What a beautiful week in upstate New York! We had a three-day visitor and five days of sunshine that kept me outside gardening, painting, and planning the entry facade for Fuel Gallery. There was also a five hour round trip to Cooperstown with a friend to receive the fun rejection from credentialed fine art jurors who do their utmost to keep art exhibitions protected from nervous poets who paint. The day brought good craic and faith in the future— untouchable intangibles that art can never reach no matter what tome of a resume qualifies the juror. We got judged and rejected, again. But we also got good hoppy beer and an all day seat at wonder. Hooray, we won the show!
We’re getting close to my midsummer’s eve breakaway. I want to take you to Love College to pick a major of study, and then on to Stanford University for an audience with the Dalai Lama. That is if we can get him off that damn smart phone.
Here we go!
I filmed Rose for a year while getting ready for work she does every day of the week, not without a perpetual echoing canyon of dissonance:
From Leopold Courting Rose:
Why Love Letters?
Who is Leopold?
Curse this political world! Last month I signed up for a free online course in social psychology hoping it would sedate my inner anxiety fool, and get me thinking about other stuff besides doom and gloom. Over the past ten years or so I have let the wrong people in. Unknowns, rabble-rousers, political cry-babies. So much in my mind not of the family and clan has focused its attention on strangers and their woeful struggles. I deemed myself the silent Sally Struthers’ spokesperson for civil liberties (of others), individualism (of others again), and freedom without war and atrocity (others again and again).
Silly me. I have always been free to speak, individualistic more so than Henry Thoreau, and anti-war with an internal, red hot passion. Seeking it for others? Why? It already exists. Don’t tick off the King in a super economy, and one will be showered with gifts and glory unbeknownst to the Gods and emperors of yesteryear. I can speak or write any blasphemy under the sun as long as I can prove no child molestation. I can walk out this door and keep walking to Utah, provided I keep myself looking a cut above meth abuser. And war? Don’t need it. Don’t have to join up. There are millions of neglected children jonesing for a chance to be loved by anyone, even a sociopath sergeant or general. I am not one of these millions of fools. So why attempt to be their social pastor? Especially if I’m not getting paid for it? Amazing freedom in the western world. But little wisdom. Even though all religions and philosophies swear the latter leads to happiness. Our freedoms are apparent, and they have made us very sick in the mind. Nero, for all the power he possessed on a diminishing empire’s credit, was just an insane freak of nature like a Rupert Murdock or Barack Obama. Not happy. Never secure in love. Yet it seems all the non-political commoners dress up to be like them, and would become them if they won the lottery. The common men who stop to admire a jet ski on display at the mall, and the women who consider purchasing the latest issue of People magazine with a dead Patrick Swayze on the cover. These folks are certainly not happy in their ignorance, which is never bliss, but rather chimera. Also, wrong acceptance of careerism and its habits of middle age has blown our happiness path to smithereens. No wonder so many are plagued with regret and night sweats of bitterness.
So why did the political world move into my brain and push out the wisdom-to-be that I swear was thriving in my younger years? Maybe this course I am taking in psychology will shed light on the social/anti-social animal I have become. Maybe it will speak about first love or second love, the born again feeling that arises when energy is directed at discovery, and bliss becomes everyday reality through the auspices of blind love for another human being. Probably not. Love is never taken seriously at the college level (although every single university affiliate has fallen to its power). Still, I would think it a doctoral track more necessary to happiness that physics or English literature. What else needs to be discovered in order for the “good life” to be realized? John Donne’s snuff habit? Another dimension of reality that we’re told we can never see (perhaps heaven)? What specialization need we focus upon now that cholera can be defeated? Have we in the western nations not enough potable water, clothing, shelter and fuel? I would argue that all we lack is proper distribution of these necessities. And that can be fixed overnight by determined revolutionaries in love. Sack a congress lobbied to corruption with rotten tomatoes and “We are the World” mantras.
