Filed under: Books

Ode To The Cat

by Pablo Neruda

Rosie The Cat

There was something wrong
with the animals:
their tails were too long, and they had
unfortunate heads.
Then they started coming together,
little by little
fitting together to make a landscape,
developing birthmarks, grace, pep.
But the cat,
only the cat
turned out finished, and proud:
born in a state of total completion,
it sticks to itself and knows exactly what it wants.
Men would like to be fish or fowl,
snakes would rather have wings,
and dogs are would-be lions.
Engineers want to be poets,
flies emulate swallows,
and poets try hard to act like flies.
But the cat
wants nothing more than to be a cat,
and every cat is pure cat
from its whiskers to its tail,
from sixth sense to squirming rat,
from nighttime to its golden eyes.
Nothing hangs together
quite like a cat.

Leave a Comment December 4, 2012

It’s Almost That Time Again…

Yes, Yes it’s time for another trip to sunny Negril, though this one kinda snuck up on me. Saturday June 7th I’ll leave the house in Brooklyn about 5AM, and I’ll be on the J.U.T.A. bus to Negril by noon.

On past trips I’d be packed by now, my over-stuffed rolling duffel bag sitting expectantly by the door, but this time around the bag is yet to be zipped. I did some stuff, but I still need to hit Target for some necessities. I’m having a tough time finding heavy-duty bug repellant in New York City.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of posting my packing list a few weeks out, but I think the idea has gotten stale. I don’t think I added anything since the last trip, and some stuff was never unpacked.

So this trip will be completely unscheduled. I rarely follow my damned schedule anyway, but for some reason I feel the need to pencil something in.

I will be posting, my room at the Blue Cave Castle is very close to the WIFI, so there shouldn’t be a problem.

See you in Negril!

Vinny (~~)

3 Comments June 1, 2008

Zen thoughts . . .

For years I’ve been moving towards eastern philosophy for the answers to my questions. I tried to find my place in conventional western belief systems, but I just couldn’t get past the invisible man in the sky thing. The Force, Universal Consciousness, call it what you will, but that’s what made sense to me. I wanted to cut through the BS, to get to the point. 

A friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. In this book I saw the question phrased in a way I understood it, and the open ended answer seemed to point directly at me.

Born and breed Irish Catholic the idea of a non-theistic religion took a long time to sink in. Over the next few years I read voraciously on the subject. I read the popular books; The Celestine Prophecy, The Alchemist, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and even The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. I also read dozens no one’s ever heard of. I went to workshops on “Realizing Your Chakra Energy,” participated in Drum Circles, and other like-minded New Age-y things.

I did a lot of meditation, but I wasn’t very consistent. It was this style one week, this tape the next and so on. No matter how much I sat I didn’t realize any realizations, skies opening or enlightening, but there was something there, something I couldn’t quite grasp, something that kept me coming back.

So, when I moved to Brooklyn last July I made it a point to go to the Zen Center Of New York City to see what they had going on. I wrote about my experience that first Sunday on this site, but not much since. There’s a Buddhist saying: He who knows does not speak, He who speaks does not know. So read further at your own risk.

People always ask, “What do you do there?” Well, we mostly sit, there’s some chanting, and some great teaching.

“You just sit?” Well not exactly, we do Zazen, a form of sitting meditation which is hard to explain, you just have to do it.

“Do you chant prayers to Buddha?” No, chanting isn’t praying, and Buddha isn’t a god.

For something fairly simple it’s very hard to explain. Zen Buddhism is experiential in nature, and it takes time for the clouds in your mind to part for it all to start making sense, and even then it only comes in glimpses. There is something about the practice of sitting quietly and doing nothing, to sit with your own mind, which opens a whole realm of possibilities. 

All the books I’d read pale in comparison to an actual thirty-five minute session of sitting. As it was told to me that first Sunday in beginning instruction after describing the mechanics of sitting Zazen; a very easy to say, but to truly enter into it is the most challenging thing you will ever do.

