Metaphorically Speaking

April 24, 2015

I’ve been working on a metaphor for a certain aspect of human existence. It must be (as you will see) an imperfect metaphor, but it’s my sense of the way things really are. I’m sure someone at some time has laid it out in a similar manner. I’m sending this out because it keeps entering my mind and I feel like passing it along. Here goes:

There are two rooms separated by a long hallway. In the hallway hang a series of curtains, or veils. One of the rooms is filled with light and the other with darkness. The room that’s dark is dark because of its distance from the room with the light and that series of veils. Most of us spend our entire lives in the dark room where everything is murky and confused. But every now and then one of us goes up the hallway, pushing through the veils until arriving at the room filled with light. What’s there is, I’m convinced, beyond description. The person who visits it comes back completely changed and starts telling everybody about the fabulous room of light and how you can go there yourself. That’s all religious instruction is: directions on how to go there yourself. We’re not supposed to take anybody’s word for it.  But few of us ever make the trip. It’s difficult and it can be scary. Who has made the trip? Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tze—a bunch of others. At all times in history there have been those among us who have been there. But during the dark times—such as the one we live in now—nobody wants to hear about it. So those who do know hang back and wait for times to change.

Whenever a self-described Christian or Buddhist or anybody else who hasn’t been there tries to tell you what that room is like, they’re just talking through their hats. They’re getting their information second hand. Western Philosophy is all dark room talk, nothing but speculation—pure guess work. And, of course, in these dark times, a lot of people don’t believe the room with the light even exists, and they mock those who do believe in it. (How would they know?) I don’t pray much. I’m not really sure what prayer is. But if I have a prayer, it’s that we all get one more chance to go down that hall.

Pelican Dreams and the Importance of Nature

April 15, 2015

Judy Irving’s new film, Pelican Dreams, is available now as a DVD, a streaming video, and a download. It’s in all the usual places—Amazon, iTunes, and, as far as we know, Netflix, although I think only as a DVD. (Other people are in charge of distribution and neither one of us has enough business sense to remember all the details.) Judy’s nonprofit company, Pelican Media, has an online store that sells the DVD, and this is, of course, how she would prefer that people view it. The store is at pelicanmedia.org. To go to the store, you can click here. I can’t pretend to be an unbiased observer, but it is a very good film. Surprisingly good. Moving, humorous, intelligent. There is one moment that never fails to choke me up. I’ve seen it 30 times or so, and it gets me every time.

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

Circumstances have made me less of a hermit lately (you have to be a hermit to write a book) and I’ve been having more frequent encounters with strangers than I usually do. The usual questions come up—where do you live? what do you do? have any kids? what does your wife do? and so on. When I tell people my wife is a filmmaker they usually perk up. “Oh, yeah? What kind of films?” “Documentaries.” “What about?” “Nature mostly.” And then I often see the interest fade. A lot of people see nature as an inferior subject, not worthy of the attention of a serious artist. Nature is nice and all, but all critters do is eat, sleep, and breed. They’re not as fascinating as we human beings. This is the ignorance of an almost entirely urbanized population that is obsessed with money, technology, and celebrity, and fascinated by its own neuroses and addictions. But all life, all the plants and the animals, have a deeper reality than the one we habitually see. There is a poetry to everything that lives, and just as love is not nonsense simply because some people make bad movies or write bad songs about it, neither is nature shallow and boring just because people make shallow and boring films about it. (It’s so pitiful to feel any need to say this!) The beautiful thing about Pelican Dreams is that it captures some of the poetry of the pelican’s existence. And that existence is absorbing in a way that the neuroses of human beings are not.

Cannery Row

April 5, 2015

I’m currently reading an Italian translation of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row (Vicolo Cannery). For anybody who hasn’t read it, it’s a romantic, sentimental depiction of a real place and based on real people, a community of outsiders in old town Monterey, California during the depression. Cannery Row was the popular name for Ocean View Avenue. It’s in an industrial part of town at the waterfront and was home to the old sardine fleet. The fish were abundant then, and Ocean View Avenue was lined with canneries. The main characters in the story are a man who owns a biology laboratory and warehouse, a bunch of bums and winos who spend their days in a vacant lot drinking, a Chinese grocer, and a madam with a heart of gold. The book sympathizes with these outsiders. In the mid-1940s, the sardine population began to crash, eventually putting the canneries completely out of business. The book Cannery Row was so popular that the town renamed Ocean View Avenue after it and turned it into a tourist destination.