I think that this college course will uncover some awful truth about modern humanity. That is this: We eagerly make efforts to go against the grain of the heaven on earth existing before our very eyes. It will show by experiment that humanity has always been subject to groupthink and group censure, from caveman times to the atomic age, and that this was necessary as far as groups go. Geese form a “V” to fly south. People arrange a militia to fight other people who covet their stuff.
But we moderns have made the blunder of taking social conditioning way too far, and have ignored the wonders of love, art, and beauty, which in older times the royal classes gravitated towards in their grateful acceptance of good fortune. Who in Jacksonian Democracy could foresee an Iphone with every volume entitled “me” in its Library of Congress-sized memory reading room? What Japanese noble of the Kamakura Period would not mutilate his own bowel after realizing he forsook his only son’s wisdom education for a shiny red Ford F350?
Unfortunately my free social psychology course will not lecture me that the above modern condition is abnormal psychology chomping on steroids. It will not instruct me on wisdom, nor on how to find it, nurture it, and use it to achieve happiness in this life. No, it is a social taboo to voice a strong opinion against the mountain of crap our society drops on us day after day. Normalcy is to be authenticated after 8 years of intense tunnel vision university study before society even allows an educated guess at what might be wrong with it. And then it won’t have credence without publication, which will only come if approved by an editor, himself overeducated to the point of fearing his own vocal opinion without first undergoing five years of proper research and testing.
But love? No degree necessary. And we think we’re very good at it, yes? We have experienced it, studied it, woke up eager to practice it, mainly during the courting stages, when it was as important to life’s mission as finding a career and establishing oneself an accepted player in society. So what happened? Why no mention of love promotion in the press other than hitting the 50th anniversary mark? Awards are many but private to be sure, credentials boxed up in the basement, photographs out of sight to present-day visitors to the marital abode. Yet it was one of the three or four most significant moments in the life of every human being. It has been relegated as a social taboo to communally recollect and organize hard copies of examples of falling in love. A kind of embarrassment, almost a mild shame that prevents each and every one of us from “yawping” our love out from the rooftops.
I have a hypothesis to share with the social psychologists. By virtue of the 200,000 year old struggle for survival, modern well-fed human beings, who have no immediate threat to their existence, haven’t the slightest idea how to process the ecstasy of courting after the mate has been won. A species-wide denial of poetic joy that practically everyone has experienced pervades.
I would argue that by covering up real memories of courting happiness to the extent that they exist on par with other childhood rites of passage, like losing teeth or leaving the familial nest, we have denied ourselves and loved ones a published account of what could very well be an example of burgeoning wisdom.
So we forget about early love to make room for the tough, grown-up stuff, (ex., career, child rearing, keeping a clean house, grocery shopping, finding hobbies), and no periodic reference to the good ole days can be used to repair broken dreams. Hence dissatisfaction with our wife or husband, the seven-year-itch, and recycled ideas of how great life would be if we could just “get away”.
Separation in the mind, if not actualized, is all too common. And divorce becomes an option, since all reminders of why this girl or guy moved you in the first place, have been buried and lost to time.
I believe we all possess this poetry of love’s beginning. I think it is a course worth deep study, if only to research why its virtue has been lost to all and sundry. I have brought up these old letters and poems from our musty basement on the eve of my wife’s 40th birthday. Lately I have been feeling the overwhelming strain of practicing a repetition of days toward cliché goals. Security, conservatism, wealth, retirement—all notions I would have smirked at when I was in my twenties looking for answers to “why” and “what for?”. Then I started chasing Rose, and during the process, saw opportunities arise and abilities executed that I thought could never be. Not quite feelings of invincibility, but close. More like insight into the power of dreams to encourage positive action with another human being. That is I dreamed of a day, maybe a picnic and a movie, woke up and arranged it, and then experienced it with her. Success! Tenderness. Lovemaking. Sleep. And the promise of more. I already had a five-year-old daughter, and her well-being was much improved day-to-day as I courted Rose. The creativity, optimism, hope, excitement of new love was carried over to the nurturing of my little girl. There was no neglect, nobody pushed aside so abstracts like “job security” or “personal success” could make room.
So why did those feelings of wellness and “all is right with the world” ever fade away?
Now is when Leopold enters the concert arena.
The other night while doing dishes I made Rose laugh out loud as I explained to her my concept of Leopold. He is Bugs Bunny on the cover of this book, and can be found in action on Youtube or Vimeo. I told her that for once in my life (and hers too) I want the world to shower the praise on us that was given to that “wrascally wrabbit” when he was imitating some maestro of the time, real or imaginary. A necessary feeling to pull us out of the repetitive funk we find ourselves locked in. To spend it all on just one night! A suite booked at the Plaza, reservations at Daniel, a private car with driver, black disco dress with sparkles, tickets to the opera at Lincoln Center, where Rose and I conduct music for the worn and weary.
We had this feeling one time not so long ago. Every letter I sent to her was a promise for a night like this. And Rose was all about reciprocation, even if it was not literary. No doubt, we both believed wholeheartedly in each other and had faith in the future. I do not doubt that you, reader, have felt the same many times not too long ago...
So, what is the theory we can test? How do I institute this landmark study that will get the comfortable masses to recapture romantic love without relinquishing the urge to relieve social pressures in their every day lives? That is, how to find wisdom in love again, and save for retirement? Well, for starters, I wrote and edited this book. My private hope is that Leopold spends it all on one night to reinvigorate dreams which he believes were visionary in their wisdom. Of course none of this effort will matter if Rose is not convinced, and vies for austerity because the pay is never enough, keep working. John Lennon was about forty when “Starting Over” was a popular song on the radio. Those lyrics are poetry of what this book is trying to recapture. Also the following, written when I was feeling a little bit Leopold not so many years ago:
Say, What’s Cooking In Oswego?
A plate of truth and a bottle of blood?
No, no numb skull, far from that!
There used to be fishermen here
but baby perch wiggle tougher
than our men do nowadays.
I think they kept chickens
back in the 1800’s
She already had an egg
and a log on the fire
Whisk the egg with two fingers of sugar
and a dash of salt
Mix with yesterday’s milk,
pour into flour
then a pan on the fire
Eat with your hand and smell
her dirty apron and stinky toes.
There was one poet here in 1936
He went nuts
Walked up to his old Aunt Beasel
raking leaves into a pile,
and punched her square in the eye.
She kicked his ass of course
right in front of Joe and Mickey
and even their pet rabbit seemed to be laughing.
That was all of him
He took a bus to New York
Got a job washing dishes at Delmonico’s
Got rich, lived rich, died super-rich
with nothing at all.
What’s so wonderful about New York
that ain’t happening here in Oswego?
Well, now that everyone’s a sissy
(Joe was a truck driver
Mickey got a restaurant),
Now that even the cock swaggers down the street
terrifying the plump little bib drippers we’ve become
It’s nice once in a while to forget
about manhood, womanhood,
Aunt Beasel’s hairy mole next to her eye...
It’s good to forget about our legs and arms
and things like where water comes from
Now that we’re self-proclaimed half truths
and walking lies
why not enjoy life to its fullest plate of food?
And what’s cooking in Oswego
is only fitting for what Oswego cooks up.
Our restaurants mix powdered demi-glace,
deep fry their hairy ninety-five cent broilers,
Some chefs I know
should just piss on your plate
One place thinks rigatoni in Italian means
“looks and smells like Great Nana’s big toe”
At least in New York we can still pretend
that all life left is imagination
and get a king’s meal at a fair price
and window shop and make ourselves
smell real good for dinner.
“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Throop
May I take your coats?
Chef Beasel saved a perfect egg for you tonight
You look so good, smell so sweet
your arms are bare and beautiful,
your neck perfeect
Right this way
Right this way
Right this way”
Let this book be a reminder of what I believe makes the best humans in a comfortable world. Spend it all, and let the chips fall.
