Second Mind

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020. I’m back to the closing shift for two days, then off for two, then a closing shift, then three days off, and so on. I was at twenty-nine or so hours per week forever, it seemed, and now, perhaps because we’re approaching the end of the busy season (when I was seasonal part-time I was told the job ended in August unless I got hired on permanently) or perhaps because the end of the busy season has come early – who knows, who cares? – my hours are decreasing. A good thing. Because the grind is affecting my editing. I’m not whining, it’s just not possible for me to maintain a commitment to a job for thirty hours, learn what has to be learned there, devote myself to it enough to do a respectably good job and then manage the marketing of the novel and find the energy to devote to proper, very time consuming editing. Besides the reading and journaling which fuel the fiction. And my other vocations suffer: the walking and cooking especially. It’s just the way things are, we’re slave to our genetics, to our talents and lack thereof. And we’re slaves to time, in a way, too. There is only so much of it available. That I wasted so much of it in my youth is, well, also part of life.

Meanwhile, yes, skills can be learned, including those required for the bettering one’s time management, but it’s a talent, indeed, to be capable of engineering a reliably efficient, productive life that gets you from where you are to where you want to be. While leaving room for the spontaneity required for authentic creativity. Somebody else might manage everything with elegance and flair, even working full time and getting TC2 edited and in shape for publishing all by the end of the year, no sweat. I wish. Surrendering to one’s process weaknesses is part of what separates the men from the boys, as they say, because the alternative is giving up. “Money isn’t everything,” sings Ian Hunter, “when you’re turning your back on a dream.”[1]

Don’t give up, then. Take your lumps. Forge ahead. Fight and surrender at the same time. Be who you are and don’t grasp at things. Abandon ambition, which is something that takes, in favor of aspiration, which gives. Krishna had to explain this to Arjuna, who was trapped within the illusion of his autonomy, believing he had a choice on the battlefield. Well, he had a choice but it wasn’t the choice he thought it was. Namely, his only choice was whether or not to be who he was, and only that, not taking on things, responsibilities for example, that weren’t his to assume. The pending war that troubled him was beyond his control to stop, he could only choose to act in it or not, to apply his influence according to his so-called dharma as a warrior.

In the West we interpret dharma without the idea of caste, regarding it as an expression of our veritelos, our true nature, our personal mythology (as I describe it). , avatar of Vishnu, the sustainer of the cosmos, Let it go and see what comes back. Tap all the wisdom of the ages, as best you can, and try to enjoy the ride. It’s your only one, after all.

Anyway, can you tell that I’m still reading my way through my copy of The Illustrated Mahabharata? The above image is not in the book and I can’t immediately ascertain the attribution, otherwise I would properly cite it. So be it, if anyone can identify the artist and copyright owner, I will be grateful. Meanwhile, I’m leaning upon the idea of fair use. And of all the images out there that interpret this scene, this one strikes me as mythologically robust and erudite, emphasizing the unsettling yet grounding quality of the divinity, of the eternal, of myth at its most affecting, effective and functional. Here is awe, cosmology, sociology and pedagogically supportive psychology.

Hinduism does well, I think, to provide a particularly valuable aspect of the fourth function of mythology, that of pedagogically supportive psychology. That is to say, Hinduism acknowledges the predicament of our psychological nature in very human terms. Versus Christianity, for example, in which Jesus, as an avatar of God and a compassionate teacher can be seen to resemble Krishna but only insofar as Jesus rather symbolizes sacrifice and the psychological schism induced by our sense of guilt or original sin, an otherwise uniquely Occidental perspective. In Hinduism we are not guilty in spite of ourselves, there is no original sin but merely our personal sin, our karmic mistakes. The world naturally balances itself by way of the play of opposites. Within Christianity, the world, as created by God, ironically enough, is flawed and we ourselves, as creations of God, are flawed along with it. Yet somehow we are tasked with both correcting this personal schism which is not of our own doing and awaiting the coming of salvation, the day of judgement in which there will be heaven on earth, if only for the faithful. The common ground between the mythologies nevertheless remains the ideas of compassion and surrender to the Divinity.

[1] Ian Hunter, “Death of a Nation,” Rant, Fuel 2000, April 2001.

***

DOP1 (2012) Vintage Post:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012. With five-thousand years of thought behind it, yoga and Indian philosophy is so rich with history, elaborate metaphysics (for lack of a better word), competing ideas – even conflicting ideas – that it’s a challenge to try to digest and appreciate it all. The “impulse toward transcendence” is something that captured me, especially after reading so much of Campbell, but at this point in my thinking, I’ve become skeptical again, more agnostic again, and I’m doubting the advantage or even validity of all the psychological rigor. Feuerstein compares the material technology of the West with the “psycho spiritual technology” of the East:

Material technology has changed human life and the face of our home planet more than any other cultural force, but its gifts to humanity have not always proven to be benign…. A different attitude prevails in the counter-technology of India, which is essentially a matter of wisdom and personal growth. It has evolved over millennia on the rich humus of hard-won inner experience, psycho spiritual maturation, and nonordinary states of consciousness, and the supreme condition of Self-realization itself.[1]

I’m not at all sure that I can buy into Feuerstein’s commitment to “the discoveries and accomplishments of the Indian spiritual virtuosos” as evidence of yoga’s truth.[2] Rather, what appeals to me is the undeniable validity of Yoga’s insight and it’s faith in self-work – the very attitude that sees a solution to our “grief” in this world, our struggle to be who we are and to feel at home – as something that originates within us instead of outside of us. For me, the war has always been within and I’m sure it’s that way for most of us. But I’m going to read this book, stay open to the ideas and let them work on me. As I’ve said, I’m not looking for a religion; I’m looking to be who I am.

