Time, Space and States of Grace

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Monday, March 16, 2020. Memories, as anyone would agree, are funny things. Funny as in strange. Mostly because of how much we fail to remember. How much, for example, do you remember about being, say, five years old? Or even eight or nine? Almost nothing, in my case. That is to say, there are a handful of images in my head that seem to relate to that era in my life, good and bad things, of course but, really, when I try to examine them further or to expand them into broader terms – to remember more things from being eight years old – nothing comes. It’s just those images. Affecting images, I suppose. Affecting in what way?

The people who study memory could perhaps speak to whether all of our experience remains embedded, as it were, within our heads or somewhere within our nervous system; like a hard drive or personal, so-called cloud storage that merely requires the proper user name and password to access. People seem to remember stuff under hypnosis, for instance, that they otherwise couldn’t. But there’s such a thing as a false memory, however, and children seem very susceptible to such things. Memories fade, of course; misty, water-colored memories, as Streisand sang, of the way we were and all that. Memories get distorted, embellished, sentimentalized. We cherish some of them. And clearly it’s a far more complex categorization that we do than merely filing our experiences into the short term or long term “file.”

But I wonder, do we ever permanently forget stuff because it’s no longer there to be remembered? Does stuff get permanently, irretrievably deleted from our memory “banks?” If we’re nothing but a water based biological organism, for that matter – ever changing, growing and decaying, ageing – how is it that memories could be in any way locked in or permanent, immutable? Memory, if nothing else, seems preternaturally unreliable in terms of veracity.

A brief internet query reveals all sorts of information on the study of memory. But when Richard Harris, professor of psychology at Kansas State University, suggests that the key to a good memory is your level of interest; that the more interest you show in a topic, the more likely it will imprint itself on your brain,[1] that seems to explain a lot. At least in terms of why this or that memory would tend to stick with a person, even their whole life long, while most of the other stuff, the experiences of our lives, falls away. “If it is a topic you enjoy,” says Harris, “then it will not seem like you are using your memory.”[2]

When I was very young, namely, early elementary school (if I remember correctly!), we took a field trip to what must have been a dairy farm, one that sold milk over the counter. And already I’m wondering how this could be except that I know a place like Calder Dairy here in southeast Michigan is a dairy farm that also runs a retail store. Was that where we were? This must have been in the early or mid-nineteen-seventies, when the industrialization of food was perhaps at its peak. Anyway, I have a still fairly vivid memory of standing in an otherwise empty commercial kitchen type environment, like a school cafeteria kitchen where you lined up with your tray and paid a cashier while the cooks and the rest of the kitchen operations were on the other side of the service area. I recall stainless steel everywhere, countertops, fixtures, what have you and a counter person behind all this, in a white cap and smock, perhaps the old fashioned chef type garb. Trying to remember all this accurately I find I’m becoming awash in smeary, completely unreliable, wishy-washy images, the details of which I really can’t pin down for certain. Not at all. Which is a funny feeling in itself.

But what affected me and what I like to think I still remember because of it, is the sunlight angling through a window and falling on things, making the objects and the stainless steel and even the person behind the counter, or whatever it was, seem preternaturally, affectingly bright and clean. Brilliant, yes, but abiding, welcoming, somehow communicative of something: comfort, peace, safety, friendliness, obligingness? Not exactly. I recall more the sense of communication, that the world was saying, not just to me, Look! Look how fine and bright and wholesome and happy things are right here, today. So that, ever after, I have remembered something about this and occasionally sought to reexperience it, the bright, obliging, abiding nature of whatever it was.

It has something to do with the light. Because, as the reader will eventually discover, if I continue to post this stuff, I’ve experienced light, sunlight specifically, along with sound in a curiously affecting way within the last couple of years; namely, in 2018, when life for me was unusually challenging. The idea of a traumatic trigger is something I discuss, referencing Jeff Kripal’s work, in the DOP& or DOP8, or both – I can’t remember!

