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Saturday, August 30, 2014


ali farka toure

I thought maybe I could put some music on and not be dominated by it while writing you. I thought something largely instrumental with vocals in another language and picked Ali Farka Toure of Mali in northern Africa. Timbuktu is in Mali, though Ali Farka Toure is from Niafunke in Mali, a ways up the Niger river from Timbuktu. Immediately it pulled me in and won't let go. Won't even let me turn it off. This Malian music he plays has a lilting rhythm that flows with a camel's walk. I can see somebody riding a camel to his rhythms. Evidently, a camel rider must relax into the flow of the camel's back. I see them in films, the rider's body flowing with the rocking boat of the camel's back. I'd guess it would be a good exercise for the rider's spine. It couldn't be as bad for the back as driving a truck. This Malian music has a relaxed lope about it suggesting reggae. I find when I want to hear reggae it is only Burning Spear I want to hear. I have other albums by different reggae artists. Bob Marley feels a little too pop for my taste. Burning Spear thinks about things and his songs concern what he thinks about. I saw him at Ziggy's in Winston-Salem, 03. I don't know if he ever saw the audience. His eyes were closed the entire show. He only looked at the floor walking onstage. His singing felt very much like the words in his songs. His songs are meditative, full of thought, a world of intense poverty, racism, white man pushing black man down, looking to Africa as home land, holy; a rise-up black man spirit. The people in his band played beautiful music with no demonstration of emotion, no jumping up and down. They played like they were jamming at somebody's house. Spear gave the appearance of indifference to everything but the music, jumping rope in the rhythms with his voice. He flowed in the music; he and the music were one, the singer and the song. His was one of the great concerts of my life, close to seeing Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse from about ten feet away in 1963 on their Straight No Chaser tour. 

ali farka toure

I laugh at myself thinking I could hear Ali Farka Toure pick acoustic-electric guitar with fingernails instead of picks in his style that is sensational in its subtle artistry. To an ear that passes over details, it is simple, repetitive rhythm that repeats past what an American ear conditioned by pop music can listen to comfortably. It gets into a Philip Glass repetition that seems to stay the same, though changes continually. The changing notes in the repeating rhythm make a more abstract melodic line than we who live in the world of American pop music have any access to by way of experience. Which is to say, Ali Farka Toure was fresh and brand new first time I heard him in the late 1980s. By then I'd been hearing Philip Glass for several years. Glass has studied musics of Africa and South America, Asia, primitive peoples, the music of the world. What I'm hearing now could be Glass with vocals in another language or nonsense syllables. The Malian music is a good walking music. Its rhythm is a walking lope, not like walking in the mall, but walking for a hundred miles, a long walk through a desert region with no clouds in the sky. Ali Farka Toure's music is as much from the soul of Malian culture as Doc Watson's music came from Appalachian culture in America. Watson is as accomplished a guitar picker as Ali Farka Toure, just in a different style of music and ways of playing it. Ali Farka Toure was drawn to John Lee Hooker's music. As I hear Hooker in my head, I can hear why. Possibly in the particular place John Lee Hooker grew up in southern Mississippi, the place could possibly have had some Malians in the mix of western African peoples. It seems like Hooker had this music in his earliest years. The Bo Diddley beat came from a certain kind of very simple church in south Mississippi where rhythm was kept hitting the floor with a stick that looks like a long, straight walking stick. It keeps the Bo Diddley beat for the singing, the rocknroll sound that went from Bo Diddley through the Velvet Undergound into punk in the mid 1970s and ever since. 

kar kar and ali farka toure

Earlier in the week I saw a film that came from netflix, I'll Sing For You. It is a documentary in that it is non-scripted, camera visits different people and listens to them talk. The film featured a Malian musician named Kar Kar. The camera spent a period of time following him in his everyday life at home in what I took to be Timbuktu. If not there, then nearby. Kar Kar was a young Malian musician several years earlier. He recorded a few times. One of his songs about Mali was played on the radio every day for many years to come. Kar Kar went to Paris to get some paying work and live in a Malian hostel. He married the woman he adored. They had a good life then she died. Kar Kar returned to Mali with a broken heart in his later years. He played the same lilting rhythms Ali Farka Toure played, who appeared in the film a couple times accompanying Kar Kar on guitar. In one of the scenes they were walking while they played. Neither one looked at the strings, gaze straight ahead. I may have to see it again soon. The music inspired me to listen to my Malian music. Before putting on Ali Farka Toure, I listened to Afel Bocoum's album Alkibar. Both are from Niafunke, Mali, up the Niger river from Timbuktu. The music of these musicians and the people making music with them on instruments like a one-string violin, acoustic 6-string guitar and some other local instruments I can't name, is essentially what we call folk music. Ali Farka Toure made a good bit of money in North America and Europe from rising interest in African music. His music continues to sell well. His son is recording now. I've heard somewhere or read somewhere in recent past that he has given a large portion of his new wealth to the people of his region, making education available, improving health facilities, etc, making his world a better place. This adds something to his music I didn't hear before. Before, I heard a singer and guitar picker. Since learning what he's done with his wealth, I hear a remarkable human being. To an American it's odd to behold someone new-rich selfless with his money. Timbuktu is indeed a long ways from here.   

kar kar and ali farka toure


Friday, August 29, 2014


two views of today's finished stick

new rhododendron walking stick

Another walking stick is leaning against the wall to dry after first coat of tung oil. Two days of carving I only whacked my fingers half a dozen times. None of them were blood-letters, just nicks. I've thought about putting a bandaid around the thumb I hit 4 times. It's like wearing gloves putting up barbed wire. In the early years on the farm I'd wear leather gloves to stretch barbed wire. Put on the gloves, stretch the wire, hold it in place, take off the gloves take hammer and staple, hammer it into place. Put gloves back on to handle the barbed wire, then take them off again. There comes a time I stuff the gloves into my back pockets and do the best I could to keep from the scratches being too bad. Old man Tom Pruitt's hands dripped blood after he'd put up a barbed wire fence. He never wore gloves. It wasn't long before I didn't either. A few years ago I ran into hillbilly country singer Raymond Oakes. We talked a little and I noticed the backs of his hands had a webbing of scars that looked made by a spider on acid. Exactly like the back of old man Tom's hands. I said to Raymond, "Stretched much barbed wire?" He said, "Yeah, stretched some helping my daddy." Had I continued with the farm work, the backs of my hands would look like that. I have a pretty fair beginning. They're my tattoos. Now I'm in process of putting new scars on the hands, this time the fingers. Putting protection on the fingers doesn't feel right. It takes away from the raw interaction of the knife and the wood. It feels elemental to me. A tool of only one moving part and a piece of wood. Sharpen knife and carve. I have to call it carving instead of whittling or shaving the wood. It is carving from first swipe of the knife to last. Yesterday I carved the bark off this rhododendron branch that has been dead a few years Today I cleaned it up with the knife, an even more painstaking process than stripping the bark. It's detailed carving and smoothing tiny places. It's an excellent meditation. Focus of attention is close. My fingers are at stake. I have to be aware of every move consciously. 

