Saturday, January 29, 2011


"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."
                                                                                                     William Blake
Was Aldous Huxley tall, godlike?  
Did he walk across the bridge and into a field, talking aloud to himself, singing?  
Born, 1884, stunning.  Some things can’t be avoided.  Exile.  
“Spiritual progress. . . is always spiral and reciprocal.”
Huxley had a lover, made out, got tired, fled.  --making out in the field--   
trees water trench rake                   roots & seeds
He had poor eyesight, developed his imagination “with the lamp of the word.” 
Stunning feature #2: heavy waves of hair, pretty boy and handsome, thin fingers, died in the desert, 1963.  Jim Morrison was 15 years old.  Strange days.
Spiritual mortification--is this the right prayer?  (St. Teresa: “I have trouble eating the meat.”)
Less serene than surreal.  Mystical, mysticality.  Go figure. 
How does one get to the heart of things?  Not like that, he said, shading his eyes from the sun.
He wore a tie.  Some carried his books in their pockets.
Swami Prabhavananda   The Doors of Perception   Christopher Isherwood
(b flat clarinet begins here, flute-like)
Nothing really ends with Emerson, but much begins.  
Gerald Heard, Huxley’s good friend, mentor, crisis of faith, nervous breakdown.  
Spanish Civil War   Stalin    southern California
Huxley: “It is because we don’t know who we are, because we are unaware that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, that we behave in the generally silly, the often insane, the sometimes criminal ways that are so characteristically human.”
The width of his cosmology, the psychology of the world.
Do we expect our gurus to be perfect?  Celibacy suggests otherwise.
(clarinet fades)
Self-knowledge, spiritual pride, she had lovely skin.  
The bridge he crossed was sincere.  He becomes one with God in every thought.
Alone he possessed these prayers.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Hope?

The other day we were talking about hope (or lack thereof) found in Joshua Cooper Ramo's The Age of the Unthinkable. In his book Ramo argues that, with the world going through major shifts due to globalization and the high speed technology accompanying such movement, the U.S.'s current foreign, economic, and environmental policies are informed by outdated paradigms that are, for all intents and purposes, leading us down paths of destruction.  Ramo's hope is that a new brand of leader will emerge from these webs of complexity to form models that can adapt quickly and efficiently, remaining resilient because they can.  No doubt Ramo is looking toward the future where the old boys who failed us in Iraq and Afghanistan and on Wall Street are put out to pasture, replaced by innovators and visionaries able to comprehend what each new day demands.  By looking to the future, Ramo offers a small gesture of hope in the face of daunting challenges.
     Personally, I'm not sure it's hope we need.  At the root of the concept is the practice of looking forward with confidence. Those with a religious bent might see in hope the act of trusting the testimony of a priest or prophet, understanding that the world is better on the far side, that in hope we lean toward the Divine. In regard to such, Emerson wrote, "Accept the place the Divine has for you," which renders us complacent in our faith.  In the same vein, William Law wrote, "Pray and let God worry." I have no problem with the notion of spiritual surrender at the heart of both quotes. To surrender is to receive, and to be selfless is to be alert. My concern is we become over-confident in a hope that projects us away from the difficulties of the world, that hope is used as an excuse to avoid our present circumstances, and rather than be energized in our surrender, we become blind.
     Today, without really knowing or wanting to know what's going on in Afghanistan, we hope good will comes out of the war even as civilian casualties continue to mount and the Afghanistan people turn against us.  Likewise, without really knowing or wanting to know the condition of the Ogallala aquifer, the water supply for 190,000 square miles of America's heartland, we hope that the water will last forever even as the aquifer is being diminished at 14 times the rate of natural replenishment.  In these  examples and ten thousand more, instead of the direct action and change that's called for, we continue to follow the kind of hope implied by Billy Graham when he said, "I've read the last page of the Bible.  It's going to turn out all right."  To believe everything "is going to turn out all right" is well and good only if we ignore the wreckage we just happen to be leaving in our wake.
     I admit, if it weren't for hope, many of us would not get out of bed. And, no doubt, the state of hopelessness can lead to suicidal despair.  But I agree with Ramo that the paradigms we currently work within need to shift, and the only way this can happen is if we face the problems squarely, understand the implications, and take the necessary actions to remedy what can be remedied, and prepare for the consequences of what cannot.  I call this neo-existentialism, where the future takes a back seat to the present, where every moment lived is the opportunity to create the world anew.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New Essay, Part 1

I am a writer and a teacher of writing. Over the last few years I've spent more time teaching than writing. I have no regrets. In fact, there are times when I really don't have much to say, or if I do, I'm not sure what form the words or images should take. Form, structure, play. As we learn to observe, we also learn what it is to experiment. All our efforts to form thought are experiments and, outside the innate human need to express, no experiment is terribly important in and of itself--it's the collection of experiments that matter, experiments that allow culture to breathe and shift and grow. There would be no need to shift if an ideal culture could be reached and settled upon, but of course there is no such dwelling, and those who propose otherwise offer ideologies that more often than not depend upon the forces of war in all its manifestations as a chief means of expression. The New Essay resists such settling, moves along so much like a river, endless in its approach and entrance into the mysteries of the deep.
       While the New Essay is not only about change, the practice of the melding and movement of genres is essential to the endeavor.  John D'Agata's work both as essayist and editor is a good example of how the borders of any given genre are often crossed in an effort to allow for an honest form that might carry our thoughts, or for a thought that might spontaneously fall into a form. (Robert Creeley would suggest there is no difference between the processes.) For example, in The Lost Origins of the Essay, which D'Agata edited, he opens the international anthology with the fragments of Heraclitus, moves through Greece and Rome, Plutarch and Seneca, to China and Japan in the East, pithy wisdom and Pillow Talk, into the more common pieces of Montaigne, Frances Brown and Frances Bacon.  What I find most interesting about the collection is the inclusion of Mallarme's A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance and Rimbaud's Illuminations, both 19th Century classics that are by and large understood as poetry.  Add the inclusion of William Blake's "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" as a precursor to both, and we begin to understand the borders of genres, at least according to D'Agata, are nowhere fixed, that the form of the essay is ephemeral, open, alive.  While the essay is not fiction nor poetry, it is fed by both, just as it feeds--the relationship is symbiotic.  I see the essay in documentary film, in YouTube presentations, in a series of photos found in so many halls, in all trees that grow from a seed.  Everywhere is an essay, if we care to search, and everything is an essay, if we care to look beyond the surface. Perhaps this is our only requirement, to search, and to allow our search to find a form, or for the form to find our thoughts.  Perhaps Creeley had it right. We are each an essay ready to be received, just as we are each receptacles waiting for the essay to arrive.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Welcome. Tonight, January 22, 2011, a year leading into another.

I start these pages with only slight misgivings about cleansing diets and lack of sleep. In regard to the diet, I didn't partake in alcohol or coffee or sugar for twenty-four days.  Week one, not much energy, my hands trembled, dreamt of tequila, which in waking state I rarely drink.  Second week, nausea in the afternoon.  Third week, red swollen toes, one on each foot, as if they were infected.  The last day of the cleanse, my nose started bleeding as I chatted with a student in the University library.  I read Simenom's Dirty Snow and Cheever's Falconer, stayed up into the night thinking how I can create flow (or enter it?) in my life and accept death for what it is. Some say we are what we eat, I say we are what we dream.  All things a dream, said Genro, and for this I give him credit.