carried across the world. Deposits of last years growths, now feeding the new life to come. And we begin again, perennial ourselves. All of us grown together, vined, interlaced, threads new grass emerging like sacrificial hair from the scalp of the earth.
I did some garden raking this morning. Im pleased that most of the flowers Dad has in place, in his gardens, are perennials that dont require a lot of maintenance, just cleaning out of their beds come springtime, and watering through the summer. We both look forward to a better summer than last one, when he was so ill that nothing in the yard got done, and lots of household chores were neglected.
Since I moved back to Wisconsin to take care of my father, and also to clean house and organize the overstuffed basement, which he can't do anymore, and since I'm actually going to be living here now, I have been making significant progress on re-establishing a home for my small portable recording studio, Dragon's Weyr. I owe the high-power Windows computer, complete with software, to Al and Andy, so it's not out of line to say that I'm a northern adjunct to Mitran Mitran Studio. Having my gear up and running again, after months of nomadism, and virtual homelessness, and just camping out while everything was in boxes, will allow me to make new progress on several artistic projects, not least of them the new DVD films I need to make, and the new music to go with them.
I just did a major piece of cleaning and organizing in the basement (which is a finished, heated, drywalled basement; it just hadn't been cleaned or organized in several years), preparing space for the studio monitor, CPU, and audio gear to be set into place more permanently. I'm sitting on the newly-revitalized and re-arranged couch down here, looking out the windows over the backyard onto Turtle Creekwe live in town, but we're surrounded by woods, and the lot next door is all woods, too, so we have a constant parade of wildlife and birdsand I'm starting to feel content, centered, ready, and excited about new beginnings, new turfif I'm going to be living here, I'm actually going to be living here, and this former downstairs family room is my turf, nowand new projects. I feel really good at the moment, and ready to finish up and get to work.
I'll post photos of the studio later on, when it's all done and up and running.
582. 18 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Ive had a very challenging day. Ive felt angry and emotional all day. Ive been annoyed at everyone and everything. Even well-meaning friends have stepped into places that pissed me off. Im irritable and short-tempered, I feel brittle and fragile, and stubbornly implacable at the same time. Ive been spoiling for a fight all day, and maintaining vigilance about not starting one inappropriately. Ive been impatient and short-fused. Whats going on?
I diverted it into assembling the new bookcases (they come in kits you put together), and filling them up and emptying out yet more boxes of my books that have been lying around for ages. I made huge progress, and felt good about it afterwards; and now Im back to feeling very emotional and unable to get to sleep. I didnt get to sleep till quite late last night, and its already late tonight, as well.
Im having a hard time sorting it out, labeling it, analyzing and categorizing. Mostly, Im just sitting with it, not trying to analyze it very hard. I feel as though Im going to explode, or rupture, or rip apart at any moment. I feel like I used to feel when I was going through the dark night, when I was living in my camper-trailer out in the New Mexico desert. Those same dark moods. Those dark cold nights when I could scream at the sky, and only the coyotes would answer. I feel that explosive, that willing to explode. Only, here, I cant. Its just not allowed. As usual, no-one really gets it, no-one really understands. There are spiritual currents Im comfortable and familiar with, that have become a normal part of my world, that I just cant talk about, not here; not anywhere, really. I am bored with dealing with the slowness and incomprehension of others.
This may be one of those things that Ive been trying to articulate since I got back from the recent road trip: something I have been sensing was permanently changed during this past trip. This is one of those changes that I havent been able to put into words before now. Its been getting clearer, and closer to the surface, though.
Aha, heres the truth: Part of the difficulty of this ongoing project of no longer hiding my light under a bushel is the shadow-side truth that Im feeling surrounded by snails, who cant keep up, cant remember anything, and cant figure it out. Its like I have to lead everyone around by the nose; and Im bored with that, and tired of it, and impatient with them for making me have to do it. This is a dark side to no longer being in hiding that I knew about and expected, once upon a time, yet it still catches me by surpriseproving, once and for all, the truths of human fallibility, and my own genuine limitations and blind spots. Everyone has blind spots, even those who are illuminated in some other way. Im caring less and less if people call me an arrogant prick, though, or if they try to put me on a pedestal and call me a super-genius, or call me a saint or a good son for doing this caregiving work for my dad; Im caring less and less about everyones opinions of me, period. I just want to participate in some kind of creative life, and have musical and poetic and artistic and other creative conversations with my peers, on the highest level that we are capable of having those conversations on, without having to compromise or slow down or make accommodations. I dont want to be alone on the mountain peaks, and in no way do I think I am alone: I think theres a lot of other very smart, very talented people out there; and all I want to do is converse with them. Just some camaraderie, you know? That would be a balm to this dark night monk.
