Gauguin’s Model

When Paul Gauguin was my age he arrived in Tahiti after cutting his prior life adrift. The previous year, 1891, he had lost his job as a stockbroker after a market collapse and faced a choice. He had to decide whether to chase the security and respectability of a professional track, or give up all he had built to paint. Either decision meant surrender. In the end he elected to live as an artist, and sailed to Tahiti in search of the primal life he imagined there. Though personal desolation was likely he vowed to end what he saw as a cycle of generational submission to a prescribed being.

“The work is to become native to one’s own heart.”- Gary Snyder

I have been studying the lives of artists for next year’s project, and appreciate the sacrifice Gauguin made. Admire is the wrong word. The impressionists only had eight showings, and his paintings had not ignited the public fervor that others had. Gauguin understood how terribly chasing his passion could. His close friend Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting in his life even though his brother was an art dealer in Paris and promoted his work. Still Gauguin left the mooring of respectable existence to follow sirens’ song innate in an artist’s heart.

This year (by fortune, forfeit, or failure) I have followed Gauguin’s model. For a while I wavered on the line of commitment that he did, and we all must. I considered a position in Texas, and turned down another in Michigan which I dreamt romantic but felt stranded. I moved away from the angry, contracting world, from social media and the news cycles, and retreated into the wild where no howl or birdsongs can break the peace I find there. I surrendered to my writing completely for the first time in my life. There is no chart to follow, no shore on the horizon, but I am sailing.

“Suffering is not enough.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

And I stay busy. At times I feel like a prisoner who dreads his release because he has so much left to do in his private world. My French is gradually improving from daily study. My trail runs are quicker. A few weeks ago I refurbished a mid-90s Giant Boulder 500 hardtail mountain bike, and can ride rock falls and jumps I would never have tried before. Every bruise a lesson.

“Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become that path himself.” – Henry Miller, Henry Miller on Writing

The novelist Richard Ford says that every novel has to make its own place in the world. They are not needful things. I like to think that every novel is a love letter, and keep faith without signs that if you love hard enough then others will too. Though I am careful to adopt any story I tell myself a fact or a guiding star for now it is enough to dream of beautiful islands offering refuge somewhere on the other side of the words I leave in my wake as I cut ahead through the headwinds of this stormy year.

Read this:

Vincent van Gogh The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

Listen to this:

Philip Glass Glassworks

Amyl and the Sniffers “Some Mutts”

Seules les Limites des Rêves

“Mystery and Melancholy” -Giorgio De Chirico

Last week I parked on the shore of the St. Claire river, staring off at a Canada that Americans are barred from entering, and listened to French talk radio. The temperature was 22 degrees Celsius. There was no rain. Everything else broadcast was lost on me. But I loved the rhythm of the syllables as they matched the river’s lapping, and regretted my French was so terrible. I took one year of French in eighth grade. At thirteen there is nothing a boy can learn except through injury. Now I can hardly remember the words for “I love you.”

France has been on my mind since I spent that day alone on the shore. Not the France of today, but of the Impressionist, Post-impressionist, Surrealist, and New Wave. Nostalgia is stronger than history. And it is easy to become nostalgic for a life only lived through print and pictures. Lately I have been studying painters and filmmakers. One’s artistic voice is a fusion of personal experience, the beliefs it breeds, and the limits of his or her vision. Medium does not matter. 

“The whole art of poetry is to say what can’t be said. So every poet, every artist, feels when he gets to the end of his work that there is something absolutely essential that’s been left out.”

– Alan Watts

Giorgio de Chirico’s Metaphysical Art painted the distance and threats he saw growing down even the most peaceful lanes. Matisse rejected shape, perspective, and detail in favor of the bold impact of primary colors. Andre’ Breton and the Surrealists scavenged beauty from the out-of-context, strange, and chance associations. They valued the art of children and the insane because they were liberated from the constraints of reason. In a France where reflecting the concrete was prized these artists climbed to replicate fluidity and dream state.

“…resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality” – Andre Breton 

Still, visions remain composed of fragments from the waking life we are destined to return to. French New Wave filmmakers like Godard understood this, but filmed the facts of living we hide in our games, in the unsaid. In his Le Petit Soldat the heroine is stunning because her stoicism averts naked passion. A man begs for her love, risks his life and freedom, light cigarette after cigarette. She combs her hair, tranquil, only answering the questions she cares to. She tests his hunger with silence edged with promise. And promise is our greatest drug. In Breathless the heroine interviews an artist. She asks about the place for women in society, and other questions to weigh his heart. When he turns away, a knowing comes to her eyes. She has stolen a confession and passed judgement.