The Dalai Lama’s Twitter Account
Disclaimer: Below is my final paper for Coursera social psychology in which I write about my “Day of Compassion”, influence my peers, and apply to win a chance to meet the Dalai Lama. Mr. Lama, I am sure, is a kind and gentle human being. I do not wish to offend anyone who follows and applies his teachings. He must deal with slightly depressed, delusional characters like me all the time. Please consider the following essay more tongue-in-cheek clowning around rather than an attempt at thoughtful criticism. Thank you.
I do not feel much love for the brand Dalai Lama. Maybe because twenty years ago, I read through part of a biography about “His Holiness” while my girlfriend sat in the kitchen of our drafty apartment flirting with an old boyfriend who audaciously stopped by on his motorcycle to chat with her. I was “into” spirituality back then, devouring authors who appealed to the hair shirt side of my brain. I read Thich Nhat Hanh—he got me to walk and meditate; histories of Hinduism—they taught me how a poor working father could hold his head high before his daughter; anything by Henry Miller—I was a passionate line cook in America for God’s sake, not St. Francis of Assisi. I wanted to woo a mate, and wear my hat like Walt Whitman. I was a romantic and a shy showman, desiring to perfect my life in love with a friend who would help me raise my daughter subsisting on bean soups and warm bread.
I gave up reading the biography to eavesdrop on the kitchen conversation. She wouldn’t be “the one”, that was for certain. Nor would the Dalai Lama. Too much money, not magic, in the making of his brand. I wanted men who suffered first and then found enlightenment, not coddled children who got hand-picked by golden-robed men to be religious kings. The Buddha left his wife and child to find enlightenment? My God, what a coward! I was a twenty-five year old American flopdoodle, yet even I knew better. Siddhartha ran away from true responsibility. Went and sat under a tree, leaving his kid back at the palace to wonder for the rest of his life why daddy left home. And that suffering wheel the Buddhists chant about while bowing along humble walks to oblivion... Obviously the boy grew up and abandoned his own children, either figuratively or literally.
Buddha rose above the wheel of life and death, and left his family to suffer karma.
What a selfish narcissist!
“They like to take all this money from sin/
build big universities to study in,
Sing Amazing Grace
all the way to the Swiss banks”
So this day of compassion I have led... What of it? What came to be? Did it change our President’s mind about bombing helpless children in Syria? Did it prevent the Dalai Lama from stepping into another jet airplane to whisk his wisdom around the globe, while stuffing a dirty sock down the throat of our atmosphere? Did it make me stop and be mindful of the man I dream to be? No more or less than any other day since I have decided to not take the path, but become it. Yes, perhaps I am delusional to the point of actually teaching the Dalai Lama a thing or two about “right living”, the Eight-fold Path, that yarn about “Have you had your supper? Then clean out your bowl Bingo!”
I read in my 2009 edition of the Myers’ book on social psychology about the “sadder-but-wiser effect” demonstrated by mildly depressed people. I quote at length to shed light of how susceptible professionals are to avarice, the powerful vice preventing our living Rimbaud’s “Christmas on earth”:
Normal people exaggerate how competent and well-liked they are. Depressed people do not. Normal people remember their past behavior with a rosy glow. Depressed people are more evenhanded in recalling their successes and failures. Normal people describe themselves primarily positively. Depressed people describe both their positive and negative qualities. Normal people take credit for successful outcomes and tend to deny responsibility for failure. Depressed people accept responsibility for both success and failure. Normal people exaggerate the control they have over what goes on around them. Depressed people are less vulnerable to the illusion of control. Normal people believe to an unrealistic degree that the future holds a bounty of good things and few bad things. Depressed people are more realistic in their perceptions of the future. In fact, on virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases. “Sadder but wiser” does indeed appear to apply to depression. Taylor, S.E. (1989) Positive Illusions: Creative self-deception and the healthy mind. New York: Basic Books. (p. 516)
Looks like all the “normal” people are getting their daily soma pill, while the wise ones are prescribed anti-depressants to “dress up” their bummer reality.
My mother has a mantra, not likely to be repeated on rice begging walks throughout Lhasa. I tend to agree with it more than any empty philosophy uttered by a holy man from a Palo Alto hotel room.