581. 18 March 2007, Beloit, WI
clouds go by, dappling the land with shadows; and the light changes again
The last image from last nights dreams: clouds moving over a variegated desert landscape, alternately darkening and lightening the already-vivid colors emerging from the ground itself. A memory from Petrified Forest, re-framed as an image of vast open spaces.
580. 17 March 2007, Beloit, WI
If you could know how and when you were going to die, would you want to know? I think most folks would not want to know. I dont know that I would. Besides, Ill know when its about to happen; everyone knows that. Its what you do next that matters.
I keep saying that a lot lately: that its what you do next, that matters. Well, its been on mind a lot. Im feeling pretty emotional a lot of the time right now, for reasons beyond the superficial. Theres something going in the universe: everyone I know is tense, irritable, jumpy, prickly. Everyone keeps getting tied up in knots, and they dont know why. Something moving on a bigger plane than ours, maybe. Something being kept at bay, with all the horror being grounded down through the dreams and daydreams of people who are hooked in, and able to ground it. The network of lightworkers, mostly people youll never know are there, who are the ones who truly hold the world together. They suffer so others dont have to; they ground and transmute things that would destroy us all, if they werent bled off and reduced in scope. The spiritual steam release valves of the universe. Or maybe its just that the world is a very tense and disturbing place, right now, and people are afraid of the future. As the ancient Chinese curse says: we are living in interesting times. Well, its the bleakest, politically, that its been in years, maybe decades. The world is close to the edge of immolation, right now, and only fools want to play with the matches.
So, who knows. maybe its all of the above.
All I know is that my dreams have more intense than usual, lately, many nights in a row, and Ive been more emotional than usual, lately. As the Jane Siberry song goes, Calling all angels. . . . We could all use some help, right now. Anybody out there, listening?
What I am feeling is elegiac: an elegy for a time now passing, a nostalgia for the future, a celebration of endings and beginnings. This is practical, rather than theoretical. It spurs me to clean house. It keeps me awake all night, unable to sleep, not only for fear of these vivid and disturbing dreams, but because I am lit from within with the fire of writing it all down, making it into art. It inspires in me the effortless effort of making things new, even old things. It makes me restless, when I am already a restless soul. It makes me want to drive away across the curve of the planet, past the bend of the horizon, on the plains that roll on forever till they reach the foothills of the mountains. It makes me want to just shut up and drive. It makes me feel sadness for everything that happens, and everything that hasnt happened yet. It makes me plan my next trip, even when I have no departure date, or plans to depart beyond knowing that, someday, I will.
579. 17 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Strange vivid intense drams:
I am on a plane traveling over the sea, possibly the Mediterranean; I have been traveling for work reasons, maybe something covert; suddenly, instead of a calm sea, there are huge waves all around us; we are skimming the tops of giant waves that are trying to swallow the plane, brushing our wings as we pull up to avoid them; huge, green, beautiful, pelagic, utterly powerful; then we have emergency landed at the shore in a rural village area, and we are trying to navigate the plane through narrow country roads, pine trees, stone fences, small hills; the plane gets through some narrow passages, taxiing on the ground; its a foreign place, I dont know the language; we are not the only downed plane, we discover; we get to an airport recovery queue, in a little bowl-shaped valley overlooking the sea; the airport is just over the next rise, behind a row of pine trees on the lip of the bowl; we are told it will be a long wait till everything is sorted out, the planes can be moved onto the airport and checked over before resuming their interrupted journeys; wandering between clumps of waiting people, I lose track of my fellow passengers till I realize that J. had been on my plane, too; we find our section of passengers for our plane; we have a day or more to wait before we can continue our journey, we are told; I wander off to find something to eat; I am in a building terminal, near the airport, and I realize that it has connected to, or changed into, the building I went to music grad school in Madison, the Humanities Building; I get in the queue of students to enter the building, where an older man is checking student and faculty IDs; he lets me in, anyway, conspiratorially, after I tell him I used to be a student here, on the condition that he doesnt want to see me again; we chat about the light here in this part of the world, which is always exceptional; I tell him about the times I spent the night in my studio, and saw the morning light coming from the east, over the park, and it was pearlescent and lovely; I go up to the second floor, where the music department offices are, thinking to visit an old professor; instead, I park myself with my backpack in the student lounge right by the music department, and call J. on the cellphone, worried about being able to get back to the airport before the plane leaves; this is a foreign land, outside the building, and I dont speak the language or know where to go; we ask around and get me the direction to give a cab driver for when I try to get back to the airport; I am standing in the window of the building, and I can see the smooth, placid pelagic sea out over the rooftops, not far away; the sea looks so calm now, after those mysterious waves forced us to land earlier; powerful and mysterious, the sea stretches to the horizon in the afternoon sunlight.
I woke up at dawn, shaken by this dream sequence, unable to get back to sleep. So Im sitting here writing it out, sitting on the couch with the sun rising over my shoulder. Ill nap again, later, if I can.
Ive had dreams like this before, which end with me staring off into the distant horizon. Sometimes its been at the edge of a salt pan desert; other dreams, its been the ocean, like last night. The surface details of the dream matter a lot less, symbolically, than that sense of infinity. Those tall green waves, like a living force. Its as if the far horizon calls me to go find out whats there; to journey till I can see whats across the wasteland. Desert, ocean, wide valley between mountains: all the unknown places, calling me to travel across them, into them, through them. It as if I stand at the edges of such places, and there is an actual voice calling to me, siren-like, to go forth. An inner compulsion, an urge so necessary, that I must listen. Even if cant set out at that exact moment, in the dream, I am left upon waking with the knowledge that I need to go, to go there, and I will. Perhaps in the next dreamtime, perhaps in waking life. Perhaps the summons will only be responded to in dreams, and doesnt need to be acted out for real. But it does need to be listened to. Far-horizon-listener. Distant-plain-traveler. Waymaker, pathfinder, trailseeker. Those are titles that apply to me, in these dreams, and perhaps in waking life, as well.
578. 16 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Thoughts on weeding out the library:
Why do I keep books? Three reasons: rare, beautiful editions, beautiful in themselves, and irreplaceable as objects of art; as a reference library; in order to re-read, if they are particularly loved stories, or artbooks, or experiences, or poetry.
I realize, staring at the shelves, that there are many books I dont need to keep, now, because I wont re-read them, and if they call out to be read again in future, I can find them again with relative ease. This applies to most of the fiction in my library, including the SF, but especially the mainstream fiction. Again, keep those beautiful and rare special editions, those special compilations of an entire series, those omnibus editions, a few short story anthologies that would be hard to find again. That crosses the line into reference books, too.
My art books, design books, typography books, photo books: a library of references for research, inspiration, and study. My muse gets fed by these kinds of books: they keep me going, they inspire, and they also help me to organize my creative obsessions (books on the design of books, on typography, how-to photo books, Photoshop manuals, etc.). Some of my photo books are purely for inspiration, for looking at for ideas, and for the purposes of eros.
Some unusual books that I keep because theyre long out of print, and at some point became central to my philosophy, my thinking, my ideas about the world. Some of these books are so rare that I tell people about them, but never lend them out. When I find a spare copy, I leap on it, so that I can share it with someone who needs to read it, who has come to some juncture in life where reading that book could really help them. But I share the copies, not my originals, with all my own marginal notes. Are marginal notes a desecration? Well, they would be in the rare editions, but in the well-used paperbacks, theyre basically responses, study aides, a form of written hypertext that pulls in other, associative ideas and meanings. Every scholar makes marginal notes. I just try to keep them out of the editions kept for the sake of beauty. The same for dog-earing the pages; I use page marks in some books, and turn the corners down on the pages of the study books.
I just carried two more book shelves down the stairs, to be assembled and filled over the next few days. I am cooking a fancy dinner for guests tonight, chicken curry with grilled asparagus and roasted red peppers over rice, so I need to shower and then prepare dinner soon. But I can already see, sitting here, where books can be sold, once I have read them. Perhaps I should make a list of things Ive read; my father keeps a little notebook in which he writes down the title and author of every book hes ever read (most of them history or spy thrillers, his major genres of reading). I do remember most of the what Ive read, though, and if Ive forgotten a Margaret Atwood novel or a collection of Paul Therouxs stories, its all good, because then I would have the pleasure of reading them as if for the first time. So, even then, I dont need to keep the actual volume on hand anymore.
