Downsize?

Winter and the Future Moon

Monday gratefuls: Ruth and Jon skiing. Gabe peeling potatoes. Kate getting Murdoch upstairs. The picker at King Sooper. Having Sunday free of workout. Cleaning off my table. Organizing and preserving my paintings. Kate paying the bills. Ruth. Murdoch.

My paintings. Whoa. Like my novels and my blog. I’ve done, I don’t know, twenty/thirty paintings since I began. A few end up in the trash because I can’t bear to look at them. A few are standing out so I can look at them, review what I like about them, don’t like. The rest I put between buffered paper and/or cardboard sheets yesterday. Not sure what I’ll do with them. My novels exist in printed form in file boxes and in their revisions on my computer.

Two million words of Ancientrails rest on Kate’s old medical school desk, two thousand plus pages printed out with the wrong margins for binding. Sigh. Going to a bookbinder for an estimate and to be told how or if, if I decide to, I should layout the page for printing myself. Might give them a memory stick with all on it. Or, that might be too expensive. We’ll see.

Gabe stayed here yesterday while Ruth and Jon went to A-basin. I asked Gabe to tell me one interesting thing he’d done last week. I haven’t done much. I did see movies. Oh? Which ones? Lots of them on the Disney Channel.

Clever folks, Disney. They priced their channel, at $6.99 a month, so a kid with an allowance might choose to purchase their own subscription. Both Ruth and Gabe have a subscription.

Stirring inside. Declutter, simplify. Downsize. Example. When we moved, I kept every file I made for my docent work at the MIA. Why? Wanted to keep art as central to my life as it was when I was there. Tried several different things, none worked. And, having the files hasn’t helped either. Out they go. I also want to clean up the filing system (?) in the horizontal file which will mean throwing out yet more files.

The bigger, harder question? What about the books? Is it time to downsize my library? I’m considering it.

Doubt it will stop my book buying. That’s a lifelong habit started, I think, with those book lists from the Scholastic Reader (something like that). Sheets with books, descriptions, and modest prices. We could pay for them at school, then they would come at some other point. Sorta like e-commerce. Oh, how I looked forward to the arrival of those books. I read them quickly, too. I graduated to buying comics and paperbacks at the Newsstand downtown.

My first serious kick was all the James Bond books. I bought them one or two at a time with my paper route money. Lots of others, too. I was also reading books from the Carnegie library, too.

Got into the habit of buying books that interested me, books that followed other books I’d read. Buying books. College was hard in that I passed by the bookstore every day in the Student Union. If I went in, I’d always come out with a book or two.

Later, bookstores. Joseph had been in most of the good book stores in the Twin Cities before he hit first grade. And, finally, Amazon. Oh, right here in my own loft. On my computer. What a great deal.

Over 60+ years I’ve bought a lot of books. My interests have waxed and waned, but the books purchased during my enthusiasms remain. A few: Celtic mythology, fairy tales, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, magic, Jungian thought. An ur religion focused on the natural world, not scripture. Literature of all sorts. Plays. Theology. Poetry. U.S. history. the Civil War. Art. Lake Superior. Latin and the classics. Religion.

Getting rid of them feels like betraying my curiosity. I might finish that book on the Tarot. That commentary on the Inferno? Maybe next year? What about that ecological history of Lake Superior? The work on reconstructing, reimagining faith?

Still, it feels like time to begin paring down. Will take a while. And be hard.

For each of the tags listed here, I have a small or large collection of books.

Stick to it

Winter and the Full Future Moon shining through the lodgepole pines in the west

Friday gratefuls: for the Mussar group. for the Daf Yomi, now day seven. for the chance to do the Murdoch mitzvah. for the fresh new snow. for the 12 degree weather, what they call here, Stock Show weather. for Black Mountain who watches over me from above. for Shadow Mountain who supports me from below. for the crazy people who go out on Evergreen Lake for ice-fishing. May there always be crazy people.

Kepler to the vet yesterday. No, not bites and rips from Murdoch’s teeth. Rashes and hot spots. Antibiotics and an increased prednisone load for a week or so. Dr. Palmini has lost weight and buffed up. When I asked him if he would go to the Iditarod this year. The jury’s still out, he said. It’s a long time to be gone. But, it’s fun, isn’t it? Well, some of it, but when you get up at 3 am…? He goes as a volunteer vet for the sled dogs in the race. Lots of Iditarod memorabilia on the walls of his practice.

