Monday, February 8, 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

for the love of process

yesterday i cleaned house. this morning it still doesn't look clean. maddening! why can't i enjoy the process? that's how i live, by process. results do come: a poem, a play, a trip to india. i do it just to be doing it. and when i have nothing to do i go crazy. 

this isn't necessarily movement. in fact, if i get my mind spinning, that's best of all. for instance, a couple weeks ago i'd come to a standstill. photographing finally bored me and i'd been in mourning. how i liked the excuse to visit a parade, to climb a hill, to visit a brothel (not really, alas). you get my drift. and drifting not really my style.

a class in ancient greek art started. finally i had an excuse to do something. usually i sit in the back row and simply listen. this time the class so small we sat in a semi-circle. i realized i was going to have to find something to say. and the videos on youtube marvelous: the triumph of zeus, the fall of troy, sex-riots in pompeii. 

this kept me busy. i kept filling in gaps in my knowledge. how did athens evolve? i listened to fourteen hours of lectures. and i can't figure out how democracy came about. forty thousand male citizens, four hundred thousand slaves. fifteen hundred  a jury at a trial. no lawyers!! you defended either your accusation or your innocence.

if you were a good woman, you married young to an old guy, you maybe twelve and he thirty-five. a woman could be a prostitute, a courtesan, a slave, and lead a more exposed life. or your family married you off to secure their fortune. as you can imagine, a awful lot of young woman died in childbirth. 

one video on amazons very peculiar. it did prove they existed, after a fashion, to the north of greece in the groups of nomads where the girls rode horses from day one, and fighting from ten years old on. the graves prove it, swords and spears beside slain women, skulls crushed, bones bruised, arrows through the breast.

this news drifted slowly into athens. at first their amazonian costumes like the greeks and gradually assuming a scythian outline. and nomad slaves were common in athenian households. their stories would obviously passed to their charges. and this is what seems odd: the amazons were the second most prevalent motif on pottery, the feats of Herakles the first. 

did the home bound ladies and girls carry around these jugs full orfwater and wine, wishing they too were riding horses and fighting like the males? why did they want this reminder of the free while they had to stay out of sight, run the household, and bear children. wouldn't these images be salt in the wound?

as you can see, all this new information set my mind spinning. i could forget being depressed, looking at sin in pompeii very graphically depicted. strange, when i toured the town, the only evidence was a little door high in the wall which the guide unlocked to show us a pair in flagrante delicto. turns out all the sexy stuff in a secret room in the naples museum. 

retracing my steps to epidaurus, delphi, sparta, i catch up with my own life in a new way. my only dread: i'll lose interest after the initial burst of energy. and cleaning house simply doesn't suffice.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

the big questions driving me crazy

i try to stick to small things, like how to find my keys, what do i need for lunch, do i really have to do the laundry today? questions i can answer and act upon or not. avoiding solving the problems of the world or even the nation, absolutely essential for peace of mind. ALAS, IT'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION YEAR. somewhere in my body certain survival chromosomes activated.

the task of the individual to make it through life in the best way possible. a thankless task, since i know where it all ends. i do my best to avoid this last fact. maybe that's why politics takes over my brain, to help me forget the fragility of the situation. thinking about rights and wrongs, i can charge uphill like a bull, not even realizing my walk nearly over. 

energy, i guess i love the jolt of anxiety and the desire to complete the great work, saving humanity and the world. luckily, there's a presidential candidate raising serious answers to definite problems: immigration and terrorism, christianity versus the pagan faiths, huge battles rising on the horizon. obviously he and his followers energized by the approach of the Armageddon. why not? a recent president made pretty good hay of that. 

so, the answers are: build a wall on the mexican border, deport all illegal immigrants, and don't let any muslims into the country. and i find myself asking how these will be achieved and the cost. for example, how high does the wall have to be (3600 miles of it) and what made to be effective? who will build it? how long will it take? what will be the cost? i know i'm wrong to be obsessed with practicalities. i can't help it. it's my nature. 

as for banning muslims, how does this affect trade with the middle east, oil for example, are all importations of it banned? do alliances with all muslim nations cease? does this mean they can't attend the united nations? must all their radio and tv stations be jammed? and what about the millions of muslims already in the united states, including black muslims, will relatives be allowed to visit? will anyone not christian have to wear an identification mark? 

i know, i know, why do i bother about problems i see but can't solve? do i really have any answers? i'm considering how the deportation of four and a half million people be managed? how many new police will be required? do camps have to be built for them? where will they be deported to? which states have they most and how will they fair with the loss of labor? and again, that necessary question: how much will it cost? 