In Rabindranath Tagore’s delightful work Gitanjali, there is a line that sums up our modern attitude, which is one of dilemma: Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.[3]

I’m compelled by Feuerstein’s confidence in “psycho spiritual technology;” that it “…can, if applied wisely, free us from the psychic proclivity of living as self-encapsulated beings at odds with ourselves and the world.”[4] That the “philosophy of integration between spiritual concerns and material existence” is not unique to Yoga is obvious – it’s fundamental to Shinto for example – but what is unique, at least from my own experience, is how the practice of meditation and physical postures so effectively help initiate and strengthen our ability to change, grow and evolve. I think it’s the structure and mind-body integration (or cooperation) that empowers Yoga.

The phrase “change, grow and evolve” is taken from Kundalini Yoga – A Complete Course for Beginners Vol.1 a DVD by yoga instructor Nirvair Singh Khalsa. This video was my first formal exposure to Yoga, introduced to me by my wife Angie, and it remains part of my Yoga practice.

Part of the practice of Yoga and the beauty of Yoga is bringing you into these higher states of awareness; to really be able to figure yourself out for your own growth and evolution. Yoga not only makes you more flexible, it improves your digestion, your elimination; the circulation, the nervous system; the glandular system; it improves your general sense of well-being, your inner sense of calm, centeredness and peacefulness. It also allows you and helps you to change, grow and evolve.[5]

Nirvair says this while coaching students through what he calls the “life-nerve stretch” – a hamstring stretch accomplished from a sitting position by bending forward over your extended leg. One is to hold this stretch for an extended time:

[I]nhaling and exhaling through the nose. Slow the breath down and help yourself to relax into this position. Really the best way of doing this that I’ve found is first of all, you set yourself right at that spot where you are challenged a little bit, where you can feel the dynamic tension in the stretch; you hold that position and then you tune into your breath – the breath is very important; you slow the breath down, and you’re consciously aware of taking breath in and letting breath out. Then bring your mind to where you’re feeling the stretch – it may be the back of the knee, the lower back, the shoulders; wherever it is – and then consciously, mentally, help that part of the body, or those parts of the body to relax. You bring your mind back to the breath again, take a few breaths, and then after you take a few breaths then review; go back to those places where you feel the tension in the stretch, and if at that time you feel more comfortable where you are, it’s at that point when you stretch a bit more – stretch one more plateau, go one more level in that direction of forward and then down.[6]

I’ve spent much of my life engaged in athletic activities and stretching is nothing new to me. But to mindfully engage in it for an extended period – to spend time focusing on a body part and at the same time on the activity of your mind (and heart) – was different. It’s a very simple thing but I find it effective at sort of lubricating the self-work I’m engaged in. I’m convinced that who we are is necessarily connected to what we are – we are our bodies – our body chemistry, our biology, is the source of ourselves, at least to some extent. Whether or not a part of us exists beyond our biology will, I’m almost convinced, remain a mystery to us (that’s both my agnostic and Shinto bent). I’m equally dubious of the existence of Self and our ability to transcend self – our “ego-self.”[7] According to Feuerstein:

Yoga, then, is the technology of ecstasy, or self-transcendence. How this ecstatic condition is interpreted and what means are employed for its realization differ, as we will see, from school to school.[8]

One day I find the idea compelling and worth pursuing and the next it seems as absurd as any other form of religious enlightenment. Priests, shamans, mystics, prophets, saviors, and gurus all sometimes seem just too concerned and committed to finding answers beyond or otherwise outside of this world – the world we find ourselves in despite any effort at transcending it. There may just be only this world and our biology as a part of it. Wondrous awe and mystery; the sense of everyday connectedness are obviously part of life too. If comprehension of Death, as Campbell speculates, is the awakening of our sense of awe, does it necessitate the creation of a philosophy to attempt to explain it?[9] Even Shinto, which so beautifully treasures the mystery of life – it lets it be – fails on the subject of death, allowing fear and custom to obfuscate a compelling contemplation of it.

Juicy

Wednesday, December 12, 2012. I saw my name on Zingerman’s Camp Bacon 2013 list of presenters.

I’m sticking this in the DOP to make it real and to make sure I give myself every opportunity to be prepared. I got a little anxious when I saw this. But I can put on a good presentation when I’m into the material. Stage fright and anxiety has only brought me down when I’m being forced to talk about shit I’m not interested in or in a way that I’m not comfortable with.

[1] Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, (Prescott: Hohm Press, 2008), xxviii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., xxvii.

[4] Ibid., xxviii.

[5] Nirvair Singh Khalsa, Kundalini Yoga: A Complete Course for Beginners: With Kundalini Yoga Instructor Nirvair Singh Khalsa. Directed by Chuck Bradlee, (University of Alaska, 1995), DVD.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga…, 3.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Joseph Campbell, The Way of the Animal Powers…, 25. Campbell writes, “However, it is not until the period of Neanderthal Man in Europe, toward the close of the great Ice Ages, during the Riss-Würm interglacial, that the first indubitable signs appear anywhere – namely, in burials of the dead and in reliquary shrines to the animals slain – of that recognition of the mysterium which marks the waking of the mythologically inspired second mind.”

The Way Home

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Wow, no takers on the second try at the giveaway. Best, then, to let the idea go. It’s funny, the thing with obscurity, namely, that it’s always there, patiently waiting to reclaim the helm. So that my fleeting sense of getting a little bit of traction in the marketplace as an author, of building something of a platform is always just that: fleeting. Who said that fame is fleeting? All that matters is that it’s nonetheless a truism. And all things must pass, which may be a Hindu thing.