Back to HIIT workouts for cardio. Hi intensity interval training. A new one. Slow, 90 seconds. Fast as possible, 6mph for me, 30 seconds. Repeat four times then 3 minute cool down. I increased the number of intervals and the incline, from 1% to 2%, this week. Intervals are the best workout for cardio and they take a shorter time period that most cardio workouts.

Mussar. Got caught out nodding like I understood something that was said. Had to admit it, because the conversation expected me to say something about I’d already said. Everybody laughed when I told them. First time I can recall being caught in this oh, so usual gambit of not only me, but all folks hard of hearing. Gotta work on the ear wax thing. Seems to bother my hearing aid a lot.

The quality of the day, see Ruth Gendler’s The Book of Qualities, was perseverance. A lot of discussion, an amusing number of examples about math, not unusual in a group with literary inclinations. Perseverance is in my toolkit.

Mostly. I can write novels. Start and finish them. Not easy, often taking over a year. I did not persevere so well with marketing them, though. I enjoy, as I said a few posts back, long books, long movies, long tv series. I can start all of these and finish them. Think War and Peace, Dante’s Inferno, Spenser’s Fairie Queen, Faust, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 10 Commandments, the Irishman, Gone with the Wind. And, Resurrection: Ertugrul. I’m finally in the fifth and last season. It only has 88 episodes.

I can make a commitment and stick to it for years, a lifetime. One of my youthful commitments was to keep reading difficult material. Stay political. College. Keep asking the fundamental questions and don’t shy away from difficult answers. Never work in a setting that compromises your values. Kate, now for over 30 years. The Woollies, about the same. Joseph, now going 39 years. Exercise, since my forties.

When I didn’t persevere, marketing and college German being the ones that come to mind, it was out of fear, I think. Fear is not a guide, it’s a caution, but I let myself get stuck in its glue at least those two times and I regret it. Anxiety grows along with fear and fear increases the anxiety. As I’m learning to be easier with myself, I’ll give myself an “I’m sorry to hear that, but you’re ok now.” bit of self-talk.

Janus

Winter                                                                               Stent Moon

JanusAging brings with it an inevitable glance over the shoulder. Did I matter? If so, how? If not, why? Does it matter if I mattered? I suppose it would be possible to disappear into regrets or vanity or even anguish. But, why?

The past, though we can change its role in our life by reframing, paradigm shifting, or, best in my opinion, acceptance, ended a moment ago. No do overs.

Interestingly, the New Year brings the same glance over the shoulder. At or around January 1st we become Janus* faced, looking squarely at the past year and the one upcoming. He’s the Ganesh of Roman mythology, the one you want on your side as you change jobs, get married, have a child. Wonder about the year ahead. And, the one behind.

As we inch past 70, Janus becomes a god with whom we must contend, one we may worship, even without knowing. He is the archetype for being of two minds, for that part of us that feels pulled back or pushed forward out of the moment.

When tomorrow comes and resolutions start to form, if you do resolutions, they will be concrete expressions of Janus in you. What were things out of the past year I might change for the better? Or out of my whole past? Resolutions express a regret and a hope. Wish I’d been less angry, more loving. Eaten a healthier diet. Been more aware of my authentic yearnings. And followed them. Wish I’d fallen in love. Or gotten out of that damned relationship. As a heuristic, a motivator for positive change, letting Janus take over for a limited time makes sense.

Janus_Bifrons_by_Adolphe_Giraldon

With him in the forefront we can see what was, imagine what might have been, then look forward to how we might live differently. But he is a god and you can’t let him take control. If all your time is spent with Janus’ two-faced view, you will be constantly out of the now, always taking a step back or a step ahead. If you look longer with his past oriented visage, you will tend toward depression. If your gaze looks toward the future overly long, you will tend toward anxiety.

Perhaps a shrine or an altar to Janus could help with this. The Numa Janus shrine** had gates that could be opened or closed. Open, Rome was at war. Closed, Rome was at peace. A small shrine at home might have a door that could be open or closed. When open, you’re consulting the Janus moments in your life, staying open to the truth of the past and its importance for your future. When closed, you’re trying to remain in the present, not get pulled away to what was or ahead to what to might be.