the stick and the knife

I love carving rhododendron wood. Enjoyed the poplar and dogwood too. I've messed with wood all my life, but it feels like carving these walking sticks I'm discovering wood for the first time. I want to carve different kinds of wood now. I've sawed wood, sanded it, run a planer over it, painted it, but never carved it. Never had purpose. I've never kept the pocketknife sharp for not wanting to cut self using it. Now, for the first time in my life, I am keeping the pocketknife as near razor sharp as I'm able. Cutting wood doesn't seem to dull the blade. It keeps a good edge. It feels sometimes like wood's purpose is to be carved. Again, the giving tree. Suddenly I understand that African masks were carved by people who carved wood, good at it unto masters in later years. I am learning subtleties of using a knife carving wood. There are many approaches to the wood. I kept three prongs at the end that touch the ground for novelty. The idea is to be walking on the ground. It would be excellent footing on the ground. Maybe. I did it because I liked the idea and believe they won't break. I like using the knot where branches leave the main branch for the tip that touches the ground. It won't split. It was fun digging with the front part of the blade between the three prongs pictured above. Every place along the stick where a branch came out, I carved down to a smooth round bump that flows with the shape of the stick. Rhododendron limbs make a crooked line between the handle and tip that is a straight line in the stick's balance. Functionally, it is a straight line, same as a straight stick. But it goes this way and that, which doesn't mess its balance up at all. I hypothesize the bends give it spring a straight stick could not. As I pick these limbs to carve, spring is foremost in my mind. The spring is, essentially, negligible. One thing I see it does is vibrate like a bass string and a straight stick vibrates like a high string. Maybe it is a consideration of resonance, whatever resonates with a given individual. 

the handle after carving off the bark
Incorporating the scar in the limb into the stick's design was fun. The hand fits nicely between the knot above and the crook below. It is made for the hand the way a pistol grip is made to fit the hand. The stick hangs straight down from the handle held lightly. I sit here at the desk, the pocket knife lies open to my right. I've learned to admire it for what it can do. I've begun to have a feel for its physicality. It is tool of exquisite design. Folds up, goes in the pocket. Open, it is locked open the same as if it did not have a hinge. It is a Case Sodbuster made  in 1977. I've known of Case knives from displays in hardware stores, heard about them, thought it was one of a few makers of knives. I looked online and found a very long list of knife makers. I'm partial to my Sodbuster. Of all the pocket knives I've carried, this is the one. I like the feel of holding it. It has a good balance. The blade holds a sharp edge, it's practical. One of my friends said one day years ago, "I've never carried a pocket knife." I spoke automatically, "Carry one once and you always will." Don't need it much, but when I do, I need it. It's like carrying a pen. I always carry a pen in my pocket when I go to town. And always regret it when I forget. Don't always need one, but when I forget one, that's the day I need it. All pocket knives I'd ever seen had three blades. It's not like I'm an aficionado of pocket knives. This was the first single blade knife I'd seen. First thought: how practical. I've never used more than one blade on knives I used in the past. Talking with my friend Carole, she has her dad's pocket knife. It was the only thing of his she wanted. After he died, she snitched the knife knowing no one would miss it. It is a Schmidt & Ziegler made in Solingen, Germany. It is the common pocket knife. She said he only used the small blade. Again, I thought: how practical.

the handle finished

Today, carving the stick the second time, I wondered why I am doing this. For enjoyment. I like carving right now. May not two weeks from now, but right now carving is what I'm doing. I may sell them if anybody will buy them and may give them away or both. It's a meditation, not a regimen. I've found sitting with a stick carving on it with a sharp knife requires immediate focus of attention. It clears the mind. I like the focus. The consequence of lifting focus for a second is a sliced finger. Focus keeps my fingers safe. Every touch of the knife requires sharp focus. Earlier today, I was feeling like I wanted to write, wanted to read, wanted to watch a movie, all at once. I picked up the knife and stick, went outside, turned over the five-gallon bucket and proceeded to carve. Turned the radio onto the interview program, Fresh Air, followed by Robin Young, then The World. Good interviewers, interesting people they talk with, and I find The World always interesting. I carve and hear in the air well-educated people talk about interesting subjects. I find that with focus on every movement with the knife I hear what they're saying better whether it's the emergence of ISIS in Iraq or the lives of Tibetan women in India. I like BBC radio at night. They tell a lot of Africa news. Africa has a mystique for me from the Pyramids to the Kalahari. Lawrence Durrell's novels, The Alexandria Quartet, were set in North Africa, Alexandria, Egypt. I think of Africa the world of our origin. I think of wood as one of humanity's great teachers. The other, rock. I could  have been a rock mason in this life happily. I have the same appreciation for rock as for wood. Basic, least moving parts, foundational. And I appreciate the life in the wood. The shape of the wood is its life. Carving away the bark I get down to the beautiful wood, caress it with sandpaper and rub the tung oil into it, changing it from something pretty to something beautiful instantly. Carving on the rhododendron branches I remind self from time to time, this is it, this is basic element.

the first rhododendron stick


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


scenes from the movie a screaming man

Saw a beautiful African film today from Chad. It was called A Screaming Man. The film had nothing to do with screaming. It was a screaming inside story, but it's the story of a man who cried because screaming would not matter. Screaming is outward. The man in the story was inward. He lived in a city in Chad, worked as a pool attendant at a foreign hotel that catered to white people vacationing from Europe. The hotel was evidently bought by the Chinese; the new owners changed the staff, firing people who had worked there all their working lives. The man we follow, and I say follow because it's like a camera is watching him go about his daily life, he's a quiet man with a good cook for his wife and a 20 year old son. The hotel fires him and hires his son to be the pool attendant. The government army conscripts the son against his will. The rebels are closing in on the city and people frantic, walking in a hurry to Cameroon. I'm guessing it might have been N'Djamena, Chad, a city on the Cameroon border. A finger of Chad extends to Lake Tchad where the borders of four countries meet, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger. It's another African story of rebels vs government troops, both armies brutal to the civilians in between. No military action is shown. Only the everyday life of a man whose life is changing with uncontrollable circumstances rolling over him. Our man's son is mortally wounded in battle. His dad finds him in the battlefield hospital, takes him away on his moped with a sidecar, the boy dies in transit home. His dad sat with the body beside the river til sunset, then set it afloat down the river and watched it ride the flow. It's a deeply emotional story of minimal action, minimal language. It's people living their lives; the viewer of the film sees them like through a peephole. It's very much like a Harold Pinter screenplay in this way. 

Good, simple people living their lives the best they're able in post-colonial Africa caught between two armies indifferent to the lives of everyone concerned. We look at Africans in refugee camps on the news and it's just another case of black people starving to death in a world of sorrow. This film shows the lives of the people in the camps before they left home to survive. They're people like us reduced to nothing left but prayer. I was a little disappointed when I saw today's mail and the movie was A Screaming Man. I wasn't in the mood for gunfights. I'd forgotten what the blurb said about it several months ago. A flash of Sylvester Stallone with a flame thrower strapped to his back scorching gooks right and left. I'd seen something in the netflix blurb about A Screaming Man that made me think it would be a good one. The title put me off. It sounds like one of those films I wouldn't watch for any reason. The original French title: Un homme qui crie, a screaming man. I feel like the word crying defines the man better than screaming. His entire inner being was indeed screaming, but it manifested crying. His crying was hopeless screaming. His screaming was repressed and wrung into crying. Sure, he was screaming inside, though it seemed to me the story concerned how the screaming was repressed inward into sobbing. The character of the man was brought to the surface in the course of the story. The people around him showed him respect, a man who doesn't make karmic waves that come back on him. Everybody who knew him called him Champ and Champion. He quietly flows along his day's routine with a happy family, good relationship with his son and wife, who reflect his inner stillness in their own characters. They are people living their lives, being unextraordinary, like us.

