Nightmare Number Three

Imbolc                                                                              Recovery Moon

Friend Tom Crane found this very, very strange Steven Vincent Benet poem, Nightmare Number Three. You can find the whole poem here.

Made me think of the Charlie Chaplin movie, Modern Times.

Modern Times“We had expected everything but revolt
And I kind of wonder myself when they started thinking–
But there’s no dice in that now.
I’ve heard fellow say
They must have planned it for years and maybe they did.
Looking back, you can find little incidents here and there,
Like the concrete-mixer in Jersey eating the wop
Or the roto press that printed “Fiddle-dee-dee!”
In a three-color process all over Senator Sloop,
Just as he was making a speech.  The thing about that
Was, how could it walk upstairs?  But it was upstairs,
Clicking and mumbling in the Senate Chamber.
They had to knock out the wall to take it away
And the wrecking-crew said it grinned.
It was only the best
Machines, of course, the superhuman machines,
The ones we’d built to be better than flesh and bone,
But the cars were in it, of course . . .”

On Working at Your Best

Winter                                                                         Waxing Moon

20181214_081606Painting. A long, long ancientrail. Walked by so many. A few well, more journeypersons, and the rest of us.

Mediocre. An interesting idea, mediocre. If you’re working to your best capacity, your work is wonderful. Mediocre arrives on your doorstep when you begin comparing your work to others. I’m a writer of wonderful novels and short stories. I create wonderful paintings. Am I going to be hung in the National Gallery? No. Any gallery? Probably not. Am I going to make the NYT times best seller list? Unlikely. Have I done less than my best? No.

Success, I’m gradually beginning to learn, is not about the other. It is about yourself. If Michelangelo painted like me, he’d be mediocre because he had the skill to paint well. If Tolstoy wrote like me, same. Where do I fit? Hell if I know. I’ve had the chance to work at my best level in two fields where criticism is a given. I’ve learned to quiet my inner critic, to stay away from sweeping generalizations about my books, my paintings. Now you may read them, look at them, and say, “He’s no Song Dynasty landscape artist.” Or, “He’s no Marquez.” And you would be right. I’m just and only me.

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphyThis does not mean I’m uninterested in the quality of my work. Hardly. I want it to be the best I can do. Do I always work at my best level? Of course not. But I do as often as I can. Which is most of the time. I’ll leave the judging to others. I did write that novel. Several, in fact. I did create that painting. Several, in fact. Enough for me. Could I have done this without Kate? No. But Kate is in my life and I in hers. Both of us have sought the best for each other, have sought to create a home environment that encouraged our best work.

Quilting, making clothing, writing novels, and painting are not the only things we’ve done. Kate healed children. I worked hard at social justice, at following a small r religious path. Both of us have raised kids, learned how to be grandparents. Grew much of our own food, our own flowers, our own fruit, our own honey. There is no accounting, no form of critique that can measure these things. They are past. And we don’t live then. We live forward, on the ancientrail that leads into the time beyond this moment. What we have done is not what matters anymore. What matters now is what we do today, right now. As my buddy Bill Schmidt says, “Show up.”

crane2Life allows no do overs. We can reconsider, reframe, reevaluate, remember, but we cannot change yesterday, or any yesterday. We can make choices right now.

Today I chose to use turpentine to wipe out, literally, work I did yesterday. And, I’ll do new work on that painting today. I’m not doing over what I did yesterday. I’m going in a new direction today.

It feels to me like I’m beginning to get this, to accept the truth of the past, of my intentions, and to find a path with no attention to results. Not sure why but this excites me. A form of liberation, I guess. Not giving up, just going forward. Working at my best. Nothing else is possible, except apathy. And that’s not me.

Face the Fear

Summer                                                                            Woolly Mammoth Moon

300px-Gutenberg_pressAt the Mussar Vaad Practice group we all come up with a practice for the coming month, a practice based on that month’s middah or character trait. Each month the congregation has a middah of the month. Emunah, or faith was the middah last month. My practice focused on sharpening doubt, a practice that made me feel more alive, more grounded in faith as a necessary human act.

This month I’m getting even closer to the bone of my inner skeleton, as we focus on bitachon, or trust. This radical confidence is a natural sequelae of emunah. Like doubt is on the same continuum as faith, but at one end of it, trust is on a continuum, too, with fear. In the Jewish approach to these matters it’s not doubt bad, faith good, fear bad, trust good; it’s about knowing how to deploy them at the appropriate times, or if not deploy them, be able to feel them, to know them without hiding.

