To Be or Not to Be

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Saturday, May 23, 2020. The variability of my shifts – three or four different start times and never the same days each week is an aggravation. Then again, I’d hate to have been assigned the closing shift on a permanent basis. Who cares? It pays, that’s all, and I’m keen to stay employed until, say, the end of the year before evaluating the future of it. Here’s hoping that by then Angie gets her full salary back but who knows.

There is nothing better – it’s pure joy – to discover that I’ve sold a book. The feeling is truly unmatched in my life. The thrill and sense of engagement lasts thirty-six hours or so, it seems, two days at most, then I’m hauled back into the dull eternity of obscurity and oblivion. Oh, to sell a book two days in a row! That authors enjoy tracking daily, even hourly sales and have too much correspondence to manage seems a remarkable thing. And something I’m afraid to wish for because of the changes that would inevitably come. The energy of the experience would change to one of expectation and comparison and competition with myself and others. Where now I cherish the bright, desperately sweet salvation of a single sale, a single connection with a reader somewhere in the uncharted realm of readers everywhere, I’m certain there must be a tipping point, a quantity of transactions that will transform the experience from one of release and freedom and untrammeled joy – an ecstatic encounter with life – into one of anxious commerce. Perhaps not. Perhaps, if I manage to continue as an author trying to sell books, the acute bliss of connection between my dream and reality, between my interior world and that of the world-of-action will never abandon me.

What do I want, then? To write and be read, that’s all. And it’s a tall order, a privilege when it happens – to be read – and I don’t know for certain, as yet, that it has ever actually happened: I have no evidence of a readership, only a record of sales.

I ought not to long for any more success than I’ve already enjoyed, I know. I’ve published my novel, the novel of my life if that’s what it turns out to be, and besides the U.S. I’ve acquired a reader, T.S., in Germany, a buyer in France and one somewhere in the U.K. All by way indie publishing. If I’d left things to the traditional methods, to the adjudications of the horribly impossible threshold guardians of traditional publishing my book and my dream would have died. Perhaps I would have died. Now, at least for now, there is life.

DOP1 2012 VINTAGE BLOG:

The Zeal Deal

Cooking at home is what I do. Unlike within the limiting, volume and time-oriented professional setting, cooking at home allows me to experiment, invest myself in the experience and enjoy my own food. I can please Angie and myself. The food world opens up to me again when I cook like this, in my own kitchen and from my heart, for people I know – it’s how I taught myself to cook, how I found my zeal and talent for it. It’s what makes sense and works for me. Sitting down to a meal of roast chicken and potatoes, Angie said it was one of my best meals ever and that she’s glad “I’m back.” She said she enjoys coming home again and it’s because of the food. My food. It’s what I have a flair for and a zeal for; it’s part of my bliss, a hermes guide, part of my way to live mythically, to live properly. Choose to live in accordance with your myth, as Campbell advises, or choose “the wasteland,” the land of safe bets and compromises.[1] This is easy to say, and sometimes nearly impossible to do – listen to me waxing lyrically about something I just lost a biophycomythological nut over in the last chapter. So be it. If it feels like progress, it is.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012.

“Persephone and Demeter were pig goddesses. The pig was a tremendously important figure in the Bronze Age.”[2]