The weeding process will take time. But at last I have most of my books out of boxes and onto the shelves, where I can at least look through them and start making choices. I also want to arrange things topically, so the library is better organized, and I know where to find things.
577. 15 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Two days ago it was 71 degrees and sunny. Last night before going to bed there was a covering of wet frosting snow on the ground. This morning, its mostly melted away. Such is the rapid rollercoaster of March weather in Wisconsin.
My dreams last night were vivid and disturbing. The details dont matter, but sleep was not restful. The past few days Ive been powerfully cleaning and reorganizing down here in the basement: its my living area, now, and if Im going to be living here for a longer length of time, Im going to actually move in and make it mine. I hung some more of my artwork on the walls in my own room today. I am rearranging the downstairs family room, which has been used mostly as a storage dump for years, into my library, sitting room, and recording studio. Im going to put the studio along the wall, below the windows overlooking the back yard, and move the couch over to where the fireplace is. Eventually, Im going to get a chimney sweep in here and fix both of the fireplaces in the house, so they can be used; probably not this winter, but definitely before next winter. A year from now, I want to be able to sit on the couch, reading or writing, and look out the window at the falling snow, with a quiet fire going in the room, heating the place. I need to install a few more bookshelves in here, too. I am still in the process of taking all my books out of storage, and being able to look at them. Gradually, over time, Ill be able to weed out those volumes I dont actually need to keep, and that will go a long way towards lightening my burden in the long run.
One of the spiritual laws of the universe seems to be that shared grief is lessened, and shared joy is increased. We are such anentropic beings: we resist entropy by our very natures, by our desires and our very existence, and our willful urge towards survival: towards the continuance of life itself.
What is evil? Ive stumbled across a few discussion asking that question lately, and have not participated, mostly because I was stunned at the vapid dogmatism of most of the replies: how very conventional the thinking was, how very full of received wisdom, and none of it meaning a damn in the face of actual experience. I was actually speechless a times.
Heres a new definition of evil, which is truer than anything Ive read recently: evil is refusing to fight back against entropy: evil is letting entropy and inertia suck you down without resisting: evil is being complicit in your own annihilation.
Most people think evil is something outside their selves, something Other. They cant see or acknowledge that evil is a part of them, as well, intrinsic to our inner natures, as is everything else, in potential: innate in us. Well, what is more evil than willingly giving ourselves over to death, if our lives are bought at the expense of others? Im not talking about self-sacrifice, which is willingly giving of your self so that others might live; Im referring to life taken at the expense of others. Life lived at the expense of others.
On my very worst days, when all I want to do is give up, give in, and just collapse into a ball of exhausted self-pity, when I am worn down to nothing, everything stripped away, until all that is left at my core, I find at my core something stubborn and immutable: a refusal to give in: a refusal to say yes to annihilation. Thats when I know that this inner warrior self that is my most basic self, and that warrior looks out at all the pain and suffering that has worn away my self, and frayed me at the edges till nothing is left, and that warrior-self looks out of my eyes, and says: You can kill me, but you cannot defeat me. I will not comply. I will not give up. I will not give in. I may never be able to climb out of this pit I find myself in, but I will not willingly choose to fall any deeper into it. You will have to force me. You will have to kill me to stop me, because I will not be defeated.
Have I committed evil acts, in this lifetime? Certainly. Havent you? Certainly: we all have, at one time or another. Its an entropic universe we inhabit: its unavoidable, and even the best of intentions cannot always prevent it. I have done harm to others, and to myself. I have given up, before, and given in: I know what its like to be complicit, to collaborate with entropy, or, if I might be more honest, to reach a point where I dont care enough either way. (Inaction is still a form of action.) I have prostituted myself for the sake of my own, petty existence. I have sold parts of my soul, so that this body could survive. I remember clearly every single thing I have ever done that has harmed another, that I know of; the curse of a near-perfect memory. At the same time, I remember many instances of feeling at peace because I have helped others. And that is how we gain redemption: its not a gift from the gods, because no-one ever judges us as harshly as we judge ourselves. God is Friend. We redeem ourselves by our own actions, just as we have been complicit in our previous actions with evil. Even though I have done wrong before, I will no more.
