Monday, November 23, 2020

Dubious Futures

 Or suppose you just opened the empty page and waited long enough for something to arise? 

"...there is no difference between inspiration and lack of distraction. They are the same thing."

I would guess that my most consistent error, in recent years, has been not making the space. Not sitting still. Yes, I have let myself be eaten up by political thought. I had to do the political thinking, because my former thinking was wrong. But my conclusion at the end of it all was that I had nothing very useful to say, certainly not directly. It may all rise to the surface eventually. Who cares? No point in taking responsibility for dubious futures.

If there's something I have spent years of thought and meditation on, it's just that fundamental, first question: how should I live? 

And although I manifestly do not know how to live, I also manifestly am further along than I was before. 

When I began blogging, I was first engaging with Buddhism. A long and fruitful struggle, ongoing. I might still qualify as a Buddhist, I don't know. I've misplaced my membership card. But anyway, at one point I had a bit of a readership that looked to me for wisdom, which was gratifying, if poisonous. If I knew so much about domesticating my mind, why was it so frantic and feral? Why could I not control (for instance) my eating? I felt fraudulent. I backed off. I thought: before I swagger around dispensing advice, shouldn't I actually be able to change my behavior?

So I did actually change my behavior, eventually. It was a huge effort, and is still a huge effort. It has been a surprisingly practical and detail-oriented effort.  One of my many false expectations was that something would fall into place. I'd get my mind and my attitude right and suddenly the difficulties would fall away.

That's not what happened at all. Instead I had to attack a thousand small problems and solve them one by one. What time do I eat lunch? Do I add carrot slices to my salad? Do I put salt in my morning oatmeal?

In a way, you could say it was just a matter of getting my mind and my attitude right: but much of what I had to do was lose my disdain for practical planning and detail. The right food has to be in the right place at the right time, or I'll eat the wrong food. I have to know how much I'm going to eat before I start, or I'll eat too much. 

So here I am, three years later. I've succeeded in that one behavior, anyway. A year and a half of losing the weight, and two years of keeping it off: I no longer worry much about the possibility of relapse. But I come back to weighing the role of meditation in it, and my role as a dispenser of  wisdom, and I find that I'm not very interested in it any more. I know far less about how anyone ought to live than I thought I did, and anyone else's way will lie through a thousand details, just as mine did: details I know nothing about and can't meaningfully help with. I don't know if you should put salt in your oatmeal. I don't know if you should meditate.

Probably this dispenser-of-wisdom stuff was mostly in my head to begin with: I didn't really have gaggles of people clustering around me wanting to know how to live. Such attraction as I had from the start, maybe, was my willingness to confess that I didn't know how to live. That allure, anyway, I should still have. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Slanted Lines

 Well, then: you've seen them go sprawling often enough, skinning their palms, banging their elbows, making chimp grimaces so as not to cry: what of that?

And you have pounded the disks flat in the sand, with a palm or with a heel, while the sky considers every variant of steel, from the bright ripples there away just above the trees to the heavy tarnish above, and the lights drains away: is that supposed to tell us more?

Because the question, then, now, and probably always, was: how do I live? A question that you might think should arise only after "may I live?" and "may I choose my life?" but you would be -- not for the first time, forgive me, little light! -- you would be quite terribly mistaken, because the question comes up premature: botched and mottled, a monster, an awkwardness from its first day and ever after. It is the first question, and we ask it before any of its answers could possibly be of use to us. That's how we're made.

(And I would like to make clear, at this point, that I had nothing to do with the design of human beings. I take no responsibility, none.)

But it is obvious from the start that a life worth living would have music, dance, and singing in it, not just around the periphery, but at its heart. And not as packaged commodities for purchase, but as what we do ourselves with a whole heart; clumsy, lame, and hoarse as we might be. And it would come inevitably, twice a week: if we missed, there would come a knock at the door, and the maenads would drag us out to the dancing lawn. That's what happens in civilized countries. 

And it would have lovemaking, and the silence after, and the slow return of light. These things are obvious, aren't they? They don't need to be argued.

Most of life, now and always, will be made up of addressing the problems at hand. Life has two parts: addressing problems, and making beauty. In the intervals there is sleep, and the long dream; but we're not quite ready to discuss that.

Why should anyone listen to us, little light, when we don't yet know how to live? Why should our exhortations and denunciations be taken seriously? 


leaves have filled the pool

and some few float with their leafstalks

above the water line:

red diagonal strokes across

a lion-colored page

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Una luna gibosa

 Una luna gibosa, menguante, y las horas tan largas.  Dejo a mis hijos una tierra quebrada. He fracasado. Y estoy tan cansado, ahora; tan cansado. ¿Qué debería haber hecho? Y qué debo hacer ahora?

Allá, a través de la claraboya, la luna me reprocha. El tiempo malgastado; las ambiciones frivolas. Y ahora es demasiado tarde: soy viejo, estúpido, frágil. Mi única habilidad es el entendimiento de palabras oscuras, y ahora incluso eso me escapa.

No entiendo mis enemigos. No puedo persuadirlos o convencerlos. Son implacables, sin piedades. Inapelables.

Las horas tan largas. Y la mañana se rehusa a venir.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Un mundo sin alabanzas

 Halloween, hoy, pero no hay de trick-or-treaters, a causa de la pandemia. Leo ahora el libro tercero de Señor de los anillos (en español.) Esta vez me fijo sobre todo en la cortesía, que tan importante es por Tolkien: la virtud de virtudes. Y así es para mí también. Me pregunto si la cortesía debe ser siempre resultado de una sociedad de clases: ¿es posible tener cortesía sin señores? Y si no, ¿quiero de verdad una sociedad sin clases? No sé. He leído un libro sobre los bosquimanos, Affluence Without Abundance, el año pasado, y el autor dice que no tienen historias de heroes, y no tienen hombres de gran reputación. Envidia y desprecio es la respuesta típica a afirmaciones de toda clase de grandeza humana. Y eso me parece triste. Un mundo sin alabanzas no es el mundo que anhelo.