The challenge is the question, “What is this life?” and for twenty-five hundred years people have been coming to The Buddha for a path to the answer. An answer that can’t be given to you, one you must figure out for yourself.

More to come…

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment April 20, 2008

Into Thin Air – Book Review

Into Thin Air - Krakauer I never dreamed of climbing Mt. Everest whether it was there or not, hell I get winded on a ski lift. Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, evokes wonder, tempered by visions of stark conditions and daunting sacrifice.

Krakauer writes in a way so pain-stakingly specific, yet somehow leaving room for the reader’s imagination to fill-in the scene. A rudimentary map in the prologue colored by about a dozen black and white glossies mid-way through the book were all I needed to paint an intimate picture of the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster.

I’d never put much thought into what it would take to do something as monumental as climbing Mount Everest. Logistics aside, preparing oneself for such a quixotic adventure must include long hours staring into mirrors. I was captivated by the soul cleansing effect of pushing one’s mind and body so far beyond the boundaries of safety and sanity. Krakauer enlightens this aspect of the story only as someone writing from real experience can. The reality and tragedy of these events only begin in the text. The full force of the story gripped me far beyond words.

Shivering through pre-dawn walks to the subway in Brooklyn while reading Into Thin Air, I tried to picture myself trudging across the frozen waste of the Western Cwm with a trusty Sherpa by my side. Fifty below zero, sixty mile per hour wind gusts, hundred foot crevasses, thirty percent oxygen levels, sheesh, count me out, I’ll wait for the DVD.

Now, I don’t want to turn this blog into a book review site (how friggin’ boring would that be?), but I love this guy! Into Thin Air is recommended reading.

Peace,

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment March 7, 2008

Back In Philly . . .

205, Damn! The scale in my mother’s upstairs bathroom shouts up at me in bland grey digits.

At first weighing the scale showed a more agreeable, albeit false, 186, but I knew it was just toying with me. The fluffy artichoke green toilet mat somehow got stuck in the lower left corner of my mom’s digital scale. It’s the only scale I ever use. First, it’s a good scale. My sister Anne bought it for Christmas or a birthday some years ago. I don’t know how you buy your mom a scale as a present, but I guess it’s a mother/daughter thing because mom loves it, though somehow I doubt a son could have gotten away with such a gift. Oh yeah, and second, I tend to trust things digital.

I had estimated 209-212. I usually err on the high side so as to stave off disappointment. Those of us in the girthy set play these games with ourselves. So after a quick shower and a pee (every ounce counts) I tried again. I tapped the scale with my foot to awaken it, waited for the display to read 0.00, and then stepped on.

“Blink-Blink 205.0” Well, several pounds less than my estimate, but I was exactly 205 at Christmas, and I was hoping to break the stalemate.

It was a bit before 5AM, so I called a cab and got dressed. Oh, did I mention I was naked for the first few paragraphs? By 5:12AM I was at the Edison Train Station, and by 5:16AM I was headed south to Philly. This was my second trip to Philly in the past five days, and since I was sans car I had more trains, trolleys and busses in my future. But for this trip I’d planned a Phil-a-riffic treat for myself! I de-trained at Suburban Station in Center City Philadelphia at exactly 7:09AM, and since time was a factor in my little scheme, I ran up the several flights of marble stairs to 16th & Arch Streets; 205 not withstanding.

Like the Philadelphia Landmark that it is, there stood Tom’s Lunch Truck, my favorite street cart on the planet, standing humbly just where I left it seven months ago. If this was an audio blog, Handel’s Messiah would be playing in the background right now. It took all the strength I had not to run up to the cart giggling like a girl scout.

Tom and his wife were friendly as ever, but to my horror they looked upon me as a total stranger. Was it my Brooklyn-Cool black leather jacket? Or had it just been too many months? Maybe in the food cart business a man only has the synaptic space for a rotating recall of current customers. But then, as soon as I ordered my Scrapple, Egg & Cheese on a Roll with Hot Sauce, the lights of recognition flashed and I was back in Philly on every level.

