|HEY, A PERSON GETS SLEEPY|
|WILD THINGS, THEY MAKE MY HEART SING…|
We have Robert Burns’ “My love is like a red, red, rose.”
We have Wordsworth’s “Thy soul was like a Star.”
|WINTER IN TAOS|
Back in January of this year, when I gave, sold, or lent out most of my stuff, moved out of my apartment, and went on the road, people kept saying, “Oh, you should keep a blog! You should let everyone know where you are!” But the truth is I didn’t particularly care if people knew where I was. I didn’t feel moved to chart my progress, geographical or spiritual. Not only did I not feel moved to start a blog, for most of the 6 months I was gone, I didn’t even have internet access in the various rooms where I stayed. I liked this. For the most part, I enjoyed walking to the coffee shop or the local library to check my email, my dwindling bank account, the occasional headline. It’s a very good thing to learn that you can get along, for awhile at least, without the world, and that the world can get along without you. I had a cell phone with 1000 monthly minutes. That was plenty. That provided more than enough communication with the world. I communicated with the people around me. I regarded the birds, and the trees. I communed with the Psalms. I wrote in my journal.
A blog is not a journal, or maybe I should say not my blog, nor my journal. My journal is private. It’s also meandering, unpolished, often mean-spirited, and messy. I can’t have an experience if simultaneously with the experience I’m recording it. As it’s happening, life is dull or uncomfortable or distasteful or exciting or sorrowing or joyful, but emotions, by their very nature, are such that you’re not aware as you’re experiencing them. You disappear and come back to yourself later and realize: Oh. That was a moment. Why? That why—the insistence upon asking, the responsibility of groping for an answer—is the heart’s call of the writer. To process experience inwardly, to see unexpected connections and glory and poetry and how that relates to all of humanity takes work and intention and patience and a kind of continual pruning of the will. To just say Here’s a moment and here’s a moment and here’s the next moment and here’s the thought or image or whim that just popped into my head is not to be in the present, it’s to be in the stasis of hell. It’s to be Narcissus, perpetually gazing at his own image in a world too busy to look because everyone is looking at his or own image.
|Turtle, Spencer, WV|
In order to find ourselves, we have to lose ourselves. We have to hold the tension between carving out the solitude and silence we need for our work and our obligation, if any, to promote the work. We have to live in the absurdity of wanting to be noticed and publicly reflecting on the fact that we are being noticed—or not. We have to devote everything we have to creating excellent art, and have faith that if it’s supposed to find its way to the World, it will…
|Emily Dickison wrote 1800 poems–
7 of which were published in her lifetime…
|Lisa, adorability notwithstanding, is not going to be my roommate.|
|My brother Allen and me, several years ago: Rye, New Hampshire|
L.A. is the last place I ever thought I’d end up. Though I’d never felt particularly at home in New England, back in 1990 L.A. seemed more of an idea—a really bad idea—than an actual place. My older brother Allen, who’d been a building contractor in Manhattan Beach for 20 years, seemed to bear out my worst suspicions. Whenever he came back East to visit, he went around in his Bugatti shades and hundred-dollar haircut saying, “Everything’s so small! Everyone’s so fat!” What a snob, I used to think.
|THANK GOD FOR FRIDAY|
of 30-something gals who are signing
on for Bali these days, all I can think is that any spiritual seeker worth his
or her salt has undertaken a journey so full of failure, hardship, and
disappointment that no-one would want to follow it. Does anyone really
want to follow in the footsteps of Simone Weil, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or
Christ? I can’t think of anything creepier than someone trying to literally
re-trace the path of another, hoping for the same “happy ending”
result. Tip: There are no happy endings. Carve out your own path. Undertake
your own desert journey.
de Hueck Doherty was a Russian whose journey as an émigré in exile took her to
Canada where she founded Madonna House, worked with the poor, and wrote
prolifically. In Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western
Man, she speaks of the difficulty of community life and observes:
you know only too well, the divisions, arguments, and power plays that take
place at meetings witness to the fragmentation of humanity. By your presence in
love, you have to witness to how much time is wasted, how much selfishness is
going on, how much greed there is for power, attention, and recognition…If
by prayer you have received food from God, you should be able…to give the oil of tenderness and the wine of compassion, first to
each other, and then to everyone you meet. All this is done silently, in the
secret places of your hearts.
of the lay Catholic Worker movement] Dorothy Day expresses well what I am
trying to say here. Dorothy went to Rome during the [Vatican] Council. Several years later
when I met her in Rome I asked her what she did during
the time the Council was in session. She said she had simply taken a room in the
poor quarter of the city, and for ten days she fasted and bread and water and
prayed for the Council. That was all she did! Then she returned to New York the way she had come—on a
freight boat! Maybe this was the reason why the Council was so successful. In
the eyes of God, who knows?”
Werner Herzog may be ever-so-slightly megalomaniacal, and I do think he was not ENTIRELY sympathetic to Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man, but I love his notion of “ecstatic truth.” Bells from the Deep is his 1993 “documentary” about Russian mysticism. Here’s his description of one scene: “I wanted to get shots of pilgrims crawling around on the ice trying to catch a glimpse of the lost city, but as there were no pilgrims around I hired two drunks from the next town and put them on the ice. One of them has his face right on the ice and looks like he is in very deep meditation. The accountant’s truth: he was completely drunk and fell asleep, and we had to wake him at the end of the take.”
A former drunk myself, I have always believed the blackout to be a crude form of mystical union. I have come to prefer being (mostly) awake. But being awake is not for the faint of heart. In fact, a drunk, trying to imitate a pilgrim searching for the lost city of Kitezh, being shot by Werner Herzog, to create a film I am going to watch, alone, from a darkened Hollywood apartment, embodies almost more ecstatic truth than I can handle…
For 17 years I wandered around the Koreatown section of L.A., weeping, praying, contemplating, complaining. Growing and regressing. Having breakthroughs and breakdowns. Years during which I stayed sober, gave up my job as a lawyer, converted to Catholicism, started to write. Years during which, I am happy to say, I told many, many jokes.
Last January I sold or lent out most of my furniture, gave up my beautiful apartment–hardwood floors, crown moldings–and set out in my ’96 Celica convertible on a cross-country sabbatical/odyssey/retreat. I have always had a teensy bit of a hermit/nun complex, so thought the movement would be toward more asceticism; a further paring down. Instead I learned that I missed food, clothes, money, and my smart, funny friends. I missed Vietnamese noodles, the insanely great Goodwill stores, the public library (surely one of the greatest institutions civilization has yet produced), the whole holy-hell paradox of this city where so many of us dreamers of the golden dream end up.
I thought I might have been done with L.A. I thought I might move to someplace that was quiet and less chaotic. I was wrong. I’ve barely talked for 6 months and now I have an almost violent urge to talk to the whole world. I’ve been in a kind of metaphorical cloister and now I’m burning to bust out. Suddenly the detritus I’ve been slowly, silently compiling–the 25 years of journal entries, the recipes, clippings, quotations, stories, epiphanies, crises, revelations, poems, songs, photos (that one above, btw, is of a Jesus statue found in Elvis’s bedroom, which I snapped on my cell at Graceland during a previous pilgrimage)–seem like they might be of some crazy use!
I have been very concerned ever since I returned with myself, and my career and living situation. But yesterday I saw an old man inching his way down LaBrea, and thought of how we are simply cowed by all the suffering of the world, and how that is why those of us who do, go to Mass. For the guy with a junkie wife. For our families we can’t quite find it in our hearts to forgive. For that old man, resolutely shuffling forward with his down-at-the-heel shoes and dingy socks.
–Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes