Friday, May 29, 2009

What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night,

cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible perfectly innocent speech,
the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes
by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses
everywhere in the hollows! Nobody started it, nobody is going
to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as
it talks I am going to listen.
--Thomas Merton

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
--T.S. Eliot

More wonderful, inspiring, tuning-fork, centering words
on gardening & sitting & working in gardens...
Quotes for Gardeners

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

One foot in this strange world, one foot in another even stranger world.

Isn't that a mysterious, unsettling place to live?

Although it's possible to find a wild serenity
in the most insecure of circumstances.

For example, I've been reading Kafka again lately,
which can be a dangerous thing to do
because it causes me to see things in a way
that doesn't help me fit in at all.

Have you read "Bartleby the Scrivener,"
a story by Melville? It's about a man who
suddenly "prefers" to not do anything. Why
is such a small quiet story so compelling, so

Or "The Hunger Artist," a story by
Kafka, about a man who dies unnoticed
next to a caged & prowling panther that
captivates the crowd.

Those are not happy stories, but they awaken
something in me that knows this world is
incurably strange. Knowing that others
(others as finely tuned as Kafka & Melville)
see a similarly odd world is itself is a kind of
happiness, oddly.

The way most people view this world and our place in it is
not quite right, not quite true. Something's
missing. Many people leave something out,
or won't or can't take that one step back and one step
to the side
which changes everything, brings everything
into vivid focus, but more mysterious than ever.

I went through a lot of relationships
until I stumbled miraculously into the one I'm in now.
I could say all those other relationships
crashed and burned, or fizzled, but
I believe that nothing in love is wasted.
Graduated from the University of Broken Hearts
& Bungled Opportunities. I wouldn't have been ready
for this if I hadn't been squeezed through the eyes of the needles
of the others first, painful and maddening and shameful
as they felt when they went bad,
when I did my large part to make them go bad.

That's what I gather, that in the midst of the alien
world a natural
process is gliding & grinding away--in relationships,
work, writing, learning to
love, simplifying, dying--sometimes with the horrible things
that happen in nature, and behind the scenes
the supernatural story rolling along
whether I know it or like it or believe it or not.

Not a good written word is wasted either.
This is how foolish I am--
I believe, for example, that the plays I've written
that haven't been performed
will be performed in Heaven,
and I'll cast every part just the way I
want for once.

Oh, reason is a wonderful thing,
like an ocean liner,
but when you get to the shore, it can make locomotion
very clumsy if you try to take the ocean liner with you
as you navigate the new medium, land.

After a certain point, there more reasonable
means of mindfulness than reason, more
perceptive, flexible, trustworthy, lighter
to take with me in that little rucksack as the road
on the shore begins rolling inland.

So, all I am saying is, tonight I met a man
who has been in 20 mental hospitals.
He was very hard to talk to
because he was all over the lot. I couldn't
get my bearings, because if things had gone just a
degree different here or there I could have easily been him.
When he twice started to talk about shame the tears
just rolled down
his face both times and he started to walk away
but I wouldn't let him,
because that was all I could do.
I asked him if he could pray, and he said
he was too ashamed. He was ashamed because he
had done many awful things
that were bad for himself and others, and the
thought of facing God in prayer shone a light on his shame
and he couldn't
stand it.

I remember reading in a gnostic gospel (Thomas?) something
about how when I feel that I'm farthest
from God, that that is when I'm
most near God of all.
How when I feel that God could not possibly want
anything to do with me because I am
a loser & a liar & a fraud & mean & a failure
& I feel I've wasted my talent, my love
& my life & there is not
a selfless cell or thought in my body, and I could not
possibly pray or have hope
because of my shame--it's then that I'm primed for God
& all I have to do is let my soul lead me for one moment & I'm
there & I know we're all in the same boat, headed
for shore.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Only Expert There Is

From the Essay "Soul Food"
by William Stafford
in "Crossing Unmarked Snow:
Further Views on the Writer's Vocation"
(University of Michigan Press)

"We writers try to help each other, sometimes.
But there is a catch in this generosity:
if you begin to rely only on what others say
about your work, you may become like a compass
that listens to the hunches of the pilot.
You may be good company, but you are useless
as a compass--a writer, I mean.

So, when we meet, say at a conference or workshop,
we look each other in the eye with an estimate
hovering between us. We know that our kind of
activity has some complexities not evident to others,
and we wonder if those complexities will be recognized
in any interchanges about our craft.

We know that our work is insufficiently judged
if much time is given over to assessing the topics
of our work. We know that a critic who discusses
whether we talk enough about Nicaragua or not,
or human rights or not, or the general topic of enlightenment
or not, is missing the mark.

We know that there is something supremely important
in the creating of a story or poem that all too often
will escape the attention of an outsider trying to assess it.

We must have an inner guide that allows us to rove forward
throughout the most immediate impulses that come our way.

For us, our whole lives are our research; and caught up
by our best subjects we become not just an expert,
but the only expert there is.

We have to be the sole authority for what comes toward us,
where we are, with our unique angle of seeing.

If the most significant writing comes from this inner guidance,
who will help you find it? Would it be someone who interposes
the considerations of the marketplace
while the delicate time of discovery is going on?

