Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back / Being Here Now

With just a couple of days left in 2010, I’m using the mysterious and unreliable tool of memory to fill the present (this moment) with the past (the last twelve months, now gone forever). I’m looking back and thinking about this “writing and publishing journey” I’m on and how it relates to “the nature of reality.”

Writing done in 2010: not much. One novel begun but shelved for now. Another in progress. Slooooow progress. Perhaps I’m biting off more than I can chew, but I want to do something thought-provoking and unusual, and I won’t be satisfied until it captures a glimpse of potential realities beyond human psychology -- without venturing into allegory, fantasy, or science fiction. Maybe we’ll see progress reports here in 2011.

This year, much of the time once dedicated to writing was diverted toward supporting my book, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, in the marketplace. Like a child just ushered out into the big world, it needs what little help I can give it. The balancing act between business and creativity is a fact of life, a tightrope walk I negotiate one day at a time.

A fun part of the writing/publishing activity this year was teaching my third semester of a course called The Writer’s Alchemy, offered by the Lifetime Learning Institute at Bard College. Using issues of the regional literary journal I published earlier in the decade as our texts, these classes explored the creative writing process through face-to-face discussion with authors selected from the journal. This year we dug into Prima Materia Volume 3: Stories We Tell Ourselves. Poetry, memoir, and fiction writers from this amazingly talented region of the Hudson Valley treated us to their insights about work, inspiration, and the publishing world. A few of our guests: Will Nixon, Melissa Holbrook Pierson, Alison Gaylin.

Another highlight was the opportunity to earn and learn at the same time, as I edited Jason Stern’s book Learning to Be Human. My own learning took place through the close study of the spiritual growth of someone “not me,” another human manifestation, Jason -- as documented in his monthly Chronogram columns, which I selected and assembled into thematic groups for the book (handsomely published by David Applebaum at Codhill Press).

I enjoyed producing three video clips for my friend Djelloul Marbrook's poetry books, featuring poems that fortunately were right in the groove of my interests as well as being exquisitely crafted. Djelloul tells me the videos are doing their job in the marketplace quite nicely.

Both my editorial and video work has been partly in the service of a new venture with my designer friend Joe Tantillo, a services company for independent authors called Indie Book Studio, conceived in 2010, birthing in 2011.

And finally, I’m looking back with a measuring eye at my second year in bloggerdom: 24 little posts, such a trickle compared to the deluge so many bloggers pour forth. On balance with all the other activities that husband-and-fatherhood entail, it is what it is. It is sufficient. But... hmm... please let me know if you want it to continue.

In my first blog post of 2010, I wrote this:

Another intention for 2010 is to re-read some favorite fiction through a new lens. I'm interested in how literary fiction can incorporate principles of nonduality without losing its identity and without becoming didactic or cliched. I want to explore the expression of Unity, from ancient Advaita to the mysteries of quantum physics, in modern realistic storytelling. This is done in several ways: by looking with new interpretive eyes at work I already love, by reading new stuff, and by writing my own.

I did make some progress on this non-resolution and I suspect I’ll have something to say about it in this space in 2011... that’s part of what all this has to do with “the nature of reality.” But more important is to realize that all of this stuff -- ideas about literature and nonduality, memories of past accomplishments, plans for future action -- is merely the flicker of shadows on the cave wall. Not the real thing at all.

There is only one reality, and that is this very moment, now, in which I sit by a crackling fire and type, or you look at a screen and read these words. There is nothing else but this instant, endlessly renewed. Enjoy it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Writings from Beyond the Half-Century Mark

I'm happy to be included in a very fine book of writings just published by Holy Cow! Press. When Last on the Mountain: The View from Writers over 50 is a labor of love by the editors and includes an eclectic mix of fiction, poetry, and essays by authors whose fifty-plus years mean the words are leavened with a bit of wisdom. Or a wry perspective, at least.

My short story, "Signs," appears here as well as in my collection The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility. The tale of a retired judge who's facing unsolvable mysteries, it is set partly in Woodstock, NY, with an important scene taking place at the Center for Photography of Woodstock.

From the book's Amazon page:
"These essays, stories, and poems were chosen from more than two thousand submissions of previously unpublished work. Some of the contributors — a poet laureate, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, a former foreign correspondent — have long literary histories; others — a social worker, a civil service employee, a clergywoman — began to write later in life. All of them were inspired by a call that asked for fresh and honest writing from the fullness of their lives."

It's at a low pre-order price now. Check it out!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learning To Be....

A new book has just come out from Codhill Press, on which I had the good fortune to be the editor. Learning To Be Human is by Jason Stern, publisher of Chronogram magazine. It is comprised of selections from thirteen years of Jason's monthly Esteemed Reader column, in which he addressed the matters on his mind from the perspective of Awakening.

What a pleasure it was for me to edit this book! The project came at just the right time in my beginning studies of nonduality. I'm grateful for the growth experience, as well as the work.

I’ve been a regular reader of Chronogram since 1995 and always enjoyed Jason’s column, so it’s not farfetched to imagine that I had read all of these essays, one at a time, each in its original context. Depending on my own state of mind every month, some were memorable, perhaps even profound; others less so. They came like baseballs from a pitching machine, each replacing the one before it. Other readers probably felt the same way.

However, there is an entirely different, more powerful, experience awaiting the reader of this collection. I began to sense that fact as I sifted through years of raw material, rejected, selected, rearranged, and tweaked these pieces, laboring to bring them coherently together into one volume. But it was not until I took a final full pass through the compilation, from beginning to end, that I realized the new power in these pages, the impact of each essay amplified by its juxtaposition to all the others. By being gathered from multiplicity into oneness, the disparate segments are transformed. It was Aristotle in the Metaphysics who gave us this gem: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

This rebirth works on several levels. First, subverting the linear march of monthly installments twists time back on itself. A book carries a simultaneity that a periodical cannot, so one experiences its content in a sort of suspended present. It’s more Now-ish.

More important, immersion in the concentrate of the author’s thought makes it tangible. Vision clears. It becomes plain that there is a deeply-felt unity of philosophy running through these explorations. They are all “of a piece.” In some, the spine is developing, in others it’s fully formed. The work is both introspective and world-engaged, both reasoned and passionate. The ideas here are mined from the deepest veins in every wisdom tradition of the world. This is not scattershot column-scribbling that makes topical glances on the way to meeting publication deadlines.

