Swallowed Proverbs 6/1/20

philosopher

Swallowed Proverbs

It is an old lesson. A gift becomes a curse. The Greeks warned us. Kronos, the god of time, trapped to spend eternity in the pit. And later, Zeus gave Pandora a box which, when opened, released all the world’s troubles and plagues. Hope was the sole remainder. The filmmaker Errol Morris once pessimistically noted that hope wasn’t left as a blessing; the promise that life would improve was the final plague. Lately I have made the mistake of taking months of free time as a gift; a chance to seriously write that I had no chance to forfeit. But time shifts. It strays from the light of our brightest notions. For more than a week I’ve found it harder to write than at almost any other period of my life. It is impossible to focus. The world outside is sick, on fire, flat broke. It feels absurd to try to hit the keys on my laptop artful. So when I fail I read to find insight or explanations. Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” Philosophies of uncertainty are built on proverbs like that. And if you read enough of them it feels almost like choking.

I don’t know where I will be by the end of summer. I’m waiting for the final word from Texas. I’m waiting on a dozen other states. I’m waiting to hear from the publisher who wanted my full manuscript. Seneca says we exist with a, “mind that is in suspense.” I’m waiting for reason.

Bertrand Russell states, “The value of philosophy is…largely in its very uncertainty.” Kierkegaard argues, “Truth is subjectivity.” Taoism asks you to flow one moment into the next. Buddhism asks you to give up on expectations and attachments. The same lecture in a thousand voices. Fresh tragedies drop us to our knees. The box isn’t empty yet.

As an agnostic toward the power of advice I would make a bad philosopher. Still I am hardwired to wish that understanding and kindness win this turn. The Persians said, “This too shall pass.” Heisenberg and Bohr hung quantum mechanics on the uncertainty principle. There is no method to predict. There is nothing unmoved to hold. I’ve swallowed all the proverbs and principles I can find, but none satisfied. So I wait out the hunger pains; run to stay still inside. I find quiet spots to read or hit the keys, and wait for the next-in-line fated to fall. And it is so tempting to picture myself wiser when it does; to have faith that we mature into our best revisions.

Read this

“In Praise of the Telescopic Perspective” Maria Popova

Listen to this

“The Chilean Forest”

 

Fragments for Records 5/20/20

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Deer stalk from the woods to my split-rail fence in the morning when the grass is still wet. A single doe. Young bucks. We stand twenty feet apart in that stillness, watching each others’ eyes, and pay reverence to what silence remains. I want to tell them things it is too early to piece together: that the ancient Japanese believed deer were messengers for the gods. But in our private worship services the sermon is the not-saying.

 “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”

Jorge Luis Borges (author / scatterbrain)

When I was younger I used to daydream about keeping a diary out of the romantic idea that it would stand as a record of my existence; that someone would cherish it when I was gone. But I never had the rigor for it. In my office now there are dozens of journals and notepads. Some virgin white with possibilities. Others inked with fragmented notions and the false starts. No forensic process could arrange my library of stops and starts into a cogent history. My thinking is scatterbrained- at best associative. What I write now is too.
 
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (author / scatterbrain)

Lately I watch documentaries over The Black Death and the Dust Bowl to sleep. They comfort me because disasters in the past can’t do anymore harm. I read apocalyptic science fiction like J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World in which good men go mad and chase the black sun. They reassure me since I have never had a sense of the future. Kim Stanley Robinson, in the article linked below, offers “But science fiction is the realism of our time.”

I want to tell the deer we run over the same trails; that we can run and I won’t give out. Without jiu-jitsu I depend on trail running, yin yoga, calisthenics and kettlebells to stay in motion. If my body is still for too long then my mind and emotions run off, tripping over one another as they go. Einstein saw god in universal laws, but still held his daily walk sacred.

“Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do–but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.” – Albert Einstein (theoretical physicist / scatterbrain)

So here I sit absentmindedly going through journals and notes with one screen open to this, and another to the novel I am charging hard to finish. My future is as uncertain as everyone else’s. To map seven days is to schedule eternity. But I have these scraps to stitch into a record. The only way to leave an honest accounting of a life is to wrap it in fiction and poetic license. What most wants told is best confessed by characters, or shared in the not-said.  

Listen to this 

Massenet “Thais Meditation”

Read this

“The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imaginations”  Kim Stanley Robinson The New Yorker

Watch this

Kurt Vonnegut documentary (1983)


 

Basic Cable Cataclysm 5/15/20

cataclysm

Basic Cable Cataclysm

5/15/2020

This is what I know. At this moment Los Angeles is closed until August. Prisoners are sewing cloth masks in shifts. My college expects a four-hundred million dollars deficit, but it may be more. It has rained for five days straight, and will rain for the next five. My brain chemistry was off one day this week. The highway bisects a Christmas-Day landscape of empty parking lots and locked storefronts. Armed protestors have blocked ambulances. Animal shelters are running out of puppies. Hairdressers will return at warp speed. I know all this from the network news. But nobody knows anything. 

We can only wait to see which institutions, long held-over from the Industrial Revolution, sink through the cracks in their foundations and which settle. In the meantime I type prose or sketch. This is a season of substitutes and stand-ins when even books cast discouraging shadows. In Heaven and Hell Huxley writes about, “…the vast impersonal universe.” In Letters to a Young Poet Rilke warns, “We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in the things most intimate and important to us.” Yes and. Yes and. Yes and.

The forest floor is never as fertile as after the fire. World War I ended Modernism, and made way for Lost Generation writers and Surrealism. Art is conceived in crisis. It is nurtured in the bodies of the dispossessed. It is only newborn after cataclysm. One reason I continue to chase lines that strike true is to take up the time between Before and After. Another is to avoid becoming the charcoal left behind.

