Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

All of 2009 for me was focused on bringing my collection of stories, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, into the world. I deeply appreciate all of you who bought it, read it, reviewed it... and I hope it touched you in some small way that lasts.

I just returned home a few days ago from a little adventure to the opposite coast, where encounters with family, new and not-so-new friends, and many strangers, served to further cement my awe at this vast web of interconnectedness that gives us unenlightened humans an occasional glimpse of the Unity behind the illusion of our everyday lives.

Now I'm getting ready to turn this computer off for the final time this year, and head toward a celebration with close friends, children, pets, music, good food and drink, and much love.

Thank you for reading, and may your 2010 be full of peace, insight, and many happy moments!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Austerrific Moment (my first blog post 3 years ago)

On MySpace three years ago today, I posted my first blog entry ever. It still expresses something that feels true to me, so here it is again:

I always dig it when these things happen: Last weekend, I had just eagerly retrieved my copy of Paul Auster's 2003 novel Oracle Night, months overdue on loan to my sister, and begun reading it for the second time. I had only progressed maybe a dozen pages, enough to revive my memories of the book's delicious, convoluted mysteriousness -- its novel within a novel within a novel, in which men encounter chance events that lead them to the limits of themselves -- when I put the jacket flap between the pages to mark my spot and laid the book aside, to be continued later. That night, I went to a party at a lovely little cabin in the woods of the Catskills and met several strangers, among whom was an interesting man -- I'll call him "A." -- who spoke about his "former life" in New York City, where he had published a prestigious photography magazine whose name was familiar to me because of my own history with art photography. The following day I indulged my curiosity and looked up the magazine on the Internet; I only knew A.'s first name, and could not find it on the magazine's website. But with some help from Google, I deduced that his story was true. On the website, under the heading "Artists A-Z", I read a couple of Forewords by the editor (A.'s former wife). I noticed that they had published a number of fiction pieces, and the first link on the list was Paul Auster. When I clicked on the link, it opened an excerpt from Oracle Night, familiar because I had just read those very same sentences. The excerpt ended at the precise spot where I had left off reading the day before.

This may seem like merely an odd little coincidence, but I felt deeper currents flowing. My sister was with me at the party, and she had, just weeks before, left her husband and moved from their nice suburban home into a small apartment. She didn't reveal that to A., but a good part of our conversation with him was about making big life changes: the death of one's old life; the birth of one's new life. As I (and many of us at the party) had done, A. had left his city existence for an entirely different kind of life in the mountains, where an unexpected set of country joys and struggles replaced the old urban set. But the synchronicity at work was not about city vs. country living, but about the deeper mechanisms operating when a person makes a bold commitment and leaps from one life to another. In the realm of soul, it is as literal a death and rebirth as is the process going on at a cellular level every day, by which our bodies entirely recycle themselves every seven years. Its closest analog is suicide: a conscious rejection of the status quo in favor of the mystery. And quantum reality suggests that if we could see beyond "death," it would be revealed as just another life transition perhaps not much bigger than moving from the Lower East Side to the Catskills. So there we all were, A. and I and all the rest, a houseful of suicides chatting, while on my endtable at home, Auster's book was sitting with jacket-flap marking the synchronous page. That page was where the narrator, a writer, was beginning a new novel based on an obscure episode in Dashiell Hammet's "The Maltese Falcon," in which a man narrowly escapes an accidental death, suddenly sees his mundane life in a new light, and, on a radical impulse, leaves it behind -- job, family, and all. Auster's novel-within-a-novel then begins its own imaginary investigation, carefully following a parallel thread in the same philosophic fabric.

Concurrently, another parallel was at work. For the past few months, I had been reading and thinking a lot about the nature of the universe, through the lenses of both quantum physics and ancient wisdoms, contemplating the way that the macrocosm and the microcosm are mirrors of each other. We live in a fractal world; whatever scale we choose to observe, the same patterns are visible. The atom is analagous to the solar system; each cell running its errands in the ecology of a human body is analogous to the full individual filling a role in society. Each of us watches from the center of our own world in this omnicentric universe, surrounded by texts inside of texts inside of texts, which spiral both directions into infinity as they busily scroll out their storylines in full Everywhereness and total Simultaneity in the fabric of space/time. So when Auster tells his tale of a novelist telling a tale that includes another novelist who has told a tale about a man who sees the future, he is capturing a truth about the unity of reality and giving us clues for predicting our own futures in the spiral of time, whether for good or ill. It seemed like perfect coincidence to me that the topics on my mind were suddenly before me on the page.