It appeared at times to be an allegory of living under circumstances way beyond our individual or even collective control. I see it in people I know, two people working full-time to maintain a place barely on the outskirts of poverty to raise their kids. Military takes the only child and returns him a corpse. Just a few months from homeless when the company you had a good job with down-sizes again. Rebels on a killing spree heading toward town to take over the radio and television stations. Get across the border as fast as you can go with whatever you're able to carry on foot. This is continuous everyday news several places in the world. I saw the mothers and fathers of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, and an almost endless list of other black people in America sent home dead without recourse. In town today, I saw by chance a black woman I've known to speak with a little bit. We spoke for a few minutes. She has kids. My heart wept for her. I saw another black woman I did not know and my heart wept for her. The statistics coming forward since the Mike Brown murder are sending a shock wave through my being to the toes and fingertips. I feel such incredible sorrow for the black people of America. I had not realized before that the black people I know and all the others live their lives on alert that the color of the skin they happened to be born with is a target. Champ in A Screaming Man setting his son afloat down the river brought the fathers and mothers to mind of all the young black men killed without recourse dealing with the corpse of their son. They can't scream, because nobody outside the family cares; they can only sob inwardly all the way to the soul. 

The image of Mike Brown asleep on the street in a puddle of his blood for four hours, yellow and black police tape keeping mother and father and everyone concerned waiting four hours to get an ambulance or something there to take him where they take dead niggers. I've seen these events on the news all the way along, but didn't put them together into an overwhelming question, how can I live without oppressive guilt for being white and male in America? I have felt this before. It's not a legitimate feeling for a white man to have, from either side of the fence. Black people know better than to trust any white man. And white people don't trust a nigger-lover. Lord have mercy, and everybody is calling themselves Christian. It really can't be said simpler than love thy neighbor, the core of the Master's teaching. Thy is old English for your own. Why is not practicing the counsel of the Master, at least to try it out and see what it's about, a part of Christendom? We have black Baptists on one side of the tear gas barricade and white Baptists the other side. The white Baptists see rabid monkeys and the black Baptists see Storm Troopers with themselves in the crosshairs, and no concerns about love thy neighbor inhibiting the fingers on the triggers. The cop that shot down a kid on his knees, hands up saying don't shoot, is a hero among white people of certain political and religious persuasions. I knew this in the white people I grew up among and have lived my entire life among, chose to let it be; I don't have to do it. I left that mind when I left the church I grew up in. I could not live in that mind and believe it had anything to do with the Christ, no matter how it's justified. I feel cornered in that my heart weeps for individuals I have found all my life to be incredible people, true human beings. I don't mean black people as seen on tv and in movies, but person to person as people in my world wherever I am, neighbors. I feel sorrow finding my white skin an automatic authority like a cop uniform to the black people I know and have known. I had not realized it was this bad. I am changed. I don't know how, but it will show down the line.   


Monday, August 25, 2014


adolph gottlieb

It has been an odd day with a smooth, even flow. Turned in last night late, up early, drank coffee, talked with Carole, looked at facebook and went back to sleep for a few hours. Woke refreshed, almost ready to go. Put on a dvd from netflix that arrived yesterday, Punk Is Not Dead. It was made in 2007. I had the impression from its blurb that it would be the English punkers from the mid 1970s. Turned out it followed the American West Coast hard core punk bands like Black Flag, NOFX, Adicts, the Cramps. The film was concert footage and interviews with people from the bands of late 70s and the 80s into the 90s, people from the bands who are grown up now and still love the music, some still playing it. My particular liking for punk is from London in the mid 70s and New York in mid 70s. I was looking forward to a documentary of the London punk scene. They are very different. London punk was largely people who went to art school, where the kids went who wanted to get a band going. The Clash met at art school. Siouxsie Sioux went there. The London punkers had an arty air that was taken for anger by the press. It was also a scene of street kids with parents they left to live on the streets. Like one pop generation after the other, they needed a style that would freak out authorities and adults in general, as well as the generation before them. Their style was every bit as abrasive to the adults as the hippies before them and psychedelic rock. After 40 years of punk, Sixties guitar solo psychedelia sounds to my ear what I call orchestra rock. I still like the Allman Bros, Santana, Blind Faith, Led Zeppelin, the Stones and many others, but when I want to put on some rock, it turns out to be what came next, the punk period and its influence. At the time Bob Dylan went electric, the music was in the last days of the Fifties period. He cranked it up, a new sound and it became "rock," rocknroll being left to define the Fifties sound. 

adolph gottlieb

Hardcore American punk has a different attitude and a different feeling. It comes from a different culture. London and LA are very different cultures, though also somewhat similar. Both cities have a lot of street kids. The hardcore punk is about "slam dancing" in mosh pits. Big guys, high school and college football player kinda guys, the white ones, bash each other with everything they've got. I wondered for a few seconds how many of them were college campus rapists; guestimated a large number. It was a big angry knot in frenetic motion. You have to be big just to stand on your feet in a mosh pit. It's an interesting phenomenon to witness. I saw a big one in Charlotte at an all day into the night outdoor concert, none of it punk, though some of the bands had something of a charging rhythm sometimes. The mosh pit was huge. I went to stand in the big circle of people watching from outside the frenzied knot. It was amazing to me to see there were so many young guys who get their kicks banging into each other furiously with the hardcore rhythm and guitars pumping them into a frenzy, the people our society calls normal. I saw the corporate execs of the future doing their wild thang, memories to tell and laugh about at cocktail parties in twenty years. In the air above the mosh pit a phenomenon was occurring I'd never imagined ever seeing and will never see again. People from outside the pit were throwing plastic bottles of water and other drinks, cans too, into the pit. People in the mosh pit were throwing them out. A dome occurred over the mosh pit of thousands of bottles flying from the circle around the pit into the pit and thousands of bottles flying out of the pit into the circle around it. Somebody's Birkenstocks were in the mix. At one moment I saw a full water bottle flying in my direction. It was like being in a gun fight and seeing the bullet in the air on its way that was mine. No time to duck. Direct hit in the solar plexus. It was about like a donkey kick, a solid thump. It didn't hurt. Nothing to do but pick the bottle up and throw it back into the pit. Thus my mosh pit experience. 

adolph gottlieb

We had a misty drizzle of rain much of the day. It was the kind of misty rain that makes the slickest ice there is. You can't even stand up on it. I can't say I enjoyed the documentary a great deal. I liked the music. Interviews with guys in their late 40s with freaky hairdos, a chain around the neck with a lock, looking too much like old guys trying to look young, like all the white pony tails with bald heads down front at a Rolling Stones concert in recent years. Everybody wore cool tshirts. I have a hard time looking at somebody fifty done up in teenage style. Makes me doubt their credibility for anything. I remind self these are city guys, the women too, who have spent their entire adult lives in teen styles to the point it's their own personal who I am. From the perspective of almost 40 years in the mountains, city styles make me shudder. The style in the mountains is poor-man. Wear dressy clothes and your friends look at you askance and wonder who you're trying to impress. They'll let you know right away you don't impress them. They know you too well. In mountain tradition you don't dress better than the next man. It's seen as showing off, something that gets inhibited in mountain kids in their first year. You can show off having a bigger pickup than the next guy; it shows you can afford the payments. But you don't dress better than the next guy or dress to stand out. I've lived in this culture, in this style so long it has become my own personal who I am. I liked the concert footage, the bands jerking around, flinging their heads about, assaulting the guitars, making them scream in-yer-face attitude to the rhythm of a woodpecker on speed. The old guys with several piercings in their noses and ears, lips, hair cut some dramatic way cracked me up when they were talking about the punk scene in the days it was happening and new. My automatic response when I see somebody fifty dressing like a teenager on tv, it's about the same as hearing somebody say epiphany for epitome. One of those things you pretend not to hear, but can't get it out of your mind.

adolph gottlieb

Right away I saw the film for the day was not going to hold my attention very well. The music was ok, and the talking was historically interesting, but no more. Henry Rollins doesn't trip my trigger. I saw his band Henry Rollins Band in 91, his band after Black Flag. I'm inclined to his kind of music, but his persona is beyond anything I can take an interest in. Big city tough guy needs anger management help, bad, covered up in tattoos like he thinks he's a dragon or something awesome. A rock star. He's an actor playing the role of somebody out of control bi-polar with prison in his near future. The Marine bad guy. I saw him in one of the Wrong Turn, West Virginia movies -- this is not a recommendation. He has some one-man rants available on netflix. I saw one. The first five minutes of it was enough, though I sat through it. I simply find his persona boring. I find Bruce Springsteen's persona boring too. Rollins band could rock and roll for sure. It was just his Marine Corps pretend that threw me. That mind fails to impress me even when it's not pretend. At the beginning of the film I saw it was West Coast hardcore and lost interest. A couple days ago I cut a rhododendron branch that had been dead a few years, cut it to length for a walking stick and shaved the bark from it the full length, whittled the knobs and both ends, rounding and smoothing them. I arranged a place on the floor at my feet to catch shavings and went over the length of it again shaving off everything missed taking off the rough part. It was exacting, detail work, making for good focus. I let the music play and I heard the talk without looking at the forty-somethings locked in their cases of arrested development. I shaved the rhododendron stick down to bare bone and smoothed it with the pocket knife. I went over it with three pieces of sandpaper, wearing each one out, made the stick flawless to the touch. The film over, I wiped the dust off the stick with a dry washcloth, applied the first coat of tung oil by hand. I did not know what to expect of the rhododendron all along the process. The tung oil gave it a touch of honey.
adolph gottlieb


Sunday, August 24, 2014


jean arp

I heard again a few days ago someone mention in passing about returning to work Monday morning, "Back to the real world." I thought: how many times have I heard this expression and used it, myself, unconsciously? Something to say never examined because it sounds right. The first time it struck me when I was using the expression, I questioned, why is my life the "unreal" world and the world of commerce the "real" world? Upon a hundredth of a second's thought, I saw the saying twisted around from the actual meaning of what we're saying. In the past I'd think of a trip to town for work or paying bills, anything, as reentering the real world. Back to the real world. Cities have unconsciously come to be thought of as the real world, the world that matters. It's the world of generating money. Everything that's done has money for its motivation. I've been told several times of staying on my mountain too much that I need to get back in the real world. An aunt told me on the phone with dramatic urgency on the day Conway Twitty died, when I confessed I did not know he died that day, I need to get out of the mountains and back in the real world. She lost a great deal of credibility in that moment. It wasn't because she said it, but I was told so vehemently to start watching television, pay attention to what's going on in the real world. On my end of the phone, I was stunned, actually. I didn't realize she was so limited. Television? Real world? I don't care if you believe it, but stay out of my face with it. I have thought about why I don't watch tv and why I am in the mountains, thought about it before I left the city. I don't watch tv with purpose. I've thought about it. I'm here with purpose, not just passing through with a surfboard on the roof of my car. Family, extended family, and others from the first half of my life are unable to find in their own minds my motivation to live in Wrong Turn, North Carolina. I could explain, but it takes more than a phrase, and the times I attempted to explain, it put them to sleep after just a few sentences. Their eyes glaze over and I see they're off someplace else, can't follow it. No visuals, no commercials, no flash. Nothing but acoustic audio; doesn't sound right when it's not complaining. 

jean arp

I felt like it was an important discovery for my interior life. I do not see giving carrots to donkeys unreal, or having a friend relationship with donkeys, hearing the birds, the crows, reading, listening to music, making art objects, trees all around, sky and clouds, sun and moon, Caterpillar, my friends. It's a benign, happy world where I don't possess or control anyone but myself the best I'm able. My attitude toward buying the donkeys was buying them out of slavery. They had economic purpose alone in a herd of cattle to keep coyotes from killing the calves. I give them a life in a meadow of their own where they can have a love relationship without interruption of one being taken away never to be seen again by surprise. I hear in my head Jenny singing to Jack as Nina Simone, I loves you Donkey, don't let em take me, don't let em handle me and drive me mad...I'd like to stay here with you forever. I do not think this is the unreal world in what we mean when we divide our subjective selves from the objective world of commerce indifferent as the ocean. I do not consider the indifference to the human spirit, characteristic of the world of commerce, to be real. It's about money. What is more unreal than money? The multi-billionaires have bought our government rendering us without democracy and without recourse. They are the unreal people, people who intend to reenact an Ayn Rand novel at the expense of everyone else whose resources these people have drained to give themselves power to turn American life into the Rand/Reagan ideal, Masters and Slaves. It's working for them. I do not call that real thinking or real action. It's as unreal as a John Wayne movie, and so without conscience I'd call it criminal, destructive to so many lives, unto the life of civilization's vanguard democracy. We have been conquered from within, tricked by the American character itself, lust for money. Spinning wheel, round and round. It looks like it's time for the American people to do without and learn to live in Third World poverty. The Reagan Revolution worked. They made it work using racism. 

jean arp

The unreal world is a world without love, without compassion, without empathy. Television keeps the economy flowing with commercials generating money by way of sophisticated mind control, eroding our decency toward one another. Two-thirds of a century after television became the shrine in every American home, Xtreme craziness is popping up everywhere. What's causing this? Why is it so copycat to shoot up a shopping center or a school or a McDonalds or anywhere? Or for cops to shoot unarmed young black men? There's an old country saying, It's the weakest link in the chain that breaks. We have weak links popping everywhere. Must be a time of high stress. Noise, distraction, interruption. This is the unreal world. I'm not giving up my donkey meadow, my home on a mountain I love, the community I love, to go live in trailer park poverty in some horrid city where hostile attitudes permeate the air. To watch television and be in the "real" world? I think I'll stay on my mountain and not watch tv. I have several years experience of the inner peace of living without tv, by choice, on Waterfall Road. I also have several years experience in the world of commerce, the world of town and city. At home on Waterfall Road I am  in my subjective world where love flows around here, compassion. All the green around the house has come up of its own volition, volunteered. I asked the ground what it wanted and it told me it would like to go back to trees. I said, Good, that's in accord with what I want. To get all the more subjective, the mountain once told me it appreciates me living on it, because I respect it. This spot had the topsoil bulldozed away to make a flat area to put up a little house. I've been allowing topsoil to grow over the years, leaves decompose from year to year like in the woods, fertilizing the roots, encouraging worms, wild violets, jewelweed, ferns. I put donkey droppings around the rhododendron and their change to more vibrant is visible. I'm satisfied that after more than 35 years I've restored topsoil to this spot that is in my care. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels, donkeys are at home here. They don't need to invade my house because I give them enough sunflower seeds to squirrel away for winter. I see them with their cheeks full and say, Take as many as you can get; winters are cold and long.  