“Regular coffee light and sweet?” Tom’s wife asked with a grandmotherly smile.

“Where-a-da-hell-a-you-been?” Tom’s Eastern European accent inquired, suspecting that maybe I’d defected to the new halal guy around the corner.

“I moved to Brooklyn.” I parried.

“Brooklyn? They don’-a-have e-scrapple in Brooklyn.” His playful smile returning.

“I came all the way from Brooklyn for this.” I half-lied as his wife handed me my bag of wonderful scrappley goodness.

“Don’t be a stranger…” Tom shouted as I crossed 16th street heading for the EL.

Down in the subway, a strange place to catch an EL, I had just missed the train, so I had a rare several minutes completely alone to enjoy Tom’s gastronomic creation. I’d like to put into words the amazing taste of this, The King of All Breakfast Sandwiches, but mere prose would never do it justice. Poetic chops the likes of Whitman, Ginsberg or Frost, could, maybe, on a good day, possibly describe the wonder of this meal. “I don’t think I will ever see a tree as lovely as Scrapple Egg & Chee… z”

I was still bathed in the post-coital high from the above mentioned culinary orgasm as I made my way through 69th Street Station in Southwest Philly. I was struck by the familiarity of these people, my Philly bredren. All hearts pumping midnight green Eagles blood, grudgingly supporting the Giants over the hated, cheating Pats. All around me were hundreds of cheesesteak eating, Wawa shopping, blue-collar warriors setting out to do good on a crisp Tuesday morning in January. I felt at home.

Peace,

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment January 30, 2008

Out of the Wild – Book Review

Into The Wild - Krakauer 1996Into the Wild is Jon Krakauer’s exhaustive, insightful, if sometimes bleary-eyed look at the life of Christopher J. McCandless, and his unfortunate death in the Alaskan taiga during the summer of 1992. An admittedly semi-objective biographer, Krakauer is able to get past his infatuation to give a deep, even beautiful account of this young man’s life and how he affected those around him.

After reading the book, and dubious of Hollywood’s popcorn culture, I expected the movie to be an idealistic, hero-worship story of a man-boy searching for himself amidst a cast of wacky characters and weepy out-of-touch parents, but bravo Sean Penn, I was wrong. The film was engrossing, and deeply moving. It did smooth over several key points in the book, but I’m sure the book glossed over some key points in the truth. On both fronts we are left with a worthwhile story that actually inspired thought as opposed to only inspiring another handful of popcorn.

I found myself relating to the character of Chris McCandless though I didn’t find him noble, at least no more noble than myriad young men who’ve searched for truth in their lives. Reading between the lines I felt his anger, his narcissism, and an immaturity that, several years out of college he still held on to. His too-late realization of these issues, before a series of seemingly simple errors lead to his death, left me aching with sympathy.

On another level I know this guy. I have a daughter who is about the same age as McCandless when he began his wandering, and I very clearly remember myself at his age. I knew something wasn’t right, and I too ran away. Not to the desert or the frozen north, but into the arms of a beautiful woman, and into a life I was no more ready for than was McCandless. Like his Alaskan Adventure, I thought marriage, family and a mortgage would solve my problems, quiet my demons, in effect be The Answer.

Part of me sees McCandless’ death as a coward’s suicide. So wrapped up inside his own trunk as not to see the forest. Yet another part of me can understand a plan gone awry. After the death of my hastily built fortress, leaky and incongruent, I fought through years of my own wilderness, hurting those who came close, and lashing out in silence at a world thought unfair and cold. When I finally endeavored to look up, the pieces of life were hard to find.

Have I come out the other side? I don’t know. What I do know is that while I feel for Chris McCandless and for those out there like him, you can’t just climb up a mountain and die there, figuratively or otherwise. Life isn’t that easy! You must come down from the mountain, and bring what you’ve found there into the world.

Peace,

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment December 15, 2007

Stepping into Zen . . .