Auster has said that although occurrences like this are constants in his life, they are essentially meaningless. I disagree. In my opinion, they are evidence that, while our everyday lives may be wrapped up in the myth of Three Dimensions plus Time, and in the illusion of our own separateness from everything else, there is a deeper truth. All events and objects and sentient beings in this omnicentric universe are One, and are occurring in the same infinite Now. What we call "physical reality" is totally unverifiable; all is perception, and each of us perceives from his own center. Like the widely separated particles in the nuclear physics lab, dancing in tandem with an invisible connection, tiny flickers of energy in the quantum field occasionally reach the surface of our awareness in a manner that we, with our limited view, can only interpret as "coincidence." And mind-body medicine has shown us that thoughts and feelings are events in the field just as truly as are molecules undergoing chemical reactions. Synchronicities are the rhymes in the poem of One Reality. If you're tuned in, they're everywhere.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Melody Lines

Among my story collection's various threads of interconnection are a recurring character (Wes, the sax player), a musical "score" (jazz), and a thematic element (alcoholism), all introduced in the story "Blues for Jane." Later, Wes gets the full historical treatment in "The Saxophone," invisibly influences various strangers in "Echoes," and makes a brief appearance in someone else's story, "A Confession of Love and Emptiness." In these opening paragraphs, we meet him in the midst of a self-pity crisis...

Blues for Jane (excerpt)

I tried to be Sonny Rollins tonight, but instead I sounded like Sonny Ferguson, the fat kid who played second saxophone in my high school marching band, honking like a donkey next to me, twenty years ago. All my cells, angry, buzz: just another tenor man, just another one, one more tiny loser cringing in a dark corner of big cruel America. This tour was a waste, and I can’t drink.

Maybe it’s finally time to give up.

I stand in the shower, in the slimy motel steam, until my fingers are crushed velvet, and when I come out, Jane is in bed, lights out, eyes closed. The rainforest drum and sizzle seem to follow me and I realize the desert sky is pouring outside. Today was a hot, still day, dry and dusty, with that waiting tension in the air, the familiar electrons-humming-in-wires tension like before the first note of every gig, the dull tension that is now being washed away by this western rain, no same old New York drizzle, but pounding big drops of rain, much much bigger than tears.

As I stand naked in darkness, holding the drape aside, staring out at the wet street, Jane comes up behind me. She wraps her arms around my stomach, presses her breasts against my back, and whispers, “Come to bed with me?”

“I’m not tired.” I don’t turn.

“I know. Let me feel some of that energy.” She strokes my chest.

“I feel like taking a walk.”

“But it’s raining.”


I feel her smile; her cheek rests on my shoulder blade. She sighs and murmurs, “Boy, are you a piece a work.”

My breath goes out with a sound like opening a beer can. It’s sarcastic and dismissive, like I hoped. Her face lifts from my back and her voice goes sharp. “Wes, give yourself a break, for God’s sake.”

So maybe I’m finally getting to her. She’s been slow; with other women it was always fast work, boom bam, woman gone, me alone again, bitter drunk. But that was before.

For a blink she’s ice, but then she melts, touches me, her voice a whisper, low and smooth. “You know, I get so hot watching you play, the way you hold your...”

“Yeah, yeah, man and his tools. Everything gets you hot.” I forcefully remove her long arms from around me. “I’m going out.”

I get dressed; Jane doesn’t move. I feel something, maybe good, tough anyway, leaving her flat. This is not the first time. She stands there naked, not sure what to do with her hands so she hugs herself, a tall girl with big sad eyes, looking at the wall, at vacation romance fading, a film’s end, black. I button my shirt, slow fingers moving up like I’m playing a ballad on worn brass keys.

I remember there was a little of her look, the lonely part of her look, in those wide eyes the night I first saw her in the little club on Second Street in Jersey City, watching me solo. Those eyes were lighthouse beacons piercing the smoke, headlights in the fog bearing down on me, a truck, a train of trucks, roaring like wind through misty midnight straight at me, me and my rambling solo, and suddenly I was caught, pinned in the glare, so self-conscious, every fingering suddenly suspect, my stance pretentious, my breathing so obviously faulty, and I closed my eyes and prayed, closed my eyes and fell away from that wide pure stare into the rhythm, and breathed, and finished okay. As Joey began his piano riff, I opened my eyes to meet hers, wide again but with a little smile, a shy smile, no more trucks in the fog, just a girl, and she clapped her hands, and I made a small bow, and then I watched her move through pools of light and smoke, moving like a young racehorse, all legs, long legs rolling from the hip joint, the young awkwardness of big feet, big hands, big shy head, eyes down as she moved through the dimness in long steps, all odd grace, all awkward pieces joined into smooth flow, big eyes glancing at me once more from the bar, and I knew I’d see her after that set, and after that night.

Now, here, my hand is on the door. She’s looking away.