unfortunately, all i can do is ask questions. it keeps my days full, my mind off personal mortality, a particular obsession of mine. politics a perfect solution to metaphysical and moral thinking. it does make me nervous, i admit that. and i do feel fear. of what, i'm not exactly sure. after all, i won't be around long, no matter what happens. yes, the big questions like who will rule the world make it possible for me to do my laundry without thinking about it. and i hate going to the laundromat, down with unconcerned and uniformed.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

now i see myself as other people see me

and it's not pretty! yes, the cataract operation on my left eye worked. i'm blown away by the clarity and brightness of colors. and since my right eye in the former state, i can compare. wow, i'd been seeing the world in soft focus, and this included my own physiognomy. no wonder i never felt old (oscar wilde says we never do). and deepak ch9opra says we grow old like catching a disease from all the people around us. shocking, to see myself looking like all the old geezers at the coffee shop. 

what do i do now? nothing like exercise can exorcise the signs of age: the stringy neck, the half-sunken cheeks, the thin lips. can i live with this new image? no, i can't afford plastic surgery, and folks who go that route always look artificial, their smiles pasted onto a manikin. accepting my ancient face in the mirror doesn't seem like the way to go, despite every guru i've ever listened to. 

true, i thought maybe by this time i'd be happy to be seen as wise. i spouted wisdom in my twenties. i remember a guy at the youth-hostel on the island of skye, who after listening to me, said, "o no, not another one." i guess in those days long ago when the young read books we had something we wanted to say. in a recent survey of millennials, 75% said they wanted to be rich, and 50% said they wanted to be famous. 

i suspect the bus-stations in new york deposit many a fortune-seeker in the big city, ready to combat. alas, as one older wise-guy said, "the young always underestimate the competition." David Bowie, rock icon, died today. i see them lining up by his coffin, pleading for him to pass onto them his pizazz and charm. i've never been a fan, except i liked the daring of his makeup and costume. again, i've missed the passions of a whole other generation.

now that i look like a gnarled tree-trunk, i should be able to drop a few fruits of wisdom into the laps of the young. at the same time i think the time of humans  on the earth short. i could say, "sing in the lifeboats", "dance first and get your graduate degree later," take a trip around the world while it's still possible. "do it while you can," declared my grandma on her 80th birthday." all these seem to me true. 

alas, the wind blowing through these vine leaves on my head echo old stories, tunes no one has time to listen to. maybe fame and fortune reasonable goals. in my end is your beginning. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

how travel puts the imagination in peril

ugh, my body's fighting off a bug. eye-surgery coming up monday, i can't afford to be sick. no coughing permitted, no sudden sneezing, nothing abrupt - the list long as my arm. three types of drops two or four times a day, one for a month. everybody tells me the operation a snap, ten minutes at most. all the prep and post what worries me. i'm not good at following directions. 

to top it off, my imagination restricted to the present, a tough customer without booze, drugs, or train-travel. in former days i could pull out a whole box of russian literature (in translation) and float off to love among the peasants, cruelty in the upper classes, the religious vitriol of tolstoy and the sad scenes of checkov. i pounded across the steps with the red army and died of a white army bullet, still miraculously alive in my chair.

or, india, the tales of tagore, the ramayana, the mahabarata, hindu dances, Buddhist rituals. a life full of music and color and the smell of incense, no garbage allowed. aye, and there's the rub. the trash in the streets of kathmandu, the plastic bags littering the highways and alleys. the crush of rickshaw riders trying to get my business, a beggar boy crying at the car window. what happened to the romance?

even in japan they have something called snapping, where a store owner goes for your jugular when you've touched a painting or bowl or locked yourself in the restroom. the japanese smile turns demonic, the gestures and emotion cold, not like in the fairytales and haiku. the reality overwhelms the literary, the pages lay in ashes. 

my imagination, too. here at home i could imagine a russia soaked in soul and poetry, i dreamed up an india of jewels and naked courtesans. japan had the restraint of a wooden doll. all gone, all of it. evidently i can't imagine what is in front of me, the moment brutal, the ticket torn in half. i can only imagine what i haven't seen.

and everybody i know wants to go on the road, experience the highs of primitive civilizations, voodoo ceremonies, ancient gods, go skinny-dipping in the sacred pools of bali. to bad, too bad, they will experience an ecstatic experience of loss and gain barking dogs, terribly deformed beggars with the rich stepping over them. for someone raised on children's books the result can be a loss of hope, as well as an acquisition of knowledge, how people really live. 

of course, you may say that's what you want. good luck to you. i've found it cheaper and more rewarding to line my bedroom with cork like proust. reviving and reliving all of history, soaking up the formulae of newton, and the pornography of henry miller. by all means resist anything real, if you would have a delightful life.