Friday, October 29, 2010

you can't step into the same river once

oh, i tried, but even before i dipped my toe the pattern on the surface of the water had changed, and the drop i missed once flowed through caesar's veins. though the amount of water in the world limited and every molecule from the past in our glass, it's hard to find within us what matters most.

i'm always surprised by my answer. i pop to the top of a volcano in bali, i carry bricks of coal down into my half-basement berlin room, i look up in new dehli to see sign-makers hanging from high scaffolding to build a billboard. yes, travel seems to be the only thing i've done for myself alone, and these private memories make me feel i've lived, even as i know they will die with me.

everything else seems to have been a performance for parents, teachers, lovers, even the enemies. the reference lies outside myself. poetry, plays, speeches before crowds, the efforts at love in bed - none of it was mine.

i was reminded of this last nite, watching a traveling troop from bali. in 1958 i heard my first gamelan instrument at a ucla arts festival. later in santa cruz i stumbled into ethno-musicology and banged those brass plates myself. once i moved to chico, i found numerous dancers traveling to bali to study. it wet my appetite.

as usual, i didn't study a map. belatedly, i found jakarta a thousand miles from the island. a minaret woke me up in the middle of the night. i felt part of a cia plot. my first asian taste. a train and boat-ride after, i watched brightly dressed women carrying towering offerings of fruit on their head. the first thrill remains the best.

the music of every village differed, raw except for the tourist performances. the garbage in the ditches impressed me. and the howling dogs. monkeys, i hate to say it, are nasty creatures. dirt paths, frogs in the rice paddies, ducks quacking, dead bodies burned on a pyre. though i followed the tourist track, my adventures felt raw.

and that's the point. when i watched the beautifully choreographed dance last nite, i could feel it as a polished diamond. no, i didn't feel disappointed. i'd suffered enough of cock-fights and flies. i knew where this jewel came from and appreciated the mystery behind it, the placing of offerings, the bowing before buddhas, the half-dressed women washing in muddy water.

the mystery i took away, how had i done it, the himalayas rising up before my eyes and the newlyweds, strangers to each other, walking tentatively by the lakes? perhaps life is an arranged marriage after all.

here are a few bali pictures:

Monday, October 25, 2010

books can illuminate your life

i put it that way, rather than change your life because to do that you must do something differently, or as ramana maharshi sad, 'put one thing in practice.' to merely understand is not enough.

one book did change the way i behaved, or so i thought:

when helping you is hurting me: escaping the messiah trap by carmen renee berry

ever since i can remember i've been sensitive to the emotional disturbances of young women. it's no secret why: my mother ill much of the time when i was young, or as a therapist told me, 'your mother and sister trained you well to take care of women.'

ach, a sword in my side. i tried so many times! and ultimately experienced enormous frustration. berry's book showed me how that probably happened, my mother used me as a confidant from a young age. this overwhelms the child with the desire to resolve a situation in which he/she powerless.

great, i stopped, or so i thought, until eva caught me offguard by the psychic upheavals caused by her mother's death. (thank heavens, she's dived into therapy with professionals and taken the burden off me.) yet, i am not incapable of helping when i can do so practically. my youngest sister called last week with her woes, mostly physical, the arthritis in her thumbs so bad everything she does painful. not only that, a cop set her up with a false dui and losing her license, she hasn't been able to make a living.

well, brother messiah kicked in. she said she couldn't do all the things she likes to do: write, cook, play the guitar, or sew. hmm, i thought, a bit of money will solve that. i've sent her a bunch of new stuff: a laptop and accessories, a dulcimer with music and a book how to play it (look, ma, no thumbs), a pair of electric scissors and an electric knife. i also did research on thumb-splints and found dozens made for her situation.

yes, i did do some legal research. unfortunately, legal aid can't deal with the department of motor vehicles, an empire onto itself. disability turned her down the first time, but the doctor adamant about her need and going after it again. she's behind in rent. i'm hoping assembling all her friends (she has hundreds) on facebook and writing blogs on the dmv will get her help.