Anyway, it’s also funny how long some types and levels of fame or notoriety or success, what have you, persist. As if the giant delete button that is time itself somehow skips over some things. Everybody has heard of Socrates (even though Plato may have made him up) and George Washington and Jimi Hendrix. And Luke Skywalker. Zillions of actors and athletes tend to enjoy historical longevity. Who cares?

Well, one of my preferred vocations is that of entrepreneur. I don’t enjoy working for the man. In fact I can’t stand it. It’s not the people, it’s being told what to do. I have plenty to do, I don’t need anyone telling me, whether it’s to get me paid or otherwise. I can remember my mother saying, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” Or, “Why don’t you go visit what’s his name?” Or, “I got you a job mowing the neighbor’s lawn this summer; and shoveling their driveway come winter, isn’t that great?” And I remember thinking, in so many words, What in hell, mom, I’m perfectly happy and perfectly busy. And, Who asked you?

It’s hardly laziness because I work at least as hard as anyone I’ve ever known. Too often I work too hard, so that I’ve found it a lifelong challenge to back off, to loosen my grip and to allow things to come to me of their own accord, in line with who I am, with my talents and what I really want to do. I’m driven like so many others to realize my dreams, somehow, some way, at almost all costs, come what may. And that in itself – the intense focus and relentless, perhaps compulsive or obsessive drive – oftentimes causes me to get in my own way.

What am I on about? Who in hell cares? Hey, this is just a journal entry, which is my way of writing myself into the day and through my own anxieties with the aspiration of getting from where I am to where I want to be. I have visions of greatness. I want to change it, fix it and make it better. I’m not alone. But not selling any copies of TC1 makes me feel alone. It makes me feel ineffectual and painfully obscure and that all my work and who I am is of no value to anyone. A private writer is an unread writer. And an unread writer is a tragedy. Because writing, no matter how self-oriented or even intentionally private is a form of communication. If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? A silly idea, of course, because it amounts to a trick question – that is, it requires at least two answers: (1) when a tree falls it creates sound waves; (2) to be heard, as such, requires an ear to receive those sound waves. Furthermore, it requires cognition to interpret the sound as that of a tree falling in a forest (identifying the crash, boom, bang of it all).

It has to do with perception, of course, and the nature of reality. Epistemology (the study of knowledge), Ontology (the study of being) and Empiricism (the practical aspects of experience), if you want to get officially philosophical about it. Apparently Einstein (now there’s an example of persistent fame!) was skeptical that Niels Bohr didn’t really believe that the moon failed to exist when nobody was looking at it. To which Niels replied in so many words, apparently, that it didn’t matter; that it was a riddle, a so-called infallible conjecture, which could neither be proved nor disproved. And of course the idea of infallible conjecture – that which can neither be proved nor disproved – includes everything from the existence of God (or the gods), to the idea of an afterlife to, I don’t know, everybody’s assumption that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Hence, atheists, in my opinion, are just as silly as religious zealots: committing to an unquestionable absence of something (the idea that something isn’t) is just as hardheaded and closeminded as committing to the unquestionable presence of something. From either perspective, one can explain away, as they say, any contrary idea.

Am I therefore agnostic? No. I used to consider myself such. I took refuge in the idea that, well, I simply didn’t know one way or the other about anything to do with the Mystery, let’s call it. And that that was okay. Letting the mystery or Mystery be seemed the prudent choice, at least in psychological terms; it was the one that relieved most of the anxiety over the question of the nature of reality. Or seemed to. Except that I finally had to acknowledge that the Mystery deserved to be capitalized. Which is to say there is an undeniable sense of the Other about life. So that it looms as a nagging predicament or opportunity, take your pick. It begs to be resolved, this mystery of the Mystery of life (and death) yet steadfastly resists all efforts at unraveling the ball of string, as it were. Or the so-called Gordian Knot, choose your metaphor.

How to move forward? I say focus on the how and let the why take care of itself. This is the essence of personal mythology, of veritelos, of being who you are. You belong in this world because you are made of it – we are all stardust, it has been said. You have a home in the cosmos and work to do within it. It’s only a matter of discovering the details, as much as we can, and getting on with things. It sounds oh so simple and it isn’t, I know. Such is the bite of irony that we endure. Life is irony. So much so, it oftentimes seems, that The Mythology of Irony is the title of a book I like to thing that I’ll get around to writing someday. In an effort to tease apart the details if nothing else.

Writing. Novels. Obscurity. Hugh MacLeod, whom I’ve quoted for years, wrote a little book called Ignore Everybody where suggests, “Enjoy obscurity while it lasts; as long as it doesn’t last forever.” Right on, Hugh.

Meanwhile, with Amazon being the only reasonably priced marketplace for advertising to any serious number of potential readers and so far performing as my only reliable marketplace (with nobody reading the blog, nobody will be visiting the website…) I’m struggling to discover more avenues for marketing the book. Barnes & Noble isn’t worth discussing, though eventually I’ll post my journal entry about my experience or lack thereof with their customer service. Meanwhile, B&N: who shops there besides adamant Amazon haters? B&N is typically more expensive than Amazon (my hardcover is less than half the price on Amazon at this writing), they don’t match pricing like Amazon does, they don’t allow for an author page unless you have three published books (anti-indie!) and their advertising platform seems from a different era. They don’t even allow a person to search for a book title, which seems crazy and I frankly don’t believe them. Though when I complained that searching for Time Crime generates nothing they responded, “Our search engine does not work that way.” Huh? But I’ve journaled earlier in the year about the non-starter nature of B&N, now more or less Waterstones, so I’ll shut up.

There are the little sci-fi review sites, one of which I again tried to contact today – SFBook Reviews at sfbook.com, for example, a group that has been doing their thing for some twenty years. It would be great to get them to agree to give the novel a shot at being reviewed. Brick and mortar bookshops? Ack. Again, I’ve journaled about my lousy experiences with brick and mortar bookshops, how if they agree to stock your title, they don’t have the means to sell any worthwhile number of copies. Mostly because they can’t help burying it in the stacks, spine out. Libraries? Forget it. I sound like a crank but it’s only because my idealism balloon has been burst from firsthand experience. Niche thyself, I get it. But it’s easier said than done. I’m trying. Which is to say I’m doing my best to stay positive, be creative in my efforts, to leave no stone unturned, to keep otherwise working on publishing TC2. For that may be my best advertising: having more than one novel out there, that is. ALLi has suggested as much. I suppose it’s another aspect of social proof. What kind of novelist, a reader might say, only has one novel? Well, I’m working on it. I’m working on balancing the marketing of TC1 with the demands of publishing TC2 and keeping my job at the home improvement and finding the energy and inspiration to do it all. It’s the same challenge for any wannabe writer, I know.

In the end, enjoying obscurity means enjoying the freedom of it. So, at this point, when I question whether my journal entry is worth posting I ought to just say, fuck it, post it; who’s it hurting? That’s freedom.

***

DOP1 (2012) Vintage Post:

Tuesday, December 04, 2012. I’m excited to be engaged in three new books:

  • Shinto: The Way Home by Thomas P. Kasulis
  • Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller & Sabastien Rouxel
  • The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein, PhD.

Campbell’s retelling of the Amaterasu myth in Hero (pp. 180-183) including his brief footnote, introduced me to Shinto, and I was compelled to explore it further. Kasulis’s slender book seems to be a great point at which to start, depart, enter or return – a torii gate if you will.

Like the shimenawa, the torii or Shinto gate is another sacred marker. The torii functions as a bookmark for connecting people to awe-inspiring power. It marks where one left off and where one will want to return. It is a tangible gateway to an intimacy with the world, one’s people, and oneself. When people get lost in the details of everyday life, when they disconnect from their capacity for awe, they often feel homeless. The torii shows the way home…. To “get lost” in Japanese is “michi o machigaeru,” literally, “to mistake one’s path.” Shinto is the kami path and when people deviate too far from it, they lose part of what they are and become lost. Disoriented, they seek a marker to show the way back to the kami-filled, tama-empowered world. The torii serves that purpose. Passing through it, one is on the way to being once again empowered.[1]

I’m drawn to “the overlap of materiality and spirituality,” the “everyday connectedness” of the “kami-filled” world, the idea of treasuring (versus trying to explain) the mystery within the sense of awe, the integration of nature and the appreciation of simplicity.[2] Also, the concept of “makoto no kokoro” elided simply into “magokoro” and translated as “pure mindful heart” seems to encompass much of what I’ve been writing about. I’m not looking for my religion so to say but I’m very much interested in learning how Shinto may have already expressed my own intuitive spirituality. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear and this is just another example of tuning in and becoming aware of who I am. It’s all been done before, there’s nothing new under the sun, etc. Colloquialisms aside and as a bonus, it may be that Shinto has provided me with the word “magokoro” as an elegant and historically robust replacement for my clumsy “biophycomythology.” I don’t want to misappropriate the word however, so I’ll keep studying and test-drive the concept awhile.

Bouchon Bakery is another remarkably approachable book by Thomas Keller and his crew. Like Ad Hoc, which I happen to be cooking dinner out of right now, it’s as thorough as a textbook and as attractive as a coffee table book. Also like Ad Hoc, the precision of instruction blends into approachable warmth – I’ve never been to any of Keller’s restaurants but if they’re as unpretentious as these two books I’d be glad to experience them someday. I’ve been looking for a bread book for years, but have never felt comfortable with any of them. This book is compelling because it combines bread baking with pastry and confections and now I’m energized to see what I can create at home instead of buying from zcob. I’ve got some experience with a walnut bread I used to make from a somewhat disappointing Williams-Sonoma recipe, TK’s own delicious brioche and flatbread from Ad Hoc, and a nice Irish soda bread from Saveur but for the most part, I’ve relied on Zingerman’s Bake house – I’ve never felt confident that a home oven can produce great bread. My cookie repertoire has long been in need of expansion, I’ve only dabbled in other pastries and I’ve never made confections. This book has me jazzed to get going on all of it – it’s like a one-stop-shop technically and the artfulness of the publication is inspiring.

First, I’m pleased to have attempted my own pre-ferment, a.k.a. sourdough starter, mother, or sponge. I learned from zcob, and it’s verified by Matthew McDonald who wrote Bouchon Bakery’s chapter, that a pre-ferment is “the secret to great-tasting bread.” There’s two types: a poolish and a levain, both of which are made up of equal parts flour and water. The poolish contains a small amount of instant yeast whereas the levain relies on the “wild” yeast bacteria – the “flora” – that are present in the flour and the air in your kitchen. I assume I’ve got some good kitchen air for creating a levain, but we’ll see, I just started it this morning and its first “feeding” is 9am tomorrow. If I have bubbles, then my levain is alive.

Secondly, I’m motivated to accomplish a great bread crust. McDonald goes to some length to help you set up your home oven – with a baking stone, river rocks and a metal chain in a pan sheet pan, and a super-soaker water gun – to generate the steam required for a great crust. I remember reading in My Life in France how Julia Child’s struggled to develop a similar technique. The steam, which you generate immediately after putting the dough on the stone, apparently condenses uniformly on the surface of the cool dough, coating it with a thin layer of water and preventing the crust from forming too quickly.

The crust of a dough that doesn’t get steam will set quickly and become thick and hard as it bakes. It will also become dull and chalky. The shiny, caramelized crust of bread treated with steam is thinner than on breads that haven’t been steam-treated, and has the crispy, chewy texture of great bread.[3]

If I can bake bread that rivals Zingerman’s, which I consider to be breads with the best crumb and crust I’ve ever tasted, it’ll prove that McDonald knows his shit. I’m skeptical of the home-spun “technology” but I’m going for it.

[1] Thomas P. Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004), 18.

[2] Ibid., 10, 26, 38.

[3] Keller, Thomas, Bouchon Bakery, (New York: Artisan, 2012), 266.

Hey, Look! Another Book Giveaway!

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Monday, June 22, 2020. This is Ruby at six weeks or so (that’s the breeder’s foot). We’re told that she’ll be ready for pick up in another three and a half weeks. Again, she’s an Aussie but with some so-called breed faults; namely her white face (there ought to be a mask), her stand up ears and the fact that she’ll keep her tail. Regarding her ears, I suspect she’s got some Border Collie in her. Anyway, it’s all good as far as we’re concerned. There are many very finicky, demanding Aussie buyers out there with innumerable requirements regarding eye color (Ruby’s are still puppy blue) and coat coloring. We aren’t those buyers. In fact, Ruby may have unusual coloring on her face – we’ll see if the developing patches under her eyes get any larger – but come what may she’ll have a home with us even if she resembles a fur covered quarterback.

I have a couple days off from the home improvement store (a television sitcom idea waiting to happen – oh, the characters; oh, the stories!) to rest my aching bones and reenergize my depleted creative energies. A warm summer and closing shifts make for a lazy brain and body. Nevertheless, I continue to fumble along with journal entries that I edit during the posting process (which involves and annoying amount of manipulation with images and formatting block quotes, etcetera – all this stuff ought to be just a cut-and-paste process, shouldn’t it?), argh. I suppose I could be using a more user friendly hosting and website package instead of the piecemeal, DIY style of Dreamhost + Boldgrid + WordPress, yadda, blah. But that would add yet more cost to the whole affair that costs me, including the book advertising, several hundred dollars, at least, a month. Ouch. The question remains: is it worth it?

On the accounts receiving side, KDP forwarded a couple of royalty statements or, more accurately, royalty notices because for whatever reason I have to wait until the data posts in my bank account to see the dollar amount. Oh well, I can see the numbers elsewhere, prior to taxes, and of course it’s all merely token money anyway, contributing virtually nothing to the bottom line and functioning more usefully as a nudge of encouragement. Yes, that is to say, I am a professional. I am a paid author. Compensation? I have to remember that such a thing primarily includes the reward of the work itself and the privilege of continuing it. My writing, like the writing of so many others sharing the authorpreneur adventure, amounts to a paid vocation, indeed, except paid in the wrong direction. So be it.

If you’ve read this far you are automatically a member of the Day of Pigs Secret Society. You’re a pig. In all the best ways. Members will recall that I’d posted a secret giveaway within the “Five + Five” post and while two folks were kind enough to “like” it, no one took advantage of the offer of a free paperback. Thereby providing scientific proof of my theory that nobody, save perhaps DOPSS members, is reading this blog. At least not all of it. Hmm. I suppose the giveaway offer will have to appear higher up, in the blog title, say, if I’m going to entice any takers, we’ll see. I’ll think of one. An enticing title, that is. Meanwhile, it just goes to show that followers don’t necessarily mean readers, that’s okay, it’s part of the game, I get it. Best wishes to everyone regardless of their level of interest but should you read this and already own a copy of TC, feel free to pass the offer along. Again, just email your mailing address to me at carnegie@carnegieolson.com, include the phrase “the future is the past” and the first five folks to reach my inbox will receive a copy.

***

DOP1 (2012) Vintage Post “Changing Light:”

Thursday, November 29, 2012.

“Yoga helps you to change, grow and evolve.” – Nirvair Singh Khalsa

Nirvair Singh is a Kundalini Yoga instructor and his instructional video, Kundalini Yoga for Beginners, part of a course he taught in 1990s at the University of Alaska, is the first one I remember Angie using, back when we lived at 1709 in Ann Arbor, and it was my introduction to Kundalini. For at least a year or two, it was the only yoga session I would participate in. Angie was just beginning to explore yoga back then, and she bought programs from other trainers, but I never identified with them, or wouldn’t allow myself to identify with them. I resisted yoga as girl-stuff just like practically every other male I knew. I figured it was just stretching and strange breathing techniques and since I had spent a considerable portion of my youth in organized sports and in what we called “gym” classes, especially in what we called “middle school” (grades 6-8), I figured I knew most of what there was to know about staying fit, let alone how to stretch. Of course the postures are what attracts and repels people – in the U.S. it seems the physical challenges, especially the ridiculously acrobatic poses of some practices, are what receives all the attention. Most of us can’t bend over backwards, stand on our heads, nor do a handstand and most of shouldn’t try if you ask me. It’s not the point to become a gymnast. The physical aspect of yoga is to work in concert with the mental, psychological and if you like “spiritual” aspects. Anyway, Nirvair Singh is still doing his thing: https://www.yogatech.com/Nirvair_Singh

I otherwise suspect that many of us lose touch with our own bodies and suffer for it psychologically. Clearly our bodies, our physical, biological nature is keyed to our “inner life” or the life of our minds, which includes our psychology, intellect, personality, spirituality (I think everyone experiences some aspect of an “other”), philosophy and the idea of our personal myth. Therefore our biology (or our biochemistry) begets our mind. It goes back to what Campbell stated and what I quoted from him in my chapter (or essay) entitled “The Unreality of Reality”: if we’ve all come from the material of the universe – if our bodies are composed of the matter of the cosmos – then it’s logical to assume that our minds – what we think about and how our minds work, our consciousness – is an expression, iteration, example, permutation, demonstration or configuration, what have you, of a particular ordering or matrix of physical (sub-atomic, eventually biochemical) components, a matrix that is itself supporting and supported by a larger, even more comprehensive matrix. The existence of an outside or exterior intelligence, a first mover or a divinity beyond that of Nature, say, is not required. Our spirituality, then, indeed can be a result of our psychology, hence our biology. Of course this does nothing to explain the why of things.

That we can contemplate the nature of ourselves – that we have “access” so to say, unlike the animals, to the so-called “fourth chakra” – the “level” of the heart or heart-mind, whereby we go beyond survival, security and sex to what it means to “be” neither supports nor refutes the idea of something about us that goes beyond our biology. It’s not useful to me, especially after studying the concepts at length, to conclude that I should live according to anything but my personal myth, which contains the whole of the universe and my place in it. All else, all talk of a personal god, of man created in the image of this or that other-ness, or even of a larger Self of which we’re but temporary expressions, just leaves me wanting. It doesn’t help me to live here by creating or identifying with any man-made mythology that steps away from my place in the world as it is. In some sense I’m discarding every mythology and in another sense I’m including every mythology. I’m going to spend more time reading about Shinto – I’ve ordered a slim, well-reviewed book on the subject – to see how completely I identify with it. I’m not looking for a religion. I’m not looking for ritual. I’m not looking to join a team and to be a part of something larger. I don’t have any expectation that any mythology that the mind of man can create will “answer” all my questions about how to live. Man creates, as Campbell has described, mythology as a result of his biology, which explains why the hero journey is universal and how we’re teaching ourselves how to live – if you’re like me then you believe that humans are progressing, however slowly, in their understanding of how to live their lives in concert with this universe. It doesn’t seem to me that an American Indian mythology for example, where nature itself is a spirit, is any better or worse, overall, than that of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Shinto or whatever the fuck. We’re always talking about something larger than us and our biology. It helps us to deal with or otherwise integrate our personal biology into the larger biology and physics of the universe. We need help and we’re helping ourselves. Jung’s “collective unconscious” for me is probably just a collective consciousness.

Beyond that, I can’t speak to anything with conviction – I return always to the idea of letting any larger mystery be and focusing on figuring out my personal mystery – of demystifying myself. I’m enamored of the idea of finding my place in the world-of-action, of being who I am intuitively and as completely as possible. I want to see what happens when I do that; I want to see if I can do that. I don’t claim to have found THE answer. I’ve got a plan that seems like a good one based on what I’ve seen of the world, what I know about myself and what I’ve read. So far. For me, it seems like a process of elimination more than anything else. The idea of figuring everything out so to say, whether you want to call it enlightenment, transcendence, whatever, has its appeal but so does just finding my place in the world so that the Truth or its mystery recedes into the background of my happy life. That’s a kind of peace that I want to try to experience; to loosen my grip on the whys and wherefores – the grand philosophy – and to live my version of an artful life, mindfully, present, engaged in my vocations, with the stars in the sky and a cup of coffee in my hand. I know pain and suffering and how there’s more of that to come. I know I’ll end and I don’t know why. I know everything changes. I want to be here now and I want to contemplate the eternal. I want to quit so much of the digging my way through the labyrinth – the wasted time and energy, the back-n-forth, the up-and-down-stairs, the being lost in the woods – and instead be guided forward to see as much as I can see in the time that I have. I want my series of adventures to serve me better than it seems like they have. I want a sense of living MY life versus some version of somebody else’s life. Why? Because I perceive happiness and peace there. I’ve experienced “bliss” and I know how much better life is when you follow it. It’s not a fiction, it’s certainly not a religion, it’s something I’ve tasted, it’s something that I know, it’s not a dream, a vision or a fantasy. It’s here in this world and I want more of it and I want to be better at knowing it when I have it. That’s why I’m writing this. It’s part of my bliss though I spend too many hours and days struggling instead of surrendering.

I read something in Parabola about James Merrill and how his The Changing Light at Sandover was based on his twenty years of fucking around with a Ouija board. Supernatural experiences aside, it inspired me to re-read some of his poetry which to me expresses an admirably self-composed, quietly confident and graceful examination of our mysteries. I might take on the challenge of The Changing Light…. What I have now of Merrill’s are a few poems in my Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by J.D. McClatchy, an important book to me because I found it in NYC when I was writing my own poetry. It’s still my favorite book of Poetry – it opened up that world for me and somehow it remains the most accessible and digestible of books.

I’m impressed with the title of Merrill’s book. “The Changing Light at Sandover” creates a fantastically elegant and inviting image from the start, but of course one can consider the changing light of any place. I’m especially enamored of the idea of “the changing light” – the elegance of the words together and all that the phrase conjures up about life and Time. Like all great writing it captures so much, so universally. I think about the changing light that I have seen in my life. Living here in this apartment, its expansive wall of north-facing windows unrestricted by decoration, provides for a veritable theater of changing light – a big-screen movie of this corner of the world. With the possible exception of our 1709 house, which had a marvelously big view across the yards behind our house and into the small woods beyond, I don’t remember being as attuned to, or as affected by, the changing light of morning, day and dusk. It’s like living in an observatory, not of the planets and stars, but of the aspect of days and nights. We get just enough of the setting sun through our west door-wall in the winter, and maybe a little too much in the summer (because I find it necessary to lower the large shade late in the day), to satisfy my east-west orientation requirements, without suffering the sun’s direct punishments. I’d like to see more of the moon at night, but a northern exposure likewise doesn’t lend itself to that planetary trajectory. I’ve already learned to depend on this big view of the light and sky maybe too much as it sometimes dramatically affects my mood. I now miss the sun when it’s gone more than ever – the city lights deny the comfort that might come from a view of the stars. A partly cloudy day provides interest, a stormy day provides intrigue and drama, but a completely overcast day is gray agony. The return of the sun is a return of a friend and fills the day with promise. The rare appearance of the moon is an unmitigated surprise and always worth craning one’s neck to appreciate face-to-face, or even howling at. One appreciates the mythologies of the cosmos – how cosmology affects mythology – only when you get a great view of it. It doesn’t have to be daytime to experience cosmological awe of course, but a city-dweller like me has had only rare opportunities to take in a full-on starry, starry night.

I’ll never forget emerging from our tiny cabin at Shovel Pass Lodge in the Canadian Rockies in the middle of the night, my small headlamp illuminating the rocky path to the outhouse, and looking overhead, (possibly concerned that moon was failing to light my way), only to behold a polymerous glut of stars suspended above me. The sense of wondrousness, of awe, was undeniable, unavoidable even without my glasses on, and I was inspired to squint long and hard enough to capture in my mind a “snapshot” of what must have been my first contemplation of the Milky Way – a veritable riot of stars – before lowering my gaze and stumbling along through the moonless dark. On another night, the moon took the stage in white splendor and the stars were in abeyance. Indeed, it was bright enough at midnight for moon shadows and the horses escaped from their corral that night, jumping over their fencing with some magical ease apparently. Leaving no evidence of their efforts – no open gate, no dislodged timbers – they were said to be seen by one of our fellow hikers, an insomniac, moving quietly among our small cabins, so peaceful in the moonlight that it never occurred to him that something was amiss. In the morning, we found the horses vanished, a consternation until we were told they had all appeared again at their home ranch more than several miles away, having retraced their steps in the moonlight, from memory.

Grove of Sparks

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Friday, June 19, 2020.

Based on a number of allusions strewn throughout the inscription, the researchers believe that Vamoth perished so he could join the army of the chief Norse god, Odin, in Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle pitting the Viking gods against their enemies, the giants. In one section, the researchers have detected a reference to one of the chief giants, the monstrous wolf Fenrir, swallowing the sun, the act that sets Ragnarok in motion. Another section describes Fenrir facing off against 20 kings—members of Odin’s army—on the Grove of Sparks, a name for the Ragnarok battlefield. And, near the end of the inscription, the team has gleaned a reference to Odin’s son Vitharr, who vanquishes Fenrir after the creature kills his father. Only then can the sun’s daughter take her mother’s place in the sky.[1]

Every classic mythology, which is to say a mythology (including religion) with an historical basis of full functionality that allows for robust mythography and comparative study, has its unique strength. In Indian Asia, the rich Hindu pantheon expresses a thrilling sensuality and psychological vividness. In the Far East, an abiding sense of the eternal and the eminence and immanence[2] of Nature establishes a compelling spiritual refuge. The graceful, perpetually modern imagery and unsurpassed architectural majesty of Ancient Egypt evokes a spellbinding devotion to the magic of resurrection, to an afterlife that celebrates the delights of this one. Classical Greek mythology communicates our proximity and camaraderie with the Gods, their all too human foibles and failings and our shared cosmic predicament. Christianity, Islam and Judaism seek refuge in a personal relationship with a single omniscient, omnipotent Divinity, the eternity of our soul and the linearity of time which promises a coming salvation.

Then, within or aside from the general headings of Oriental and Occidental mythology, exists a panoply of compelling mythological sub-genres from the so-called prehistoric and pre-literate – equatorial, arctic, Meso-American, Northwest Coast, et al. – to uniquely localized and indigenous modern iterations. All share the four functions identified by J. Campbell, namely:

  • a source of awe
  • a cosmology that supports that awe
  • a sociology that establishes morality/ethics
  • a pedagogical, supporting psychology.

Moreover, all fully functional mythologies express or are expressed by way of affecting imagery – I agree wholeheartedly with Campbell when he suggests that there is no mythology without an image. Likewise, I agree with Campbell that mythology encompasses all the contemplative traditions, including so-called religion, the term currently in vogue, for whatever reason, among scholars even when they discuss preliterate and prehistoric evidence for myth.

Religion implies liturgy and worship, a kind of organized, otherwise structured administration of communal, contemplative tradition developed over many centuries or on the spot, but always limiting in the manner of its rigid identity, its rules and requirements; the idea of its unique, special access to the truth. I am a Catholic,” we declare, or, “I am a Buddhist.” Myth and mythology rather requires only the four functions to enable its relevance and legitimacy in contemplative or otherwise spiritual terms. To refer to a paleolithic image – so-called cave art, for instance – as religious is a silly abuse of the language. And today, if you consider yourself spiritual-but-not-religious, for example, you are nonetheless expressing a mythology, even if your expression of the four functions is utterly unique to you.

Years ago I presented a handful of guest lectures on the topic of mythology at a local community college and as a one-page study aid I developed the following chart in which I seek to capture key mythological themes, relevant historical conditions, a timeline and the idea that mythology can be thus described as a sheltering sky (to borrow from Paul Bowles) encompassing all contemplative traditions:

But back to the Norse. What is the strength of the Norse mythology with which I introduced today’s post? I point to its lyrical grandeur that in translation, at least, reliably communicates a preternaturally striking cosmic drama; a weighty, fearsome, ringing, narrative majesty and operatic spectacularity. One need only reference the Prose Edda, for instance, the famous Icelandic work from the thirteenth century attributed to Snorri Sturluson as proof. But what about something considerably earlier? Well, within the latest issue of Archaeology appears the so-called emperor of runestones, a monolith or rök located in Sweden and inscribed perhaps in 800 A.D. This link provides an interesting video and audio reading with text translation: https://www.archaeology.org/exclusives?slg=rok-runestone-reading

[1] Daniel Weiss, “The Emperor of Stones,” Archaeology, July/August 2020, p.9.