Choosing this way remains difficult for me. I begin my days now intuitively connected to my vocations as my primary mover – my first thoughts and actions are in relation to them and I feel peaceful energy (but not tranquility) while immersed in them, be it writing, cooking, walking, biophycomythologizing, listening to music or thinking entrepreneurially. At the same time I often find myself “running hard inside” (to borrow a phrase from the Journey song, “Too Late”); running, as it were, towards some vague yet compelling achievement and towards habitual actions and thinking patterns: the idea of “going to work” for example, is an almost continuous burden – I seem to carry it around with me day and night, even in sleep; I often have dreams of work, related to past experience or weirdly unconnected to any waking relevance. My only relief from this burden of obligation, of duty to another person’s work, has come from thoughts of the weekend, holidays or vacation, of time off from work. The time off was what kept me going, it was what somehow the only thing besides the money that legitimized what I spent so much of my precious time doing. I have what turns out to be an unfortunate “ability” to force myself into a “fever” state of “getting with the program” so to say, of getting-on-board with the dynamic of whatever workplace I’m in and abandoning, probably as a psychological survival technique, what I can only describe as “myself.” I put a mask on. I force a split within myself and hold these two versions of myself together until I can steal the time back to bring myself together again. The energy required to maintain this state of personal schism and then to reassemble myself in a weekend or even at the end of a workday is immense. In all my careers and jobs, I can remember a point where I attempted to surrender to them – I could imagine working there for the rest of my days and being a part of it, acting as if that indeed was my chosen career, my vocation. I would project myself into the future as an employee of that company, whether it was a service station, JCI, the food cart or zcob and “see” myself immersed in it, accepting it and working my way through it to whatever outcome. This inappropriate surrender, (inappropriate because it was not my mission, not my vocation, not my myth but something I used my mind – my will – to bend myself – my heart – to fit into), never lasted more than a few weeks. In the case of JCI, which was the closest I ever got to working for the “correct” company and enjoying a proper vocation – even closer than zcob now that I think about it – I almost completed the transformation. I saw myself at peace with lifetime employment at JCI – the struggle for “the career” was over and I could finally relax, quit striving to arrive, and start to work, putting my energies into living my career as my life. It was close a enough fit, with almost enough autonomy, complexity and reward, to allow me to put aside my restless heart, to repress that part of me that longed for work I could devote myself to wholeheartedly. Still, I remember wondering whether this indeed was how everyone else – those who appeared less disturbed by work than me – was living; it seemed so difficult psychologically and, for lack of a better term, spiritually. It was even difficult physically – not in the sense for instance of the bone-crushing labor involved in the food service business – but in the way it never became any easier to wake up, get out of bed, get showered and dressed (in clothing I never felt comfortable in) and drive my truck to. But I convinced myself to accept it, believed I had accepted it; believed I had somehow finally learned how to live.

That’s why it always comes as such a shock to me to find myself fucking up my careers – getting cranked up into a state of anxiety (or maybe letting that internalized anxiety come forward) such that I become a negative force in the workplace – while desperately pouring energy into accomplishment, productivity, righting wrongs and otherwise changing, fixing and making things better, I find myself, conversely, becoming a source of anxiety not only to myself but to others. Ultimately, I become a source of conflict, all the while trying, at least consciously, to be otherwise: attempting to be true and to do things right, to remove obstacles and drive rapid progress, I become a source of contrary, stagnating energy, blocking the things I’m trying to free. I lose respect for leadership and they necessarily lose respect for me in return, or at least see me as a liability. I do it to myself time and again at work and now I’m aware that it’s the energy of my shadow, perhaps loosed in some way by my beleaguered heart, struggling as a last effort to break the spell, the fever and reclaim myself before the schism leads to disintegration, to becoming Campbell’s “non-entity” – the shaman that has refused the call and becomes doomed to an improper, unrealized existence.

I was going to make the point that I think it’s mostly habit that keeps me in the same E + R = O equation at jobs, but fear plays at least as big a part: fear of not pleasing others, of not pleasing my parents, my wife or the version of myself that believes it can succeed where others have failed – that I can beat this system and be who I am while at the same time being what others want.

“The point is that every individual has his own very special problem in this midlife or late-life crisis about what he has been doing. How deeply has it really involved him? Has he had other outside marginal interests of any kind whatsoever? What were they? All these are very special problems.”[3]

Along with his students, whom Campbell was convinced helped him to translate his comparative mythology scholarship into knowledge that applied to their own lives, I think Jung was important in driving Campbell to “extend” his ideas to the personal:

“And Jung said when he finished work on the book [Symbols and Transformation] he realized what it meant to live with a mythology and what it meant to live without one. And he asked himself by what mythology he was living and he found didn’t know. And so he said I made it the task of tasks of my life to find by what mythology I was living. How did he do it? He went back to think about what it was that most engaged him in fascinated play when he was a little boy. So that the hours would pass and pass. Now if you can find that point you can find an initial point for your own reconstruction. Go back and find what was the real fascination. Now each one has to work it out in his own way. But if a person just refuses to think that he has an inside problem, he’s not going to work the thing out. Nobody can do it for him. You have to learn how to recognize your own depths.”[4]