For years I’ve been a proponent of Eastern Philosophy. I read “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts in the late nineties, which set me on a course of discovery. Since then I’ve read boxes of books on subjects ranging from Vedanta to Voodoo, Tao to Toltec, and nearly every flavor of the New Age (though I did draw the line at Shirley MacLaine). But from the “I Ching” to “The Alchemist” I kept returning to simple straightforward books on Zen.

The clarity and simplicity of Zen Buddhism attracted me. Books by Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones” and others have been the backbone of my writing practice (daily journal writing in the spirit of Zen, but not Zen). I’ve burned a lot of incense, and I’ve spent many hours meditating, but without any real structure. I was playing at Zen, curious about the idea of Zen, more correctly, my idea of Zen.

In my effort to learn more about Zen, I discovered the Zen Mountain Monastery in Upstate New York, though I was intimidated by the idea of just showing up for a weekend retreat. I thought a visit to the New York City branch in downtown Brooklyn would be more accessible, more my style. Well, now I find myself living in Brooklyn, and only an express subway stop from the New York City Zen Center, so I decided to dive in to see what it’s really all about.

Last Sunday morning I left the house at eight-twenty, and immediately I began to stress about time, “What if I’m late?” “What if the train is late?” “Did the website say nine or nine-fifteen?” I let myself relax long enough to have breakfast at the Sunset Park Diner, and by eight forty-four I was in the subway. The D train came, after what seemed an eternity, the empty-car air conditioning was a blessing after five minutes in the steamy station at 36th & 4th. At eight fifty-nine I disembarked at Pacific Street and climbed the two flights to street level. I made my way down Atlantic, across 3rd, on to State, not breaking pace till I stood in front of Fire Lotus Temple.

Standing at the huge wooden doors I felt a cool breeze, there were cars and people passing, but there wasn’t the bustle of pre-church hob-knobbing. So often the art of being seen at church is as important as the arts practiced within. There was guy in a t-shirt and jeans sweeping some dead leaves. He didn’t seem to notice me as I took in the moment. I figured he was in some deep Zen trance, and a thrill shot through me as I took my first steps into Zen.

I climbed the steps and entered the vestibule. I use the term vestibule from my catholic altar boy experience. This is all new to me, I’m sure they have their own name for the entrance alcove. As I entered a student wearing a grey robe welcomed me.

“Hi, is this your first time to the temple?” she asked, I guess my yak in the headlights look clued her in. “My name is Heather, welcome.” Her easy smile helped lessen my edge.

“Hi I’m Vince, um I mean Vinny,” I stammered like a jackass. I was nervous, she was cute, and my “monkey mind” was on full display. She directed me upstairs to where I could put my shoes, and then she invited me to join the others in the training room for coffee or tea. She said someone named Karen would be there clue us in on the morning’s schedule.

I walked up the loudly squeaking staircase to the second floor, found the coat room, took off my shoes, but left my socks on. I wasn’t sure if naked feet were cool. What about athlete’s foot? In socks, sweat pants, and an oversized golf shirt, I entered to meet my fellow sangha members.

I don’t know why I was expecting middle aged bald men, maybe it had more to do with how I see my self, but this group was an eclectic mix of Brooklynites. All ages, sexes, and sizes were represented. They were all barefoot. Everyone seemed nice, smiling and nodding. Quiet chit-chat murmured in the rear third of the space. There as a refreshment table, some chairs and couches. The front two thirds of the room was a mini zendo complete with a small Buddhist altar and a dozen or so Zabuton (32″ X 28″ meditation mats), with corresponding Zafus (14″ round cushions used for sitting meditation). Otherwise the room looked like any second story living room in a Brooklyn brownstone, hardwood floors, baseboard heating, and walls painted too many times bearing the scars of age.

Karen, also a gray robed student in her mid-twenties, took the four or five of us newcomers and explained what we should expect during the service. There was still about ten minutes before we were to go downstairs, so I grabbed a cup of coffee, signed up for the newsletter, put my five dollar “suggested donation” into the blue box, and then I snuck into the coat room to loose the socks.