jean arp

Donkey Jenny stands by the gate, a place she likes to stand, a comfortable place for her. In the time of day they take a siesta, time out from grazing, Jack likes inside the shed and Jenny likes the shade by the gate for meditation parallel with the fence, switching her tail, stamping a back foot to shake off a fly. Baby Vada a-wallerin me on the couch, my hands and arms her bumpers, her safety net between bouncing on the couch and the floor. Vada's daddy telling me about a new arrow tip that he described "wicked" with a little horror emphasis. They are six for thirty-five dollars. "It will be worth thirty-five dollars to see what they do." I'll spare you the mental image of what it does. He's wanting a bear. I pray for the bear. He kills deer throughout the hunting season. I send their souls on to the next life with silent prayer. His family eats them and he kills them instantly. I have to applaud that. Absence of adrenaline in the blood, a natural life and a natural diet. It's not meat found at Walmart from cows with cancer. He can feel good that his kids are being raised on real food, not the chemical cocktails that go with corporate feed lots where the cows eat from troughs, stand in shit to their knees. Animals hate standing in shit. They don't like to step in it either. In a meadow of cows you don't see hoof prints in the cowpies. The four-leggeds tend to be scrupulously clean, and birds, even snakes and bugs. It makes me glad for his family that he gives them healthy meat instead of poison meat. This is my real world, the people I know, the critters of my neighborhood. The sounds in the air I hear as music, not noise of a thousand mufflers, tire tread roar, rice rockets, Harleys. I'm getting awfully rural romantic and have no problem with it. I'll take the world of trees, a quiet life, interaction with the landscape I live in, living spirits in life forms. People in the city I find guarded, defensive, and sometimes a sinister edge. From individual to individual, it seems like in this time we are each one our own culture, even our own country. I like to be around other people one on one, not several at a time. This is my real world.

jean arp


Friday, August 22, 2014


the sphinx in snow last winter


     Turning and turning in the widening gyre

     The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

     Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

     The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

     The ceremony of innocence was drowned;

     The best lack all conviction, while the worst

     Are full of passionate intensity.

     Surely some revelation is at hand;

     Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

     The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

     When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 

     Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

     A shape with a lion body and the head of a man.

     A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

     Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

     Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

     The darkness drops again; but now I know

     That twenty centuries of stony sleep

     Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

     And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

     Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

                                       ---WB Yeats, 1865-1939

pyramids in snow last winter


Thursday, August 21, 2014


I  had on my mind a walking stick for my friend Lucas. I'd found two oak saplings I thought would make a good walking stick. Plan was to cut them in the fall and let them dry through winter and carve them into walking sticks next the summer. However resigned I was to the wait, it stayed in my mind that I did not want to wait that long. Id just finished a walking stick for his wife, Judy, and really wanted to have one for him too by next time they came to visit in a week or two. I had a dead mountain dogwood sapling maybe ten feet from the house. It died about three years ago. I've never cut it because I had not yet seen what to do with it. It was too nice a wood to cut it for kindling. Tuesday I was thinking about Lucas's walking stick, saw the dogwood sapling: there it is. I took the long-handled clippers and cut the branches and the top off, then measured it looking for 46 inches, the length I'd made Judy's stick. It feels to me a good length for a walking stick. Fired up to get started, I turned a five-gallon bucket over outside and sat on it with pocket knife for a few hours whittling away the bark, cleaning it down to the raw wood, smoothing the knots, making it smooth from one end to the other. At the handle end, I whittled a rounded dome that fits the palm of the hand comfortably. One doesn't use the palm of the hand on end of the stick while walking, but sometimes it comes in handy to grip the end for whatever reason. I wanted it to be smooth in the hand, wanted the stick smooth to the hand the whole length, tip to tip. A good smooth piece of wood is a sensory delight to the hand. After carving it, I ran my hands all over it looking for rough spots I'd missed. Took a square of sandpaper to it, smoothing the ridges left by the knife, smoothing it to the tip. I left the knife markings on the upper foot I call the handle to designate the handle visually, to keep in its design a step in its process and maybe to give it a better grip. 

This picture shows the round dome carved for the hand and the handle section. I brought the stick in the house after sanding it, enjoying the result of the hours of sitting on the upside down bucket, which, by the way, makes a good stool. It also carries water. The stick has a couple of bends in it, good for spring. My thinking is that a perfectly straight stick, like a dowel, has no spring. A stick with spring in it doesn't jar the hand so much when it hits the ground. The vibration runs through the bones to the feet. A little bit of spring in the stick reduces the jarring factor. I just now conducted a scientific experiment. I happen to have a dowel five-eighths inch diameter, almost the same length as the walking stick. I held the dowel vertically a couple inches above a rock and dropped it to see its vibration. It bounced and vibrated like a banjo string. I did the same with the walking stick and it vibrated quite a lot more, even jumped and gave a nice ring. The lower foot of the stick's length is a good curve where much of the stick's spring is located. Up by the handle is a curve in the stick. I like about a sapling that its grain runs the length of the stick from one end to the other uninterrupted, the flow lines of its growth, of its life. I have such a respect for trees, I want the stick, the tree, to be itself with my carvings minimized to exposing the beauty in a given life form. I avoid the temptation to carve a ring around it or carve initials into it. I want my only influence to be exposing the beauty in the wood. The thing itself, a walking stick, is a creation of the human mind. I want my mind's influence be no more than that. Mind cut it to length, removed the bark and smoothed the knots branches grew from. It's smoothness to the touch from tip to tip is as far as I want to go putting mind influence into it. You might say this is a creation of my aesthetic sense. My ideal for an art creation is to make it look inevitable, like it grew that way, like it is itself without reference to my ego. I allow the stick its own shape with the least altering. It's how I am with the donkeys. I want to allow them to be themselves as much as possible without my "training" altering their minds. 