Would it be the person who puts primary emphasis
on your imitation of forms and strategies?

Let me plead, not for ignoring advice
from wherever it comes, but for allowing in your own life
the freedom to pay attention to your feelings
while finding your way through language.

Besides that audience out there in the world,
there is some kind of ideal audience
that you have accumulated within your individual
consciousness--within your conscience!--
and abiding guidance is your compass,
one that constitutes what you have to contribute
to discourse with others.

Moving back and forth from the inner to the outer world
(it feels good)
might be the way to your best writing.

Into the unknown you must plunge, carrying your compass.
It points at something more distant than any local guidance.

You must make "mistakes"; that is, you must explore
what has not been mapped out for you.
Those mistakes come from somewhere; they are
disguised reports from a country so real
that no one has found it.
When you study that country, shivers
run down your back--what a wilderness out there!
What splendid stories flicker among those shadows!
You could wander forever.

Odd words keep occurring to you, pauses, side glances--
mysterious signals. What hidden prejudice
brought that next word into your mind?
If you hastily retreat to an expected progression,
what shadowy terrain might you be neglecting?

What revelations might you miss by any "expert" weaving
of another well-crafted story or poem?

Like Don Quixote on his unorthodox steed
you must loosen the reins and go blundering into adventures
that await any traveler in this multilevel world
that we too often make familiar by our careful threading
of its marked routes between accustomed places.

And like Don Quixote you must expect some disasters.
You must write your bad poems and stories;
for to write carefully as you rove forward is to
guarantee that you will not find the unknown,
the risky, the surprising.

Art is an activity in which the actual feel of doing it
must be your guide; hence the need for confidence, courage,
independence. And hence the need for guardedness
about learning too well the craft of doing it.

By following after money, publication, and recognition,
you might risk what happened to the John Cheever character
who in like manner "damaged, you might say,
the ear's innermost chamber where we hear the heavy noise
of the dragon's tail moving over the dead leaves."

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Friend Axed Me If I Researched the Science Part of Mixed Animal.

I said that I researched diligently
to make sure nothing in the novel was scientifically
accurate or provable. As a matter of fact, this unruly book
attempts to defy the laws of imagination.
The Amazon description does what it can, but it can't.
I could have gone mad proofing it, for it's beyond proofing.
Both science-wise & language-wise, it's proof-proof,
for all errors in it may appear more intentional
than they are. In other words, no, I wouldn't know a clone from a splice,
but my characters refused to be limited by my ignorance.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Riled Up & Dylan's Nihilism.

After being mistookenedly accused (along with Bob
Dylan) of something by somebody, neither of which
I remember, but this was our defense, not that we
needed it:

Riled up to me doesn't mean passionate.
To me riled up means fussin' & fightin'
Trying to win converts to a point of view.
The way I feel, it usually does more damage than

I enjoy Dylan's music for the feelings
it gives me, and it doesn't give me a nihilist's
feeling. Like he said about Things Have Changed,
it's a song. Did you see him accept the Grammy
for that song? That wasn't a man who didn't care.
I don't think that's all he's been
saying for years--that he doesn't care.

I feel like I care more about what I care about
than I did earlier on. I care about the same
things mostly, but I don't have to dress it
up as much as I used to to hide & defend the
vulnerability in the caring.

All I "don't care" about is changing other
peoples' minds about things big or small,
at least anywhere near like I used to.
It's a matter of pleasure. I don't enjoy it.
It's not "fun" to me. And usually
it has the opposite effect of how I intended.
It brings me feelings I don't care to have,
feelings they say more & more can downright
kill you, in fact, maybe even those around you.

The passion I have nowadays runs slower
& deeper & easier & truer & maybe
lazier than when I was younger. It's just
nature, plus being sober for many years for

I don't have that urge to prove things
like I did, that used to run my life, or rather
when I find myself starting to get in that
place, it's a pleasure to remember I don't
have to. The switch from aggression to
perception. It feels fake to argue any more.
I'm not arguing that anybody else ought to
stop arguing, exactly.

I have irrational connections
to people and songs and ideas, and arguing
about them just doesn't make sense to me anymore.
It's like arguing about who I am. I feel those
feelings that people arguing at me gives me,
so at my best I guess I don't want to do that
to somebody else.

But mainly it's selfish, or centered in wanting some
semblance of peace of mind in this world above all.
For sure a part of it is I did so much riling up
& being riled up younger that I don't feel I'm missing much
now to not do it. A lot of other people are riled up
and riling up, I guess I wont be missed if I opt out.
If writing stories is arguing, then it's the only kind
of arguing I'd like to do, but I don't feel it really
is. It's more like just ... writing a story.

But the main thing is, gee, I don't equate getting
riled up and passion, or riled up and connected,
or not getting riled up and detached. Like most
things, it's a matter of perception & perspective.
"We just saw things from a different point of view..."
The hardest thing for me is to remember the other person
has many reasons, powerful and good and right to them,
for feeling what they feel and thinking like they do,
and loving what they love and hating what they
hate. Just like me. Gee, didn't mean to go on so.
Didn't mean to get all riled up.

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