And finally, one of the real pleasures of reading these thoughts gathered from across the years is the almost journal-like sense of the author's voice, spirit, and personal trajectory. His past, his interests, his family. It is a peek into another’s life, to which we’ve been invited with heart. This is something to be approached with reverence. You will experience, as I did, the privilege of getting to know another human being a little better.

Thanks, Jason, for being my teacher.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Editing - Design - Video

A new partnership is about to launch. I’m building on the independent publishing knowledge I’ve gained over the last decade, plus the intense writing focus that started a decade earlier, plus the professional video experience that began over a decade before that (we’re talking all the way back to the late ‘70s now). Add to those the top-notch graphic design and typography skills of my friend, Joe Tantillo, another seasoned veteran with independent publishing history, and the result is our new venture, Indie Book Studio. We’ll be offering editing, design, file prep, and video services to self-publishing authors and small presses. The web site is not ready to be unveiled just yet, but watch for my announcement soon. Meanwhile, here are two video trailers I produced for my friend Djelloul Marbrook’s award-winning poetry book, Far From Algiers. I like how the atmospheric first poem, “Flutes of the Djinn,” carries a powerful nonduality message in its final lines, and the second, “Autobiography,” embodies the wisdom of compassion for our child selves.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Review: Jim Murdoch’s This Is Not About What You Think

I’ve mentioned in previous posts my fascination with the intersection of literary creation with nonduality philosophy. In my reading, I’ve been exploring how principles of unity are depicted in storytelling in various genres. I set an intention to write some book reviews along those lines, but haven’t yet brought my chaotic notes into order. At the same time, I’ve found myself focusing on poetry more than usual, so right now I’m surprising myself by launching my upcoming series of review/essays with today’s post: a look through the nonduality lens at a book of poems called This Is Not About What You Think (Fandango Virtual, 2010), by Scottish author Jim Murdoch.

First, let me set some boundaries and goals. Neither this book nor any others I’ll be featuring fall into the “spiritual” category. These will not be books full of transcendent verse, guidance toward enlightenment, or new age reworkings of ancient scripture. Such publications are certainly valuable, but they are not the subject of my investigation, which is focused on prose and poetry created for reasons of art and entertainment, not self-help. Also, this thing I’m calling “nonduality” may take many forms, not always explicitly about cosmic unity. My loose interpretations may brush up against quantum paradox, the slipperiness of “I”, mysticism from all traditions, the ambiguity of language, and more.

Jim Murdoch has been writing poetry for over thirty years. He’s working on his fifth novel, and has published two. He’s an active blogger. I became aware of him through the POD People blog, where both his novels were praised, then I became even more interested in his work when I read his mixed review of Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, where he made this simple statement: "I like books that make me think." I found it significant that he did not say, "I like books that keep me up all night turning pages." The latter seems to be the prevailing quality standard today, but not for me.

In This Is Not About What You Think, Murdoch uses the title to jump right into the philosophical realms that turn me on. His title is both paradox and wordplay. “This” may refer to... everything. The world. He’s making the point that nothing is as it seems; that your reality and mine are separate because each of us is a center of a different perceived universe. Reality is perception, which is another way of saying that the objective existence we assume for the dazzling multiplicity of things labeled “reality” simply doesn’t exist.

At the same time, the title’s “This” refers to the book itself, its content, so the phrase can mean both “These poems are not about what you the reader decide they’re about,” and “These poems are not about your thoughts” (which is to say, they are about Jim’s thoughts, not the reader’s). Each of which suggest its opposite: that indeed, the poems, once in the hands of a reader, must be primarily about whatever the reader brings to them, since the writer’s part of the dialogue is finished. He can say no more.

This shimmering mirage of multiple meanings, along with the cover image of a Rorschach-style mirrored inkblot (suggesting to me a female body, so what does that mean?), speak to me of the big conundrum: This thing that some of us try to capture with the word “nonduality”--a realization of the ultimate indivisibility of All--can never be captured with a word because the job of words is to separate one thing from another. So, contrary to conventional wisdom, when we make statements that seem elusive and duplicitous--that seem to carry their own negations--we approach as close to truth as language will ever allow. Questions, not answers, are true.

My approach to the content of the book follows the same tack: the poems that resonate with an ambiguity that suggests multi-dimensionality, that undermines assumed reality, are the ones that shine for me. The title poem opens with this stanza:
Every name and place has been changed,
what we did and why -- all changed,
the dates and times, how we really felt,
the reasons we wouldn’t stay away,
everything slightly altered, twisted,...


The accuracy of memory and story is called into question, and after asking whether it all should make sense, the poem ends,
...It’s a pretty good question.
I just don’t have any pretty good answers left
so this will have to do for now.


This rather perfectly captures the marvelous actuality of life in a universe so vast and mysterious that the wisest approach is surrender: it doesn’t make sense, I can’t explain it, this will have to do for now. It’s another way of saying: what is, is. Whatever happens, happens inevitably. This is a profound undercutting of our cherished belief in free will, the human need to feel that the decisions we make actually change the world. But we can’t really know, because what is, is. No deity need be implied; just a simple universal law. With that acceptance, a great burden is lifted. Murdoch confirms the philosophy with this couplet that closes the poem “Shadowplay”:
No, I don’t believe in destiny
but I do in inevitability.


The poem “Background Silence” works on two levels. Its context in the book tells us that it’s a poem about death, set in a hospital. With that reading, it delivers a bleak chill.

Background Silence

The silence was always there
behind the
sounds of monitors and pumps

just as

emptiness was always there
behind the
well wishes and smiles and lies

just as

the blankness was always there
behind the
words on every card you read

because

there is always something to
block our view
of the nothingness that is

coming.


But I prefer to see past, or through, the death poem here to another poem that lies underneath. Silence... emptiness... blankness... nothingness... these are words that for many readers may be frightening or dispiriting, devoid of life, and perhaps that was Murdoch’s intent. But another segment of readers, myself included, find those words liberating, spacious, more life- than death-oriented. After all, without a ground there is no figure. Without a dark sky, we see no stars. For me this poem, while observing death, simultaneously expresses the truth that, in this realm of duality, of so many “things,” our view of the vastness beyond is too often blocked. Perhaps it is by looking at a loved one’s death that most of us catch a glimpse of the unified field in which all life and death play out.

How poetry should be interpreted is an ongoing debate, and I confess that my particular view risks a protest from the poet. For the reader’s sake, I don’t want to mis-characterize this book. The collection as a whole is without a doubt more an exploration of psychology than of philosophy. Murdoch shows a skill for economically capturing family and relationship truths that are much bigger than a few words on a page, like a charcoal sketch captures a gesture. Here’s a portrait of one person that deftly reverberates into other lives:

Making Do

My mother made do almost every day of her life.