Here is the stick where it touches the ground. The tip is a joint a branch grew from. It makes the tip solid and I feel like the tip end will never split. The tree took up, volunteered, close to where I keep a birdfeeder. The tree does not grow to be huge. It has clusters of flowers like a Queen Anne's lace. It's a dogwood, a mountain dogwood. Another name is pagoda dogwood. I prefer mountain dogwood. We don't have many pagodas around here. The flower of the regular dogwood is four petals. The mountain dogwood is a galaxy of flying bugs when it's in flower. I have sat on steps looking at one in flower that lived here about 25 years. Walking by I saw only a few bugs with big wings. Sitting by it for an extended period of time I saw more and more bugs until I saw the air inside the tree's branches was alive with tiny flying bugs feasting on the nectar in a hundred thousand flowers. They don't make good ornamental trees. This one I watched the bugs in was a volunteer that took up soon after I moved into the house. I let it grow until it died. I was cutting dead branches off every year. I didn't care. The cats loved climbing in it, walking out on the limbs like a tightrope. I didn't think of it ornamental. It took up with me of its own and I accepted it. I liked the tree itself, and these non-decorative characteristics I saw as the life of the tree. The tree the walking stick came from lived a short time, just long enough to give me a walking stick. A giving tree. It lived its short life to be Dr Lucas Carpenter's walking stick in his retirement. He's a doctor of literature, not medicine. He's the kind of professor whose classes I would have loved in 20th Century American poetry and American lit. I'd take as many of his classes as I could. We went to school together and explored writing together, bouncing ideas off each other, reporting discoveries, inspiring each other's interest in the art of writing and reading. Reading is important to both of us. We read very differently. He reads fast; I read slow. He reads a lot of contemporary lit criticism, reading I can enjoy for a paragraph and that's enough. It's valuable to his interest, though not to mine. And what's valuable to my interest is not to his. We don't often read the same books, though we educate our own interests by way of reading. 

I like this bend in the stick that helps to designate "handle." I applied the first coat of tung oil after sanding lightly. The wood soaked the oil up so fast that the end of the stick I started at was dry to the touch by the time I'd oiled it to the other end. I pour a little oil into the palm of my hand and rub it into the wood with bare hands. A cloth soaks up too much oil to satisfy me. I want as close to all of it to go into the wood. I like oiling it by hand too. The first two coats were soaked up by the wood almost immediately. I applied the fourth coat just before sitting to this writing. The third coat took overnight to dry. This fourth coat will be dry by tomorrow. I'll let it dry a couple days before the fifth coat and a few days before the sixth, perhaps final coat. That little dogwood settled the question of how I could have a stick made for Lucas at the same time I give Judy her stick. I did not want to wait a year. Voila! The little dead dogwood I'd never cut down was just outside the door waiting to be found. I left the tree there, seeing it would make a good walking stick, but never had reason to make a walking stick and couldn't decide what length I wanted to cut it. I took my measuring tape and measured 46 inches from where I thought would make a good handle to the tip, a joint where another branch was growing. I wanted that knot on the tip end. The length was just right. I looked at it in admiration of what a good walking stick its shape will make, enough bends for spring, not so much bend to change the course of its relatively straight line. I was happy with the stick. I left the limbs on the ground. I leave the limbs that fall out of the trees on the ground where they fall. They give the birds perches and the squirrels little tunnels to run through playing chase. The ground has a slope and slides downwards over the years. The tree limbs fade into the ground giving it fiber to hold the downward erosion. It's my way of building up the topsoil. It's not much, just a matter of I want the small spot of land that is my domain to breathe with the life of the earth like in the woods. I love having tree frogs and katydids just outside the open door.  

all photos tj worthington


Wednesday, August 20, 2014


wayne white

I believed I could get through this Ferguson (St Louis), Missouri, incident without feeling compelled to flip my two pennies onto the gaming table. At first, it was just another white cop kills a black teenage boy, a regular occurrence like young white guy blows away a classroom of kids someplace. It's never certain where it will happen next, but it is certain it will happen. One of the first images to come to mind about the Ferguson incident is the police overzealous SWAT numbers and equipment. Talking heads are saying it looks like police state. We've never seen this before. Boston marathon bombing? Anybody remember that? I was most struck by the immediate appearance of an army of cops that swept Boston like ants on sugar. Where did they all come from? A big SWAT operation with the assistance of tv, them saying people were happy to oblige them to go through their homes a SWAT team with machine guns and grenades. What do you say to a SWAT team at the door saying let us in by opening the door or we break the door down and kill your dog? Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde comes to mind. They went to medieval walled cities and told them to give the Mongols whatever wealth they had in gold and other valuable treasures. Give it over peaceably and we let you live. Refuse and we kill all of you, take what we want and burn down your city. I see talking head after talking head saying of Ferguson, we've never seen such a display of police state. Statistics coming to the surface now are alarming of SWAT break-in entry for next to nothing, killing people, even white people now, and saying, "He had a gun." Shooting to kill has become such a pattern, it tells on training. I've seen this coming on since the Nixon law and order fear propaganda, the beginning of white corporate backlash soon after the Civil Rights period. 

wayne white

I see "pundits" asking how we can turn this progression into police state around. I can't help but laugh when I hear that. I know they see it. I also know they are subject to corporate restraints by way of producer. MSNBC is as much a business as Faux tv. They just appeal to different markets, the presentation guided by fear. Even Democracy Now and Truthout, that seem to get it, use fear of police state to rally attention around their side of the divide. Our Ferguson protests and police show of force make fabulous tv for white shareholders: keepin the enwords down. Bright lights, smoke, rolling teargas cannisters, reporters muscled and arrested, a SWAT army keeping America safe for the whites. At the risk of blowing your white middle class mind, I've been seeing for some years that the white working class men of USA, coast to coast, border to border, believe "the nigger war" is imminent, the same as the "Christians" believe "the rapture" is near. The black people know this. White working class people know it too. It's what they are arming themselves toward, not to shoot each other. Black people all over the country are in alarm. The decisions made by white public officials have gone toward escalating the police action in Ferguson day by day so consistently the pattern exposes purpose. Even George Wallace did not provoke black people to this degree. Another young black unarmed guy will be shot by a cop with intent to kill, knowing he will get away with it and be a hero among the white brethren in racism. The cops of that community will come out a SWAT army to put down demonstrations, the protests will grow, the SWAT presence will grow. The talking heads will say incredulously, We've never seen anything like this. Black people say, yes we have, yes we have, yes we have, and the interviewer changes the subject. More blame the victim talk from white male authoritarians. 

wayne white

The black people are saying we want to be treated like people instead of zoo animals running loose. The absence of white authorities addressing the issue tells me what they see is a bunch of monkeys down from the trees hooting and screeching in their faces. If one bites you, you might get rabies. Something else I'm seeing, or so I interpret from what I see, the cops are scared shitless. No accidents in their underpants. The hacker collective called Anonymous has struck the Ferguson police hard, and the arch-enemy of white supremacism, the ACLU, is in town. Al Jazeera reporters and cameras. Ay-Rabs. The members of the SWAT force have been listening to Limbaugh for most of their lives and Faux news. My sense is that they feel cornered, not by a bunch of monkeys, but a threat to their own belief system, which is sacred to them all the way to church. Their zeal tells me this is what they believe they are standing guard for. They may be seen in shame on tv, but being on tv is their pride. They do not see human beings. They see the enemy. Their face shields, their bullet proof vests, their machine guns aimed at you, identify themselves the enemy, not people either. This isn't about people, human beings or whatever we're called. It's about belief systems. The police side doesn't seem able to see they are creating a tremendous resistance throughout the tv audience. It's like they're acting as a circle of wagons around the Bank. They're the cavalry in Indian Country. They're acting on orders from Headquarters. They're doing their job. Another wedge in the systematic divide-and-conquer phase of control. Can this be turned around? Not until Headquarters OKs it. It is too obvious a step in a systematic progression. Every day I see this a public relations police action to rally the well-armed white racists behind the police state for holding back a stampede of criminals and white liberals--same differ'nce. I feel like this ongoing standoff is a PR stunt rallying white racists, announcing to us by way of evening "news" we have police state similar to the Supreme Court announcing the end of Democracy overriding the popular vote. 