On December 31st, the Days of Awe, and maybe your birthday or anniversary, open the gate of your own shrine. Sit with Janus for a while. Feel in your person the frisson between the face that sees yesterday and the face that sees tomorrow. Consider what that feeling means for your life, not as a route to depression or anxiety, but as a way of knowing how they link together, or better, how they might link together. Take yesterday’s lessons and let them inform life as it moves toward tomorrow. After that, close the gate and live now.

 

 

*…the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.” Wiki

**”Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The gates of a building in Rome named after him (not a temple, as it is often called, but an open enclosure with gates at each end) were opened in time of war, and closed to mark the arrival of peace (which did not happen very often)…Numa built the Ianus geminus (also Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus or Portae Belli), a passage ritually opened at times of war, and shut again when Roman arms rested.[49] It formed a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated between the old Roman Forum and that of Julius Caesar, which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius himself.”  op cit.

Homemade

Winter                                                                       Stent Moon

20181110_16410310 degrees on Shadow Mountain. A couple of inches of fluffy powder fell over night, a minor storm compared to what had been predicted earlier. The lodgepoles have white flocking. Black Mountain hides behind a gray blue cloud. The neighbor’s Christmas lights, now past their expiry date, still glitter.

Frustrated here by realpolitik. Can’t say more about it.

Kate’s Sjogren’s flare has subsided. She’s still fatigued, both from all the insults her body has received since September 28th and Sjogren’s. There may be an anemia component in there, too. Fatigue, when it’s constant, carries with it its own malaise. Sleep, get up for a bit, sleep some more day and night. Her face does not, however, have the stress lines brought on by repeated bouts of nausea and cramping, bouts that followed every meal until last Friday. That’s a marker on the road leading out of this mess.

I’m working in a slightly larger format now, 8×10 canvases, trying to think more about design. The Western icons idea will require more gathering of props. I turned to items I had close to hand. My favorite tools. Those of you who know me well know I’m not a shop guy, not a handy guy, but I do have some tools I love.

astrologyMercury-RetrogradeThe learning curve in both astrology and oil painting slopes almost straight up for me. My mind gets short of breath at times. I remember this from Latin. Slog. Slog. Slog. Oh! “Confusion,” I read, “is the sweat of the intellect.”

Back in 1966 I was a very young student of symbolic logic. My second semester at Wabash. German had already defeated me and I was feeling the shock of intellectual challenges that seemed beyond me. Larry Hackstaffe, the professor who wandered around on off days with a six-pack of Bud hanging by one of its plastic rings from his belt loop, was a good teacher. After the D on a German test, a D!, my sense of myself was in trouble. Study. Study. In the library, in a carrel. My safe place.

The mid-term. When I sat down, my palms were sweaty and my socks uncomfortably moist. My neck hurt from slumping over in the study carrel. Larry passed out the blue books and the exam. And away I went, developing proofs, using the symbols like I’d had them from birth. That exam was a revelation to me. With hard work I could master something difficult, really difficult. I didn’t need the grade after that, though it was an A and I was glad. I had taught myself a life lesson, not in logic, but in persistence.

logicAt almost 72 I’m no longer naive enough to think I can master anything, but I’ve proved to myself over and over that with patience (difficult for me at times) and either a good teacher or a lot of autodidactic effort, I can learn new things. Even new things that might seem unusual for me. Organic gardening. Beekeeping. Raising perennial flowers. Writing novels. Teaching Jewish religious school. Living at altitude. Cooking. The downside of this valedictory life, that’s a thing, is that I’ve not become Tolstoy or a commercial beekeeper or Top Chef, certainly no Latin scholar. But I have had the chance to peek behind the curtain of numerous activities I might have once thought, like German, beyond me.

A lot of blather to introduce you to some paintings by me. As you can tell, I’m still breathing hard, looking for handholds on the ancientrail of creating beauty, of making pigments tell their story, but I’m having a hell of lot of fun. As I am with astrology.

These are in the order in which I painted them.

Here they are:

JUrsa Major

Ursa Major

Felling Ax

Felling Ax

Limbing Ax, 1.0

Limbing Ax, 1.0

Limbing Ax, 1.1

Limbing Ax, 1.1

Beginner’s Mind

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20180315_080258Odd things. First, a small group of folks at Beth Evergreen, mostly qabbalah students like myself, report seeing me as an artist. A visual artist. This is based on my last two presentations, the first being Hebrew letters with quotes relating to their deeper meanings and the second, last Wednesday, that used the sumi-e zen practice of enso creation. Now I’m far from a visual artist, I have two very good ones in my immediate family, Jeremiah Miller and Jon Olson, but to be seen even modestly in their company is a real treat.

repair2Second. Damned mower wouldn’t start. As I said earlier. Put in fresh gas. No joy. Hmmm. You Tube. You Tube, that Chinese patron saint of the do it yourselfer. Looked up mower won’t start. Found a video of a guy. One with a small wrench who showed how to take apart the carburetor, poke wire into various holes and then, voila, vrrooom. Didn’t look too hard.