Of course Campbell ultimately presents other ways besides regression into your childhood to find your way. In Pathways to Bliss, where he more rigorously discusses this concept, he suggests, as I’ve already discussed elsewhere, looking for “patterns” in your life, examining what you find yourself continually doing or going back to: what are those things that sustain, restore or otherwise support you despite their value to others, to the world-of-action? Alternatively, you can examine what you’d do after a disaster scenario – if you lost everything and everyone you knew and loved – what is the very next thing, besides grieving of course, and besides enacting some form of revenge (which is not productive in the end) that you would do to pull yourself back together – to attempt to “save” yourself? What you come up with are very good clues, if not the answers themselves, to what your bliss or myth is.[5]

If there’s only one myth – the mono-myth – then why all the myths? Why all the stories saying the same thing? Because they’re permutations of the same thing that we all need to hear in a way appropriate to our own manifestation of self. The Self, as demonstrated by the hard facts of the world-of-action, is expressed in myriad permutations of life. So why wouldn’t the stories be developed to express those many examples? The self needs its own reference – one that’s not too remote from its own experience and biology. I write this paragraph then read Campbell’s more eloquent, erudite and worthwhile explanation of the answer in Life & Work beginning on page 126. He disusses “elementary ideas,” “perennial philosophy,” that the mythic deities are “personifications of the very images” that are of ourselves – the kingdom of heaven in within and without – and that a diety is also a personification of energy, of “the energy that informs all life.” Why then do the personifications differ? According to Campbell, it’s because, just as the idea of deity differs n the perennial philosophies, so does the idea of consciousness:

“And the nature of the personification will be determined by historical circumstances. The personification is folk; the energy is human…. And so deities proceed from the energies. And they are the vehicles, so to say, of the energies. And there’s that wonderful passage in the Chhandogya Upanisad. Worship this god, worship that god, one god after another, those who follow this path do not know. Because the source of the gods is in your own heart. Dream, vision, god. The gods of heaven and hell are what might be called the cosmic aspect of the dream. And the dream is the personal aspect of the myth. Dream and myth are of the same order. And you and your god are one. This is you and your dream god. And your god isn’t my god. So don’t try to push it on me. Everyone has his own deity and consciousness.”[6]

I can’t say these things any better than Campbell himself, so why do I just continue to transcribe what he says into what I write, verbatim? Am I creating nothing at all but a useless pastiche of the work of others? What value am I adding? Why do I write what I write? Because it feels good, feels right, eases my suffering, energizes me; it’s my zeal, what I want to do, it makes sense of the world, time flys when I’m doing it, it doesn’t feel like a job yet it feels like my proper work, it feels like me; I’m learning, intellectualizing, strategizing, being intuitive, getting input and being futuristic (my strengths). Given the opportunity, I always return to writing, along with my other five vocations. It’s one of the things I can’t not do. Despite questioning its worth or value, despite questioning what or where it will get me, I know it still serves me. It’s allowing me to be me; versus somebody wearing a mask, projecting a persona or otherwise being untrue. I’m connecting to transcendence in the only way anyone can – by expressing how this world has expressed itself in me.

I might accuse myself of being lazy or indulgent by living my myth. I might accuse myself of making another mistake – of again not knowing myself; of again embarking on what will turn out to be another biobiophycomythological fiasco. I can create any number of limits, of self-criticisms and fears to prevent me from moving forward through my myth. The only clues to the “rightness” or “correctness” of my work is how it makes me feel: true and real or not. Often, I struggle to work from within this truth, somehow allowing the world-of-action to enter, to affect what I write by way of seeing myself within it, taking action on behalf of some other viewer, some public eye which is perhaps some aspect of my ego, the captain of my psychological ship, the one that strives and grasps. Campbell, an accomplished track athlete in college, talks about losing two races that were very important to him because he “lost the still place:”

“Some of the things that are happening now in the West are a result of the Oriental martial arts and Asian disciplines that are coming in. The handling of the body in combat or in competition is a function, really, of a psychological posture. There has got to be a still place in there and the movement has to take place around it….The race was so important that I put myself out there to win the race instead of to run the race. And the whole thing got thrown off.”[7]