am i a sucker or not? i don't think so. trying to motivate a person to take care of herself is one thing, giving tools to a motivated person another. my sister ultimately very feisty. i'm sure she'll succeed. i'll host a blog or two from her when she gets round to it.

other books i definitely recommend: the doors of perception by aldous huxley. he answers why people crave drugs. mescalin is his answer to alcohol. we harbor the extreme desire to really experience the presence about us in all its glory.

flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. this book will give you the means to happiness, how being absorbed in a task can transport you. lots and lots of examples.

and one i revisited a little while ago: doctor Zhivago by boris pasternak, as i browsed at barnes & noble. a new translation out and i spent time comparing it to the first and ended up hating the new one, its choppy, unpoetic style. you can see pictures of my visit to pasternak's house with two russian poets beginning here:

i'd sequestered vodka and three glasses in my pack. as we sat in the snow by pasternak's grave, i pulled them out. we drank a toast to the poet and i asked them to recite a couple of his poems in russian. one of my favorites:

"A candle burned on the table,

A candle burned on the table..."

his book turned me to poetry and i've never gotten over the passion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

retro abend (we never see things the same way twice)

god is in the details. i suppose that says almost everything. alas, i'm coming to fire season's end tomorrow. at least a hundred days up here and now many of them seem the same. that's how life becomes dust!

i do know how to slow myself down. one of the ways is to read haiku. absurd? here's one by buson:

In the aging house

the crooked door being straightened,

a spring-like summer day.

i swear if you read these for half an hour, you'll look up and notice little things in the room as if they were significant. not only that, you will have relaxed and slowed down. here's one by the joker issa:


through a telescope:

ten cents worth of fog.

another way of possibly becoming present is photographing. here's what my favorite photographer bill brandt says:

"It is part of the photographer's job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveller who enters a strange country."

of course, there's the joke about tourists who snap, snap, and snap, saying "I'll see the country and people when I get home." one mustn't be too eager to stop the present. after all, a photograph one split-second in the continuum of change.

ah, and then stopping to smell the flowers. everytime i go to the university rose garden and bend over a yellow beauty, i'm transported to the present. (the yellow seem to have the most magnificent smell.)

and what slows me down most of all? a walk on the beach, waves crashing, wind howling, and the gulls crying. i'll do that as soon as i can. i've grown too used to the mountain-top, the shock of recognition gone.

i have taken a few more photos. the retro abend:

and a last fiery look at my firetower:

you see how different the same scenes and objects can look.

i've also posted a selected poems: i actually feel i'll stand or fall by the poetry.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

how to be an artist in a perverse world?

after two years in europe as an army brat, i arrived in the philidelphia train station. the noise overwhelmed me. the hustle and bustle set my nerves on edge. what was this insane place with billboards blinding the eyes?

that was 1956. europe's changed. america's gotten worse. if the artist's job to keep all the pores open, the ears wide, and the eyes piercing, how can he or she survive this cacophony?

van gogh cut off his ear. i suspect here he would have cut off both of them and plugged up his nose with lavender. creative folks have a reputation for madness. now you know why. it's nothing personal.

as you know, i climb to a mountain-top every summer. above the foetid air of the valley, my lungs can recover. of course, i take lots of meds and supplements. L-tyrosine, folic acid, different kinds of fish oil, all boosted by prozac and welbutrin.

why do i have to? this is the land of the dysfunctional family. that means most people by no means equipped to become parents. too young, their tempers fray at having children. every adult becomes a time-bomb when it comes to kids. o sure, we dote on them when they're two and somebody else's. the wise elders realize birthing babies extends their nervous system into an independent body. what hurts it destroys them and they've no control.

these semi-robots absorb sugar like alcohol! they speed up and bounce around the room like atoms gone mad. and my point: these the painters, writers, and photographers to be. high-wired how can they be open to the music of spheres as well as the incessant white noise of the highway?

personally, i sleep with ear-plugs. at least i can hear what inner rhythms i have, though the ringing i have in my ear from being slapped by a girlfriend never leaves. our civilization only values what be can be measured. silence has a weird way of escaping us.

new pictures: