Monday, March 26, 2012

Playing Han Solo and muddy-booted heroes

We want our optimists to be believable, not all Pollyanna and shit. We want them to have grease on their fingers and mud on their boots to show they've been through it and they still believe.

We want out heroes to have scars and questionable pasts like Han Solo because we've all fucked up, too. And we want to believe in redemption and that we can still land a starring role in our own lives.

I always preferred Han to Luke Skywalker because Han was cooler. He had a bad ass spaceship, memorable one-liners and that was before I knew he got the girl.

Lord knows I've made my share of mistakes. Hopefully not the kind that will get me deep frozen or send bounty hunters after me, but I still wake up nervous, uneasy.

My Millennium Falcon was smaller and plastic and ended up in the sandbox in our back yard as part of an action figure fort. But I don't think that's a main part of the story line.

Most days I wake up smiling, after coffee. I like to think my deep freeze happened in my late teens and early 20s.

I prefer to look at where Harrison Ford has gone since then and the depth and diversity of his life's work. But hell, maybe playing Han Solo was his summit.

Summit is defined as the highest point of a mountain or the highest possible level of achievement. But it was also a candy bar.

Friday, March 23, 2012

If I were to write a poem

If I were going to write a poem, it would have to have coffee in it. Coffee is the prime morning mover. It's the Alpha. It's another word for mojo. A poem would start with coffee, for sure.

And speaking about mojo, a poem I wrote would have to have Muddy Waters. His mojo working has been tickling my eardrums and soul, rocking them like they were in a hammock.

If I were going to write a poem, it should have a hammock in it, absolutely. It's the spring breeze and warm sunshine on the skin season of hammocks. It would also have to include some cut grass. Maybe cutting grass, with some reference to pull-starting the lawnmower for the first time in the spring--that rite of passage, requiring faith, luck and extra elbow grease to wake the mower from its seasonal slumber.

Hammocks, though a present-day obsession, are also a remembering back yards past--getting dumped from our hammock as a kid and getting the wind knocked out of me for the first time. Another way to get brained was playing on the monkey bars.

If I were to write a poem it would have to have monkey bars. Both the kind you played on and the book by Matthew Lippman, which is the kind you play in. Because I saw that today was Lippman's birthday and picked up "Monkey Bars," and it made me think, this is the kind of shit I need to spend my time reading, and re-reading, and writing.

That poem would have to include the Nationals because it is spring training and we're a buzz with the Nats, with tickets for Davey Johnson's boys' home opener against the Reds. When I'm rocking my Nats hat and see the Curly W in the rear view mirror taking the girls to school, it curls a soul smile.

If I were to write a poem today, it would have to include running, since we've had a return to spring running and racing and the Rise Up Runners. It would have to include longboard skateboarding, with the girls and the dogs around the neighborhood and the sound the wheels make cruising on the road.

A poem would have to include pale ale and cherry blossoms, the Bay Bridge and the D.C. waterfront. It would have to include dock bars and mulch and Langston Hughes writing down the blues in verse.

Man, that's a lot of stuff. If I were to write a poem this morning I'd have to unpack my consciousness, empty out my mind into words I haven't thought about yet and hope it comes across. Yeah. Sure glad I'm not writing a poem this morning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fishing with Son House

Sunday morning. Feet in the dirt. Light breeze on the skin. Sun on the face. Raking garden beds, rolling the wheelbarrow across the yard. It was meditative. And then Son House does this:

And I ask you, on Sunday morning, what can church do that that experience, in God's house, nature, working, with a transcendent song and voice hasn't opened up on the spot?

My most revealing (we are talking John the Revelator, after all) Sunday spiritual experiences have come this way. On a long sunrise run. At a state park. Working in the yard. Writing and reading and drinking coffee on the back deck. They are the moments I am most open. The moments that are most personal and most universal.

For me, a spiritual journey is a personal one. My path, whatever it may look like, has included a lot of different forks, turns, twists, traditions, overarchingly led by soul. It's been hard to find in just one book or just one church. Bodhidharma would say it isn't in any book or church. True zen (whatever that is) would probably say these experiences are available in any book or church, as long as the mind and spirit are open to it. Everything is available everywhere, infinitely.

Maybe a spiritual journey is like going fishing. You go where you are most likely to find fish. You base this on where you've caught them before, where others are catching them. You go on intuition and past experience.