Following on the rich experiment with sharpening doubt, I decided to go with the same approach, the far end of the continuum, and focus on fear. I said as much at the MVP, but the fear I wanted to confront embarrassed me (probably making it an excellent candidate), so I didn’t name it there. I will now.

Albert Camus 1955

Albert Camus 1955

My fear, the core fear, is exposing my writing to publishers and critics. Ancientrails doesn’t ignite that fear for some reason, maybe because it’s seen by only a few, but sending off my novels and short stories and poems to publishers causes my fear to burst into a wildfire.

It’s quiet, though. How it works is I think about submitting work, I make a move or two toward that end, then abandon it. Often not intentionally, at least not overtly, but I allow this or that to get in the way. Query letter? I can’t do a good one. Mail the manuscript? Too much hassle. Find an agent? The old writing ouroboros rises from north sea. Nothing published? An agent won’t want my work. Yet, I need an agent to get my work published. A problem that constantly eats its own tail.

artistsThat same fear is the one I faced after the Durango trip, writing here about setting a rejection’s goal. I have made two submissions so far, one of Missing, a novel, and one of School Spirit, a short story. By focusing on my fear of rejection, the vulnerability it exposes, the possibility that I’ve been wasting my time for over 20 years now, I hope at least to get my work out in the world. Whether any one wants it is, well, up to them.

MAKING ART copyI’m embarrassed to write this, ashamed I’ve been so fearful, yet I have been both embarrassed and ashamed for most of the most of the time I’ve been writing. Now is not different. The only way I can make it different is by finding publishers and agents and getting my work to them.

I’ll let you know how it goes. I just got a new shot of magazines and book publishers open to submission today. That means tomorrow I’m going to be reading submission guidelines, looking at finished work and getting stuff out there. Staying at it is the key, I know that. Persistence. Something I’m usually pretty good at.

 

 

T’ao Ch’ien

Beltane

Ninth Day, Ninth Month

T’ao Ch’ien, (365-427 A.C.E.)

scholars in a landscape, 16th centurySlowly autumn comes to an end.

Painfully cold a dawn wind thicks the dew.

Grass round here will not be green again,

Trees and leaves are already suffering.

The clear air is drained and purified

And the high white sky’s a mystery.

Nothing’s left of the cicada’s sound.

Flying geese break the heavens’ silence.

The Myriad Creatures rise and return.

How can life and death not be hard?

From the beginning all things have to die.

Thinking of it can bruise the heart.

What can I do to lighten my thoughts?

Solace myself drinking the last of this wine.

Who understands the next thousand years?

Let’s just make this morning last forever.

translator, 2000 A. S. Kline

See

Spring                                                                            Mountain Moon

Slate sky behind snow loaded lodgepole pines,

Scraping blades scritch, push, push, push

While more white falls, softening the edges.

Our house has a white roof, like me.

20180327_094904Find myself leaning into a favorite phrase of Bill Schmidt’s, “See what you’re looking at.” It’s a mantra now as I drive in the mountains, trying to see their essence. What about their shape, their altitude, their rock, their trees tell me, this is a mountain? Close looking is a skill, a hard to develop one since distractions of all kinds, a key this-moment-in-time issue, lead us away from direct experience to mediated experience. Close looking, like the close reading of poetry, opens up the unseen, the unexpected.

As I continue to develop my sumi-e skills, I’ve decided I want to focus on only a few things: mountains, Hebrew letters, Tarot major arcana, and objects I’ve used and love like chain-saws and axes, garden tools, bee equipment, maybe dogs, too. I plan to seek what I understand is the central objective of sumi-e painting, expressing the essence, the soul of an object rather than aiming for a Western representational rendering. Good thing, since I don’t have the patience to attend an atelier like my friends Lonnie and Stefan Helgeson.

 

 

Hebrew Letters and Poetry

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

Working on my kabbalah presentation. Getting further into the sumi-e.

ayin

ayin

Live

Fall                                                                                   Harvest Moon

My sister found this:

Deeds

Be Aware 8/17

Lughnasa                                                                Kate’s Moon

14608842_1689729854679011_2228956598700838196_oPaths. The trait of watchfulness, of being aware, is not only about self-awareness. It is, in itself, a tool, one to use to notice which direction you’re headed. Did this action, that motivation, move me in a positive direction in my life or a negative one? Did it move me toward selfishness or toward being of service?