On the subject of athletics, why does becoming physically taxed, fatigued, open us to change? Your body chemistry changes when you’re fatigued of course, demanding perhaps fuller attention from your ever-busy mind, occupying it with the business of physical recovery and therefore stilling it, not so much heightening its receptivity as simply quieting the caucophony that so often surrounds it. You can witness the effect in animals as well: our dog, when we’d take her on long walks – over ten miles especially and even more dramatically during walks in excess of fifteen miles – would reach what appeared to be a an identical state of undistracted purposefulness, abandoning her compulsive sniffing and urinating, her hyper-aware reactions to what must have been the overwhelming input of life, the sights, sounds and smells of the new that so energize dogs, especially young ones, to impulsive distraction. It never failed that after half or three-quarters of the day spent walking, we’d all be trudging home in a fatigued state, and it would be meditative for Angie and me – we’d long ago have stopped talking and thinking so much, reacting so much to the environment – and our dog too. We’d all walk along in peaceful silence, lost in the day, immersed in the environment as we passed through it, wanting to be home at rest perhaps, but satisfyingly full of all the day’s activities. Our minds clearly had slowed, had relaxed into the movements of the body through the world. We’d just think about putting one foot (or maybe one paw) in front of the other, together, as we made our way back home.

Campbell, during the award ceremony where he received the Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club for literature:

“It delights me particularly to receive the award from the Arts Club and to receive it for literature and not from some scientific society or scholarly community because to think that my contribution has been in the way of literature instead of scholarship is a marvelous promotion.

“Now there is a beautiful phrase that I ran into in Novalis: The seat of the soul is there where the inner and the outer worlds meet. The outer world is what you get in scholarship, the inner world is your response to it. And it is there where these come together that we have the myths. The outer world changes with historical time, the inner world is the world of anthropos. The mythological systems are a constant, and what you are recognizing is your own inward life, and at the same time the inflection to history. The problem of making the inner meet the outer of today is, of course, the function of the artist.”[8]

More of me transcribing Campbell. Why? Because I need to put it here. It explains things I struggle to explain to myself. He says things better than I ever could. So why not just read it from the book? Why the need to copy it out? I like to think that by copying the words that ring true to me, I’ll incorporate them more fully and use them to make my way and live my mythic life with the zeal it deserves. That, and I also don’t know what else to do – it’s the thing I can’t not do, so I’m trying to surrender to it, though I have no idea where it’s taking me. Often, it seems to take me exactly nowhere at all. But my heart and mind are moving when I’m doing this, reading and writing Campbell and all my other guides. I’m trying to trust the process of following my bliss. I haven’t found peace just winging it for forty-odd years, so I’m trying the lessons of millennia on for size, acting as if they’re helping – faking it – if that’s what it takes. Because what I want is what I’ve stated in my vog: To know myself and know what to do next. To awake each day with purpose. To be mindful and present.

Here’s something we occasionally walk past, heading from our apartment towards downtown:

“be.”

Friday, September 21, 2012. I’m suffering from biobiophycomythological anxiety today, as if there’s something that I not only ought be doing, but better be doing. It’s a familiar frame of mind that has led me into many a fiasco great and small. It’s not productive. It’s me telling myself that whatever this is that I’m doing – this writing – it looks and smells like therapy and as such it must end, I must get on with real life, whatever that is, whatever it is that I’m not getting on with. I become flooded with the idea that wrting these words and thinking these thoughts can’t possibly be what I ought to be doing, that these actions can’t be my myth. Campbell tells of a conversation he overheard in a restaurant between a man, his young son and the man’s wife:

“Drink your tomato juice.” The kid says, “I don’t want to.” And the father, in a louder voice, says, “Drink your tomato juice!” And then the mother says, “Don’t make him do what he doesn’t want to do!” Then the father says, “He can’t go through life doing what he wants to do. He’ll be dead!” He said, “Look at me, I never did a thing I wanted to in all my life.”[9]

Campbell also references a line in Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt where Mr. Babbitt says, “I never did a thing I wanted to in my life.” Campbell calls him a “dry stick.”[10]