“What is your life’s greatest ambition?”

“To become immortal- then die.” – Breathless

I offer this as a fire door- an exit. A confusing wash of the everyday and bizarre is where joy lies waiting. I am writing this because this is a year of unemployment, sickness, anger, and burning. But we can escape through the logic of constructed nonsense, or by stepping past this surface life to interview our shadow selves. Now, even if helpless to forget, we should learn a new way to say, “I love you.”

Watch this:

Jean-Luc Godard Le Petit Soldat

(English subtitles available)

Read this:

Andre Breton “Manifesto of Surrealism”

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Petty Theft and Horsehair Singularity 8/25/2020

Plagiarism is the highest crime an artist can commit since we survive on our imaginations. Our thoughts are our currency. But as in every justice system there are degrees and contradictions. Petty thefts are not only tolerated, but encouraged. T.S. Elliot, in an oft-abbreviated quote worth reading in its entirety, states that “Mature poets steal.” Nearly all undergrad poetry students take part in at least one found poetry exercise where they are sent out to scavenge words from the fire extinguishers instructions, soda can labels, warning from student health pamphlets. Then back in class, they wrestle to massage their scrounged vocabulary into lines and stanzas greater than their parts; to see the splendor waiting in fragments. For the last few months I have shoplifted words liberally from my daily reading. When my own prose lags I go to my list  and read “whipsawed,” “raw-boned,” “carousel,” “luster.” The right word is waiting there to fall into place. Then I can go on. Never steal lines, but pocket single words on the sly. Beauty will be exonerated.

Do this. Go to a place foreign to your experience. Become a strip mall explorer. This week I wandered into a violin shop with no musical ability, history, or cultural touchstone beyond fiddles bowed wildly in the bluegrass dive bars of my youth. It was an empty midday and the owner, with nothing else to do, generously gave me a tour of each gleaming wood grained femme oiled with care. Violins from Norway with carved dragon heads like Viking longships. Body-less practice violins whose strings could only whisper notes. Violins the size of my hand meant for toddlers. He played a Stroh violin with its tin horn amplifier while telling stories of European street musicians long dead. I learned about horsehair strings, and the best rosin. Each instrument was its own handmade creature. The owner glowed; consumed with his singular passion. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t there to buy. I listened with genuine interest, and that is all anyone truly wants- to be heard and matter. I left serene, if envious that I will never have such a sole obsession in my life. My magpie mind roams to learn. It drifts to catalogue souvenirs and stories that glimmered.

 “There has to be an imaginary point, a  non-place, where language intercepts with our concepts of time and space. And he is a stranger at this crossing without words or bearings.”

Don DeLillo The Body Artist 

One of the books I read this week that I can’t recommend enough is Don DeLillo’s surrealist short novel The Body Artist. In such a brief work it strikingly interweaves questions of time, reality, consciousness, being, gender, memory, and art. It is one of the few books I’ve read twice this year, and I still feel as if there is so much there to mine.

My own writing is going well. The new novel is advancing with care. I am also line-editing my punk rock coming-of-age novel Dream Kids before its next full content edit. Punk rock is a hall pass; an invitation to devolve into the gross kids we were and love in memory. Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” becomes The Cramps “Naked Girl Falling down the Stairs.” We need dumb fun. We need to play. We need to remember to forget.

Read this:

Don DeLillo The Body Artist

 Listen to this:

Sloppy Seconds “You’ve Got a Great Body, but Your Records Collection Sucks”

Niccolo’ Paganini “Caprice for Solo Violin, Op.1 No. 4”

Bohemia Lost 8/6/2020

Bohemia Lost

For the last few weeks I have lost control of my dreams. They are too consuming; vivid as waking life.  Scenes heavy with symbols lead me through timelines, unlived but concrete. Shipwrecks. Empty highways. Cramped foreign apartment; the bed unmade. I see fingers woven into mudras, sweating in the Empty Quarter. Signs from a deaf language. They spring me awake at four in the morning. I could blame the flood endogenous DMT, or believe they are prophecies. But neither satisfies. There are messages I am failing to decypher. 