The last couple of days I’ve found exercising hard. Wednesday was my resistance day and I felt too tired. I almost left it entirely, but instead did my high intensity workout plus 80 minutes of treadmill. That seemed easier and I had not been able to work out Tuesday, my normal aerobics day. But. Then on Thursday I encountered the same feeling and didn’t workout at all except for 15 minutes of aerobics. I was aware of struggling with myself, but let the feeling of tiredness win. Exercise is a habit, one I could lose, yet one I value. A matter to pay attention to.

Mussar, at least as it’s been presented so far this year, focuses on the interpersonal and the inner. At least until yesterday. Yesterday introduced a concept of caring for the generation into which you are born, not only the nation of Israel. Caring for the generation requires action for peace and justice.

400830_439551132807268_1006246526_nIt also requires, very interestingly, prayers for God to forgive the wicked, or the unjust. It’s not up to us to forgive them, but we must plead with God to do it. As I took it, this means that we stand against Trump and the white supremacists, for example, opposing them in the streets, in conversation, at the ballot box, in whatever way we can, and it’s up to God to forgive them for what they’re doing. Not us. I interpret God here, the Great Other as Rabbi Jamie sometimes says, as the collective us, our generation perhaps, or history. Or, perhaps, the very sensibility that inspires us to move into the breach on behalf of the vulnerable other.

It also made me wonder if prayer might not be marching against the alt-right, showing up beside African-Americans, LGBT folks, fighting to change unjust economic structures. Tactile prayer, political prayer. Action guided not by anger against individuals like Trump and his minions, but action for the other. So in our action we offer a way out for those with their thumb on the others neck. We ask Pharaoh to let them go. We ask, in other words, that others act as agents of peace and justice, caring for our generation-including the oppressor-but we don’t rely on hope alone, we become hope itself.

Oh. Really?

Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryI guess it’s time to admit it. I’m a deeply religious guy, whatever that means. It means at least that I find religion and religions fascinating, personally transformative. I have approached religion since high school with a mixture of deep skepticism and a willingness, no, a need to rethink, refeel, reexperience what I’m told.

J. Harry Cotton, professor of philosophy at Wabash College, introduced the radical skepticism to my journey. In my senior year of high school I had grown dissatisfied with the Methodist version of Christianity, so I asked the local Roman Catholic priest to give me instructions in the Catholic faith. He introduced me to the traditional Aquinian arguments for the existence of God. Since I had not, at that time, fully recognized the relentlessly logical bent to my mind, I found these arguments profound and felt like the Methodists had hidden them from me.

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Then, that fall, J. Harry systematically dismantled each one of them. It’s not hard to do with the proper philosophical tools. Take God as the Aristotelian prime mover of the universe. God put the whole shebang in motion, otherwise how would things have gotten started? Well, like many similar arguments, this one suffers from the problem of infinite regression. So, if the universe required a prime mover, then who or what moved the prime mover?

When I left J. Harry’s class that afternoon, walking across the great lawn with brick academic buildings on every side, my world had been shaken at a foundational level. Out went the whole Christian project in my life, right then. Later, I would find Camus and his version of existentialism, which still informs me, but then, there was nothing.

downloadSince that day until now my ancientrail has always wound its circuitous path back to the big questions. I’ve explored Christianity, Islam, now Judaism, Taoism, existentialism, various spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, meditation, morning and evening prayers, contemplative prayer, even some modest peaks into Tibetan buddhism occasioned by my friendship with Gyatsho Tshering. Though I am now and have been for a while an idiosyncratic version of Taoist/pagan, I’m finding the Reconstructionist path in Judaism a surprisingly familiar one.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Reconstructionist thought, begun by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is radical. Very radical. He asserted that the Torah is not divinely inspired. He went on to say that God as a supernatural intervener makes no sense. He rewrote Jewish rituals and insisted on a reexamination of the whole tradition, reconstructing it where it made sense. I love a key line of his, “The past gets a voice, but not a veto.” Yes. Very Emersonian.

Maybe my reimagining faith project is not so far out as I have sometimes thought. Perhaps it’s the work I’ve been in training for most of my adult life. What if I knuckled down and got at it with a reconstructionist bent in mind? Might be interesting.

 

Fire and Ice

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.   Robert Frost

tree yin yangPeople out here call it Colorado weather. I call it mountain weather. The shifts are often extreme, from snow and ice to balmy, springlike. But today. Well, today will be a transition like none I’ve seen since I got here. We have a red flag warning in effect from noon today until 6 pm. That means low humidity, high winds, warm temps and plenty of dried out fuel. At 6 pm though we switch to a winter storm watch. The prediction is for up to a foot of snow tomorrow, more over the next week. If we can avoid fire through this afternoon, we should be fine for a while.