Sunlight, then, or what I could term a sunlight theater event so as to include the whole of the experience, is the essence of this post and not memory except as a secondary source, so to say. So that now, some forty-five or so years after the fact of the first sunlight theater event, I can relate these things. What were the other events, you ask? In brief, because they’re described, like I said, elsewhere in the DOP:

  1. Angie and I were at a smallish shopping complex in Ann Arbor, in a cosmetics store and I was waiting for her, standing in the store, listening to the music piping in and looking nonchalantly out the window, just standing there waiting as patiently as I could, sort of in my own world, neither here nor there in any sense. I caught site of the sunlight reflecting brightly, dazzlingly, off the windshields and hoods and what have you of the cars filling the parking lot. I heard the music, saw the sparkling reflections and experienced a kind of encounter or sunlight theater event as I’m calling it now. Light and sound, sound and light. Information. Without language. And nothing I understand in technical terms; the information was the abiding, obliging thing, again, just like when I was a kid.
  2. Months later, I was sitting in armchair one early morning with my coffee and the sunlight streaming in and the music on (I’ve always got music on at home) and, there it was again: the light and sound, sound and light. And the information.
  3. Caveat: I had this experience of sound and light, light and sound, by way of artificial light once, even prior to number one above – at a Nick Lowe concert at The Ark (in Ann Arbor, of course, look up the date if you want because I can’t, yes, remember!). Our seats  were at the side of the stage, Nick was singing and playing (an acoustic set), and I glanced up at the stage lights, which weren’t even shining directly at me, and experienced the light theater event.

I suppose I ought to pin down the name of this type of experience as not necessarily, then, confined to sunlight but any significant light. Let’s call it a Cosmic Light Event. Which is suitably, well, cosmic. So, here, I’ve written my way through things to arrive at an appropriate term to describe a handful of significant, some might say spiritually significant while I would say mythology significant, experiences. Which I remember. Four of them. And counting. Except I don’t expect, cannot expect, to ever experience again. Even though I sometimes find myself longing, in a way, for another one. Or perhaps not longing for as much as seeking access to, by way of being able to generate the experience at will, by looking at any particularly bright or dazzling or for that matter merely vivid but otherwise ordinary light. Sunlight seems to possess the greatest energy potential, as it were, and that makes sense because it contains the full spectrum, all the wavelengths, whereas anything else, or most anything else unless it’s designed to reproduce sunlight is limited in that way. Luminosity being an entirely tangent discussion. Or  perhaps not.

And whenever I sense myself getting turned around a little bit on a topic – spiraling as I call it – like now, I’ve learned it’s best to stop and move on. Or just stop journaling for the day completely and let the writing do its work. For what it’s worth.

Today, however I’m keen to at least mention getting a response, a communication, from one of my persons-of-influence, hereafter, why don’t I just use and acronym: POI. For public posts, it’s probably best that I restrict myself to a person’s initials, perhaps first name, last initial, I don’t know, I’m not here to rile anybody up about being taken out of context or slandered. Like I said, I’ve been journaling for ten years with an ear to a reader, so I don’t just spill everything, unedited, that comes to mind. Just writing that may turn off the folks that rather look forward to unhindered bloviating but, so be it, I don’t do that; there’s plenty of uncomfortably revealing personal stuff, at least from my perspective, within the journal. Meanwhile, who cares? Read this shit or don’t, blogs are just blogs.

And you didn’t think you’d get off without me discussing something to do with the book, did you? Right. I’ve lamented the categorical silence emanating from my small cadre of POIs. If silence can emanate at all. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, as they say, don’t say anything at all, I get it. Criticism of any magnitude would wreck me right now, the frail architecture of my confidence being what it is. So that when I received an email from my German email acquaintance, namely, T.S. – professor emeritus and now POI at a place of esoteric relevance – yesterday evening, I couldn’t open it right away. I’d sent an earnest, rambling, probably too opinionated email to him – my passions get the best of me sometimes after some particularly compelling reading, sorry – and I’d been thinking, gawd, I’ve just ruined my relationship with one of my few POIs. All because I can’t help gushing about what I’m reading, or about what I’m interested in, as if a retired professor needs yet another moron student type getting carried away with a learning experience. The PhDs I’ve been in touch with mostly seem to avoid passionate discourse in academic terms like the plague. It’s their job. Or used to be. I get it. Nonetheless, our VAPMs get the best of us and, in the end, I think it’s a good thing; that is, if you’re going error, if you’re going to fuck up, then fuck up on the side of your veritelically authentic personal mythology. Because mostly, when you’re holding to that, you can’t fuck it up, or at least not entirely.