At nine twenty-five Karen directed us downstairs to find our space in the zendo. My heart was pounding as I creaked down the noisy steps ahead of the others, and I entered a Buddhist Zendo for the first time; barefoot with butterflies. At that moment I realized, after all my reading and study, just how green I truly was. I found a zabuton/zafu/seat on the left side of the room three rows from the back, and I tried to get comfortable looking around to see how others propped themselves up on the little cushions. I put my hands together and tried to be solemn, but trying to be solemn is like trying not to think about a green elephant.

There was a faint incense smell mixed with wood cleaner, the room was dim but not dark with ceiling fans at full blast. Heavy wooden columns and thick paneled walls gave the room character. In the front of the room there stood a small altar, small by catholic standards, with a lovely Buddha carved from some kind of colored stone that gave it an antique look. To the left was a tall thin vase of flowers, two puffy white and mum-like, a hyacinth, and a few twiggy things; very elegant. On the right a heavy beeswax candle like the ones I lit by the hundreds as an altar boy. In the center fore is an incense holder, and in the rear a small vessel of water. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The basic four elements.

A bell, no, more a chime brought me and the group, the community, the sangha, to focus. With another chime the liturgy began. I felt excitement muted by circumstance as Shugen Sensei began his chants. I had little idea what was going on, but followed along as best I could, bowing, and chanting with the group.

The full bows were unexpected. I’d read about them, but these were my first, and graceful they were not. The full bow begins standing, hands in gassho (a Namaste or traditional prayer gesture) with feet together. Then it’s a bow from the hips, down to the knees, and down further, till the forehead touches the mat with hands to the side of the head, palms up. Then it’s back up. I think we did three such bows. It was then I realized why people were stretching before the service.

Sutra books were handed out to those who needed them, and within moments the group began chanting the Heart Sutra. I was caught off-guard and it took me well into the second verse to catch-up with the group. I’d prayed aloud before, I’d sang in church, but I never felt such group cohesion as we all chanted in rhythmic unity.

By the time we were through chanting in both English, and what I assumed was Japanese, though it could have been Sanskrit, the words had somehow penetrated. I still had no idea what was going on, but my feet sank deeper into my zabuton.

At the end of the liturgy part of the program, the newcomers were asked to gather at the back of the hall, and to accompany one of the lay students upstairs for beginning instruction in zazen. Once upstairs we all took a seat on a zafu and zabuton, and were told a senior monastic would soon be in to talk with us. I looked around at this group of newcomers. A woman in her fifties, who I came in with, was beaming in expectation. A young couple looked terrified, like potheads at Jesus Camp, and a pretty twenty-something girl looked like a little Buddha in full lotus. My knees hurt just sitting next to her.

Me? I was sitting Indian-style; I don’t think that’s any kind of lotus, but still I tried to straighten up when a man in the black robes of the monastic entered our space. He was an ominous figure, and we were spellbound as he sat before us spending several minutes rolling, folding and configuring his robes so that, when done, he looked symmetric. He addressed us in a gentle voice, and with kind humor.

He spoke of Zen, its history, and its general philosophy. He told us a bit about the Fire Lotus Temple, and of the Mountains and Rivers Order it is a part of. Then he taught us several different sitting positions. I picked a kneeling/sitting posture called seiza, using the zafu to carry my weight with my feet hanging off the edge of the zabuton.

He taught us how to sit: back straight, head forward, eyes in a “gentle gaze” at a forty-five degree down angle, hands together in the cosmic mudra. Our next step was to go down to the Zendo, find a space, and commit to sitting still for the second thirty five minute period of zazen. Zazen for beginners consists of watching the breath. When distractions arise, let them go, and go back to your breath. He explained how Zazen or sitting meditation is very easy to describe but extremely difficult to do.

“Bring it on!”

