Last night, editing late at King Dusko, I was trying to think of images to convey what happens between ink on the page and the magic in the mind.
I was editing a section with Ada and Patrick:
"She loved her father’s library. It had been packed and unpacked in several different incarnations around the country, and she saw it now with Patrick’s eyes. Tall ceilings, an entire wall nearly taken up with leaded glass windows. The room was scattered over with midcentury chairs and tables. An antique rug she’d crawled over as a baby slanted across its gleaming floorboards, and sway-bellied bookshelves framed the big chesterfield spanning the far wall. There was even a fireplace. She liked to lie facing the window when she read, with tides of light flowing over her in from through the trees. The room was an aquarium of dreams."
See, I still couldn't quite catch it, that bloom that happens when you read. I settled for setting.
So I've been a bit fixated on that moment readers live for, when you're suddenly and completely transported into another world. Its a moment that exists outside time. That moment of deep communion between your mind and another's.
The mind is an alchemist.
Reading is a kind of controlled dream state. The younger sister of Memory, and of course Proust describes that particular alchemy best:
"And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."
You see that bit excerpted again and again, yet it never fails to make me shiver all over with happiness.
Speaking of minds: Jack Gilbert. I've been in love with his for years. He passed in November of 2012, but I keep turning over new gems about him. This from a wonderful interview with Cerise Press:
"One of your distinctive poetic traits is the declarative statement, even when such statements may not be true, such as “Ghosts are by their nature drawn to/the willows” from the poem “Becoming Regardless.” How does this technique add to your poems?
It was so natural. I really never thought about it."
The declarative statement...
When I was in college, once I got to hear Philip Glass speak. It was a strange occasion. A small group, a tiny room. Somehow KU had been able to keep the event very quiet. I guess he must have wanted it that way- he opened up immediately, and was an extraordinarily generous speaker. Sitting at the table, telling us all about his youth, his ambitions.
He said that when he was young he felt that "there was no place at the table, artistically," for what he wanted to do. So it occurred to him he ought to build his own table.
That struck a chord with me I have carried ever since.
I like to think of myself as a scrappy thing, happy to go my own way even if (especially if) its harder. I've been making my own table for what seems like a awfully long time.
I have imaginary mentors sitting at it.
Jack Gilbert, and his statements. Vladimir Nabokov. Denis Johnson. I'll tell you the rest some other time.
For now, one last note on mind. This from Osho, on not having expectations, what he calls a 'closed mind':
"Do not allow your mind to create a pattern. Then your wife will be new every day, your husband will be new every day. But do not allow the mind to create a pattern of expectations, do not allow the mind to move in the future. Then your master will be every day new, your friend will be every day new. And everything is new in the world except the mind. Mind is the only thing which is old. It is always old."
"Love is always here; there is no future to it. That is why love is so near to meditation. That is why death is also so near to meditation- because death is also always here and now, it can never happen in the future. Can you die in the future? Or how can you die in the past? The past has gone, it is no more, so you cannot die in it. The future has not yet come, so how can you die in it?
Death always occurs in the present. Death, love, meditation- they all occur in the present. So if you are afraid of death, you cannot love.
If you are afraid of love, you cannot meditate. If you are afraid of meditation, your life will be useless. Useless not in the sense of any purpose, but useless in the sense that you will never be able to feel any bliss in it.
It will be futile.... [love, meditation, death] if you can enter in one, you can enter in the remaining two."
"... If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain,
We 'd hunt down love together,
Pluck out his flying-feather,
And teach his feet a measure,
And find his mouth a rein ;
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain"
- Charles Swinburne
In 2008 I picked up a book of Osho's after reading Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
As an atheist, nondualism made sense to me, and tantric buddhism felt like home. I remember a passage- which of course I can't find now- about moving into pain. Going deeper inside it, exploring it, never running from it. I loved that. I made that part of me.
It's full of meditation techniques- 112, actually. One of my favorites you do right before you fall asleep. You lie there, eyes closed, fully relaxed, and begin remembering your entire day, backwards. Step by step. Kissing your sweetheart, brushing teeth, making dinner together, the whole thing. It's strangely cinematic, gives you this incredible sense of the fullness of life. The heart spills over. He also recommended doing the same technique but going backwards over longer stretches of time- weeks, months, years. Your entire life.