“Now, I taught for one year in a boy’s prep school, the prep school I’d gone to myself, and there was the moment for those boys when things were dawning on them. And then the question comes up, “Is there money in it?” So all these people talk to me and I’d say, “Listen, do what you want to do, and don’t worry about the money.” And I have a firm belief in this now, not only in terms of my own experience, but in knowing about the experiences of other people. When you follow your bliss, and by bliss I mean the deep sense of being in it, and doing what the push is out of your own existence – it may not be fun, but it’s your bliss and there’s bliss behind pain too. You follow that and doors will open where there were no doors before, where you would not have thought there were going to be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anybody else. There’s something about the integrity of a life. And the world moves in and helps. It really does.

“And so I think the best thing I can say is follow your bliss. If your bliss is just your fun and your excitement, you’re on the wrong track. I mean, you need instruction. Know where your bliss is. And that involves coming down to a deep place in yourself.”[11]

I think the “instruction” he talks about can come from the myths – I think that’s what he’s referring to. The myths can give us guidance as to how to proceed. As Campbell is determined to point out, the myths, to be affective, to function as what they were meant to be, are to be read as metaphors, not literally – you have to interpret the window-to-transcendence that the myth attempts to provide in relation to your own life. A myth is not a road map or a set of commandments, it’s a compass; you aren’t to walk a path, you’re to head in a direction. You can use guides as your compass, but as I’ve recognized already, they’re chosen by your heart, even when you don’t realize it. An effective guide, maybe only upon reflection, turns out to be just somebody or something that reflects what you already knew about yourself – it provides legitimacy to what you already know. It’s the world-of-action reflecting back to you that which you’re trying to project about yourself. So, in that way, I think a guide, whether it’s a person, place or thing, can also be seen, in addition to a compass, as a mirror; a mirror reflecting you, so that in effect, you’re always leading yourself. I recall a portion of Campbell’s explanation of the myth of the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu:

“The mirror, reflecting the goddess and drawing her forth from the august repose of her divine nonmanifestation, is symbolic of the world, the field of the reflected image. Therein the divinity is pleased to regard its own glory, and this pleasure is itself inducement to the act of manifestation or creation.”[12]

So this inducement to create or to become manifest, to manifest yourself in the world-of-action, to not deny the world and remain in retreat but rather to come forth, means that a mirror reflects the divine in you; the transcendent in you, it does reflect your heart because your heart is that within you that is connected to the transcendent. What I find interesting and counter-intuitive at this stage of my self-work is how that reflection will draw you into life. Your connection to the divine draws you into the world-of-action instead of nourishing your retreat – by not participating in the whole of life, by not delivering your boon, neither the schism within nor without (the darkened plane of heaven) can be resolved, the energy flow of the universe is interrupted, the reflections among the net of gems are incomplete, unreflected, and the order of the universe is at risk of chaos. Such desperate cosmic disorder, such metaphysical peril, requires the influence of the gods, who in Hellenic fashion are responsible to an implacable order transcendent even of themselves: Amaterasu is rescued, as Campbell demonstrates, from without, humbled into contemplation of her true place, essential yet un-supreme, her light intrinsic to the well-being of the cosmos yet ultimately irrelevant to the inexorably turning, transcendent wheel of aeonic Time.

“I thought that owing to my retirement the plain of heaven would be dark, and likewise the central land of reed plains would all be dark: how then is it that Uzume makes merry, and that likewise the eight millions of gods all laugh?”

Then Uzume spoke, saying, “We rejoice and are glad because there is a deity more illustrious than thine Augustness.”[13]

The truth of Amaterasu’s retreat – her authentic struggle to cultivate the divine within herself – allows for the abiding nature of the rescue: her suffering is legitimate and therefore her return, though essential, is neither demanded by the gods nor commanded – there is no appeal made to her by way of any dharmic duty to the Law, though should the ruse fail, the suffering endured by the universe will remain irreparable. She is, therefore, not drawn from her cave against her will; rather, an appeal is made to her pure, mindful heart which, within Shinto, is necessarily a part of the natural world, inseparable spiritually from the divinity within herself. As such, she is compelled by her force of life to recognize life, although the experiment, the ruse, manufactured by the gods, is indeed as desperate, risky and prone to failure as any appeal to the heart ever is: it may falter, the force of life may not be up to the task of crossing, or re-crossing the world division. Amaterasu of course does tentatively begin to emerge, curious at first of the noisy goings on, then compelled further by her own reflection, by way of a resourcefully presented mirror, reflecting back to her her own divinity, her necessary function, emboldening her to become again who she is, reflecting herself and the divinity – one and the same – properly within the world. A rope of straw is quickly placed behind her, a respectfully impermanent, un-imperative yet earnestly efficacious alms-giving.