Took the mower out, put it on the deck so I could reach the carburetor easily, found a wrench, took off the cap, got out my wire, poked the holes in the thingy four or five times and put the cap back on. Oh, I forgot. I did the video one better. He said you had to drain the tank or gas would flow out. I’d just changed the gas and don’t like siphoning. Yuck. Gas not taste good. Thought of surgical clamps. Got a vise grip, tightened it down on the fuel line and Bob’s your uncle, no drip!

fix itBest of all, when I yanked the starter cord after closing the carburetor back up, the mower started. To those of you with a mechanical gene this no doubt sounds trivial, probably very trivial, but to me. Wow. I fixed it myself.

I mention both of these because they relate to each other. I like to challenge myself, see if I can do something I previously thought I couldn’t do. Exercise was one such challenge, now over 30 years ago. Still at it. So was Latin. No good at language. So? I’ll give it a try anyhow. Then in my recent melancholic phase I realized I needed more touch, more tactile experience in my day. That led to the sumi-e work and prompted me to see the non-starting lawn mower as an opportunity.

beginners mindI’m not an athlete, not a Latin scholar, not a very good visual artist and definitely not much of a mechanic, but I have an amateur’s capacity. Trying these things makes my heart sing, keeps life vital. I suppose, going back to yesterday’s post, you could say I have faith in myself. Not faith that I can do anything I try, that’s just silly, but faith that if I try I can learn something new, maybe introduce something important to my life.

Who knows, maybe someday I will be a visual artist. Nah. Probably not. But, you never know.

 

 

After

Beltane                                                                              Moon of the Summer Solstice

resilience-Disaster-risk-reduction-Climate-Change-Adaptation-guide-englishAnother short trough of time where work here will focus on moving, rearranging, hanging.

Decompressing after finishing a long project starts now.  The joy of holding the weight of the manuscript in my hand as I passed it to Kate, always my first reader, pleases me in a deep way. Superior Wolf is the first work I’ve finished in Colorado, on Shadow Mountain, yet its bones are deeply Minnesotan.

The inspiration for Superior Wolf came from the last native packs of timber wolves in the USA, those in the Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota. It merged along the way with the Latin work I’d been doing, translating Ovid, which included the story of Lycaon, the king of Arcadia. Minnesota and Ovid, the core of this novel.

There is, too, the usual regret that I couldn’t have done better, written more poetically, created more tension, brought the characters to life more convincingly. These regrets are, strangely, the fuel that will carry me into my next novel, probably Jennie’s Dead. Perhaps it will be the one where my language sings and the plot cannot be put down, where the characters take over the work.

disenchantmentBut not yet. The next period of time belongs to another very long term project, reimagining faith. There is that bookshelf filled with works on emergence, of pagan thought, on holiness and sacred time, on the Great Wheel, on the enlightenment, on nature and wilderness. There are file folders to be collected from their various resting places and computer files, too. Printouts to be made of writing already done. Long walks to be taken, using shinrin-yoku to further this work. Drives to be taken in the Rocky Mountains, over to South Park, down to Durango, up again to the Neversummer Wilderness. The Rockies will influence reimagining in ways I don’t yet understand.

Reimagining is already underway, has been for awhile. The first task is to collect all that work I’ve done, so what comes next will be clear. Maybe in a week or two. First though I want to wander around some, move some books, hang some art.

A World Complete

Beltane                                                                 Moon of the Summer Solstice

Lycaon, jan cossiers, museo del Prado

Lycaon, jan cossiers, museo del Prado

On this day, 12 days from the summer solstice, the first draft of Superior Wolf came to an end. It’s printing right now.  This part of the work is done.

Once the formatting and other elements of the draft, like the dedication and an initial quote, were in good order, the laser jet printer set itself in motion taking bits and bytes and transforming them, Ovid style, into black words on white paper.

