Posts Tagged ‘Gary Snyder’

Sneaker Synchronicity

October 14, 2014

Nearly every October, the City of San Francisco afflicts its citizenry with the screaming lunacy of the Blue Angels. (A friend describes them as a motorcycle gang in the sky, which, I think, nails it.) I think it’s best to restrain one’s hatreds, but the Blue Angels are one of the few things I will admit to feeling contempt for. It’s been my practice for several decades now to skip town the days of the horror show. A few years ago, Judy and I and a few like-minded friends started up a tradition of going up the coast to Drakes Beach to spend the day in the sand, eating, talking, and swimming. Sometimes I bring a book, and I decided to do so this year. I wanted something lightweight (meaning, not too heavy for my daypack), something I could dip into if I felt the urge to read, but could quit easily. I studied my shelves for some time before settling on a book of poems by Gary Snyder. Short nature poems at a wild beach. Perfect.

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach is narrow and ends abruptly at the base of a long wall of sheer white cliff. You can tell from the sea weed and the channels in the sand that the waves sometimes come up all the way to the base of the cliff. But they’ve never done it during any of our outings—and I’ve been there 15 times or more. I’ve sometimes wondered, in my ignorance, if it was something that happened only at night. When Judy and I arrived around noon, none of the others had shown up yet. The fingers of the waves were coming in closer than usual. Judy asked me, “Did you check the tides before we left?” I assured her that I had, although I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d read. It seemed to me that high tide was supposed to be at 2:40 pm. But that was for the Golden Gate. I’d understood the book to say that there is a one hour 20 minute time difference between the tide times at the Golden Gate and at Point Reyes Peninsula—where we were—which would put high tide at 1:20 pm. At 1:15 the waves were still a reasonable distance away, so we relaxed. I pulled out the book of poems and began reading. I kept one eye on the waves, though, and, while I couldn’t be sure, it looked as though they might be coming closer.

Other people on the beach were becoming uneasy. Not that there was any danger. It was more a question of “Are we going to have to move our stuff?” A small group of picnickers passed by on their way up the beach, and one of them stopped to ask me if I knew when high tide was. I told her what I thought I knew, but had to admit that I wasn’t sure. She had an accent, so I asked her where she was from. She said France, which led to a brief conversation. While we were talking, I remembered reading that the Coast Guard had issued a warning for sneaker waves that day. I asked her if she knew the term “sneaker wave.” She didn’t, so I thought I ought to explain it to her. She had difficulty understanding, and was more concerned with catching up to her friends. She let me think she’d understood and then left. A few minutes later, a guy approached me and asked if I was waiting for a particular wave, a wave that had a name. His question made no sense to me. I thought he was just being goofy, and I was a little rude until I realized that he was French, too, a friend of the woman, and was seeking clarification on what a “sneaker wave” was. As we talked, the surf kept throwing out an occasional longer wave. Last gasps of the high tide? Playing it safe, Judy and I moved our stuff a little closer to the cliff and onto a slightly elevated portion of the beach. The way the waves were breaking, I felt certain we were in a place that would stay above it all. I spotted a park ranger coming down the sand, so I trotted over to ask if she knew when high tide was. She said 2:40, which meant I’d misunderstood the tide log. It was obvious now that we were were going to have to abandon the beach entirely. Right at that moment, two of our friends, Bruce and Michele, showed up. As Judy and I greeted them a huge wave reared up, smacked down on the sand, and started rolling toward our stuff. The four of us hoisted everything up off the sand just in time. We were luckier than most. Up and down the beach, folks were mourning over their soaked picnic supplies. Just then the French girl walked by. “That was a sneaker wave,” I shouted.

As we were leaving, Bruce noticed that we’d missed one item, the book of poems by Gary Snyder. It was sitting in a shallow pool of seawater. He picked it up, handed it to me, and I saw the title again: Regarding Wave.


The Future of the Book: An Introduction

June 14, 2014

This is my first entry on a subject that I want to address: the future of the book. It’s something that matters to me very much, of course. Many internet enthusiasts maintain that the book is dying, which I think is naive. The book is suffering right now, but it’s not going to die. The internet will die before the book ever does. I’ll go into why I think that’s true in future posts. For this first post, I want to look at a brief exchange in an interview with the poet and ecology activist Gary Snyder that I saw on YouTube. This extract confirms a hunch I’ve had about one of the beliefs of cyber-intellectuals, a belief they tend to keep in the background. I’ve put into italics the specific point that I’m referring to.

