Friday, April 26, 2013

"Don't try to be great, just be solid."

for the life of me, i can't remember where i read that. it hit me on the head like a falling brick. my mother ingrained the first part, and i've spent a lifetime trying to achieve the second. no, you don't have to be a genius, rather knowledgeable. having acquired the habit from my grandfather, i'll file this with my collection of sayings. i don't look at them very often, in order not to humiliate myself. still, maybe i'll discover a bit of wisdom to change me for the better. let's see, in the last couple weeks: 

The worst thing: to be trapped inside of one of your own creations. 

We die every night when we go to sleep. 

Be quotable.

Hire the best writer.

Since I could do nothing but perfection, I did little.

The way to happiness: enjoy the pain.

The best thing you can do for yourself: find a mentor.

If you can't tell your truth in one short sentence, forget it.

Life is a gamble you lose. 

Everybody has the ability to build a better mousetrap.

We're complicated enough to be unique.

I wish winning lasted as long as losing.

Even a child prodigy has a knack for something that already exists.

As long as enough crumbs fall under the table, I'm fine.

The person you love is 72.8% water.

Theoretically, we wouldn't miss someone we never knew. 

In the end I have a lot of hunches, but few certainties. 

When a person dies, a library is lost.

We start out knowing everything and end up knowing nothing.

We act as if our personal likes and dislikes were really important.

If you turn the other cheek, guard it with a sword.

Don't try to do everything, try to do nothing, it's harder.

They talk about the 'mind' as though it exists. 

Only give up a vice if it's not what you live for.

If I'm a demon here on earth, there is no need to fear the hereafter.

Never trust a naked man with your overcoat. 

The weakness of individualism: we can only love our own children.

To change the world, I would have everyone love children, ALL children,

i am addicted to reading and writing these:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

we honor luck far to little

yes, i'm shocked to realize i and my friends feel we deserve what we've got, that in some way we've earned it, either through hard work or perfect virtue. i don't know where this delusion comes from. perhaps from a lack of experience in the world, certainly from a lack of the ability to put ourselves in other people's shoes, especially people so strange as those living on the streets of calcutta, or wearing loincloths in the jungles of borneo. 

of course, i may have this disease simply because where i've been born: california, usa. here all of us assume if we haven't lost our jobs, we've defeated the fear every american has of losing it. that prospect we live with, the downside of individualism and personal freedom. inhabiting a free-fall society, i don't usually admit how far i can fall. what if i'd hit those kids in the berkeley crosswalk, as it began snowing and my brakes didn't work? yes, i can take credit for quick thinking, stopping myself with a  turn to the right into a light-pole. otherwise, i'd be rotting in prison for manslaughter and full of regret and sadness for all these years.

hah, did i earn my quick thinking? no. for whatever reason, i've been given it. jees, when i consider so many other fates, i wonder how i've survived, and there's only one reason: luck, luck, luck. how many times i've fallen asleep at the wheel, fallen down steps, not looking both ways when i should have! of course, i could say, 'i have a guardian angel. i'm doing good work in the world, and the divine saving the best for last.' hah, again. this merely means i see myself as 'a chosen one.' and i can't help but realize this in nonsense.

what's the consequence of believing we deserve affluence, education, new cars, 52 inch tv screens? i mean, all the terrors of the world come through the latter. we see people die everyday, we witness floods and poverty, hurricanes and loss.  alas, it seems to do us no damn good, not as long as we're comfortable. tragedy, can open our eyes, but not necessarily. we lose, say, a loved one to drugs. do we have sympathy for the addicted, or do we blame them for corrupting our child? i dare say the second takes precedence. or again, we can say, 'god moves in mysterious ways.' it may help our pain, without helping anyone else's.

what's the cure for my mortifying, saintly state? to realize luck rules the world. does this mean i'll help the unlucky, maybe a little bit? i suppose it could. at the same time it could simply make me more afraid, grasping, self-centered, selfish, i don't know. is it possible to change an inner conviction? only experience, i suspect, can do it for the lucky few. 

this prefaces a play i adapted and acted in, many years ago: 
 'the metamorphosis of franz kafka.'

Saturday, April 20, 2013

on being, becoming, and overdoing it


i'm chagrined. it's not the first time. i talked about myself way too much, telling many things i'd never told anyone. now, of course, i'm embarrassed. being old, you should be wise, exclaimed one of king lear's nasty daughters. alas, it really doesn't seem to work that way. i know better than to reveal the soul and overwhelm a listener with personal details. who wants to hear them, really?as they say, i forgot myself, even while elucidating an autobiography. of course, i know the truth can never be told. any honesty about ourselves a distortion. 

i guess that's a good example of overdoing it. the source, to impress, the explosion of latent ambition. along with most people, i believe i can become somebody. fat chance. the most i can do is amplify what i've been given, broadcast it as though something totally new in the world. can i really be a creative person without feeling i'm a god? after all, poetry the short-hand of heaven, love and death on the same plane, a cryptic translation of a canonical text, a successful reduction of our dualistic language to the one-celled creature we once were, swimming in the brine. 

actually, i need to celebrate my tutor from college who recently died, jack gilbert. here are a couple of articles:

he certainly was stubborn, in a good and inspiring way, i think. 