A first draft, of course, is not finished.   It requires editing, checking for continuity, grammar, conceptual mistakes like plot holes, differing character descriptions and the other 10,000 things that make up a world created from my head over many years. I first began writing on Superior Wolf in 1999. This is my eighth novel. Some are better finished than others.

I’ve failed, in a significant way, as a writer. I can’t escape that fact. I’ve not sold my works, not labored in the fields of publishing, at least not hard enough. I’ve succeeded, too, and there’s no diminishing that fact. I have begun the creation of 8 different worlds filled with their own populations and places, carrying them through to completion.

lycaon2-9912Over the last 12 years or so I have written literally millions of words on Ancientrails. There have been, too, short stories, sermons and partial drafts for even more novels, perhaps four. Some work has been done as well on an ecological history of Lake Superior and Reimagining Faith. I now intend to turn myself toward Reimagining, writing as clearly as I can about what I believe is a critical perspective for our time. This perspective, one taken from close to the ground, but still seeing the sky might help us create a sustainable presence for humans on this earth, the great work of our time. I want to contribute in a way that I can.

That Other Project

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

120305_Writer-comparison_small-23497_200x200Back at Superior Wolf. After a month or so of focusing on other things, chiefly that presentation for the mussar class, I’m writing again. The end of the first draft for this novel is near. Once I get it done I’m going to print it out and give it to Kate, then I’m going to move away from it for a while, perhaps three/four months, while I try to push Reimagining Faith further along.

I’d like to get a book length draft of Reimagining done this year or at least get one well started. My sense is that it requires a concentrated effort, not one done with other writing projects. I need to spend time in research and writing on it alone. I do best when I can focus on a single project for hours at a time.

fireShiva_smallYes, mussar and kabbalah require a lot of reading, too, but that’s its own concentrated effort, not competitive with Reimagining. In fact I find the mussar and kabbalah work reinforcing for Reimagining, especially in a Reconstructionist environment. There’s a lot of energy and permission for rethinking fundamentals at Beth Evergreen.

Kabbalah may require a return to my Hebrew studies of over forty years ago. I learned functional Hebrew, enough to look up words and evaluate translations, but never had the goal of understanding grammar or building much of a vocabulary. I certainly never had the intent of using it for worship. A major component of kabbalah is gematria, a sort of numerology that focus on numerical values of Hebrew letters and words. To understand this aspect of kabbalah I’ll need to increase my Hebrew proficiency.

Not sure right now where Latin fits into all this. I’ve fallen away from it, but at the same time I miss it. Need to ponder this one for awhile.

 

 

Cultural Appropriation

Beltane                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Transformation Mask, Richard Hunt, 1993

Cultural appropriation. I’m not sure I understand this argument, but this wikipedia entry contains a long summary. I get it when the issue is the Redskins as a football team name or Indians as the basketball team name in Anderson, Indiana with its related arena named the Wigwam. I understand it when the issue is blackface, Aunt Jemima, the wearing of war bonnets as fashion statements. I fully understand and appreciate, for example, the Northwest Coast First Nation’s desire to own their artistic heritage, a good example of which is the Transformation mask at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

The argument begins to fray for me when I see complaints about using traditional cloth in new and different ways or even when others choose to reinterpret traditional art. Or, particularly, when I read books that create characters from different cultural traditions, gender perspectives, or ethnicities. I don’t understand how the life of art can go forward without all kinds of cultural appropriation.

culturalIf, as a Western white male, a U.S. citizen of mostly European genetics, I cannot create characters in my novels that are outside that narrow slice of the world’s reality, my work is restricted in ways that make no sense to me. Would I always get it right? No, of course not. But how do we understand other’s understanding of their others unless we can see it or read it or watch it? And is not the fraught interaction between and among cultures important to understand from all perspectives?

Of course intentionally stereotypical representations are abhorrent, but should not the critique of them be left up to the reader or the viewer? At least in the way I write self-censorship is the ultimate enemy, a foe to be fought off. This notion seems to introduce so large an element of self-censorship that an artist could find themselves crippled. This does not create cross-cultural understanding, it undermines it.

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editAs a former student of anthropology, I know that cultural diffusion is always happening. Look at pidgin languages. Look at the appreciation of art in the different departments of encyclopedic museums. Look at the cultural diversity within the fabric of our nation. Go to Singapore and see the merging of several South Asian cultures into one nation.

I’m interested in reactions to this piece since I’m sure I don’t have a complete understanding.

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.