I catch fish outside, early in the morning. I catch them running. I catch them in the spring. I catch them listening to Son House and the Delta blues. John the Revelator was a fisherman, apparently.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gary Snyder's campfire and Bodhidharma

I recently met Bodhidharma. I'm sure we've crossed paths before, but I was too busy rapping with Buddha and Du Fu and Li Po to catch Bodhi. Turns out, he has a lot to say, albeit with few words.

Bodhidharma is the cat credited for turning the Shaolin Temple upside down and for bringing Zen to China. He was upset at what crappy shape the Shaolin monks were in. So he taught them techniques to get in and stay in shape as well as teaching meditation. Physical and mental prowess and awareness.

Daniele Bolelli introduced me to Bodhidharma. Reading Bolelli's "On the Warrior's Path," he relates the story of the Shaolin ass kicking. Bolelli is on a modern day mission akin to Bodhidharma. DB says:

"It is time for an athletic philosophy: a philosophy forged through muscles and heart; a philosophy born out of the union of body and mind, of pragmatism and utopia, of sweet sensibility and a warrior's determination."

I've been a warrior since high school (Easton High School Warriors). But I've also always felt in step with the warrior ethos. I began to think of it that way after finding Chogyam Trungpa's "The Sacred Path of the Warrior" at a pivotal time in my life.

This concept of warrior though isn't what we currently envision when we hear the word. It has an Eastern bent, something that Trungpa and Bodhidharma and Bolelli bring to it. It is that one-two punch of spiritual and physical, bringing out a deeper experience. As Bolelli puts it, "An individual who is truly alive should not settle for anything less than the totality of experience."

I like writers in whom the East meets West in everywhere. I've always been lit up by thinkers and teachers who marry the spiritual, mental and physical pursuits, realizing they are all connected. And the ones who can do that with originality and humor get my vote and my full attention. Bolelli roped me in when he connected Tom Robbins (another favorite) to the martial arts. And then he called on Gary Snyder.

"We have chosen to follow Kant along the road of "progress" and science rather than sitting around the campfire with Gary Snyder.... Big mistake."

"On the Warrior's Path" is a wild ride. The first chapter, "The Body as a Temple," should be taught in schools, as early as possible. It should be practiced and preached. Maybe around the campfire that Snyder stoked.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Revision, the improv gut method

Improvisation and revision aren't the same thing. Maybe not. And I'm not sure which I'm doing, but I'm going to call it the latter.

Ulysses may remain a mystery a bit longer. Reading Joyce is confronting a master. I've known that since "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" and "Dubliners." Ulysses is stunning. But I'm not feeling it. It's an exercise in discipline only at present, without soul. And one thing about my reading and self-directed studies, since college really, is that they are soul-driven. There is so much out there to read, if I'm not feeling it, what's the point?

So my resolution to have finished Ulysses by 40 (Apr. 8) has been tabled. Now, I'm all about the one-to-one correspondence when it comes to personal betterment. So what to replace it with? Something reading, something soul-driven, something delving into a/the masters.

The answer has been presenting itself all of 2012, but especially yesterday morning. Monday. Driving to work. Listening for the first time, in full, to Duke Ellington's "Money Jungle," where the Duke composed for and played with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. I can't recall be so moved by an entire album on first listen as I was on the road yesterday. My soul was lifted up.

And I looked at what I was reading, instead of Ulysses, and it was Nat Hentoff's "The Jazz Life," and Ted Gioia's, "The History of Jazz," and amped for Geoff Dyer's "But Beautiful," and I'm not well-read, or read at all about jazz, which by virtue of listening to and thinking about has profoundly changed my life over the last decade. I count Mingus, Miles and Monk in the same aesthetic company as Mark Twain and Robert Hass and Whitman and William Carlos Williams.

So my revised, my improvised goal for 2012, is to get read on jazz. Well read. To better know what I'm listening to. Not for the sake of analyzing really, but for the sake of context and curiosity. It feels like what I should be doing. It's what I am doing, where I'm led.

And while I'm at it, I'll add an experiential component: to attend a jazz show or festival to see a musician I really want to see. I have not attended a jazz concert, proper. A lot of jazz inspired, a lot of improvisation, but to find an Ambrose Akinmusire, a Robert Glasper, a Jason Moran, etc. show.

So that's my revision. Revision by gut method. Also known as improvisation.