I found a space on the far right of the zendo. I situated myself in my seiza position, and it felt good, I even remembered to bow to my seat before sitting. A succession of chimes and clappers began my first real zazen session. There I was, counting my breath and dismissing my thoughts. I was in the zone! “I can do this for hours,” I thought.

Then came the distractions; the mosquito bite on my foot, a truck in the street, motion here, a creak there, I dismissed them and went back to counting my breath. I became aware of every itch, ache and pain, and I began to feel stress, like when you’re on an exercise bike, exhausted, and the timer says you’re only halfway through.

“This is intense,” my mind rebelled, going off in a thousand directions. I fought to stay with my breath, but I wasn’t winning. I sank deeper into my cushion and stuck it out. This was the longest thirty five minutes ever. I began to think of all the other ways I’ve lasted thirty five minute in other situations, but then I’d catch myself and go back to my breath.

A chime toned signaling the end of zazen. I unfolded my lifeless legs, and awkwardly began to stand, my bones creaking like the temple stairs. I followed along as we began kinhin (walking meditation). During our instruction the monk said to “just walk,” continue in meditation, counting your breath and just walk. The cool marble floor felt good as I walked and stretched. I was in the moment, and as I sat, less formally now, on my cushion I was ready for the next part of the service, the Dharma Talk.

Shugen Sensei gave a talk dissecting a Zen Koan from the ninth century. A Koan is a story or statement, or even a question that defies rational understanding, but can be accessible through intuition. I enjoyed the teaching. Shugen Sensei brought the meanings in to present day life and familiar situations, even speaking of life in New York City.

When the talk was finished there was more chanting and bowing. I tried to chant along, but was just moaning in tune with the group. “I’ll pick this up eventually,” I thought, and for the first time I knew I’d be back.

At the end of the service, everyone dusted off their zabutons, and fluffed their zafus. Some people left, but most went upstairs to the training/refreshment room for more coffee, refreshments and conversation. I spoke to a few of my newbie classmates. The older woman and the little Buddha were jazzed, while the young couple looked less scared, but still a little freaked-out.

I felt great. I felt at peace. I had a sense of accomplishment, and I knew I was at the beginning of something that I really didn’t understand. And that was ok.

Vinny (~~)

Leave a Comment August 1, 2007

Banana Shout “The Book” – Review

Banana Shout is the great novel of Negril, and Mark Conklin the grand old man (well, not that old).

I first heard of the book on my April ’04 Trip to Negril, and the day I got home I went to Amazon.com to order me a copy.

About two weeks later Irene Conklin, Mark’s wife, emailed me to thank me for ordering the book. She also asked me when I planned on coming back. I told her I was thinking of an October ’04 trip. Banana Shout, the resort, moved to the top of my list.

When the book arrived I tore into it. By this time I was a full fledged boardie, and I was hungry for anything Negril. I read the book twice in a three weeks, after which I stuffed it into a FedEx envelope, and I sent it to my buddy Nick so he could read it before our October trip.

The book is a lot of fun, a light hearted romp though the trials and tribulations of finding one’s way in the world. The story of our beleaguered hero Tavo Gripps makes us all wish we had discovered Negril years earlier. Crazy wannabe pirates, an eccentric bar owner, and even unfriendly drug dealers, but Tavo wins the day. You gotta love that!

Now, as a piece of literature Banana Shout may not stack up with Twain or Melville, but in spirit and tone it captures the essence of Negril in the early years. It is the quintessential history of Negril, albeit in a quazi-fictional format. Nowhere else will you read of the early years; the development of Negril from a “sleepy fishing village” into a resort town. This is it.

I did stay at Banana Shout in October ’04 right after hurricane Ivan, and I had the honor of hanging out with Mark Conklin as he managed the rebuilding of the resort. It’s under new management now, but on my last visit it looked as good as than ever.

