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T W O . THE
ESCAPING THROUGH THE BACK DOOR
GOING AROUND THE EDGES WITHOUT DEFINING ANYTHING
don’t speak as an authority for the pattern that has manifested in my life, but as a witness. This is no time for rationalization, conjecture. Here there are no contracts to sign, and no thing waiting, at either end. The day is sweet that isn’t burdened with the preservation of things, as time and space don’t recognize whatever attempt to hold out. I live at the other end, immersed in it, in accord with it, emulating it, continuous movements back and forth, familiar room to unfamiliar one, smiling faces of the sea of humanity — who understand, who know. A privileged life. Is there such a thing as life of privilege? The curtain cannot conceal the darkness outside. I prefer to stay there: the filaments of moonlight, the pack of coyotes in the distance, inside the line of trees. The things that play out, the whole story is there, written in perfect form and symmetry, the true expression of the Absolute: the field of weeds that we are so frantic to put in order. A friend recently moved to San Francisco with her teenage son, who was so homesick for Los Angeles that they made their escape, stayed with me in Hermosa Beach for an extended weekend — in a house she would not enter before. There wasn’t anything wrong with the house, a mansion on the beach, it was the owner she didn’t get along with, my benefac-
tor. This added all sorts of unneeded complexity to our lives, undue stress. Really, I tire of these demarcations. It was different then, finally. Since her comfortable nest in Studio City was gone, and the new one far away — she adapted. After all those years! Truly there was no way to change her perception until the root of the problem, the ground, was taken away. Whatever perception you have, it’s not real. I’m not telling you to live in the moment — a desperate fix, a way to glide over the deformations of character. No — the real cure requires more than that. I have preserved a piece of it: the creaking sound of a windmill in a cowfield, the smell of the grass, the remarkable way the day is orchestrated by the sun. The emotion of this place, what has become my emotion, is a clean life that’s very difficult to realize. I remember it plain enough, but there’s no way to return, and no reason. It’s not an actual place, but an amalgam of things melded together into southern Texas. There are other places. I’m making one now, here, by the fountain, though these are not full days… there’s no great volume of time to record things anymore, and that it’s no longer a concern of mine, there’s something entirely more pressing. There was a great upheaval, and a long period of change, where I began to put things away, as if I were going on a long trip, one that would last for many years. After leaving the Zen community of a fine Korean master — as he aged and left things to a political system entirely untenable — I began to drift, to walk through unfamiliar places and be reduced to wandering where there would be no thing that belonged to memory, that could be fastened to, and, more importantly, nowhere to go, no one to talk to, no end of night. What is it that drove me to the street, initially, where there’s no high–minded place to dwell, no safe nest from which to study and contemplate the “deeper meaning”? I feel at home on the streets, or in a sunny park, the endless sidewalks of
America. It’s there that the work is given form, not at the tail end of a day of labor. I agree with Miller here:
“Either you work part time and do your work on the side, or do your work full time, and starve — that’s a difficult choice.” – Henry Miller (1891–1980)
When I was younger and driven by bottomless ambition, suffering, I’d walk until I would nearly collapse. It invigorated me. I was nearly cruel in the way I’d drive myself. I’ve become convinced that it’s part of a process — that, as a species, we learned to walk upright before we learned to think. It’s somehow linked. Gradually I began picking up scraps of paper and scribbling things down. Though I had no intention of becoming a writer, there was something there. They say that, in order for a child to become possessed, he must be ripped from his tender years by some pain that goes to the bone. Likewise the writer, his voice stifled, his experiences catalyzed into something white hot that formulates itself and begins speaking on its own. It’s a moment of profound joy and absurdity when this “voice” begins to assert itself, as it’s quite foreign to the everyday self. You may think this peculiar, but it’s common for us to develop multiple lives — one secret piled on top of another. Even as children we have our friends and those like us, and the other, the adult world, of authority. As I grew older the voice became more closely bound to my daily goings on, to the point that I put my daily affairs in jeopardy. No place of my own meant no hesitation to pack up and go — anywhere. The fat of the land, the modern wilderness — a playground for the voice to trammel its way out. I find a dime on the sidewalk and look for more. Maybe they were in a hurry… no luck. I should throw it back, but it might come in handy. There’s a mowed down field of wildflowers left vacant for the high–tension wires overhead, a pow-
erplant across the street. The wires crackle over me and a few old RV’s on this lonely sidewalk. I’m on one of my rounds in Redondo Beach, to visit an old lady by the school and see about fixing her cabinet. She’s asked for me several times, as I’ve been busy with the work and so forth. On the way to her house I find a box of books someone’s giving away. Literary criticism, unfortunately, a product of the “publish or perish” professors seeking tenure, to become an authority on others’ work and repeat the cycle. Why is it that no one who studies literature in college can look a book in the face? There’s both the failure to savor the work of the masters, and the failure to produce something of value. I’ve never been formally trained as a writer. If I’m not meant to be educated by the titans of the Ivy League, then I refuse to bear their scrutiny. What has this scholarly world produced of late? I stopped reading anything after Thompson and Bukowski. I don’t admire modern painters either. If there’s any new work that commands my attention, it’s in the fields of science and technology. Still, I feel we’re on the brink of a new existentialism yet unearthed that will define a new generation, the privileged who have access to everything, every movement of our species since the first bastards crawled out of the ocean.
“The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, and especially of systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life — that is the heart of existentialism.” –Walter Kaufmann (1921–1980)
A lot of friends these days are hitting the wall. Maybe it’s my age, where the dregs of youthful abandon are gone. No more pressing things that must be, no more dream of the unicorn. Whatever has been made of it didn’t come out the way
we planned, and there’s been enough of the gnawing truth revealed, the baseless, empty nature of existence, that hands are thrown in the air, eyes cast down. What are we made of ? The collection of experiences we cling to and defend — as our persona? The way that we move against the onslaught? Are you the same person that you were twenty years before? Surely there’s a familiar thread, but the world changes as our perception changes. Perception creates our world, our time, our sensibilities: fashion, music, religion, self–identity. To get to the core of this, to reduce this complex equation to its smallest common denominator, consciousness itself… I don’t usually refer to Buddhist doctrine, as it’s a dead thing that must be surpassed, but to make even a single step out of the existential mire there has to be some sort of framework. The core of Buddhism, the key to dissolving the thought mass and getting down to the stuff of bare existence, is to remove the subject from the stage. It seems abstract because we were raised differently, and, I believe, in error, always with the belief in acquiring more as an answer — to what? How sure we are — no matter what is said — that the thing we’re after will appease us, when the whole mechanism is at fault! What is the lack that drives this? To resolve this we go through the process of dismantling the psyche, the real work of meditation. Unfortunately, there is no green tea that will do the trick. What passes for Zen in the mainstream is so softly focused, so watered down, that I doubt its effectiveness. Unfortunately, it’s all we have. Use it. Use the system to circumvent it. I assure you the mind can resolve itself. I’m going to break this down for you in the following essays so there will be no mistaking how to proceed. Just remember that the gates of perception are very wide — indiscernible. In every phase of your life you have the illusion of grasping the matter, yet you were proven wrong at every turn. Worse those of you follow some idea or dogma. It doesn’t mean it’s
impossible, but you’re only creating more things that must be dismantled, digested. And, as the old masters say, “You can go through your whole life without digesting a single drop of water.”
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