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A Formal Apology

as soon as I started to understand the systematic way i had failed I wondered what I could do, and a friend of mine said of course you can issue a formal apology for your misbehavior but another friend of mine said, oh i don’t think you want to do that, and i asked why and he said, i know you don’t know this because your family is new in our country but when you issue a formal apology for your misbehavior it gives people the right to treat you in certain ways because you have made a public admittal of wrong doing and just as you might think — oh I will become a beggar that can’t be so bad because what you are imagining is yourself as you are now with your own sense of dignity but getting fed by begging rather than by working but actually it is pretty different because a beggar must thank the people who give him his food a lot even more than he would like or else they will say oh this beggar thinks he is special and they won’t give him next time and he will starve and that is what it is like to be a beggar it is not like you begging it is like a new you is born, you the beggar, so it is like that when you admit wrong-doing, it is not you but you have admitted wrong doing but now it is you the wrong doer, and anybody who has a feeling about what it’s like to be dealt wrongly any anger or fear or shame they have within them they can discharge it on you and there is nothing you can do about it so think hard and then don’t do it don’t ever ever admit that you are wrong, they’ll kill you for it, they’ll kill you for it and make you thank them, uh-huh.

Well what should i do I asked my friend.

Well, said my friend, this is a little song I wrote just for you. It may help. It may not. But here it is:

Be easy on yourself

Humbaba Jones

Your father is dead

Your dog is dead

But nobody blames you for that, oh

I know you voted for the war

That took your sister away from us

Bonnie Julie who fights in the war

Her brother the fool he voted for

But what did you know Humbaba Jones

Of war or troops or bombs

You cast your vote as you read in a book

And nobody blames you for that oh

So go in the house Humbaba my friend

And fix your little lyre

The children they wave at you through the front door

And they wish you well as do I, oh.

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The Allegory of the Drinking Fountains

In the 1970s in New York there were quite a few gurus, some qualified, some less so, but by the 1980s the economics of gurudom had altered, and many of the former gurus had had to find more steady jobs. I had gotten into a competitive high school which offered good quality instruction in writing, reading, math, and science for free, which my parents appreciated although it required me, a twelve year old to have a daily commute of two hours on the somewhat crime-ridden subway, which my mother did not. I don’t know my Father thought — I guess he was okay with it. Anyway as it happened this journey from the somewhat woebegone precincts of Brooklyn where I had childed to the Upper East Side took me first on the IND, the no-longer independent but still so initialed D train, and then changing trains at Broadway Lafayette — (which bore the grafitto “Remember the Future/Remember the pass/Remember the Day/I kicked your ass on one of the iron supports of the roof over the platform) where I encountered a guru named Richard, who had once had a small cult but had more recently given it up an become the supervisor of the Telex for an import firm in the 20s.

It was from Richard that I learned an important thing about attention.

I’m not sure how we got to talking; obviously nowadays we would think it amiss for a man in his 50s to start a conversation with a twelv-year old, but at the time it seemed fine. I think it was fine. Probably he saw me reading Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” and asked me what I thought of it, or something like that.

In any case, somehow that, since forgotten conversation intro led us somehow to the question of what attention was, and how we know what to pay attention to. This is a good topic I later learned, when I took a couple of years in my 20s to study philosophy from actual teachers — it’s a good topic because we think knowing is one thing and wishing and willing or desiring are something else — but it’s not so cf. the seminal work on the topic of attention “The Choosing Mind, the Judging Will.”

Zeus, it seems, had given the human soul a choice, upon leaving this fragile casement called the body.

(This according to the parable that the guru shared with me to help me understand the crisis we naively call the problem of attention.)

The soul, blinking its eyes in the supernal, trans-corporeal radiance, faces two fountains.

To each fountain is attached a cup by a chain.

The fountain on the left has clear water. Its cup is small — simply a thimble.

The fountain on the right has murky water. It’s cup is large — a soupbowl.

Before passing on to the next stage in its journey the god offers the soul one drink. Either the large drink of water mixed with mud, or the tiny sip of water that is pure.

Which will you take, the guru asked me?

What did the Minotaur do? I asked him.

The Minotaur drank the murky water.

What did the Sphinx do? I asked him.

The Sphinx took the small sip of clear water.

What did Odysseus, wiliest of men do? I asked him.

Odysseus spent a year, a month, a day, a century paying attention to the choice. After many centuries the god Zeus died. Or perhaps he got bored and went away. We don’t know. And then Odysseus drank from both fountains and went on his way.

Who do you think made the right choice? the guru asked me.

I didn’t know.

You’re right — none of them did. Because while they paid attention to the choice of the two fountains they missed the marvellous bird called Roc, who sat, the feathers on his back a throne, ready to take them far beyond gods and fountains, to the land of the heart’s true desire.

Be careful what you pay attention to, said Richard, and got up.

This is my stop.

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You

While others take joy in my destruction you build me up

You keep me safe from storm and from plague

You look within my heart and within my spine and within my joints

You quiet the raging in my brain. Everyone condemned me.

They cursed me. They called me dog, diseased dog.

They put their hands in front of their faces and laughed at me.

Night came and in darkness they left me behind. They did not care if I died.

I was in darkness. I could not tell if my eyes were open or closed.

Flies bit my skin and drank my blood. My skin had scabs.

My muscles became weak. I was blind.

When the sun rose it burned my eyes and my skin.

I saw you come to me from afar on your horse and I said “Now is the day of my death”.

You caused me to rise up. You put milk in my mouth and you put oil on my skin.

You asked your daughter to be for my bride.

You taught me “dark” and “light” and “moon” and “sun” and “death” and “life”.

Now the teeth of my enemies lie in heaps at my feet.

And in evening my son sings a song. And in morning my girl strikes a bell.

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Wallace and the Gods

Wallace was one of the chief researchers on the entropy project, and was credited with the key breakthrough that enabled humans to survive the universe’s heat death and perdure in their conscious essences through the subsequent big crunch and consequent new Big Bang. There were no in principle barriers in place to endless temporal existence. Wallace decided to take a few days off and visit his Aunt Sally in Florida.

Aunt Sally’s husband had died and she had moved out of the big house into a small gated community where she had an apartment she was able to take care of and also an opportunity to play bridge and tennis. Wallace slept on a fold-out sofa in the room where the television was, which was uncomfortable but no big deal, and at nights they would stay up watching a movie and talking. He wanted to make himself useful so he went to the store and picked up some items, and on his Aunt Sally’s request an idol to her god, a being who had contact the Earth two centuries ago that identified itself as Brian Lear. The Brian Lear idol was internet enabled, so after downloading the necessary drivers, Wallace and Sally were able to talk to Brian.

“Congratulations on achieving eternity, Wallace.” said Brian.

“You know me?” asked Wallace with surprise.

“Of course. I and my fellow gods have been watching your progress towards achieving eternity with satisfaction.”

“Oh!” said Wallace.

“Good for you!” said Sally. “Ask him for divine guidance.”

Wallace wasn’t sure if he wanted to. Would Brian look down on him?

“I won’t look down on you.” said Brian.

Wallace didn’t know if the god had literally read his mind, or if it was just a good guess — he seemed like the kind of god who had these kind of conversations before — so he decided to take the plunge.

“How do I?” he asked Sally.

“It’s just like talking to a person. Say your thing. Ask what you want to know.”

“Well…okay. Now that I, and everybody else has infinite temporal existence, what do I do?”

“What do you do? The most important thing. Make every moment count.”

“Sure. That makes sense. Thanks.”

“You sure, Wallace? Do you get it?”

“I think I get it. I mean…if you think there’s something I didn’t get, feel free to tell me.”

The rays of the sunset off of the bay cast an orange light on the idol’s face but dappled the corners of its mouth with shadow so it seemed to smile.

“Make it count infinitely! Make every moment an infinitely deep reservoir of life and meaning and love and gentleness and if needs be pain.”

“Okay.” said Wallace. “Thanks again.”

“You’re welcome! Here if you need me.” said Brian.

It was not for a century that time hung heavy on Brian’s hands and he realized that he did not know how to make every moment count. He purchased a very expensive idol of Brian Lear and plugged in the USB drive. He lit three candles and put ghee and honey on the idol’s forehead. But its eyes did not light up. When he called the Pantheon they informed him that Brian was unable to answer questions.

“But why?” asked Wallace “I need him.” though within him he started to suspect the awful truth.

“I’m sorry.” said the customer support representative. “Brian died.”

“Gods can die?” asked Wallace.

“Of course.” said customer support. “The only beings who live forever are humans.”

And Wallace bended his wrists and unfolded his palms and placed his face therein. And he cried as looking out he saw the endless deserts of time before him, of succor lacking withal, not one lake, not one pool, not one drop.

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True Story from the Old Dark House

Chapter One: Beginnings and Endings

The only people who ever loved me are my mother and my wife Susannah; everybody else don’t really love me they just want to see what they can get out of me.

Answer: Sometimes a lot, because of my skill at drawing out the gold leaf into wires and making little scenes with like an old couple holding hands by the edge of the water dangling their fishing line in the water, and when you look at my little scenes: joy. Joy! It looks like it will all be okay.

Even if it won’t.

Chapter Two: Learning to Express Myself Clearly Learning to Express Myself Unclearly

I had a very clearly expressing himself friend who used to hang out in the lot where people leave refrigerators, his name was Tovabramuk, and he said that my mother was really just a)a couple of seagulls passing overhead b)a handful of sand on the floor of the room c)the humid air coming in from the coast d)the unblinking eyes of GOD. So what do you mean she was the only one who ever loved you?

And my wife Susannah.

Oh don’t even get me started about that one! said Tovabramuk.

Chapter Three: Wintertime Activities

These days I am sledding, sledding, sledding, from the very top of the mountain down to the very bottom of the sea; and honestly it was hard work dragging myself to the top, but I do love sliding down.

Chapter Four: whee

WHEEE!!!!!

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