T.S., then. I waited and waited to read the email, wringing my psychological hands over how my own anxiousness about failing to sell this book and struggling to find a tribe who may somehow allow me to move forward with my writing if only in terms of community, was turning me into a damn basket case. Let it go, dude, before it drags you down, that kind of thing. So I read it, damn the torpedoes. And T.S. seems to be remarkably reliable in his kindness, a man in possession of the sort of patient tolerance and wisdom that occurs too rarely in older folks (I fret sometimes that I’m doomed to become rather an impossibly crusty, curmudgeonly old cranks – I may be already). He responded in his very kindly, judiciously attentive way. I’m pasting his full response into my offline copy of this journal but I hesitate to include his words here without permission, nor do I feel comfortable asking for such. Hence, just a snippet:

” Again, I am most grateful to you for sharing with me your discoveries and the thoughts and ideas provoked by me… I am making progress in reading Time Crime. It is captivating. I am travelling with you…” – With every good wish, T.S.”

Travelling with you.… That alone is worth the entire communication, I swear, it so warms my heart I can’t fully say. And, whew, I thought. This is how too tightly wound I’ve become. Hell, there’s an epigraph in TC1, Chapter 26, “The Return,” that you would think I could more reliably live by:

The Master said: To bless means to help. Heaven helps the man who is devoted; men help the man who is true.”[3]

The citation includes all the copyright information that the jcf.org brought to my attention – my Princeton University Press licenses specified the format and while TC1’s First State doesn’t include the copyright verbiage because, well, I just didn’t think it was industry standard to include it because I’ve never seen it except (as I discuss more fully elsewhere in the journal) in text block iterations in nonfiction from forty-plus years ago. But so be it, it’s in the published version of TC1 now, as we speak.

We require, as artist-craftsmen and otherwise, as J. Campbell, suggested, so very little. And to get that very little saves your damn life. Because the void of total obscurity is a sucking void – it consumes everything good about a person. So that by way of this communication, this little connection, my travels can indeed take place if not completely unburdened by obscurity at least less so, by the quantity of one person, perhaps one POI, even, who knows? And this is how we make our way.

Meanwhile, too, I’m inspired to pursue, bit by bit if necessary, in baby steps since I’ve no natural affinity let alone flair for languages, my acquisition of some German. Hell, there are any number of resources beyond my German dictionary and German Quickly by April Wilson (a “grammar” designed for graduate students who require reading facility only) that may help. I feel as if I only need to get over the hump of intimidating complete ignorance and I can perhaps make some useful progress. Especially, I think, if it can perhaps help me gain access to the writing and then, furthermore, to German-speaking POIs. Or acquaintances if nothing else.


[1] Kansas State University. “What’s your name again? Lack of interest, not brain’s ability, may be why we forget.” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620113027.htm (accessed March 16, 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Richard Wilhelm, The I Ching or Book of Changes, 3rd ed., trans. Cary F. Baynes, Bollingen Series XIX, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990 [1967]), pp.723-24. Republished with permission of Princeton University Press; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.

DOP1 (2010) VINTAGE POST:

Enthusiasm

But the sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired….[1]

I’ve come to realize that one of the defining aspects of a place is its culture of enthusiasm, or lack of it. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in the Great Gatsby, describes the Midwestern culture that his main character Nick had come from: “…the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio, with their interminable inquisitions which spared only the children and the very old….”[2] I read this book when I was eighteen, during my first doomed semester in college, and the line has stuck with me every since. It encapsulates everything about Plymouth, the southeastern Michigan town, twenty-five miles or so west of Detroit, where I grew up.