So, I have done evil acts before, and I may again, even if I dont want to. Does that make me evil? Does that stain my soul forever? Does that make me fallen into sin? No. Life can hurt me, deeply, but it can also show me how to resist entropys tidal pull. My suffering can turn to selfish inwardness, or it can pass through the opening of insight to become service to others. That is always an available choice.
Emotional maturity, as opposed to emotional innocence, is the awareness of ones own culpability, and ones own capacity for spiritual violence, for being complicit with the tidal entropy of evil. You have to recognize those parts of yourself, within, that contain the capability and possibility of such violence. (They lurk in the shadows. Their voices are always there.) And you have to forgive them.
If you look outside yourself to discover evilsome presence, or principality, or power beyond yourselfall you will ever see is the mirror of your own self. Because the world mirrors you, for as long as you choose to live in darkness. (Its your own light that illuminates the mirror, did you know?) Once you choose to live your life as consciously as you are able, you no longer have the excuse of blaming others for things that appear to go wrong with your life. Once you align yourself with those anentropic forces that go by many names (as powerful as stars being born, as apparently insignificant as the refusal to hate your own past), you no longer have the luxury of blaming anyone for anything that happens. Because we dont have total control over what happens in our lives: that is a naïve, and childish interpretation of the saying What you believe becomes real. Or rather: our beliefs do create realitybut so do everyone elses. Thats why its called consensus reality: because we all have a part in making it. So, the truth is: things happen that we didnt intend, but that someone else did, and we can still get caught up in their making. Its what we do, next, that really matters. That is when the choice matters: to be complicit with the forces of entropy; or resist them. Once we begin to live consciously, the tendency to blame something outside ourselves for our misfortunes is revealed for what it is: an illusion.
Sure, sometimes we fuck up, and get in trouble, and make bad mistakes, and even commit evil. Its what we do next that matters. Every moment offers a fresh opportunity to choose. Each decision-point gives us another opportunity to choose to oppose that which would drag us down into agony. The choice is always ours.
As I progress further, and study more, I realize that there is a name for what I know, in my bones, to be the truth of the spirit. I do not believe in apocalypse; I believe in apokatastasis. I know that even what most people would call evil can be redeemed, given enough time; and there is an infinite amount of time. Not one soul shall be lost. Not one.
This is a unique concept, but it is not an alien or new one, it goes back a long way. It goes hand in hand with the insights from the mystics that the world is not in fact fallen, and there is nothing that cannot be redeemed; in fact, from one perspective, that work is already done.
A visitor said to me the other day that our house is the quietest home they visit. Well, I like the silence. The world is too loud and noisy most of the time, anyway. The blare of the TV, the radio or the stereo constantly on. I think its because most people are afraid of silence, or are too restless to sit in the silence. Its almost un-American to be so off the grid, I suppose, but thats who I am. I like it. There is plenty of sound around all the time, but its garbage sound, useless, and distracting. I hate the TV when theres nothing worth watching or listening to, but people leave it on anyway. Nothing but a background noise, or a drug, at that point. No purpose to it.
So, silence is good. Listening to the music I want to listen to, rather than what someone else thinks I should listen to: thats a good thing. No apologies, no regrets. If youre afraid of silence, thats not my problem.
576. 13 March 2007, Beloit, WI
71 degrees today, and sunny. Purple crocuses are blooming by the back wall. A turkey vulture flew over the trees while I was on the back deck, looking at the flowers and the greening yard: the first one Ive ever seen here. Red cardinals bounced among the bare tree branches, and the wild turkeys were startled out of hiding when I went out on the deck.
575. 12 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Late winter thaw, the river swollen and brown and turbulent, with half the yard white with dirty snow, the other half green with new grass. A herd of deer, 20 or more of them, cluster on the green part of the lawn, and stare at me, ears up, till I chase them away. Some are sleek and healthy, others have nappy fur in clumps. Ive never seen so many deer all at the same time, in our yard. This is the largest herd Ive ever seen here: a sign of the overpopulation problem thats statewide in this region of the country. A few deer at a time, I dont mind passing through our yard; but this herd is too many, I cant allow it, so I chased them off.