There wasn’t much to the dish. To tell you the truth,
Mum could make do
with almost nothing at all.

She’d put on the pot and just let it simmer for hours.

And all of my life so far I’ve tried to do the same
but I find mine
always leaves a bitter taste.

I wish I knew what her secret ingredient was.


Often he ends with a sculpted line that opens like a trap door into old heartache or poignant self-examination that most readers will identify with, made even richer when it’s delivered in a tone that can be interpreted either as tongue-in-cheek or not. I appreciated the generosity in these poems, the willingness to disclose emotional vulnerability, to reveal the tender heart of a child--coupled with the wry perspective of middle age.

One final note: Murdoch closes his poem “Is a Red Wheelbarrow Ever Empty?” with:
I did hear the sounds
of silence
and I think one hand clapping

and a tree fall in
the forest
but I don’t have the words to

explain them.


I’d say in response: Jim, nobody has those words. The sweat and heart evident in your crafted lines, plus the white space around them: that combo does the job. Words are clumsy at best. With this book, you’ve done as well as anyone can with such tools to both dig deep and fly high.

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Get the book here: http://www.fvbooks.com/jmurdoch/jmurdoch4.htm

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Science and Nonduality

Later this month, the Science and Nonduality conference will take place in California. Wish I could be there! This is the stuff I want to weave in subtle ways into my fiction, and use as a lens through which to view others' literary works. Here is a sampler of last year's conference speakers:
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Criminal Manifesto

Today I can't do better than to simply copy and paste my friend Djelloul Marbrook's blog post. Replace poetry with fiction, and it says what I want to say:

Divine criminals

Writing a poem is for a transformation of my being. Alchemical work. It may not be the best poem that best carries forward this project. The individual poem is not as important as the act of creating it, and the act of creating is more important than the oeuvre.

I think carpentry or mathematics could be viewed in the same light. The making of something lights a light, and it is not extinguished when the poem is read, the cabinet breaks down, the poet dies and is forgotten. It is somehow remembered, because we belong to a collective consciousness, one great being.

And I suspect that one great being consists of an infinite number of lesser beings, a pantheon.

When I consider this, when I weigh it against my religious and intellectual experiences, I see how readily paganism came to humankind, how much easier it was to grasp than monotheism. I feel no need to reconcile the two. It would be, for me, a fool’s errand. In fact, I see no real conflict, only the ideological conflicts men have chosen to pursue.

Because the better part of my poetic output has occurred late in life I have often contemplated its nature. Do I write for recognition? I don’t despise it. I wish I did. But more and more I see that I write to transform myself, to understand my materials, my experiences, and to make something of them as a kind of gift to the gods. There are writers who dazzle us and there are writers who enlighten us and there are writers who enable us to live another day, and they’re not always the same. And whenever we think we know something we’re actually in grave danger, which is how I’ve come to think of American society—in grave danger because of what we think we know. I have been considering this from my habitually odd angle of seeing things. I thought I was familiar with most if not all the major anglophone poets of the 20th Century. But in 2008 the distinguished Carcanet Press in England published Sylvia Townsend Warner, New Collected Poems, and I was speechless. I had utterly missed this breathtakingly versatile poet whose life for a time paralleled that of William Butler Yeats and whose poetry sometimes reminds one of his work. I’m going to die only a little less ignorant than when I came, barring any knowledge I might have lost in my arrival. And I suspect that if more of us could bring ourselves to espouse this forlorn conviction—rather than our other noisier and more vehement convictions—we might just resume building the society our forefathers had meant to build.

I have a feeling that every day someone who lives in a cardboard box and is familiar with frostbite and hunger has already done something more memorable than Adolph Hitler or Yeats. But whose memory, which memory? I suspect it is a memory of which we are all part, an immortal consciousness that evolves, expands outward, as the universe is said to expand.

I may have smiled at a child in a cafe and thereby done more to change the world than the sum total of my poetry, and I am more than content with this. Had it not been for a handful of such smiles I would not have survived to say this.

I believe each poem is an act of co-creation with a divine consciousness that requires me as a cooperator, a co-creator, a co-imagist. A conspirator, if you will. I believe that each poem, in this sense, is a dangerous, even a criminal act, an act of divine criminality. And I believe that politics and ideologies exist to suppress this divine criminality and are therefore quintessentially anti-cultural and regressive.

I do not think the act of creating art is carried out against society. I think, rather, that society’s impulse is always to brush off the divine fire that ignites it, like a man rushing out of a burning house and trying douse the fire that has engulfed him. Some of us, a very few, choose to walk around on fire, aware of the very high cost of our decision. Some of us, even fewer, learn to glow but not incinerate. The Sufis refer to this as standing in the fire, in the kiln from which a thing of beauty emerges. But beauty often frightens, and it is this frightening aspect of art that politics seeks to extinguish. One has only to think of Caravaggio in art and Rimbaud in poetry to fathom how establishments of any kind are unnerved by great art and literature. Isn’t that why our media are so trivial? They are at the beck and call of establishments for which trivialization is a weapon as potent as ideology, and a lot cheaper.

And when our dust is finally settled, the one great being we have served, or ill-served, remembers us not for what we should have liked to be remembered but rather for what we were impelled to do by our instincts, our grandest compulsions. And that is why I think of those cardboard shelters and the world’s most despised. —Djelloul Marbrook

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ebook Edition...Thoughts and a Coupon

Call me old school... I've had mixed feelings about my book being trans-substantiated into mere digital bits, as ephemeral as a status update on Facebook. When I created it, it was with a beautiful object in mind, a thing that would offer a visual and tactile experience as well as the mental and emotional experience embedded in the stories and their interconnections. I got pleasure from going through several printed proofs, perfecting the cover and interior design, enjoying the feel of the book in my hand. And I scattered amongst the stories a number of cool drawings by my wife, Wendy Drolma.

But... perhaps there are those whose preference is the visual and tactile experience of a slim electronic gadget in their hand, a sleek little object that can hold the digital equivalent of hundreds of books. My choices of typeface, illustrations, and page layout are not important to them; they want to go directly to the messages buried in the text. So who am I to deny their pleasure?

What I wonder, however, is how our tools shape our minds. There's no question that they do; it's just that it's impossible to measure the dialogue between human inventions and human brains: mind makes tool, tool makes mind. We've consumed stories through oral traditions, from pictographs, from written language hand-inscribed on clay tablets, skins, papyrus, and eventually machine-printed paper pages... while at the same time we've evolved into the humans we are today, for better or worse.

I can't help but wonder if I'm behind the curve... if those who prefer reading on a screen also prefer a different type of story. Maybe something faster, louder, not my rather quiet little narratives with their subtle interweavings and everyman characters facing family crises and inner struggles. I hope that's not the case. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

So... while print books (the dead-tree variety, soon to be called "pbooks") seem to me to be a perfect technology, I am definitely not a Luddite, and so I have decided to offer The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility in ebook formats suitable for all the e-reader devices currently on the market. The ebook version unfortunately does not include Wendy's drawings. It's available for $4.99 here on Smashwords, and soon at many other ebook retailers.

But from now through October 31, get it for only $2.99 by entering this coupon code at checkout: HJ58M. Many thanks!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Big Stone

Here’s a sample from my book, lifted from the middle of a story called “This Handful of Pebbles,” which links to another story, “The Green Beetle.” This is a scene between Marv, a plumber who loves popcorn, and his friend Sid, whose son is in a coma after a car crash. Just a couple of regular guys doing their best to figure it all out.

Marv feels honored. Sid has asked him to come along as he visits the crumpled remains of Matthew’s VW bug in the gravel-covered yard behind Manny’s Garage and Tow. The sky is gray, the air chilly. Sid is leaning awkwardly into the cramped, glass-strewn interior, picking up papers, pens, books, CDs, and putting them into the blue knapsack from which they seem to have exploded as the car rolled, those three long nights ago. Marv watches, his hands feeling wooden, unsure what to do to help his friend. He looks around at the drab assembly of crunched vehicles and wonders if there is a sad story to go with every one.

When Sid stands, straightening his back with a groan, his eyes are wet. He looks through the tears directly at Marv and says, “Do you believe in God?”

Marv is not accustomed to this—to tears, to God-talk, to the twisted carcasses of death-trap cars. His mind goes blank except for one memory: the look and feel of the popcorn kernels he held in his palm last night—their tiny roundness, perfect symmetry, golden sheen.

“I... I don’t know,” he says. “But I believe in... something. You know, that everybody is really more than just a... a body walking around.”

Sid stares at the ground. “I never understood people’s need for religion until now,” he says.

Marv picks up a handful of pea-sized stones from the ground and holds them in his cupped palm under Sid’s gaze. “See these pebbles? See?” Sid nods.

“Now imagine they are popcorn kernels. See, every kernel is not just a little round hard thing... you apply the right amount of heat, and... pop! It turns into a beautiful flower.”

Sid sighs, “Marv, please, enough with the popcorn.”

“No, but don’t you see—they’re just like people, wrapped in their shells, but with all this beauty inside, totally unique, like a divine spirit.”

Sid’s hand suddenly covers his eyes as he lets out a guttural cry, “Aaaahhh!”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Shit, Marv! I’m all messed up, I don’t know anything, nobody ever taught me! My son might die! I mean, I need answers, not, not, you know, a handful of frickin’ gravel!” Sid turns away and strides toward the gate, his shoulders hunched.

“Wait Sid, I know, I’m sorry about the popcorn thing.” Marv hurries to catch up, the stones still in his outstretched hand. An image has leapt into his mind, and he has to speak it.

“But look—look at this handful of pebbles. Every one seems like a separate little stone, you know, an individual, right? But see, that’s not really true. Because they all came from the same big stone, see? They’re all the same stuff, all one substance.”

Sid doesn’t look as he keeps walking. “I’m gonna take Matthew’s bag to the hospital, talk to Emily, see what’s up. You wanna come?”

“Maybe that’s what God is, Sid.”

“What? What the hell is what God is, Marv?”

“The big stone. The substance we’re all made of. You, me, Emily, Polly, Matthew, everybody.”

At his car, Sid stops and turns to Marv. He takes a deep breath. “Okay. You can come with me if you stop with this. Throw the gravel away. I’m just asking you to please shut up now.”

Marv nods and doesn’t say another word. He drops the stones on the ground, wipes his hand on his jeans, and gets into the car. He senses waves of sadness emanating from Sid, silent in the driver’s seat next to him, and he feels his own separate sorrow, wishing he could have been helpful. But as they cruise the bleak streets of the city, his mind cannot stop toying with the feel of pebbles in his palm.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Craft + Heart + Truth + Philosophy

An exchange of comments on Jim Murdoch’s blog set me thinking about what I want to read and what I want to write -- about my own standards for “good fiction.” This is not a new subject of contemplation for me. When I was editing the literary journal Prima Materia, I established three elements that were required in the work I published: Craft, Heart, and Truth. In the years since, I’ve decided to add another one: Philosophy.

My definitions of those terms are, of course, my own. They are entirely subjective and are always evolving. You may have different definitions, or entirely different criteria. Whatever works for you is valid.

Craft: Skillful technique. Confident, effective use of the writer’s tools -- vocabulary, grammar, syntax, rhythm, pace, structure, even punctuation. This is essential, bottom line.

Heart: Compassion for the human condition, empathy with one’s imaginary characters. An acknowledgment of the emotional component of experience, in balance with the physical and intellectual.

Truth: A sense of honesty or authentic communication, in which the author is not showboating or sacrificing believability for manipulative ends. This is not related to “facts” or “non-fiction.”

Philosophy: An underlying idea or worldview, especially when it feels like an enriching, exciting discovery. Best when under conscious control by the author, although frequently is a side-effect.

Somewhere at the intersection of these four streets is where I want to stand as a reader and as a writer, and where I tried to land with my collection, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility. Perhaps my reader-self can let go of Philosophy occasionally. My writer-self can too, but then I find myself wondering, why bother? Storytelling is fun, but I feel compelled to serve something greater. And I get creative juice from “deep” ideas, the more esoteric the better. I’m on a path that includes group therapy and a little light study of nondualism and quantum physics, and I’m often excited to capture in my fiction all the awesome stuff I’m learning.

The main problem with this Philosophy thing is that it can too easily slide into over-concern with Theme, or even into Pedantry (oh, the horror!). So I keep in mind the truths expressed by Thomas McCormack in this essay,‘Theme’ and Its Dire Effects (thanks to Mark Barrett of Ditchwalk).

Any ideas on the subject you want to share? I’d love to hear ‘em.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Request for Feedback

It has now been a year since my book, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, came out. I’m grateful for everyone so far who shelled out their hard-earned bucks to get it, and I’m aware of the risk one takes in buying a book when you don’t know if you’ll like its contents.

I’m also grateful for everyone who has given me their reactions to the book, from reader reviews on Amazon to Facebook messages to personal comments, cocktail in hand, at a party. I’ve felt touched and humbled by the praise, and of course, I’d always like to hear more.

But now, I want to hear from any of my readers who may have felt unwilling to offer any feedback. Maybe you never got around to reading it, maybe you started but lost interest, maybe the book was unsatisfactory somehow, maybe you just plain hated it. Or maybe you loved it but are embarrassed to say so. Now is your chance to tell me anonymously how the book made you feel, what it made you think about. Be general or specific, brief or long-winded, but please just let me know your honest thoughts.

The reason I’m asking for this is mix of feelings that I imagine every artist faces: we work in isolation, we don't really know what we've done, we feel the work is incomplete until the creator-audience circuit is closed, we need evidence of our own existence. So I hope you'll help me out.

Below the Comments text field at the bottom of this post is a drop-down list where you can choose to post as Anonymous. Every comment is good; please hold up the mirror and let me know we're in this together. Thanks!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chopra and Hameroff on Quantum Consciousness

I got this from the always-enriching Nonduality Blog. Deepak Chopra interviews Stuart Hameroff M.D., Professor Emeritus at the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, at the University of Arizona. Here's a short excerpt:

"I don't necessarily ascribe to any particular religion, but I think through quantum physics, three essential components of spirituality can have a plausible scientific explanation. Namely, these are first, interconnectedness among living beings via quantum entanglement. Second is guidance by Platonic wisdom. Penrose also embedded Platonic values in spacetime geometry which can guide our actions, and be viewed as following the way of the Tao, or divine guidance, or whatever you want to call it. And finally, even conceivably the possibility of afterlife or consciousness outside of the body. Because if consciousness is happening in the spacetime geometry, normally in the brain, then when the blood, oxygen and metabolic energy stop driving the classical auto-pilot activity, the quantum information extending to spacetime isn't destroyed, but can perhaps leak out or dissipate in a more holographic distribution, but remained entangled. So it's possible that a soul could exist afterwards in Planck scale geometry. There could be reincarnation. I don't have any proof, and I'm not saying this necessarily happens, but if it does, here is a plausible scientific explanation."

The interview is long and covers a lot of territory, but is not hard reading. Find it here on SFGate.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conflicted

I don't like trumpeting this, but I'm doing it anyway:
One week left! Get 10% off the price of my book PLUS get a free copy of The Other Face: Experiencing the Mask. Just order the print version of The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility from Lulu.com and enter the coupon code SUMMERREAD305 at checkout, then forward the receipt from Lulu to me at order[at]blissplotpress[dot]com.

I'm uncomfortable with being a salesman. Hawking art like merchandise feels sleazy. At the same time, I want people to read my book and I want it to bring me dollars so I can recoup the (small) expense of publishing it. Sales = good. Selling = bad. I have Inner Conflict.

This is a good thing.

To be "of two minds" (or more) is much better for a fiction writer than to be comfortably reductionist. In storytelling, conflict is key. And self-observation may be the best tool (neck-and-neck with observation of others) an author can employ in creating convincing characters. Each of us is a world in microcosm, a jumble of contradictory selves like cats in a bag. We label the bag "I" just to get along in society.

Truth is, we live in a complicated universe. Complexity theory tells us that everything is a system of interrelating parts, and attempts to reduce the complexity run the risk of falsification: simplistic rather than simple. To embrace the big tangle is to think holistically. Aristotle in the Metaphysics: "The whole is more than the sum of its parts."

I am an entire ecology. So are you. That's the truth of being human. It feels good to accept what is.

So I occasionally play a salesman role, and will continue as long as it feels right to do so. When it doesn't, I'll stop.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I Am Not a Brand

The writing/publishing journey includes a stretch of highway running through a desolate landscape of blood and horror, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It's usually just called Self-Promotion.

I've been happy to visit that territory less and less frequently in the months since my book came out, as I've learned more about walking a path with heart.

Part of the torture is the non-stop screaming of harpies with Advice: marketing, branding, networking, facebooktweettweetblahblahblah! So I was glad to come across a blog by author Maureen Johnson that expresses very well my thoughts about selling one's work on the Internet (it's funny too). Read her Manifesto here:
http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/06/08/manifesto/

Thanks, Maureen!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memento Mori

On Memorial Days when I was a child, my mother would take me and my siblings to visit the grave of her older brother Adrian, who died in France in World War II. She had been a young teen at the time, the baby of a mostly fatherless family, and Adrian, in his 20s, had been the brother who had taken on the role of "man of the family." He had risen admirably to the task... until that dark day, the day of the unfathomable news.

After his death he became family legend, the golden boy, the perfect man. By telling me that I reminded her of him, my mother could keep me on the straight and narrow, a guilt cage. But that's another story.

When I visited that cemetery as a child, perhaps with my baby brother in tow, I never imagined that as a young adult I would be there again, visiting my little brother's grave. My brother Cal died at 21, as a result of his own drunk driving. My book The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility is dedicated to him because so much of it was written as my own way of processing his death.

Memorial Day is about honoring those who died in wars defending our nation's liberty. Cal was a casualty of another kind of war: the war for personal freedom in an oppressive society. A wild-child rock-n-roller, he was doing his best to break out of the deadly prison of a fundamentalist Mormon upbringing, to let his creative spirit fly, to be his true self. But he had no tools to work with, his armor was defective, and, like every young soldier who dies in battle, he didn't see the bullet coming.

In my worldview, wars are manifestations of inner human states. In that light, the struggle for individual spiritual emancipation is even more important and heroic than the gory battles over invisible borders and political non-issues.

I'll never know why the role of the dead brother was Cal's to fill, not mine. I've had to fight the battle for personal liberty myself, and he has been an immense help. Cal is the advance scout, venturing into the ultimate unknown territory ahead of all of us. If the cemetery was not 2,000 miles away from my current home, I'd honor him by visiting his grave today.

I've recently been inspired reading past installments of Jason Stern's "Esteemed Reader" columns from Chronogram Magazine, several of which explore a truth that is crucial to healthy living, something that wisdom traditions from Sufi to Samurai urge: "Die before you die." Consider your own death, prepare for it, know that you are temporary, and then live to the fullest in the here and now.

Memories of my brother, this blog entry, the book it refers to, even Memorial Day itself -- each serves me best as a memento mori. Memento mori is Latin for "Remember you must die," or in another interpretation, "Be mindful of dying."

Let's let this Memorial Day and every other day remind us: Life is short; live it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Writing and the Mask (Again)

This is a re-post from last year, resurrected to coincide with the opening of my wife's new mask studio/gallery in Phoenicia, NY. It's an essay that I revised a bit from my introduction to an anthology about masks (get a free copy). It gives a taste of my thoughts about the art of writing fiction....

Writing and the Mask

I am wearing a mask. Right now, as I write this. It is not a physical thing covering my face; rather, it is in the "I" that begins this paragraph. Again, now: I write "I" followed by a verb, and you the reader perceive me, a writer, telling you his own "truth." But no matter what I write, "I" is a lie. And no matter what I write, "I" is also the truth.

This conundrum is explored in an anthology, The Other Face: Experiencing the Mask, that I co-edited along with professional maskmaker Wendy Drolma (Klein). The book explores the meaning of the mask through poetry, art, "fiction" and "non-fiction" (I put those words in quotes because, in the end, their definitions are entirely elusive). What you are reading here is a revised version of the book's introduction.

If I were writing here in a mode called "fiction," you would gladly accept the mask and maybe even think, "how creative." In the anthology, when Robert Louis Stevenson wears the face of his invention Dr. Jekyll and says, "I was born in the year 18-- to a large fortune...," we enter into a kind of theater and suspend our disbelief. Our pleasure is in believing the obvious lie. When Barry Yourgrau starts the final story, "I come into the kitchen...," we're not so sure that this is an invented persona speaking, but we go along happily as his darkish whimsy unfolds. Mark Sherman's "I" may make us squirm a bit because, while his story has the trappings of fiction, the narrator, we think, just might be Mr. Sherman himself, pretending otherwise. The mask grows thinner.

But there are "non-fiction" works in the volume as well. For instance, this introduction. Since it is not fiction, it must be true, right? The mask of "I" is not acknowledged; it is a sly disguise that looks similar enough to my real face (is there such a thing?) that you don't suspect I wear a mask at all. In the anthology, Michael Perkins, Sparrow, and Gabriel Q all write an "I" that also makes no suggestion of a mask. Does that mean their works are "true"?

Samuel Avital, Sophie Rogers-Gessert, Vincent Lloyd, and George Ulrich don't need an "I" at all; in their essays, they wear the masks of authority, of objectivity, of educated reason. But simply to set pen to paper, one must adopt the persona of "writer." Carl Jung said, "The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual."

I write fiction. I believe in the power of imagination, and I have often "hired" someone not myself -- a persona -- to narrate my stories. When Oscar Wilde said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth," he was right: behind that mask, my conscious agendas, my censors, my carefully constructed "self," all disappear, and without "me" in control, I tell the truth. The real truth. It slips in through the unguarded back door. It can't be otherwise, because I am I.

Except, of course, for the Buddhist truth that "I" is just an illusion anyway. As Alan Watts said, "I" is just the Universe "eyeing." Each of us is both the center and not the center: double in nature. Dr. Jekyll can't face himself as he writes about Hyde: "He, I say -- I cannot say, I." He denies his own double nature even as he admits it. In a similar self-deconstruction, H.G. Wells' Invisible Man turns his unhappy being into apparent nothingness and then, hiding in a costumier's shop, must put on a mask and false whiskers to make himself again perceptible in the world. The masked man always dons another mask, and so it goes.

Pablo Picasso said: "Art is a lie that tells the truth." The anthology The Other Face, our little work of art, is full of masks, but it is also full of truth. I hope readers approach it with an open heart, and receive wisdom. And as for whether these warm wishes come from "me" or from some persona in my employ, I feel as Jorge Luis Borges does, when he closes the story "Borges and I"...
"I do not know which of us has written this page."

----

The Other Face: Experiencing the Mask, published by Bliss Plot Press, is available from Wendy Drolma Masks.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Get a Free Book!

During the months of May and June 2010, buy a copy of my story collection, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility (print version only: $14.95) from Lulu.com and Bliss Plot Press will send you a free copy of The Other Face: Experiencing the Mask, a fascinating anthology of writings about the mystery of masks (an $8.00 value).

Get more information about both books at BlissPlotPress.com.

When your purchase at Lulu is complete, you'll get an e-mail receipt. Just forward that receipt to Bliss Plot Press, along with your shipping address, and they'll put The Other Face in media mail at no cost to you. Send the receipt to: order [at] blissplotpress [dot] com .

Two good books for the price of one!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Human Social Ecosystem

Here are a few thoughts inspired by Earth Day...

I was pleased to discover that the term "ecology" was first defined by zoologist/artist Ernst Haeckel in 1866--pleased because Haeckel has been for years an important presence in my home, since his beautiful illustrations of radiolarians (single-celled organisms) are a primary source of inspiration for my wife Wendy Drolma's work as a maskmaker and sculptor (explore her site; the studio tour video shows Haeckel's presence).

That line of influence stretching across centuries is, in my view, an example of how the complex ecosystem of human interaction operates. The field of Human Ecology shares much with the social sciences and is built on concepts from ecology like interconnectivity, community behavior, and spatial organization--all subjects that interest me. But while Human Ecology's interdisciplinary studies focus on the tangible, I'm more fascinated by the ephemeral: invisible but impactful threads of consequence radiating in all directions among us, in the form of objects, ideas, events, subtle contact shared by absolute strangers. While the Haeckel>Drolma connection is easy to see, the less visible vectors of influence are just as real, with the power to shift our thoughts, nudge our behaviors, send our lives along new trajectories.

We're all part of a vast, complex network of interdependencies, give-and-take, message-and-feedback, an invisible social ecosystem. Of course, the Internet itself, and more specifically, the behemoths of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and all their smaller siblings, come to mind immediately. More and more digital ink flows every day exploring just what the social networking phenomenon means to human life and development. But just like Korzybski's "the map is not the territory," those sites are powerful tools, but are still merely cyberspace metaphors for the real thing: our true interconnectedness.

In The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, I've attempted to illustrate, or embody, some of the ways the human ecosystem works, and to provide another type of metaphor for Nondualism. The stories are linked in a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Several of the stories are made up of smaller stories, apparently disconnected, but sharing a strand of commonality that has a definite, if difficult to see, effect on the characters. In the story "Echoes: Five Men Speak," the strand is a music CD that passes from one man to another, all strangers to each other. That contact is not meaningless; in each case it has some small consequence... but as the Butterfly Effect tells us, even the smallest of actions can have big results.

"Echoes" was originally published in the online journal Jerry Jazz Musician, here. I hope you'll read it.

And I continue to hope that little by little, our species is inching toward a shared vision of our Oneness.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Writer Wrestling with Unity

Back in December a shortened version of my story "Baptism" was published in a literary journal called RELIEF: A Quarterly Christian Expression. The Christian Right has rubbed me so far the wrong way (I mean, really far) that I had felt real misgivings about submitting the story to this journal. On the other hand, they seemed relatively open-minded ("Christian writing unbound" is their slogan), and I felt my story about a Mormon boy and his adopted Navajo brother had some truth to speak to such an audience, so I sent it anyway.

It felt good to see the story in print (besides in my book), and the editor subsequently invited me to write a guest post for their blog. Again I felt reticent at first (my ego: I don't want people thinking I'm Christian!), but I enjoyed recapping how my journey toward publication of my book coincided with my entry into nonduality philosophy. And now I see how the blog's title, A Writer Wrestling with Unity, has another meaning as well: I'm confronting my own resistance to inclusivity, to embracing the "other," even as I learn the truth of our oneness.

The guest blog appeared in February. I hope you'll read it:
http://www.reliefjournal.com/2010/02/27/a-writer-wrestling-with-unity/

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sharing the Stage (Take Two)

A month ago, a Big Scary Snowstorm forced the rescheduling (to now: Spring!) of a reading event that I'm very pleased to be part of, with Gail Godwin, John Bowers, and Heather Rolland (details below). I'll be reading from my story collection The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility (see links to reviews on the right). Since one of the themes of my book is the interconnections among people and the subtle influences exerted by those invisible circuits, I've been thinking about the other three readers with whom I'll be sharing the stage....

I'm especially humbled to be on the same program with Gail Godwin. She's a literary celebrity, with three National Book Award nominations, a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and five novels on the New York Times best seller list. Although we both live in Woodstock, I met Gail only once, briefly. It was May, 2002, and she was attending the launch party of my publishing project, Prima Materia, a literary annual for Hudson Valley writers. She was the guest of one of the contributors to that first issue, Djelloul Marbrook (insightful blogger, fine fiction writer, prize-winning poet), and his wife Marilyn, who have since become dear friends of mine. Gail was raised in Asheville, North Carolina, a place where I was once very pleased to discover a delightfully countercultural health food store, a bright spot on a long, dreary journey along the corporate treadmill of the interstate.

I've never met John Bowers, but chances are good we've seen each other. He lives in Phoenicia, NY, a quaint/funky village that is the home of many of my friends, my daughter's school, and frequent breakfasts, lunches, and gallery strolls by my wife and I. John is also a literary star, with seven published books, many articles and essays, and twenty years as a writing professor at Columbia University. I found myself in his home town, Johnson City, Tennessee, just last month. It was a welcome stopping point on a dark wintry night after twelve hours of driving, heading home from New Orleans. Wendy and I were even able to have a good Indian meal and a glass of wine, not our usual highway fare.

Heather Rolland and I share a number of friends on Facebook (that feeble simulacrum of the Net of Indra) and she's a member of the networking website I started, Hudson Valley Writers. I was aware of her first novel, and knew that she and I could probably talk shop about the experience of independent publishing. We had only that strange, disembodied cyber-connection, like electronic eavesdropping, that is today's version of "friendship," until she attended my reading/booksigning event last Fall. I enjoyed meeting her and her husband and daughter, but was too busy signing books to chat at length, so even though we've met in person and live in neighboring towns, the connection is still mostly in cyberspace. I look forward to hearing her read.

This event is an example of what I love about the Hudson Valley, and in particular, our northern Ulster County corner of it: the creative talent that bubbles up out of these woods and small towns is amazing. There must be something in the water.

Please join us. Here are the details:
Sunday 3/28, 4 pm
Inquiring Mind Coffeehouse and Bookstore
65 Partition St., Saugerties, NY
845-246-5775

Gail Godwin will read from her new novel Unfinished Desires: http://gailgodwin.com/
John Bowers will read from his new novel Love in Tennessee: http://www.johnbowersauthor.com/
Heather Rolland will read from her novel Finders, Seekers, Losers, Keepers, and forthcoming sequel Honey Melon Fudge: http://www.heatherrolland.com/

Arrive early, order coffee, browse books, chat with the authors. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

For Free

Driving to work, I heard the old Joni Mitchell song, "For Free," in which she compares herself to a street musician:

I slept last night in a good hotel / I went shopping today for jewels / The wind rushed around in the dirty town / And the children let out from the schools / I was standing on a noisy corner / Waiting for the walking green / Across the street he stood / And he played real good / On his clarinet, for free

Now me I play for fortunes / And those velvet curtain calls / I've got a black limousine / And two gentlemen / Escorting me to the halls / And I play if you have the money / Or if you're a friend to me / But the one man band / By the quick lunch stand / He was playing real good, for free

Nobody stopped to hear him / Though he played so sweet and high / They knew he had never / Been on their TV / So they passed his music by / I meant to go over and ask for a song / Maybe put on a harmony... / I heard his refrain / As the signal changed / He was playing real good, for free


It reminded me of the street musicians I always encounter on my annual Mardi Gras trip to New Orleans -- some very talented, some not so much, all nobodies struggling for a buck.

Or not. Because it also reminded me of the experiment conducted by the Washington Post in January 2007, in which world-acclaimed virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, incognito, played masterpieces on a Stradivarius for 45 minutes in a Washington metro station during the morning commute. Of 1,097 passersby, only 7 stopped to listen at length. Most ignored him entirely. Donations totalled $32, although on the previous night Bell had played a concert where seats sold for $100.

I'm not commenting on the rat race or cultural ignorance or mercenary urges, nor am I pondering the meaning of context, "art without a frame," etc. Instead, I'm thinking about the role each of us plays in the drama of life... how we were chosen for the part, how well we perform despite the payback or lack thereof, how graciously we accept the role we've been given.

In my view, fame and fortune are not earned. Neither intensity of labor nor quality of work has a cause-effect relationship to worldly rewards. Some folks have been selected to be stars; others have not. The universe has birthed everything we see to be exactly as it is. Nothing can be otherwise. If a droplet in the ocean were sentient, it might easily convince itself that it is a powerful free agent whose own decisions make it go this way and that, up and down, here and there, without ever being aware of the ocean's vast currents at work underneath its every move. While human free will itself may not be an illusion, its consequences are. When someone lifts himself by his own bootstraps, it's because he's playing the "Bootstrap Guy" in the script. He deserves praise for his sweat, but that does not mean it actually caused his success.

"He was playing real good, for free..." Joni saw that she and the street clarinetist were equals, just performing on different stages, and being rewarded differently. The unfortunate fact is that too many people didn't listen because "They knew he had never / Been on their TV." If Joshua Bell had been a more familiar face from pop culture, more people would have paid attention. To them, fame equals value... consensus is more important than personal perception... nothing not already known is worth knowing.

In the literary arena, there are blockbuster author-celebrities, hardworking genre craftspeople, fringe-dwelling creatives, and an ever-growing mob of scrambling self-published storytellers and poets with skills from the ridiculous to the sublime. I'm among that latter group. Apparently my role is not to be a big-selling author but to be an independent artist, and my responsibility is stay true to myself, do the best work I can, and let go of the results.

It's not always easy to duck the missiles of "fame equals value." Invisibility hurts; not so much when it's "me" who's invisible, but rather when it's my work -- work that I know is good -- that's ignored. Ignored because I have no "platform" -- that is, fame. One of the ever-more-prominent protocols in self-publishing is to give away one's work in e-book format as a way to jump-start a following. In other words, to be that street-corner clarinetist, playing real good, for free. I've had very mixed feelings about that.

This discussion intersects with the always lucid thoughts of Mark Barrett on Ditchwalk.com. His March 1 post called "Doctorow, Anderson and Godin, Oh My" shines an Emperor's New Clothes light on the "free content" movement. I'm with Barrett: I don't want to be part of the trend toward celebrity as a measure of value. I say let celebrities play their celebrity roles; I'll play my writer role, thank you very much. However it works out, that's how it works out. And I lean toward Barrett's (old-fashioned) ideas that professionalism can be indicated by price (see his March 2 post as well as others about "platform").

Trouble is, I had already put my book in digital form on Smashwords.com with the tag, "You set the price!" Then, after looking at it there in the various e-book formats, I felt so disgusted by the utter lack of design or formatting consistency that I did nothing to let the world know. This is not what I ever wanted my book to look like. Sure, the stories are really my work, not the page design. But no, for me it's more than that -- if it's not a beautiful object, I'd rather not have my name on it. Current conventional wisdom would suggest that I'm cutting my own throat with this attitude. Maybe I'll change; time will tell.

Eckhart Tolle tells me to ask myself, "Can I be the space for this?" Part of what that means to me is, to follow Byron Katie's presciption, "loving what is." Opening my arms to welcome the actual... breathing... knowing that in this moment, all is well... not resisting my emotions, my intuitions, the whispers of truth from the world. These positions all of us hold in the heirarchy of this dreamscape, these roles we are playing in the drama, they are exactly the right roles. For free or not, let's play them the best we can.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sharing the Stage: READING EVENT RESCHEDULED FOR MARCH

I'm very pleased to announce that I'll be part of a reading/booksigning program that includes Gail Godwin, John Bowers, and Heather Rolland, Sunday 2/28 in Saugerties, NY. I'll be reading from my story collection The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility.

Details:
Sunday 2/28, 4 pm
Inquiring Mind Coffeehouse and Bookstore
65 Partition St., Saugerties, NY
845-246-5775

Gail Godwin will read from her new novel Unfinished Desires: http://gailgodwin.com/
John Bowers will read from his new novel Love in Tennessee: http://www.johnbowersauthor.com/
Heather Rolland will read from her novel Finders, Seekers, Losers, Keepers, and forthcoming sequel Honey Melon Fudge: http://www.heatherrolland.com/

Arrive early, order coffee, browse books, chat with the authors. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Indivisibility Book Trailer #1

Does a video really sell books? I don't know, but conventional wisdom says you gotta have one. Or more. Truth is, I had fun putting this little one together (only 35 seconds), and I look forward to doing more, and longer ones, in the future. Enjoy!


To see it bigger, go to YouTube.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Intention, Not Resolution

I don't do New Year's Resolutions. "Resolve" seems a stony thing, grim and inflexible. In a mountain river, I'd rather be water than boulder.

Rather than make a resolution, I prefer to set an intention.

An intention seems to better fit the truth I've felt attracted to lately: that free will is merely an illusion. As Jay Michaelson says in a Huffington Post essay that brings nonduality into pop culture: "Free will" exists as a psychological reality, but not as an ontological one. Like the individual self, it's a mirage: "You" exist, sure, but you exist just like a wave on the ocean: here one minute, gone the next, and never apart from the ocean itself. In that light, taking a firm-jawed, self-important stand on a "resolution" just seems silly.

So I have intentions. One intention for the year is to return to regular journaling, using ink on paper. My most creative and prolific writing years were when I was freely journaling, filling up book after book with both mundane record-keeping and giddy flights of inspiration. Then, I would develop the eureka moments on a keyboard, transforming them into fiction. As I've moved further into the cyber-world, my use of dead trees has declined, but so has my creative juice. For me, there's magic in the hand-pen-paper circuit.

Not only that, but blogging is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, it's too public, which for me means it's not spontaneous enough. I craft my blog too carefully for it to fill the uninhibited role of a journal. Second, it feels transient, not actually real. When I'm gone from this sphere, I want my children to have a physical record of my life, rendered in my own handwriting, caressable by their fingers, easy to pull off a shelf... not merely a list of hyperlinks or a shiny thingy full of binary code inaccessible without an electric machine. Maybe I'm not confident there'll be an infrastructure left by then.

Another intention for 2010 is to re-read some favorite fiction through a new lens. I'm interested in how literary fiction can incorporate principles of nonduality without losing its identity and without becoming didactic or cliched. I want to explore the expression of Unity, from ancient Advaita to the mysteries of quantum physics, in modern realistic storytelling. This is done in several ways: by looking with new interpretive eyes at work I already love, by reading new stuff, and by writing my own.

This intention does not bite off too much: I'll begin by looking again at some of Paul Auster's early work, which has been of vital importance to my creative development, and see if it offers up new insights through my nonduality glasses. Then, if I feel so inclined, I'll move on to Nabokov, Brautigan, Marquez, others. And I'll keep an eye out for writing I haven't already read that seems likely to feed this hunger.

Maybe I'll even write about what I discover. Maybe it will appear here on this blog. Or not. Maybe it will only appear as scribbled notes in my journal. Or not. It will be what it will be. After all, it's not a resolution, only an intention.