Monday, November 26, 2012

the advantages of putting your house in order

as my friend susie passed through the living room to get the gun off her recently deceased stepfather's wall, her aged mother counting something on her fingers, to shoot herself, all she could think about was the closet she hadn't cleaned. so, the first advantage would be not putting  a rifle-barrel in my mouth, even if i survived, as susie did. of course, part of this was my fault. i'd recommended she read life after life by ... she expected the singing of angels, "and all i felt was the incredible violence." alas, she ignored the parts in the book describing attempted suicides. 

with the help of prozac i've survived so far. that said, my rented storage space a jumble. true, i'd put most things in boxes, yet having, among other things, one hundred and twenty of them books i wasn't reading made me feel guilty, like i should know everything in them. before leaving the lookout and mountains on a beautiful october day, i had wished all i owned could be packed into the pickup. perhaps i desired to shed the weight of memory? 

at any rate, lady luck smiled on me. a friend bravely opening a used bookstore in berkeley. so far i've taken her eighty boxes of books, these forty still to go. don't they look neatly piled? what a relief, down to mostly the self-help and psychology books in which i've underlined too heavily. (looking at them, i despair: how little i learned.) 

in a second space i've taken everything out except  boxes of notebooks, photographs, diaries, recordings of talks and readings. it's a bit tempting to toss the whole shebang into the ocean, but then i would be searching for a pistol. nobody else may be interested in them, but i'll be out of here and won't notice. as i've said, i'm here and then i'm gone, the means of passage irrelevant. like most of us i don't enjoy pain. hopefully, i won't even notice. 

going through photos and scrapbooks, i've put a few memories in order. i'm pleased i once had a physical life: swimming, football, trips with the boy scouts, hayrides with girls. i'm feeling awfully lethargic and sedentary these days, allowing my body to sag, even as i buy toys to help me exercise. after trips to the dumpster and the thrift store, selling the first three of my expensive camera lenses last night, i'm suddenly feeling like things are manageable. 

i may not have enough possessions to shore up a sense of identity. the keeper of my storage space says, 'the drug addicts often come to simply look at their stuff.' i can understand that. i have created myself through what my mother called 'consumer therapy.' how much fun to spend money! eventually, like all who live long enough, i don't want to be buried like an ancient egyptian pharaoh with food and jewels for the journey to never-never land. maybe if i lighten the load enough by april 1, 2013, i can take a real-world journey. 

speaking of journeys, here's an account of one we made in 1951 across the united states: 

and here are a few of the scraps i've mentioned:

and each of us individually eventually experiences the end of the world: 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

the stony path of an empiricist

after listening to a dozen lectures on voltaire and being another ten into a series on the 17th century enlightenment, a light bulb has gone off in my head.  i've discovered i'm an empiricist. this, i suppose, is something like being a pragmatist. what could help me (and others) live better, my personal quest. and i've become convinced a lot of modern thought and theory only confuses the true issue. 

for example, what if the unconscious doesn't exist? so much of our present life dominated by this idea: we're driven by forces buried so deep in us we keep colliding with our 'conscious' desires. the russian poet boris pasternak said, "psychology invented so we'd think we'd know what's going on." hah, and the whole premise is we don't know what's going on. if we dig into the depths - our dreams, our slips of tongue - we can gain control over our actions. false assumption, alas! 

my empiricist proposal is basically buddha's, though i certainly don't consider myself a follower. awareness, not some invisible self, will clear the way. of course, i want to deny it, more satisfied to believe my life out of control, not subject to true knowledge. pragmatically, i realize i always know what's going on, but i pick which stimuli i'll pay attention to. quoting susan m. weinschenk, author of one hundred thing every designer needs to know about people, 

We're faced with an overwhelming amount of data (millions of pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can't process all of it. The unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time.

unfortunately, she uses the evil words conscious and unconscious. i would rather say, we go on automatic pilot, making decisions according to how we've decided before. in other words, i'm stuck in a rut most of the time, by choice and laziness. rather than be aware, which is pretty scary and takes work, i simply let 2 and 2 equal 4, not acknowledging  this is completely arbitrary. that's how i'm submitting to history, personal and social. 

the empiricist in me cautions me. it declares, "you can be aware of everything around you, and in moments of extreme violence, that awareness kicks in to help your survival. ie. the way everything slows down during a traffic accident, a common experience. time slows down, now becomes all, what the zen folks call enlightenment." when i unfocus my eyes or quit listening to a particular sound, i can see from the soles of my feet and the back of my head, an orchestra of natural instruments accompanying  in the background.

to quote oscar wilde, everything is on the surface, stay away from the depths. i suspect it's most helpful to think of ourselves as a 'personality' born with certain tendencies, which then adapt to the world. this means 'the self' is within grasp. of course, i could be accused of behaviorism. no, i'm declaring, we always have a choice, we pick a way on the path every moment. 

One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.
Love truth, but pardon error.
It is better to risk sparing a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.
Common sense is not so common.
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do. (Voltaire)Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.
This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
Where lies friendship, there is one's homeland.
Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.
All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women.
Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.
As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities. (Voltaire)
Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time. (Voltaire, ESSAI SUR LES MOEURS ET L’ESPRIT DES NATIONS, 1756)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

how do you know when your work is done?

i must confess i've been very satisfied to do nothing creative in the past two weeks since leaving the lookout. this summer i enjoyed the day before my days off because i dedicated it to cleaning house, loading up the truck, packing the laundry. i closed down the computer by noon. what a relief! no pictures to work with, no snow-white pages to fill. i abandoned the effort of digging into my past, my psyche, and blackening  the blank page. 

yes, i find it so much easier to simply shuffle my stuff around. for 14 days i've been going through boxes and tossing bags-full  of papers, taking cameras and gadgets to the local jewish thrift store. they provide a free, walk-in health clinic once a month, so that produces something concrete. a new, never-used electric guitar and  a synthesizer keyboard. more manila envelopes than i could count. 

as for the storage spaces i rent: a hundred and twenty boxes of books going to a friend starting a used bookstore in berkeley. (two trips completed, two to go). everything not packed in boxes, like the musical instruments, had to be cast out. true, i've a whole wall of manuscripts, notebooks, letters, memorabilia. to tackle that i need a bit more courage. forty years of writing, ten of taking a million pictures a years, mementos of travel in forty countries, not to mention the laden army-lockers once belonging to my father. 

so, here i sit. yesterday, i spent the whole day rifling through boxes of camera equipment, getting them organized for a future sale. the rabid picture-making of the past decade seems to be waning. why take another photo when i already have one like it? and as for writing a poem, i've kept a couple thousand from the past. repeating myself has never been fun, the reason i couldn't become a teacher.

ah, i have realized: there is no good ending for an artist. all the pleasure has been in the work and the process the first love. which leaves out children, most people's true legacy. it is a risky business. death, drug-addiction, failure can dog the kids, eliminating your gift to the future. yet, when it works out, the parents can say, 'i've done my bit.' and they can putter in the backyard with a clear conscience. in fact, anything taking a lot of effort and concentration hardly seems worth it. their time has passed them by.

last night i watched a documentary of the intellectual life of new york in the fifties. i passed through in 1954, retaining scars on my face to this day from hitting the bottom of the swimming pool in the st. george hotel. hmm, i wonder where that picture of me standing in front of the statue of liberty with bandages on my upper lip and forehead might be? showing off for my mother again, leaping off the high-dive. is that what it finally all adds up to?