People who dont live with deer dont understand them well: they tend to have sentimental notions about Bambi, knowing nothing about the overpopulation problem, chronic wasting disease, and the danger to humans from parasites that deer carry, such as the deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. (Getting Lyme disease from gardening in your own back yard? No way!) The problem with deer overpopulation is the increased interaction with urbanized humans, which is a tendency of sentimental idiots to want to feed and tame wild creatures. Its really bad for the wild ones, and not good for you, either.
Im physically sore these past few days. Yesterday a lot of emotions Id been deflecting came boiling up; probably from the last weeks stresses. It was a rough night. I am feeling tired and sore today, but I also got a lot of organizing in the basement done. I plan to make space to rearrange the common room down there, and turn it into my library and sitting room. Im going to move the couch, and then set up the recording studio against the wall, under the windows overlooking the back yard. I cleared out about half of what needs to be cleared in order to do the next phase of re-organizing. If Im going to be living here, for real, I need to make this space my own, and make it livable. So, Im doing it. It might take a few weeks to a month before I get the studio shifted down here; but it will be worth it. Then maybe I can get some uninterrupted creative time in.
574. 11 March 2007, Beloit, WI
I went up to Middleton today, and walked the Labyrinth. A lot of things came up, and Im feeling very emotional, very exhausted. Sometimes, when you walk the Labyrinth, things get settled, worked through, resolved; other times, such as this time, for me, things come up: rising to the surface, to be cleared and released. Im too tired to get into all that, though, right now. But I do feel wiped out and exhausted. Im in no mood for having to deal with that, on top of everything else. Itll still be there, when I get around to it. Im going to go do something that I want to do, now, instead of something thats tugging at my skirts like a demanding brat. Later for all that.
573. 10 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Im feeling brittle and irritable today, after having gotten through the last week, which was a bad week. I have things I have to do today, and want to do. Yet I also want to do nothing more than sit and read, and write, about art and poetry, and whatever. A lazy day, a day of nothings. I dont want to go out and get the mail; most of the mail is usually for Dad, and what little there is for me is usually stuff I dont want to look at, with rare exceptions. Mail and e-mail both are tedious wastes of time, some weeks.
Last night, two raccoons were fighting in the snow on the stairs, right below my window in the backyard. I rolled up the blind, and broke up the noisy fight by playing the laser over them, getting it in their eyes, and making the red dot move on the ground all around them. They left in opposite directions, and the back yard was quiet for the rest of the night.
Writing is all I want to do today. I want to catch up. Get my thoughts in place. Gear up for the next wave of creative work, now that Im back here, and mostly recovered from the long days of driving.
572. 8 March 2007, Beloit, WI
A quiet morning, in which I have the house to myself for a couple of hours. I appreciate the silence and mental space, whenever I can get it. This week has turned into a stress-killer week, because of some sudden medical issues, the truck in the shop, the furnace needing to be repaired, and a whole lot more. Last night, in very lucid dreams, I fought back, and I redacted reality several times to create better outcomes; so, rather than being tangled up in attacks from multiple directions, I refused to play Victim, and I refused to play along with attackers, and I made things come out the way I wanted to. The mark of a lucid dream is that you know youre dreaming while youre dreaming, and you can redact the shape of the dream, and direct it. This morning I feel far more able to fight back, and far less willing to tolerate random attacks and bullshit, that I felt swarmed with all day yesterday. Im past the fear and rage and into focused determination; still tinged with anger, but then, anger is fuel for the indomitable will. You use your anger, rather than let it use you, or overwhelm you. Im convinced the only reason I got to this place this morning was because the dreams were helpful, a lessoning-ground for working out right attitude. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Wrathful Deities are but reflected emanations of the Peaceful Deities. They are not wrong, or fearful, or tragic, or evil: they are but another chance to get at enlightenment, of which there are many paths to attainment. I am feeling fierce today, but clear-headed, not mired in emotional overwhelm.
571. 5 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Having a stressful day. Have to take the truck in for more repairs, after the long journey; some sort of warning light came on. An early morning doctors appointment for Dad, then an EKG, then later we get a phone call saying they need to see him about it, as there was something there that looked wrong. Whats next, for the gods sake?
I cant cope, today. Im not feeling well, and Im dealing with idiots whose lack of awareness and social grace is just driving me up the wall. I want nothing more than to sleep, today, after last nights bout of stress-triggered insomnia. I want to curl up on the couch and not answer the phone, not talk to anybody, not have to do laundry, cook meals, clean house, all those chores I have to do that I could care less about at the moment.