wayne white 

The step by step divide-and-conquer progression looks awfully much like intent to provoke more such protests in other cities where it is inevitable a cop will kill another unarmed black kid with his hands up saying don't shoot. It's like your girlfriend saying don't shoot and doing it anyway. She provoked it by saying don't. Put down after put down of black protest assures the white people the police have the black people under control. Good press. Good support. The press about the black kid is the same as the press about Trayvon Martin and others; discredit the victim, make him look on tv like white society is better off without him. Job well done, fellers. The indifference to the feelings and concerns of the black people who have lived in police state all their lives is as epidemic now as cops shooting with intent to kill. Six years of a black man in the White House has been enough time for the propagandists to generate so much racial hatred it's become explosive. I was thinking yesterday that if a hole the size of a quarter were to open in the president's security, he's dead as soon as the hole appears. And I remember one of Indira Gandhi's most trusted bodyguards sacrificed his own life to assassinate her in front of the other bodyguards, who immediately shot him down. A black president has been used for the focus of hate by the propagandists of white racism long enough to brew some serious mass hate. Being white rednecks, the cops in St Louis are as aware of the coming "nigger war" as every white working class man I know. A sensible person does not want to see this happen. The people passing orders down the chain of command to the white cops to provoke the black people of Ferguson are visibly not sensible people. They're functioning from a belief system. What color is the problem? Black. What color is the solution? Red. Black people have seen this coming, yet they appear to me to be in collective shock seeing white racism take such a militant stance so quickly, so blatantly, and so without meaningful censure from higher up.

wayne white



Tuesday, August 19, 2014


dr carpenter's chair

Awareness of flow has been in the foreground with me for several days. I'd been unconscious that flow occupied my mind as much as it did. A thought might come and go twenty times in a day, but each time it's only once and it's gone. Last week in the grocery store two registers were open and suddenly a rush of full buggies turned up. I was one. Two women were ahead of me with mounded up buggies, the one at the register taking her time unloading her objects one at a time, talking to the cashier, talking to her little girl standing beside her. I reminded emotional mind of patience. I have all day. Relax  into the flow. Somebody opened a new register behind where I was standing. I backed up and turned into the opening. A man I'd never seen before was carrying a package of a dozen rolls of paper towels and half a dozen sardine cans. I saw him moving toward the space. He stopped when he saw me swing around and went back to his line with three mounded up carts ahead of him. I called to him, "Hey," a lame thing to say, but I didn't know what else to say. I wanted to catch his attention right now. Mister? No. Dude? No. He looked about my age, somebody who would not take to being called Sir except by a kid, and even then I'd guess from his vibe he'd tell the kid he didn't have to call him Sir. I indicated with a swing of my head for him to go in front of me. The flow of his movement toward the place was in motion before I started my forward motion. I felt like I'd interrupted a flow. He took his place and thanked me. We had a brief exchange, quiet and friendly. A moment. The kind of moment that made me feel rewarded for allowing the flow by merely an open exchange. I ran my items through the line, paid and put the bags in the buggy to carry to the parking lot. I stepped into the open space beyond the register aisle and saw a Latin guy on my right pushing his buggy toward the door. He stopped when he saw me start out of my aisle. Again, I felt like I'd interrupted a flow. I stopped and indicated to him with a hand gesture to go ahead. His face lit up, he nodded gratitude and went on. 


In neither case was I motivated by wanting to appear to be a nice guy. Both times I felt I had stepped into a flow that was already in motion. I stopped and honored the flow. I felt like it would be arrogant to break the flow and jump in. The first guy was about my age with a long pony tail and a straight-faced stillness that suggested he had spent some time in prison. Very much an inward individual. It was the first thing I saw in him. I regarded him with respect as I do everyone I know or meet experienced in the American penal system. Another day when I was not aware of the flow, I probably would have taken my place as my right--I'm next. I don't know. It caught my attention because I don't recall ever having such an awareness of flow. I feel it when I'm writing and feel it at home. I feel it in traffic. In both moments I saw the flow. Perhaps I had come from standing in place for awhile talking to myself about patience. Slow down. I've seen these logjams happen at the grocery store many times. I walk in the door, one or two registers are open, nobody in sight. In the aisles I see several people and others start filing in the door. I go to the register and half a dozen people are ahead of me. Right away they open two more registers and the flow moves again. I turn around, somebody is in motion toward the open aisle with just a few items. Another part of the flow is I could never step in front of somebody carrying so little without inviting them to take a place ahead of me. I could not stand there and unload my buggy with someone waiting behind me with a few items. It's an awareness of flow I'd not noticed before as such. I felt like the second one automatically deferred to white man with white hair, the sign of a hateful emeffer to an immigrant. I felt like the gratitude on his face, in his eyes, was somewhat out of proportion to my gesture, but I reminded self that white men with white hair seldom say, After you, to a Mexican. 

across the road

Another part of my flow was realizing the people from south of the border came here to work their asses off for a little bit of pay to send cash home to mama, wife and kids, who have nothing otherwise. They get treated like shit, taken advantage of, ignored as though nonexistent. They've learned how to live among white people; stay quiet and out of sight. The Latin people have that minority consciousness about them; look out for white people, learn how to live with being invisible, do your best not to become a target, be passive with law enforcement, stay in your trailer park and watch tv like white people. The tiny Latin population here lives inward, among themselves. I have a heart full of respect for these people doing the best they can to get by in a world hostile to them, good people lured by fairy tales about democracy and money seen on tv. I feel sorrow for them when I realize they are here because they can't make a living where they came from. They have no place there and they have no place here. I've seen that the people who hire them to do labor jobs often prefer their work performance to work by local boys. I can think of two, and know there are more, businesses that hire only Latinos for their work ethic and attention to detail. The best restaurants are the Latin restaurants that few Anglos go to. The big Mexican restaurant, Mis Arados, is rated by a great many the best restaurant in Sparta. The Latins are good people. I feel like they make a good addition to life here. In my association with the Alleghany Planning Committee, we visit the Head Start program in Sparta once a year. The kids are charming and the women working with them care about them with a motherly tenderness. I've noticed again and again the Latin kids had happy round faces, happy eyes, were animated and well behaved. The white kids were drawn, looked depressed, cheerless, some had dark around the eyes from crying in the night. All are kids of parents who can't afford daycare prices. The white parents were poor because they were messed up on crystal meth and whatever else was going around. What money they score at minimum wage jobs goes to their high to assuage their misery. They need help like their kids need help. 