Interviewer: Do you think that there is any literary vocation, in the largest sense of the word—literary, not poetical—one that may be assumed by so-called prose writers?

Gary Snyder: Maybe. I don’t know. The publishing business is falling apart. Books are not selling. Bookstores are closing. Everybody is saying the Internet is the new thing. What do you think? It’s your generation. What do you think is going to happen?

Interviewer: I think we will still need literature for some reasons.

Gary Snyder: By literature, you mean books or do you mean writing?

Interviewer: Writing.

Gary Snyder: Is it okay for writing to be online?

Interviewer: Honestly, I do think so.

Gary Snyder: Do you think writers should be paid?

Interviewer: Um… Well, that’s a difficult issue.

Gary Snyder: Well, you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s true. Um…

Gary Snyder: Unless you want to be an academic, but that’s not a real writer.

Interviewer: But would you say it’s just to write for a living? To earn money?

Gary Snyder: Whatever you do you have to earn enough money to feed your family.

Interviewer: Okay. So you’re a pragmatist.

Gary Snyder: Of course I’m a pragmatist. I’m a grown up. You know? I’m an adult. I know that I have to feed a family.

The interviewer is around 20 years old, a student in Krakow, Poland. I’ve looked into him a little. He’s an urban technofile. I’ve long had the sense that the real attitude of these people toward writers, musicians and other “content providers” is that they should be doing their work for free in their spare time, that to make a living doing creative work is elitist. I feel that my hunch has been confirmed here — “Well, that’s a difficult issue.” For cyber-intellectuals, the internet fanatics, the most vital aspect of the digital lifestyle is gadgetry. You need content to give the gadgets something to do, but that’s secondary. This is another example of form over content — the medium is the message — which is backwards. We live in a backward, or an upside down, era. (I’ll do a future post on Marshall McLuhan, of whom I used to be a big fan.) Listening to the interview, when the interviewer agrees with Snyder’s assertion that you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living at it, he’s not being sincere. It’s merely a tactical retreat. A grown man has challenged him over something he has not thought through, so he backs off. But his real attitude, which he’s not willing to push too hard here, is one of the most widespread that those who write books, make films, take photos, or make music have to deal with nowadays: Your work should be free, and if you’re not willing to give it to us, then we’ll simply take it from you. Can someone offer support for this idea? I’d be interested in hearing from you.

You can watch the entire 25-minute interview here.

Thought for the Day

May 17, 2014

When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones

Gary Snyder, from Regarding Wave

The Future of Tech

May 30, 2011

In my previous post, I wrote about the extent of my involvement with computers. It’s not that I’m a tech enthusiast. I’m not. In fact, I believe that the modern world’s devotion to technology has gotten way out of hand and is causing great harm. I wrote that post so that readers would know that I’m not simply some Luddite writing from my cave.

A lot of people believe that humanity is merely at the beginning of a period of great advancement, and it’s all due to the glories of technology. The age of science and industry goes back something like 150 years, and I think we’re actually nearer its end than its beginning. I have two reasons for believing this. One  is that we’ve entered an era of resource and energy depletion (not to mention climate change), which is due to our profligate use of those resources. It’s going to make it impossible to continue with the fantasy. The other reason is spiritual, or, if you prefer, psychological. The world is rapidly approaching the point of nervous breakdown.

As for the first reason—I’ve written about the Peak Oil theory elsewhere on this blog. Everything the theory describes seems to be coming true. There is no question as to whether or not we’re going to run out of oil one day. There’s only so much. The question has always been when. But Peak Oil says that it isn’t so much a matter of running out of oil as it is the growing expense (both financially and ecologically) of extracting the harder-to-get oil. Our economy is built on the assumption that there will always be cheap oil, which is impossible. And when resources become truly scarce, where will we put them? Into information technology and consumer gadgets? Or into the growth and transportation of food? You can’t eat information. Current agricultural practices use petroleum products to run farm machinery, make fertilizer, build and maintain the roads that transport the food, fuel the trucks that haul it, create the electricity for refrigeration, and more. At the moment, we have enough electrical power to maintain the enormous grid of servers that keeps the Internet running. But we’re not going to be able to maintain that situation indefinitely. From what I read, even if we could solve the safety and waste issues, nuclear power can’t really do what its supporters say it does. A lot of people believe that the free market can solve the issue. But the faith in free markets is wishful thinking. The old game—constant economic growth—was a bubble, and it’s gone forever.