and that brings me back to being. i discovered the other day, feeling like i could just sit still and soak up nature for the rest of my life, basically doing nothing,  i felt like a fully-grown man, a most unusual state-of-being! unfortunately, it didn't last. my nervous energy asserted itself, the searcher, the explorer, the person who's always believed he'd find the truth of existence somewhere, in a movie, a book, a guru, the bad cat of ambition bristling. 

okay, i have had a realization. a life without romance a dead, meaningless one. going thru old love letters, i understood those encounters enlivened me, brought out the spontaneous and foolish child, who enjoyed being totally ridiculous and off the wall, emotionally over the top, blinded by the glitter and sweep of goddesses. settling down cost me my vision, my willingness to be uncomfortable. no wonder i could throw out a truck-load of diaries kept in this town. 

as everyone knows, circulation, of all kinds, the key to a vibrant existence, and nothing sends the blood pumping like the wonderful illusion of love. not true love, certainly, where you encourage the best in a mate, rather an attempt at ecstasy, doomed to fail and be revived with someone else who seems descended from olympus, until i see the human being (disappointed) inside. since the soul-mate may never arrive, at least i've suffered the touch of magic,  to feel i've lived and have the will to go on, to try again, even though the odds of the house are all on its side. 

Searching For Pittsburgh

The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.
Goes deeper, searching for what remains of Pittsburgh
in me. The rusting mills sprawled gigantically
along three rivers. The authority of them.
The gritty alleys where we played every evening were
stained pink by the inferno always surging in the sky,
as though Christ and the Father were still fashioning the Earth.
Locomotives driving through the cold rain,
lordly and bestial in their strength. Massive water
flowing morning and night throughout a city
girded with ninety bridges. Sumptuous-shouldered,
sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable.
All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted grace.
A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit.
Primitive Pittsburgh. Winter month after month telling
of death. The beauty forcing us as much as harshness.
Our spirits forged in that wilderness, our minds forged
by the heart. Making together a consequence of America.
The fox watched me build my Pittsburgh again and again.
In Paris afternoons on Buttes-Chaumont. On Greek islands
with their fields of stone. In beds with women, sometimes,
amid their gentleness. Now the fox will live in our ruined
house. My tomatoes grow ripe among weeds and the sound
of water. In this happy place my serious heart has made.
Jack Gilbert
and more flowers:

Monday, April 1, 2013

a few miniutes of enlightenment are okay, but do you really want to miss everything else?

i live by epiphanies, brief vacations in nirvana, everything absolutely clear: what i want to do, be, and the world very vivid. an example might be driving down a highway in france, my girlfriend at the wheel, she's taking allergy pills and easily becomes unfocused. for a fraction of a second, she skims the grass on the shoulder of the road and overcompensates, spinning us out of control. all time slows down, i'm very firmly saying, 'steer into the skid, steer into the skid.' we come to a stop in the middle of the road and people peek out of their houses to see if we're dead.

yes, it's moments like that, moments in war, moments in love, moments in the middle of an examination by the angel gabriel when you're trying to wangle your way into heaven after a dissolute life. absolute clarity exists, and since i've been reborn, i could read the bible for whatever religion i've discovered for the rest of my life. and every time i turn the insight down. i don't really want an answer for everything, yet i will make decisions based on such moments. 

one time at lake tahoe, the powers that be decided i need to move to a lookout on the north shore. i resisted inwardly. i liked where i was at angora, south shore, where i sat above alpine lake and looked up into desolation wilderness, my kind of place. concurrently, i read the tarot cards in those days. and looking for a sign, i visited the new location, nobody around. in the garage, over a desk used by the fire crew, someone had pinned up the fool from the tarot deck. i took it as a sign to take a chance and make the move. and no, i never regretted it, sad to leave four years later for my present post. 

this is an insane way to live. what about a career, certainty, saving the money to buy a plot in the chico cemetery? i'm defenseless, unable to make a fortress of my possessions: house, family, children. a mystical existence, of sorts, or an uncanny careless one. approaching the infirmities of old age, i still won't make a decision without seeing a sign. today i reached my deadline: everything i own capable of being loaded on one half-ton pickup. true, the passenger seat wouldn't have room for a companion. so be it, i'll swerve down the highway alone. 

and perhaps that's been my attachment to the novel doctor zhivago and the poems at the end. the hero constantly veers this way and that across the wild ocean of life by a turn of the wheel. in fact, i think he has a poem called 'epiphany'. it does refer to something in christianity which i've totally blanked out. on the other hand, the everyday definition will suffice. 

                                The streetlights are like butterflies of gas.
                                The morning has flicked us with it's first chill. 
                                That which I am telling you is so much like
                                The far-off vistas now plunged in sleep. 

                                 You and I are in the grasp
                                 Of precisely that timid devotion to a mystery
                                 Which holds St. Petersburg, spread like 
                                                      a panorama
                                 Beyond the unecompassable Neva. 

maybe that's why i can't focus on anything but taking photographs. on the way back from my last book trip to berkeley, i swung off the interstate into a town called maxwell, ironically my father's middle name and where he pastorized the little methodist church, me one-year-old. a grainy photo showed me standing up in a baby-carriage with a strange house behind, two stories, a screened in porch above and below. i wandered around snapping pics. everybody i heard spoke spanish and the catholic church of a monumental size. alas, the protestants must have given up, and i was about to, when i turned a corner. another church. ah, methodist, and beside it the parsonage i knew pictured in the photo seventy-two years ago. EPIPHANY!