Gil Scott-Heron recorded “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1970. Fifty years later ours is broadcast without pause, but no one watches basic cable. Until the seismic fracturing of The Before steadies to tremors I am keeping my idle hands busy. The waves of The After will touch the shore. I want to wade into them with a quiet mind. The only thing anyone knows for certain goes without saying; What we leave behind never returns the same.

Watch this

Aldous Huxley interview from 1958 which remains contemporary.

Read this

Letters to a Young Poet: Letter 4,” Ranier Maria Rilke

Magic Circles: Big and Small 5/5/2020

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“Time is a flat circle.”- True Detective

“All this has happened before. And all this will happen again.”- Peter Pan  

In this time of necessary separation I have spent the last week considering separation as concept. I spend most of my days locked away for the majority of my waking hours. I have always had the necessity for manifest absence both for psychological and creative space, as well as for a sense of security. My life has returned to the same pattern it followed when I was a ten-year-old. I segregate myself to read or try to make things. Otherwise I track through the woods alone.

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explored separation in a diversity of 16th century Faust tales. One of his points of interest in these stories was their use of “ the magic circle” as both a symbol (representation) and presence (manifestation). He saw the magic circle, whether drawn on the floor or in the form of a pentacle over a doorway, in these stories as a boundary that separated one world from the other; a temporary world within the ordinary dedicated to a given act wherein one is in the hands of the supernatural. His defined the magic circle as a created a place for accomplishing within them what could not be achieved without. 

Everyone creates, intentionally or not, their own magic circles to step outside the responsibilities and routines of living. They are fashioned out a record player and a cocktail. They are invisibly drawn around a park bench with an open notebook. Artists are especially guilty of this innate mysticism. Late at night in my basement office I am conscious that I am in a place where physical boundaries stand and the barriers to inspiration thin if not fall.

Magic circles as practiced separation exist in small ways too. Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning defined the necessity for the minute magic circle that we psychically etch between stimulus and reaction. To him suffering was meaningless; only our reaction had any value. Scott Carney in his new book The Wedge explores a similar human ability to form a gap between external stressors (from ice baths to oxygen deprivation) and the physical responses they trigger. Each of us has developed our own small magic circles to navigate being. These spaces (call them meditation, cognitive dissonance, grit, sisu, etc.) don’t only belong to daredevils, monks, and occult philosophers. They are the letters we write, and never send. They appear in the patience we practice when faced with our failings.

I am indulging exiting one world for the other during this season of separation. Even if my practices and preferences lean toward the monastic, still I don’t want to let this expanding divide go to waste. Summer is only a few weeks away. Who knows how long it will be before the real world circles back again?

  What to read

 “W.B. Yeats, Magus” by Jamie James Lapham’s Quarterly
 “The Mysterious Mr. Parsons-Life at the Crossroads of Crowley and Hubbard” Mike Luoma Medium

Love Song for a Quarantine 4/28/20

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Two months. Maybe less. And now I am institutionalized, in love with the quarantine. In my office hideout time mirrors a casino. I know whether it is day or night, but which on the calendar is mostly uncertain. This is more than a small freedom.

 There is an envelope in my office full of heads. Carson McCullers. Yeats. Warhol. I decapitated each from postcards in college. There are bodies too. Brando sulking in an undershirt. Kerouac, back to brick wall, staring over all that rolling nothing. I study these along with Polaroids taken in dorm rooms. I re-watch black and white interviews with authors who accentuate their points with cigarettes. They seem so serious, so worldly and old though they were so young. I sift through these fragments from when my ambition to write was fresh and all-consuming.

In a life separate from clock and calendar I have gotten more pages down than in years. The new novel is going well, if slower than usual due to the attention I pour over each sentence. It would be quicker to translate what I want to say from Latin, but I want this book to be lean and beautiful. Short stories and poems come in flashes once in a while too. Days, weeks, and months cut off from all except the most tangential relationship with work are a gift. I live in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” with no need for glasses

Words have begun to stick in my head lately like half-remembered lyrics though. Today the word is “svaha.” In Yogic philosophy it essentially means, “let go.” It’s the same as the Buddhist principle of “non-attachment.” And on one level it is silly to make distinctions between Yogic, Hindu, or Buddhist philosophy. Or any school of philosophy since each wrestles with the same question: “What do we accept as truth out of tradition, and what is ultimately true?”

Be safe. Below are some timely works for you this week.

Listen to these

Radio Lab “In the Dust of This Planet” (pessimistic philosophy in pop culture, Dadaism, history)

Franz Liszt “Love Dream” (one of my favorite short classical pieces)

 Read these

Thomas Pynchon “The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, To Thee” (New York Times)

Anne Didion “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” (Saturday Evening Post)

 Watch this

The Center Will Not Hold (Netflix)

Reading at Brescia University

BreschiaReading

On September 6th I will be reading and signing at Brescia University with poet Daniel Abbott. I’d love to see you there.

The 2017-2018 edition of the St. Ann St. Visiting Writers Series at Brescia University kicks off with a visit from Michael Wayne Hampton of Cincinnati, Ohio and Daniel Abbott of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hampton is celebrating the release of his debut poetry collection “The Tax For Loving” (Eliezer Tristan Publishing, 2018.) He is also the author of the novella “Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight,” the story collection “Romance for Delinquents,” and a fiction chapbook, “Bad Kids From Good Schools.” He teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati-Clermont.

Abbott’s debut novel “The Concrete,” was release this year by IG Publishing. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.