When I was growing up I used to see articles on how the coming revolution in automation was going to create a huge problem for us: What to do with all that leisure time? But, of course, that’s not what happened. The leisure time bit was just a selling point. They’ve been piling on the work, and the pace of daily life has been sped up to a point that it far exceeds anything that’s natural and healthy. That which is unnatural and unhealthy is unsustainable. They keep making more gadgets that we don’t really need whose ultimate affect is diversion—diversion from boredom. None of these devices really satisfy. We have not become smarter, healthier, kinder, or closer on account of it. No machine can bring about a greater sense of well-being. I know that perfectly well from experience. Anybody who pushes this idea, if he really believes it, is out of touch with reality.

I often hear people describe some new gadget as “magical.” But they are not magic. Magic is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With machines, the whole exactly equals the sum of the parts. An example: You can program a machine to play a piece of music exactly in tempo, no missed notes, etc., but the resulting music will not be magic. When I was a musician I would occasionally reach a place where something extra came into play. It was like the music was playing me rather me playing the music. It always astonished me, and it was something the audience could feel as well. That’s magic, and it comes from a place that no machine can access. It’s the place that makes life worth living.

The tech trip is a knowledge trip. But there’s something more important than knowledge: wisdom. And that’s what we’re here to find. Most people doubt this, I think. We’ve become so involved with gaining knowledge (or information) and money that we don’t see anything else. We don’t even know what wisdom is. Technically, it’s seeing cause and effect on down to the most subtle levels in the here and now. The only way to see with that kind of clarity is to take the inner journey. But a culture that believes that the only thing you’ll find within yourself is blood vessels, bone, and nerve endings won’t take the trip. Still, technology cannot continue to be the dominant force in our lives. We’ll die of boredom. It’s starting to break down, though, and as it does, we’ll have no choice but to look for that which goes deep. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.

Two last things: I’m not saying we drop technology entirely. We have such a dualistic mindset that whenever you criticize tech there will be someone who says, “What do you want to do? Go back to the Stone Age?” We should integrate what is truly useful and makes sense to keep. But in a sane world, there wouldn’t be that much. I think it was Gary Snyder who responded to someone’s “What do you want to do? Go back to the Stone Age?” remark with “No, but I wouldn’t mind going back to, say, the 1950s.” He was joking. But it makes the point. And for those who will say, “You’re here using a computer and the Internet. Aren’t you being kind of hypocritical?” I’m here because this is where the camp fire is right now and I want to speak to people. But I intend to make my way back to reality as soon as the way is clear. It’s healthier and it’s where you meet your real friends.

Flying the Flag

May 4, 2010

Last night I went to the San Francisco Film Festival to see a documentary film about the poet Gary Snyder called Practice of the Wild. (I thought it was okay, not great.) I was reminded by the film and by the audience where my real allegiance lies: with the counterculture. By “counterculture” I mean the movement that started with the Beats in the late 1940s and peaked in the 1960s and early 1970s with the hippies and so on. I think it’s an unfortunate term in that it stresses our opposition to the current world order rather than the world we would like to see. But people know what you mean when you say it. Today, the movement is small and weak, but it isn’t dead. Most folks think it was all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but I never saw it that way. The core of it was about recovering real values. But it was only a first effort, and it floundered when the powers-that-be (through their puppet Ronald Reagan) put their foot down, insisting that it was all about money and power.

Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese man who founded Zen Center here in San Francisco, once said that the hippies needed to become “super-hippies.” I think he meant that, yes, love is the answer, but to realize love requires a very serious effort. And yes, there must be justice, but there can never be justice until we are just in our smallest, every-day transactions. I don’t think you can argue with that. And because the culture-at-large is more serious about money than it is about love and justice, I cannot give my heart to it. So I’m letting my freak flag fly.