You Rock Mark (~~)

Vinny :)

1 Comment February 11, 2007

Walk Good – Book Review

I read Walk Good, written by fellow Negril-aholic Roland Thomas Reimer, on two successive trips to Negril. On the first trip I read it cover to cover, and on the second I went straight for the dog-eared highlights trying to decipher the code of names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

I’m writing this review the way I write most of my stuff, as if everyone reading this has already read the book and knows all about Negril, but for everyone else, Walk Good is a two-hundred and sixty-two page vacation. You go to the airport, you take a trip on “The Road to Negril,” and you meet myriad unique characters all along the beach in Negril. Roland uses the literary device of an extended Negril vacation with many vivid flashbacks, and a few interludes into Jamaican history to tell his story.

I loved how the book spoke my language; the language of a guy who loves Negril. The book’s dedication lists my friend Rob Graves, and all the boardies of Negril.com. Hey, I’m one of them! And Roland was one of us, although I was yet to discover the Negril.com Message Board when the book came out.

The Jamaicans are described realistically, but if you haven’t been to Negril you may think some things are over stated. I assure you he’s spot on. Roland treats the Jamaicans with respect, an important commodity for people who “get it,” and something Jamaicans can smell as soon as they meet you.

When I talk to my Negril-nut friends, the subject is often a question our friends and families constantly ask: “Why do you keep going back there?” Walk Good, in giving the reader an “in your bones” feel for that little strip of land on the tip of Jamaica, answers that question.

So I recommend buying the book, taking a flight to Negril Jamaica, and reading Walk Good on the beach.

Thanks Roland ^:)^

Vinny

6 Comments February 11, 2007

Zen, Cigars & Hemmingway

I bought a book of Hemingway’s short stories today. I was thinking, since I’m kind of writing short stories I should read some really good ones. Of course by contrast my stories really suck, but I enjoy the process and the apparent sucky-ness will hopefully either be short lived, or at least some un-sucky material will poke thru the drek from time to time.

I was struck by the preface written by old Ernie himself. It had a playful character to it. He even joked that his favorite stories are the ones teachers made their students study, and thus putting more coin in his pocket. It made the guy real to me, I understand being self-deprecating.

About a dozen years ago my brother Michael gave me “The Old Man and the Sea,” complete with two “Hemmingway” cigars. I remember the cigars more than the book. I could write two pages about those cigars right now, but other than an old guy, a boat, a kid and a fish, the smoke from the story is gone. It’s funny how things come to you at different times in your life. I’m going to dig up that little book and re-read it, if not for inspiration then to illustrate this point.

I do something called “Writing Practice.” It’s like journaling with a mission. For the last several years I’ve kept an irregular journal, irregular both for the frequency of my journaling and the strange thoughts and associations that come from my less than sane head. Writing Practice is committing to the daily practice of writing as a discipline.

It’s wide open writing, punctuation and neatness don’t count, and the only rule is to keep your hand moving. Sometimes it gets to the point where all I write are the words “keep your hand moving,” which when someone reads these notebooks years after I’m dead they will be assured I was just another nut-job writer.

I’ve been hot and cold with my new discipline, often I write absolute nothingness, but then I’ll get a good line I can use in a story and occasionally I’ll have a breakthrough. Sometimes I find myself writing the deep truths of my soul that all of the sudden just pour out onto the page. I can feel it coming through, I try to stay out of the way and keep going with it as long as I can before the “Editor” or “Thinking” part of me begins to look for sentence structure or proper word usage.

In Zen it is called Satori, gimpses of enlightenment, where you get out of your own way for a short time and become connected to what Alan Watts calls, that what-cha-ma-call-it of all what-cha-ma-call-its.

Hopefully I’ll be able to string enough of these together to make an impression.

– To be continued . . .

Leave a Comment February 23, 2005


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All the Light We Cannot See
The Martian
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Full Force and Effect
Understanding Our Mind: 50 Verses on Buddhist Psychology
Starship Troopers
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography
The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible
The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
Stay Where You Are And Then Leave
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Winter Moon: A Season of Zen Teachings
Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door
1776
TransAtlantic
Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
Bruce


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