Last week, Judy did a special screening of Pelican Dreams at the aquarium in Monterey, and they put us up in one of the Cannery Row hotels. Because I’m reading the book, I was interested in checking out the locations. Today the old canneries have been turned into restaurants, hotels, and upscale boutiques. It’s extraordinarily expensive and quite tacky, like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The morning we left I was walking along a bike path/pedestrian thoroughfare that used to be train tracks when I happened upon two homeless people guzzling a bottle of beer. It amused me highly because I was certain that if they’d been noticed by the police, they would have been run out of the neighborhood. Yet they were the only true part of the book that was left.

Easy Way Won’t Help

March 4, 2015

Why Buddha told us the Four Noble Truths is to destroy our easy way of understanding of life, scientific understanding or philosophical understanding. Those understandings are the easy way, you know. Without any effort you can read books [laughs]. Even though you are lying down you can study. Very easy. But it will not help you, actually will not help you.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (from David Chadwick’s site about Suzuki Roshi, cuke.com)

Not My Way

March 3, 2015

For several days I’ve wanted to post something about Netanyahu. But I’ve been unable to get past contemptuous feelings and obscene phrases, which are not my way. So I gave up.

Plum Blossoms Again

March 3, 2015

Outside the dining room window
I see plum blossoms again.
The tree is misshapen
from ancient bad prunings.
Because it no longer puts out fruit
I keep suggesting that we cut it down,
replace it with an apple tree.
But my wife says no.
The birds like it, she says.

Different, I guess

March 1, 2015

Taking a break on a long road trip,
sitting in the sun
in an outlet mall parking lot
in Gilroy, California
comparing two Italian translations of
The Catcher in the Rye

Progress Report #96

February 20, 2015

The world is going crazy so fast that it’s impossible to keep up with all the developments. Every time I plan a post, it’s made obsolete by something new. Putin and the Ukraine, the Islamic State, Climate Change, Greece vs. Germany, Republican (as in GOP) insanity, fracking. It never ends. You have to arrive at a deep point of view to say something that can’t be washed away by our contemporary lunacy. Maybe if I could post every day…But I’ve been hard at work on my book, and I’m going to confine myself to that for the moment.  I do have an idea for something I want to say that can’t be washed away by the madness. And I do hope to get to it soon. As for Street Song

I recently finished Chapter Four. Finished. I’m making real progress now. I have found my approach and my voice. All I need to do now is to keep moving forward. I’ve just had to abandon the sequential order of the chapters for a little while, though. My agent wants me to work up some sample chapters from the latter half of the book so she can have something to shop around. I’ve already started that work. The first one I’m working on deals with my first days as a street singer in Berkeley, which was the point where I began to stake my life on making it as a musician. I had a firm rule: I was not going to make any money other than through my music. I would sink or swim with it. The other chapter will begin from a point some time after I sank, namely my first weeks on the streets of North Beach in San Francisco with no money, no home, and no job—not even any ID. Some of that material is in the book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. So after all these years, Street Song is finally moving forward in a real way. There will be no going back, no prolonging of the work. My aim is to get it finished.

I recently received a copy of the Japanese edition of Wild Parrots. I don’t understand a thing, but it’s nice to look at. I’m having some friends who can read Japanese look at it for me. The only thing I know right now is that the credentials of the translator are impeccable. I’m told that he’s the Japanese equivalent of a Harvard professor.

Swimming in the Rain

February 12, 2015
Swimming in the Rain

Mark and Judy Go Swimming. Photo by Emily Wick

In the drink

In the drink

A Word on Terrorism

February 2, 2015

I care about language. I don’t like to see it abused or misused. I don’t like what has happened to the word “awesome,” for instance. The word has lost its meaning. You have to go hunting for some other word to take its place. Recently I was trying to compose something that touched upon the shootings in Paris and I found myself deliberately avoiding the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” They’ve become propaganda terms, used in the same way that “communism” and “communist” were once used: They’re intended to stop all debate. Which of us isn’t against terrorism? A common line of reasoning is “I don’t care why they’re doing it. There’s never any justification for terrorism.” If you say, “No, there’s never any justification, but there are reasons it happens,” the subtlety goes right past them. You’re dead in the water. You’ve become a “terrorist sympathizer.” It should be pointed out that, contrary to the way the media uses the word, terrorism is not a philosophy. It’s a tactic. And it’s a tactic that the United States Government is not above using. The military described the opening days of its assault on Bagdad as employing a strategy known as “Shock and Awe,” which did kill many civilians along with military targets. What is Shock and Awe if not the very definition of terror? And we decapitate our enemies, too, but from a distance with remote-controlled missiles. How is that any less barbaric? So I avoid using the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” You end up playing some ideologue’s game when you do.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m free to say what I wanted to say in my original post. Next time.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 180 other followers