People insist on projecting evil out there, avoiding thereby having to take responsibility for their actions, and confront their own capacities for evil that exist within all of us. Its even more irritating when such blithe assertions are supported with bad theology. Jung had some pithy remarks to say about this tendency to project evil onto others, or some personification, rather than take our own lives in hand:
When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.
We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. . . . Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
If people can be educated to see the lowly side of their own natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better. A little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results in respect for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.
So many still refuse to see how much the world mirrors back to them what they most need to see about themselves: how their family and friends, and even the people they meet on the street apparently by chance, show them every lesson they need to learn in that moment, if theyd just pay attention. Well, we live in a culture dominated by loud, non-reflective extraverts; we are bombarded with daily reminders of just how dismissed and derided are those who prefer the nuances of considered thought over the bludgeons of soundbytes and heavy-handed sermonizing.
How dare you call yourself a good Christian when youve never actually studied the ways of God and Godhead, or read any theology, or come to an individual opinion that wasnt approved by the mandates and categories of the circumscribed thinking of your tribe. How dare you cloak yourself in the mantle of righteousness when you remain ignorant and anti-intellectual and intolerant of difference. How dare you call yourself a good Christian if you dont live up to what you say you believe. How dare you call yourself a good pagan if you are intolerant of genuine diversity. How dare you call yourself a good Jew if all that means to you is a category you check to list your ethnicity on the census. How dare you call yourself a good Buddhist if you have no practice of mindfulness and lovingkindness. How dare you call yourself a spiritual person if your definition of spirituality is anti-religious and at the same time sentimental.
Of course Im being outrageous here, but Im also venting my spleen against the stupidity of all the snails I see crawling in their own slime, when they could be at least crawling up some tree-stalk towards fresher air. The willful desire to stay stupid and ignorant is inexcusable, even when it has good reasons. Yes, I know were all struggling, all going at our own pace, all striving to the best of our ability, blah blah blah. Forgive me for an hour of inexcusable impatience. Ill get over it, soon, and move on. I actually no longer believe that most people are striving to the best of their ability, because its blatantly obvious theyre not even living up to the own minimal potential, much less striving for more than that. When youve been worn down to nothing by life, had suffering and pain, and watched everyone youve ever loved be hurt or die, come talk to me. Till then, get back on your hamster wheel and shut the fuck up.
Am I an elitist? You damn bet I am; if by elitism you mean demanding that everybody live up to whatever potential they have. Potential, I might add, that is so easy to see in them, that anyone can see; anyone, that is, except themselves, who refuse to believe it. Am I arrogant? Im certainly capable of towering arrogance, as well as spiritual materialism and psychic athleticism; but Im also capable of compassion, lovingkindness, taking on the suffering of others, empathy, and the experience of the Sacred Heart. Am I fucked up? At least as much as anyone else, and less than most I seem to be encountering today, who I want to drag kicking and screaming towards enlightenment; not that it would do any good, since all that does is make people stubborn about clinging to their wounds. Am I a snob? Admittedly so; especially about tea, good Scotch, good dinner conversation over a terrific meal with a nice glass of wine. And probably an unintentional snob in other arenas. So what? Does calling me a snob serve to raise you up, or to try to tear me down?
570. 4 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Standing outside taking photos of the turkeys in the trees in the failing light at sunset today, the clouds going pink against a vivid winter blue sky, all tangled together with the black knives of the bare tree branches; then, later, in the basement, stacking boxes, remembering: I got a whiff of the cold mountain winter air. It rushed through me like memory. I could feel for a moment that high-altitude lower air pressure dizziness, too. I was taken back to the mountains, if only for a moment: such is the power of memory. The demanding memory that comes over you like an implacable wave, with memories as real as any experience or vision.
I am adjusting slowly to being here, again, in this place everyone but me calls my home. All the old routines have vanished, and I have to try to get them back in place, or make new ones. In the time Ive been gone, Ive changed: the road trip changed me, on some profound level. I can feel it, although I cant put a name to it. But everythings different now. My habits are not back to where they were, or my diet. I cant seem to find my feelings, and Im not even bothered by that. I dont even feel like Im really here. I co-exist, and some things are easy because I used to do them; but other things that I used to do, are vanished, and Im left a little disoriented. Who changed the shape of the world while I was gone? Just to be clear: I dont mind; I dont demand it back, or that it return to its former shape. Im different, and so is the world. I cant quite figure it out, though. There are gaps, and holes, and then there are other things that are in place, that werent there before. Everythings rearranged, as though I stepped through a Gate into another, more senior, yet parallel, reality.