Its fairly dense, not the kind of thing you should read all the way through right away. Better to read a passage, live with it a while, read another passage. Incorporating the pieces that move you. After a few years the book got packed up, and I didn't read from it any more.
This past weekend my Z mentioned Osho. It had been so long since I'd thought about him that at first I couldn't place the name.
"Meditation techniques, the book of secrets," Z said.
I almost jumped out of my chair.
"Bah, I love you, I love that book!" Later we're all at our house, middle of the night, I'm pulling it out again.
I'm reading it again, sitting again. I read a passage, and then meditate. Lately I've been disappearing entirely while I sit. And sometimes, visuals.
Last summer, I had an out of body experience that made me question my atheism. I became aware of something within me, separate of my flesh- a kind of watery, pulsing current.
It lifted -I lifted?- not terribly far, but enough to startle me. Afterwards the thought came to me, very firmly, that I ought to stop drinking caffeine, eating meat. Meditate longer, more often, to make myself 'resonant'.
You know, woo-woo type thoughts. Of course I didn't do any of that.
But after living with the experience a few days I did contact a few religious friends to ask them about their faith. At first they were hesitant to talk about it.
Andrew and I have always been such jubilant atheists, crass. We must have said things so many times, cutting off conversations.
(Sap drying on broken stems- ah, the associative mind!)
You feel so exposed, talking about these secret, important, so-private beliefs. Especially when you think someone is likely to scoff. They are so tender, these beliefs, these questions.
But now I wanted to listen, really listen. Lovely conversations.
One friend told me I should believe whatever I wanted to believe. "Don't you think it would be comforting?" she said.
"I guess I don't want to be comforted."
I wanted to know. Ah, but faith is trust. Trust in the face of difficulties, obstacles, evidence otherwise.
I'm open-hearted, you know, but not trusting, not by my nature or inculcation.
You can really only trust people who are brave. Most people, lovable or not, are cowards at the bone.
(Talking with GVG recently, wondering about the history of doubt. Centuries of conversations we wish we could overhear.)
Andrew's response to all this has been irritation, bemusement. He signed up with an atheist!
Isn't it funny how our lives rhyme with the lives of our parents? My mother is devout, my father's always had this fond skepticism regarding her faith. At times painful for her.
When I tried to draw my dad out about faith, his response was to shut down, too.
"You've taken biology," he said, irritated. End of story.
But there's so MUCH story to it- thoughts, experience, heritage. What did his father believe, I wonder? I'll have to try bothering him about it again.
When I thought about it, the only real conversation I can remember with him about faith was when I was in college. We were out on the boat, talking about (our mutual, then) absence of faith, which devolved into him telling me a story about how he'd sawed open skulls in med school.
He didn't expound on it much, but the implication was that there are no mysteries. Bone and ganglion, growth and death, yes. But no mysteries.
It is logical to believe we are no more than meat puppets. All this around us simply an enjoyable accident, meaningless except for the meanings we choose to give it.
And for a long time- since the sixth grade, when I looked at our priest and thought, 'huh, who the hell are you?'- that is what I believed.
But now I wonder.
Suppose everything is holy.
This passage in Osho:
"We are not normal and natural. We are absolutely abnormal, unhealthy, really insane. But because everyone is like us, we never feel it...
...if you take sex as you take your hands, your eyes; if it is totally accepted as a natural thing, then tantra will have an appeal... [but] Western psychology has come to a conclusion that the basic human disease is somewhere around sex, the basic insanity of man is sex-oriented....Man has gone wrong only because of his attitudes about sex. No attitude is needed. Only then are you natural. What attitude have you about your eyes? Are they evil or are they divine? Are you for your eyes or against them? There is no attitude! That is why your eyes are normal.
....Take some attitude- think that eyes are evil. Then seeing will become difficult. Then seeing will take the same problematic shape that sex has taken..."
An interesting exercise, yes?
I've been swallowed up in my manuscript. Foggy, distracted, happy I finished up another pass, going over it again. Feeling good about it, neglecting just about everything else.
Still keeping up on the journal but no time to polish it, to make it legible to anyone but me.
P.Z. West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is a Library Journal Self-e Selection, winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
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