quan yin on cloud mountain

I have seen in this lifetime the venality in the American character grow with an anti-compassionate, zero tolerance zeal that brings something to mind I heard Bill Maher say, "I'm paranoid about the cops, and I'm white." This is a relatively new social phenomenon, white people paranoid about the cops like the black people, though the black people laugh at the white paranoia. They know that nobody white knows what it's like to be paranoid about cops. The Central American man in the grocery store caught my attention with his big smile of gratitude. I wondered what it was that made him appear so spontaneously grateful. The sparkle in his eyes rang in my head the words, random acts of kindness. Such a tiny gesture on my part. Each moment received with open gratitude. For my part, I just read a flow and payed attention to it. I could call them acts of kindness, but at the moment they weren't acts of anything but letting somebody go by who was already in motion. It turned out I allowed them their flow. I doubt either one was consciously aware of the flow as I was at the moment, but they felt it unawares. My reward, a momentary spontaneous greeting from who the other person is, open, unguarded. I think of it a spiritual connection, the god in me greets the god in you. My part of it amounted to a few seconds. Those seconds stayed with me, somehow having a light around them as important moments. It makes me want to become more aware of my own flow in relation to the the flows I am sometimes involved in, sometimes passing through. Awareness of flow has to do with allowing, not projecting my own wants or expectations onto the moment. It seems like awareness of flow comes forward when ego is not demanding so much attention. When I saw two buggies ahead of me piled high, I talked to emotional self: settle down, patience, relax, you're not late for anything, and if you can't stand still for a few minutes, you need help. I turned around in a relaxed mind, able to feel the flow for not being in a hurry, and had two spiritual experiences, one after the other, solely from reading lines of flow and honoring the flow. It became two spontaneous random acts of kindness without assessing the gestures kind or any more something to notice  than walking from one spot on the floor to another. It just happened.   



Monday, August 18, 2014


adolph gottlieb

I found another measure of my own psychological maturity, or so it seems from the point of view of the interior life. I think I mean by psychological maturity the ability to absent self from a tiresome situation right away without hanging about trying to look like I'm interested, without pretending. I used to try to please people around me who ruled by disapproval. I'd try so very hard to at least give the appearance that I'm approval oriented. I went to a psychotherapist over that one. Had a highly educational experience on the path of Know Thyself. One of my many core questions was why I allow self to be manipulated by disapproval. I've recently seen that approval does not have the hold on my psyche it onetime did. I don't dare attempt to fool myself by saying I don't lean toward approval, and disapproval has no power with me. That would really be fooling myself. I don't take disapproval in this time of my life like I did young when the preacher's wife, who didn't approve of anything, ruled absolutely. I came to a place I said to preacher friend, Millard Pruitt, Since everything I do and can do is a sin, I'm free, I can do anything I want. So what if I sin when I can only sin? No, it's not like that. This is how many of our conversations went. He was still pre-Copernicus and I was post-Darwin. Two cosmologies lay stretched out over several hundred years between us. He was pre-Renaissance and I was post-Modern. It was quite a gulf. I felt like we met on a bridge between his world-view and my own. We were of very different cultures. His culture was in the past of the culture I came from, but he had no reference for my culture. When I talked, it put him to sleep. I encouraged him to talk; I loved hearing stories from his life. He represented for me at the time mountain culture. He was one of my more significant teachers, who, like his brother I worked the farm with, taught without teaching. 

jean arp

I didn't even bother about his disapproval. His disapproval was so absolute it was meaningless. I learned in childhood never to say anything that might provoke judgment. More than likely, that's the origin of much of my character. It was an easy lesson to learn, because it was hell to pay if I ever slipped up and said something like shit or even worse. The kid learned young to edit everything spoken. We start individuating at about three, so by eight or ten we're individuated. I was and it seemed to me the other kids around me were. I recall at about age eight sending a message to my future self, my adult self, to remember that kids are a whole lot smarter than adults can see. I've remembered it every time I've been around kids. I recall one of the random times I saw the Tonite Show with Johnny Carson, he had a woman I supposed was famous and I didn't know it, Selma Diamond. I enjoyed her so much I remembered her name. She was chatting about baby-sitting kids, taking care of kids she knew whose parents were out. Carson expressed dismay she could be so long-suffering. She made it clear the kids are wonderful fun. She said, "They're just little people." As indeed they are. I think of Roman Polanski's film, The Pianist, Warsaw in the time of the German occupation. Polanski, himself, was an eight year old Jewish kid in Warsaw in the time of the film's story. His parents and extended family were taken away. He slipped out of the city and disappeared into the countryside to be taken in by a farm family where he stayed and worked with them throughout the war. That eight year old made some serious decisions. They didn't destroy him. Decisions made in that time gave him the drive that makes him go.   

eva hesse

I've found when I'm around people who disapprove and wait for key words to get in a huff about, I see them like a hawk sitting on a wire waiting for something, waiting for It. Gives them something to talk about later in other company. I don't like to be around people I can't talk with as I talk with my friends. An experience popped up in the front of my mind from several years ago. I was visiting some people I knew who were new here from Florida. They also had invited to my surprise the biggest gossip in the county and her husband. I was miserable. I couldn't talk, knowing everything I said would be told in altered form to a given gossip circle all day next day. I could name many in the circle. I felt like Martha the dog stuck at the door between me urging her out and Caterpillar outside hissing at her, not allowing her to step forward. There wasn't much I could do. I just didn't talk. Couldn't talk. I imagined anything I said misquoted on the phone a dozen different ways. You might say I was struck dumb. Of course, I was judged all the more mercilessly because I didn't talk. It was actually quite obnoxious, but I didn't know how to break the spell of silence. It was like knowing you're being recorded by surveillance cameras. Alone in a room watched by surveillance cameras, I would tend to sit still. Do a meditation. Take a nap. Surveillance cameras have become a new form of the disapproving eye. Add to the disapproving eye the approving eye of the cell phone camera that can also be a disapproving eye. The cell phone camera is subjective, the surveillance camera objective, the eye of law enforcement. A song is playing in my head by Chaka Khan, God Is Watching You. She sings it that God is watching in loving support, yet in certain religions God watches you in disapproval. You sin. The omniscient surveillance camera has a video file on you. You don't have a chance. That's the God I grew up under, the god of disapproval. I prefer the God of love; approval, understanding, allowing, supporting, embracing. 

jaap mooy

It seems like what happened was I took one more step toward freedom from other people's expectations. That's a great freedom in itself. For a very long time I cow-towed to expectation. It got incredibly confusing after awhile. So many different expectations from so many different egos unto conflicting expectations. Finally, it came that expectation is another form of control, especially the silent expectation that can easily be denied if called on it. When I start feeling silent expectations coming on, I'm gone. The humor is that when I saw the light that other people's expectations have nothing to do with me, only with them, that was the end of being expected of. I didn't understand it, still don't, but that's how it bore out. As far as I know I'm free of other people's expectations. When somebody projects an expectation on me now, I pay it no mind. It pisses them off. My attitude: leave me alone with your expectations that are for you, not for me. This is a time in the life that if somebody gets bent out of shape because I didn't say or do what they expected of me, I say: You bent yourself out of shape. I had nothing to do with it. A good one: You're an artist, I expect you'd want to be on the studio tour. I expect you listen to MO-zart. Actually, there are other composers I prefer. We expect to see ye, next week, brother. I had to cut out paying attention to other people's expectations for my own personal behavior. They sent me on an endless maze like a Kafka story, going from bureaucratic office to office looking endlessly for why. It took a long time to learn that other people do not know what's best for me, what I'll love. Netflix recommendations based on what I watch very seldom have one in twenty I would want to see. Amazon's recommendations are closer than netflix's, though they're still way off. I expect you would want to (fill in the blank) is always as far off the beam as a netflix recommendation. I've come to see expecting of others another form of control. I have the choice to participate or not.
jasper johns