Ive had this experience before, at least twice in my life: two very significant times, at meaningful points in my life, when everything changed, and the world was made anew. What Im feeling now feels just like those older experiences, those memories that now demand my attention, but theres no big vision or drama associated: it just happened.
Somewhere in that mountain pass in northern Idaho, coming down the gorge in the afternoon sunlight, half-frozen and half-summery, something changed. I dont know if the change happened then, but the image of that light, and the smell of that crisp, cold mountain air, those memories have been flooding me all day. Its as if Im in two places at once, part of me still driving that winding road, half of the mountain flooded with light, the other half already in frozen shadow. As if the world never turned on its axis, and half of the planet was bound in eternal ice, while the other half of the world was shimmering in fire. Suddenly the world is turning, again, or perhaps for the first time, and everything is changed. The light makes everything look different. I can feel the velocity and direction changes in my body, in my hands on the wheel, and I can feel the air pressure changes in my ears. Its as if Im still there, in that more senior reality, while this place, here, now, is the illusion, the memory, the vision.
None of that matters. I pick up the ice-crusts my ankles have just stabbed through, and examine them in the light. All around me, deer tracks, rabbit tracks, my own heavy bootprints the only human sign. Everything recedes, all the houses are gone into the memories of the trees, and there is only tundra here. The full moon rises over the shoulder of the high peaks in the afternoon sky. Overhead, a roosting wild turkey, disturbed by my boots crunching into the snow crust, flaps hard and moves to a higher set of branches. All other sounds recede, while the wind gets colder and louder. Ive lost my hands, somewhere in the folds of my inadequate jacket. When did the world turn so cold?
569. 2 March 2007, Beloit, WI
Reading through the titles, and some contents, of all the books I shipped backed to myself here, I wonder again at masks and games, social conventions, and all the rest. Its a circle around a center of emptiness: a ring of knowledge. No one here in Beloit knows how much Jung and dreamwork and psychology and science Ive read and thought about over the years. My library is a Californians library: a little odd, a little inward, for a typical Midwestern life. I go hunting with cameras, not guns. The books I bought while I lived in Pinole, the library I acquired there, small enough to fit in one room, big enough to require several boxes to ship it in: a library of books I never found in the Midwest, although Im sure they exist in university libraries, and some good public libraries. A library reflects its owners needs, interests, concerns, queries (queeries), neuroses, and obsessions. What can you learn from mine? Its the sort of library youd find in a university town, perhaps, versus the small town Im now living in; or a library that could only have been amassed in a large metropolitan area, with its statistically greater chance of finding books of interest on any given topic; or an idiosyncratic library, if passively acquired by synchronicity and intuition, still selected by its owner for his topics of special interest.
Light snow all morning has led to some accumulation, and now the wind is blowing drifts across the road. We went out to do errands for awhile, then stopped at the new coffeehouse downtown, which is a really nice place that Im sure Ill go to, as a place to sit and write, read, think, whatever; they have WiFi there, as it seems most coffeeshops and hotels now do, everywhere Ive been lately.
Its picture postcard pretty out back, with ice on the river and fresh snow over everything. I feel like taking a quiet, inward day: not going out anymore, sitting here at my writing desk with my view of the entire backyard, and writing, thinking, reading, doing nothing more than what I need to do. I made a fresh shrimp dinner last night, with just some butter, pepper, and garlic, and mixed it all in with pasta. Earlier this week, I grilled some good steaks with onions, peppers, and made a little wine sauce, and served it with rice.
568. 28 February 2007, Beloit, WI
As I sort through old family papers and belongings, I keep discovering old photos. My plan is to scan them all, and preserve them electronically, even if the photos themselves degrade into dust. It makes me think about my past, my family history, and I am tempted towards memoir. Not because I think my life is interesting to anyone but myself, or needs to be preserved, and not because I think I have anything interesting to say; but rather because, as I discover old photos of myself at different ages, and wonder what I was thinking and feeling then, I become interested in dialoging with that younger self, that self that used to be me.
I ripped my guts out
to write this poem, really
the laughter of crows
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