[2] The doctrine that the divine is manifested in the material world, hence, within ourselves.

Five + Five

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020. The Goodreads giveaway is over and this morning I ordered paperback copies to be shipped directly from Amazon KDP to the five winners – three readers in the U.S. and two in Canada – hooray for all of you and thank you for entering! In all, there were 2103 entrants. And eighteen folks are now following the blog, thank you.

It requires a certain type of intrepid, gutsy, courageously independent attitude to be a seeker of new things, I think; to be the first in, a so-called first adopter of something prior to its having established a reliable measure of what is referred to in marketing as “social proof.” It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon, as they say, of a popular book with hundreds of positive reviews and sparkling blurbs by famous authors or a blog with thousands or tens of thousands of followers (and advertising so that the blogger is actually getting paid), to rely upon the evaluation of others in that way to minimize the risk of wasting your money on something that isn’t worthy. I do it. I read reviews before I buy something. Though I avoid blogs containing even a hint of advertising.

And now I know how difficult it is even as an indie publisher in control of their own work to break out of what oftentimes seems an impossibly daunting level of obscurity. I dare say not many of us in the indie publishing realm are publishing insiders in any sense of the word – we don’t know anyone at all in the business, our manuscripts have likely already been rejected by every literary agency on the planet, perhaps more than once, and we’re starting from scratch. We’re bootstrapping. We’re referred to as “emerging authors” which amounts to a tender euphemism for “wannabe.”

I’m not complaining. I like being indie. I enjoy the challenge of being an authorpreneur. The traditional publishing business, via greed or complacence or both, seems to have managed to break itself. Yes, there have always been good books. But too many good books aren’t getting bought by traditional publishers because they can’t be shown to be immediately profitable. Everyone knows how imprints have been swallowed by the four or five remaining conglomerates in the publishing business. And literary agents acting as middlemen aren’t helping. I get the problem: it’s expensive to publish something and impossible guesswork to know what the public will want to buy. The business risks are significant. So that only the name author or the writer with an established platform presents a reasonably risk-free investment, if that.

But indie to the rescue! And just in time. Because I for one spent at least two years trying to sell Time Crime to a traditional publisher, the first time entirely self-edited and then again after I’d hired a professional editor, both times to no avail. I endured something like 150 rejections. So be it. It’s the nature of the beast, rejections, that is, if you want to be an author. I tell the story of all that in the DOP and someday I’ll perhaps get it all posted, journal entry by journal entry, here on the website.

Meanwhile, with the explosion of indie published books comes the so-called volcano-of-shit – the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions (there are something over eight million books available on Amazon at this point) of titles that, well, aren’t any good; that are indeed, in a word, shit. Most readers these days I think understand that a writer isn’t required to use a professional editor or book designer to indie publish. To publish on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is free. Even Ingramspark, the major supplier of other bookstores and libraries, will waive its upload fee if you’re a member of ALLi. But you get what you pay for in life and in books. I think it’s a good thing, in the end, to have to work so hard at authorpreneurship; to work so hard at writing, editing, book design and marketing; to work so hard to spend the money wisely. It helps separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s how life works. And it takes money to make money, unfortunately that will never change. The boom times for indie publishing were ten years ago when you could slap a no-cost epub manuscript onto Amazon with a no-cost book cover and folks would buy it for their new Kindle. Or Nook. Just to experience the novelty of the technology. The competition was slim.

Now, the novelty of eBooks has long since worn off. Print has roared back into the fray. Yay! Readers like me like their printed books. And the competition to get noticed in the indie publishing realm is fierce. So that the books we make as indies have to be at least as good as those available via the trad publishers. And the costs to the indie author are significant. I’m at something like $8,000 for Time Crime, not counting the $4,000 it will cost for the audiobook version, (due out in August). Again, I’m not whining or complaining, I’m merely communicating the costs of doing business, of trying to survive as an indie writer and publisher, as an authorpreneur. It goes without saying, then, as an emerging author with only a few handfuls of books sold and a handful of ratings on Goodreads and no written reviews anywhere of Time Crime (yet!) that I have been functioning in the red. Blood red.

Nevertheless, like any author I dream of selling tens of thousands of copies of the novel – hundreds of thousands! And wouldn’t Time Crime make a great movie? I dream. I dream of quitting my day job and making a living from my writing. But meanwhile I’m happy to be in it to win it. I’m happy to be working as hard as I can to scrape up the cash and write and edit and market Time Crime so as to keep publishing the series to the highest standards I can manage.

All this brings me to the idea of nurturing my tribe, humble as it is and humble as we are. The Goodreads giveaway was fun, even thrilling. It was money well spent. And given that the odds of winning a copy of the novel during the giveaway turned out to be so slim – I never thought 2103 readers would be interested! – I want to extend my appreciation to those that entered and did not win and especially to those intrepid, first-in types who have signed up to follow the blog and are interested enough to have read this far. So that I’m offering another five FREE paperback copies of Time Crime, one each to the first five folks who take the trouble to email me (carnegie@carnegieolson.com). That’s right, the first five folks. In the email you need only include:

  • Your address (so I can mail you a copy)
  • The phrase “THE FUTURE IS THE PAST”

It’s that simple. I’m only posting this offer here, deep within the blog. And just as with the Goodreads giveaway I will order author copies of the books and have them shipped to “winners” directly from Amazon KDP, no strings attached. That is to say, I won’t do anything else with your address and I won’t even email you at all for anything (unless you want me to let you know you’ve won or when the five books are gone). I won’t market to you. I just want another five of my tribe to have significantly better odds at winning a copy of the book. Remember,The future is the past. Thanks for reading.