A culture of enthusiasm applies to people too and it isn’t something I’ve always recognized in myself, at least as a good thing. It wasn’t cultivated in my southeast Michigan world. I think it was more often crushed, stifled or otherwise smothered, intentionally or not, out of fear or ignorance or both. The explanation as to why teachers, parents, coaches and even other children seemed bent on snuffing out passion, blocking adventurousness, restraining drive and killing dreams in favor of preserving the known, the conventional, was lost on me until I became, for the most part, an adult. When you’re young, you just assume, at least I did, that older folks knew what they were doing, were doing the right thing, and that the way life was reflected the way it should be. I see now, after living in cities that are unlike the one I grew up in, that enthusiasm, and the cultivation of it, is always a part of the culture of a great city. I’ve had to learn that enthusiasm, even unfocused as it has been all these years within me, desperately struggling in the wrong jobs in the wrong cities and amongst the wrong people, is a good thing, and it is to be cherished and nurtured. Unfortunately, the same heartless enthusiasm-killing tendancies that I despise reside within me too, probably because I grew up with them. I find myself being insulting or mean-spirited. I become an asshole and that’s bullshit and I need to quit doing it. I want my dreams and passions and desires – my enthusiasm – welcomed and cultivated by the world and therefore I need to stay vigilant that I’m supporting that same enthusiasm in others, even when the source of it seems foreign to me.

When your enthusiasm isn’t recognized and supported, bitterness can set in. Julia Child talks about her fractured relationship with her father, describing her parents visit to Paris to see her:

“The poor man couldn’t wait to return to California. “I can’t talk to these people, I just poke around the streets,” he grumbled. “I’m so happy at home, where I’ve got my nice house, my friends, and I can talk the language.” It struck me how utterly divorced I had become from old Pop and his type – moneyed, materialistic, not at all introspective – and how profoundly, abysmally, stupefyingly apathetic his world-view had rendered me. No wonder I had been so immature at Smith!”[3]

Like me, Julia was forced to see her father as a limit, a block to her own development. Or, more accurately and judiciously, not her guide. We make the assumption, sometimes, that our parents ought to be our guides, which isn’t a fair assessment in the long run. It’s this desperate requirement to have our enthusiasm encouraged that drives us to great feats of spectacularly doomed fiascos and also the bitter recriminations against those we believe had hindered us, however unintentionally. Our parents often fill this role of false guide especially well. It’s not my goal to discuss the psychology of parenting here – suffice it to say that I don’t think everyone should have children – it takes a certain expansiveness of heart and mind, of empathy, compassion, intelligence, endurance, objectivity, strength, selflessness and intuitive insight, to raise kids. It’s our job to figure out where our parents stop being good for us and start becoming a hindrance, which can take quite awhile involve much blood, sweat and tears. Be who you are in spite of the love or lack thereof coming from our parents – that’s something easier said than done. As Ram Dass said in the 1970s, “If you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family.”[4] If all you ever get is an understanding of where it went wrong, like Julia, who apparently never reconciled with her father, then you’ve probably made things more difficult for yourself than they have to be, but you do what you need to do to break free.

In search of Campbell’s bliss, our adventures can turn to failure. But the failures are always at least as revealing as the successes – what we fail at so often helps describe what we’re striving towards, however clumsily at the time. I’ve always been driven to be in a place, a city, a building, a room, that eases my mind, than allows me to think. It’s an intuitive connection to spaces and places that needs to be indulged. Here in Texas, writing this, I’m not happy with my place, Friendswood. It’s too much like where I grew up – moneyed, materialistic; not at all introspective. Bourgeoisie, I suppose, in that sense of assigning such value to possessions and the image such things can project. I like my things, too, so I’m a hypocrite to some extent, falling victim to such materialistic yearnings as much as anyone.

Our house in Friendswood, Texas, April, 2011, the day we left Texas for good, come what may, our stuff already in transit, the truck and Jeep ready to go. It’s still (as of writing this caption in 2020) my favorite house of them all.

My space, which is to say my house is good, if not my place – my geography is lacking. In fact if it wasn’t for this house, we’d be in trouble I think; it’s this house that’s allowed us to remain connected to ourselves, to reveal our phycomythologies, even in our darkest days. But the place must change. It’s a limit that, as much as we try to overcome it, will continue to block us. I don’t believe a place that’s wrong for you can ever be successfully assimilated. The smart thing, the biophycomythologically best thing to do, is to leave and go somewhere where you feel like you belong. Just make the change. You can spend a lifetime trying to turn things into what they are not – jobs into vocations, friends into lovers, houses into homes – or you can accept the fiascos, learn from them, change your “R” and start a new adventure.


[1] Paul Coelho, The Alchemist, (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 64.

[2] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby…, 176.

[3] Julia Child, My Life In France…, 94.

[4] Sally Kempton, “Branching Out,” Yoga Journal, November 2010 (page?)