It is this:
Charity begins at home.
I have deep compassion for my immediate family, my wife and children, my ingroup. Yet it is never enough. Yes, I am prejudiced to all outgroups, no matter how large or small. No, I do not feel the need to feed the poor, clothe the homeless, instruct the ignorant. I want to teach myself and those whom I can truly influence, the joy of life. That is the true wheel. Wisdom shared from parents to children. I believe that being mindful of our responsibility to the next generation, that is, to raise children with the utmost care and kindness, is the only worthwhile pursuit.
And then avarice rears its ugly head. The economy improves year after year. The money is there, also the mortgage, the two cars, the cable, the supermarket, the retirement, the “me, me, me” pumped up on methamphetamine. Children potty-trained then day-cared to professional babysitters. Our own professions calling us to depart in mind, body and soul for the majority of our awake time. Childhood depression, stress on the freeway, and Freddy grows up wanting to become a Zen Buddhist. The wheel of suffering turning and turning, my own professor assigning a “day of compassion”, personal Bodhi trees for all the parents out there agonizing over a Lexus car payment.
I wrote the following in a letter to my daughter for her high school graduation. I include it to shed light on the generation (let alone cultural) gap:
“In an interview Noam Chomsky once admitted that he did not expect, nor even encourage his children to share a similar world view. I don’t think that is possible considering his fame and misfortune as a world renown humanist. Perhaps by stating publicly their ignorance of his politics, he would prevent future Army Ranger raids on the cribs of his grandchildren. Either way it is wrong thinking. Here is a man alive today who wants to drastically change the public’s perception of the American Empire, yet leave his children ‘off the hook’.
Geez, if he can’t persuade his own flesh and blood at the dinner table, then how is he going to achieve moral revolution to the millions of minds of a sick society? Doomed to failure, don’t you think, if his own spawn cannot be convinced?
Well, I am no Noam. Sure I have opinions, but most are formed in the gut. My gut persuades me to believe that it is a more reliable reader of our political world than the eyes, ears, and encyclopedic inner wanderings of Noam Chomsky’s well documented gray matter.
Surely there is something to be said about his ignoring the kids. Is Noam any different kind of careerist than the bank vice president? I mean it takes a lot of time out of a person’s day whether he is an astute member of the board or a genius in sneakers. Loans to sign, books to read, lunch to eat, books to write, desk arrangement, office hours, thousand dollar plate fundraisers, speech invitationals, an immoral philosophy to uphold, a moral philosophy to uphold… So much in common when there is not a minute of free time to teach the children. Really, why have kids if there is no intention to pass on a philosophy?”
My question to be answered by the Dalai Lama if ever I meet him on a Stanford sidewalk is this:
What’s up with your Twitter account? 7,636,789 followers, but you follow no one? Is that the path to enlightenment? Compassionate arrogance? I would think that a spiritual leader who wants to connect with as many people as possible, to be ever mindful of their love and hope and dreams, would at least follow the many who follow him. You want us all to be in touch? Then you must be in touch. Open the flood gates and leap into the suffering tsunami of humanity. Or become the true path, the raccoon, the camel, the hummingbird, who have known all along, that there is no enlightenment outside of teaching your young. Ah, but when that is done to the best of our human abilities, like it was without the help of antibiotics fifteen thousand years ago, the same Heaven and Hell will be known again to all living things.
Until that day returns, it’s all topsy-turvy in the human world.
So, at first light on the morning following my day of compassion, I will bake some baguettes and sift through the cat litter. Exactly what I have been doing almost every day for the past fifteen years.
Maybe in the next life I’ll be picked up for future international fame from some Himalayan village off the beaten path. Perhaps not. More likely I’ll be a shy goat chewing tin cans while his holiness is placed onto the royal Lhasa litter. But that is neither here nor there. Thank you for this chance, Professor P. and staff, to clean up my mind the last several weeks. I really enjoyed your class.
Bob Dylan turns 80 on Monday! Big show of celebration coming up in November. Music, painting, giveaways, free car repair!
Until next week!