Even in daytime living I can’t help but think about dreams, both the Morpheus plays I remember and the aspirations I once clung too. The taxonomy of what to be. When I imagined being a writer I felt molded to be one of the broken ones who watched the world with orphan eyes. A blue-collar writer like Raymond Carver, escaping the orchards and processing plants of Yakima to return to it always. A beaten down poet like Kerouac shivering in a Colorado railyard, paperback tucked in his too thin workman’s jacket. A bohemian wander like Rilke desperate to be loved, only to die in the arms of his doctor in a sanatorium. 

The last seems least possible now. There is no pause for honest communion. In his life Rilke traveled near destitute across Europe where he met Tolstoy and Pasternak, Nietzche and Rodin. The image of the Bohemian artist, ever journeying to meet his own has been replaced by the immediacy of digital interactions that last no longer than a wink, a wave of the hand. But how can you know another’s art, their heart, if you haven’t heard their voice, eaten their food, or shared their drink? In my bohemian dreams artists would crash on each others’ couches, share work penciled fast onto lined paper, and sing until the streetlights fell dark one at a time. This was romance. And romance, like our highest prayers, is a phenomena of the mind. 

I dream of Lou Andreas-Salome. The forgotten muse who inspired Rilke and Nietzche, who was the center of the mandala from which poets and sculptors leafed and spiraled. The first female psychoanalyst, a prolific author, and a woman who demanded freedom despite the rules of society and the offerings of orchestrals and poetry. For this much is true: no mass movement of creation was ever sparked without the gravity of a woman. Men are too lost, too child at heart, to found a tide of wonder alone. Lou Andreas-Salome. You broke so many hearts, and now a century past, we know how best to break our own.

Listen to this

Friedrich Nietzsche “Hymnus an das Leben”

Read this

Rainier Maria Rilke “To Lou Andreas-Salome”

Watch this

Anais Nin “Talks about Lou Andreas Salome”

Will We Make Beautiful Fossils?

7/30/2020

This question comes from Mark O’Connell’s new book Notes from an Apocalypse . In it he explores contemporary apocalyptic movements from prepper forums to blockchain billionaires working to found a world ruled by autonomous “cognitive elites,” and more. Though the poet Rumi offers that we should bow to each crowd of sorrows as divine messengers it is difficult to wake every day and search for shining horizons. Especially in a time when we all dream of shipwrecks.

I am looking forward to beginning the edits on my novel Dream Kids which will be out in 2022 from Vine Leaves Press. I haven’t looked at the manuscript in more than four years, so it will be strange to go back into that old mind. What we write become souvenirs of former selves; mile markers counting distance covered and ahead. My current project is coming along slower than I would like, but any progress is a reward.

“Not waving / but drowning.”- Vic Chestnutt

This summer has given me time to run and be in my body. It has given me time to read more than I have in years. For the last week I’ve been catching up on graphic novels. They’re one of my favorite forms of storytelling since they demand action and immediacy.

The Sanskrit word for “mind” encapsulates both consciousness and emotions. It feels more true, like a tenant from Rilke’s Church in the East.

“Security is mostly superstition.”- Helen Keller

I hope you are all well. Go outside. There are still dogs and flowers waiting there, and a sun above. We don’t have to turn to stone just yet.

Read this

“Somewhere to the East There’s a Church” -Rilke

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies Ed Brubaker

Listen to this

“Stevie Smith” Vic Chestnutt

Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die changed the way I eat. In this interview he shares insights into the current global pandemic from his previous work.

“How to Survive a Pandemic” Michael Greger Rich Roll Podcast

Try this

Phase Six is one of my current favorite movement practices. I have included a link to a sample flow below, and if you want more follow @steph.rose.phase6 on Instagram.

Phase Six flow

Fractured Latin Heart 07/09/20

I love Latin: the way it cords our language back to common ancestor, how it comes in slivers while fluency escapes. For the last few weeks it has visited me one word at a time like sunlight filtered and fractured through a triple-canopy of concern. Lip and tongue placed to breath forgotten notes inked on the mother bar of time. Sounds I can’t pronounce drift softly over my mind like a quilt, patch-worked and familiar, to remind that the heart precedes mind.

The English word “nature” comes from the Latin word “natura” which means “birth”, and ultimately from “nasci” which means “to be born.” Thus English words like “natal” and “nascent.” Latin marks our birth in nature. I spend most of my time in the wild to be in my heart– to be home.

