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.

 

Snow, And Lots of It

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_144607Switched my work routine around, now writing on Superior Wolf in the early morning, breakfast, Latin, workout, lunch, nap. So Ancientrails comes later in the day. Like now, at 3 pm.

We got somewhere between 12 and 20 inches of snow last night. Our house looks like an old cabin in Switzerland after a heavy snow. When I cleared the deck early this morning, it was challenging. Kep stood at the door when I opened it, looked outside, looked at me, then delicately put a foot outside. A few seconds later he was bounding through the white, a black and white blur.

In the way of mountain weather, our driveway, plowed at 4:30 am by Ted, is now clear. The sun, beating down on it at altitude, transfers heat quickly to the asphalt. This aspect of weather here is a real joy. You can have snow, lots of it, and still find mobility pretty easy not long afterward.

Kate had her first infusion of Remicade, an anti-rheumatoid arthritis biologic, on Monday. We hope it will reduce the pain in her hands, shoulder and back while also reducing the fatigue that RA also creates. The infusion takes two hours, sitting quietly in a chair with up to 8 other people in the room, undergoing the same sort of procedure. It’s hard to know in advance whether these things will work, but we expect good results.

Over at Beth Evergreen tonight Kate’s going for her last or next to last Hebrew class, then to a cooking class for a new approach to the passover meal. At 5 pm, Rabbi Jamie will teach a class, Exodus From Boring Seders. We’re attending a community seder next week on April 12 at Mt. Vernon Country Club. Maybe it won’t be boring.

Jon plans to look at mortgages this month, houses in May. We both hope it goes smoothly for him.

 

 

 

At An Undisclosed Location

Winter                                                                          Cold Moon

There’s a bright golden haze on Black Mountain. The clouds presaging the storm pile up over the continental divide to the west, then begin to slip over to our side. The sun’s rising and it has painted those clouds with a brush from Raphael’s palate. Over the course of the day they will slump this way, graying the sky and carrying the moisture necessary for what Weather5280 now estimates as 10-20 inches of new snow. And so we rest in those delicious moments before the heavy snow arrives, estimated to be around 9:30 a.m.

New information in divorce matters. Jen has moved out of the house on Pontiac Street to an “undisclosed location.” Ruth apparently knows where it is, but didn’t offer to tell Jon and he won’t ask. That’s part of the restraining order which is still in place, no using the kids as communication conduits. This is a positive moment for Jon though because it means he can get in the house and get the remainder of his stuff.

Kepler has astounded Kate and me. He tore off the outside nail on his left front paw, leaving the quick exposed. Pretty painful. We took him to the vet on Monday. They sedated him, cleaned up the nail, put a bandage on it, then wrapped the whole foot in a bandage and some leopard spotted coban. He has not touched the foot bandage. Not at all. Every other dog we’ve had would have had that damn thing off the same night without an e-collar.

I’ve rethought turning my life over again. The threads I’ve got established are substantial and nourishing: novels, working out, Latin, this blog, mountain living, friendships, Beth Evergreen. I want to sustain the momentum I have in all these areas, so my life will remain much the same. Two changes I do want to make. I want to include more reading time, reading non-fiction on such topics as: the West, American political life, magic, science. Also, I need to find, sometime in the next month or so, a platform for the anti-Trump work.

It will be awhile before the rhythms reestablish and the new changes take hold. Though the knee is no longer painful, there’s still a long way to go before it’s rehabbed. That means distractions related to the knee will continue. Also, I have to wrestle this sleep demon to the ground and exorcise it. These things will happen.