Amaterasu…

[14]

A powerful god took her august hand and drew her out; whereupon another stretched a rope of straw (called the shimenawa) behind her, across the entrance, saying, “Thou must not go back further in than this!” Thereupon both the plain of high heaven and the central land of reed plains again were light. The sun may now retreat, for a time, every night – as does life itself, in refreshing sleep; but by the august shimenawa she is prevented from disappearing permanently.[15]

It’s a gracefully poignant myth and playful, as myth and life must be in order to transcend insufferability. Also, “The motif of the sun as a goddess, instead of as a god,” as Campbell is careful to point out, “is a rare and precious survival from an archaic, apparently once widely diffused, mythological context.”

“In her adventures may be sensed a different world-feeling from that of the now better-known mythologies of the solar god: a certain tenderness toward the lovely gift of light, a gentle gratitude for things made visible – such as must once have distinguished the religious mood of many peoples.”[16]

Myths are guides, as that of Amaterasu has become for me. Musicians have also functioned in that capacity for me. Neil Young has turned into one for me these last few years, somewhat incongruously as I’ve essentially ignored his work for twenty-five years or so. I used to fucking hate the guy’s music – for the life of me I couldn’t understand the appeal of his farmy, dorky, folky, clunkiness in rock nor his too-adult tenderness in balladry. I hated his nasal, watery voice. I just didn’t get it, though he was impossible not to respect in a distant way, in the same way I respected but didn’t listen to his farm-aid-style, outlawish contemporaries like Willie Nelson, Wayland Jennings, or Kris Kristofferson, or whomever else had that activist-oriented earthiness that used to so put me off. Anyway, I like him now, especially since his Greendale album and tour some years back. Instead of a dorky huckster, he seems now to me like an authentically cool character, a wise, relevant grandpappy still in the game, still in-it-to-win-it. An article about him ran yesterday in the New York Times – my brother Kevin tipped me off to it – it’s well-written and revealing and Neil reveals himself to be the authentic guide that I’ve sort of been touting as an essential aspect of self-work, at least to my brother, who had the same misgivings about him during all of our music-listening decades. It’s good to get some legitimization of what you think you see and hear in somebody without knowing them personally – it can be a risk to “approach” anybody – your intuition is usually right on, but not always, especially if you’re not getting all the information of course. Springsteen seems to have inexorably lost his place within his music ever since Tunnel of Love and today I just struggle to even listen to anything he puts out. But I won’t spend words ripping on Bruce – it’s Neil that’s interesting lately:

“For whatever you’re doing, for your creative juices, your geography’s got a hell of a lot to do with it. You really have to be in a good place, and then you have to be either on your way there or on your way from there.”[17]

That’s how I look at Ann Arbor – I have to live here to even be doing what I’m trying to do – it’s maybe not the special place it used to be to me, but it’s still the only place I want to live in Michigan. The space and place means a lot and it’s good to see this spelled out by a guy that’s still rocking it at sixty-six-years-old. It just coincides with the lives of anyone who seems to be biophycomythologically on it – they do what they do from a space and place that both sustains and inspires them.


[1] Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey…, xvii.

[2] Ibid., 97.

[3] Ibid., 48.

[4] Ibid., 49.

[5] Joseph Campbell, Pathways…, 88.

[6] Ibid., 127.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 181.

[9] Ibid., 217.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces…, 183.

[13] Ibid., 182.

[14] wikipedia.org, “Amaterasu,” 9.21.2012.

[15] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces…, 183.

[16] Ibid.

[17] David Carr, “Neil Young Comes Clean,” New York Times Magazine web article September 19, 2012.