In his book Blue Mind Wallace Nichols talks about biophelia: the peace that covers us when we return to the world in which we lived for most of all of our 300,000 years of existence. 

Primitive tribes to classical societies have held the essential soul, the beacon of being, rests in the heart.

I feed my heart outdated college rock and single-album punk mystics. I feed it paperbacks and facts. I take it on long runs in the woods, then push it to climb trees barefoot.

 In Science of the Heart Vol 1., researchers concluded that studies proved the heart, with its 40,000 independent neurons, had a mind of its own that communicates with the brain, “…influencing information processing, perception, emotions and health.” James N. Kirby reached to the same conclusion when, in Frontiers in Public Health in 2014, he states that, “The evolution of mammalian caregiving involving hormones such as oxytocin, vasopressin and the myelinated vagal nerve as part of the ventral parasympathetic system, enables humans to connect, co-regulate each other’s emotions and create pro-sociality.” In short, that our hearts shape ourselves and others through the neuro-magnetic field.

I am free when I return to my “ferus” or “feral” self. J.G. Ballard writes about this neuronic memory in The Drowned World. It pulses through particle exchange theory; the more one is in contact with any other force or mass the more he or she becomes it and it becomes them. Wild bleeds into wild. Salvation is cellular.

I have given up on fighting for self-discipline. Instead, each day I wrestle loose from ambitions to control. Some scientists argue that self-discipline is finite. They theorize that practicing self-discipline alone, denying our wants to adhere to our goals, results in “ego-depletion” and a dangerous loss of control. 

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy is inescapable in a closed set. But pressure can only build to the limits of density before it expands into creation. This is one of the “fundamenta” of physics, a “valorem” of art, and the “promissum” coded in every human heart. Rip it up, and start again.

Download this

I’ve read, or listened to, over sixty books this year. I have used Kindle and Audible without giving any money to Amazon. Instead I’ve used this app to support my local library system. It’s wonderful, and available for both Apple and Android devices.

Libbyapp.com

Listen to this

Sparks “Eaten by the Monster of Love”

Read this

Consilience Journal: Issue 1

Maria Popova “Why the Scientific Method is Like Love”

On Ego and Archetypes 7/1/2020

On Ego and Archetypes

7/1/2020

On May 20th, 1937 George Orwell was shot through the neck. The bullet missed his carotid artery by a centimeter. He had come to Spain to fight fascism filled with what he termed “oversimplification,” and was fortunate to both avoid bleeding to death and to escape back to England. As he already suffered from tuberculosis before being shot it would take him a year to recover. Another twelve years would pass before he wrote 1984. But by the end of his life he became an icon of the twentieth century writer: passionate but broken, a survivor of his own recklessness, and masculine wit edged with performance. Like so many other dorm room heroes his image imprinted itself on my naive English-major heart in smoked sepia tones, an archetype for the romantic loss that came with a life in words.

This summer I have failed at every writing goal I have set. Trying to say something that matters to another human being is painful. This is not unique. All writers love the have done over the doing; the ascent over the climb. The fear of writing doesn’t come from the threat of being a mind exposed and imperfect on the page. It is born from the unspoken threat that one’s naked soul is, in the end, boring and all too common. The writer’s block we create is the search for the right way to say___ staked to the terror of it not meaning much in the end either way. Even our moderating, realistic Freudian egos fail to trust the next line makes a difference.

The Jungian authorial archetypes who informed my sense of what it means to be a writer never had the chance to indulge in metaphysical torpor though. Most were journalists who had to write to make a living. The chaos of crushing authoritarianism, of the moral and right beaten in the streets, and the terror of a world spiraling apart was ever-present. But they marched on, and hit the keys before they collapsed into one more try. There is a lesson in that I am trying to learn with so much in my life out of my control right now. This fall I could be in Roswell, New Mexico or Imperial, California or a dozen other places or nowhere. But I can control the next key I hit. And that is an “auspicious beginning” as the lead in Five Easy Pieces says. And the smallest do-overs can soothe the teeth marks on our hearts.


Today I signed the publishing contract for my punk rock coming-of-age novel Dream Kids. It will be released in March 2022 from Vine Leaves Press. It’s been four years since that book first tried to find its place in the world. Four years that I spent longing and thinking too much sublimed this morning with the invitation of a fresh auspicious beginning.

Read this
George Orwell “Why I Write”

Listen to this
Miles Davis “Blue in Green”
Samuel Barber “Adagio for Strings”

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”