Review of ‘The Tao is None of Your Business’

My friend, writer M. T. Philipps, has posted a very kind review of my book on Amazon. Philipps is author of ‘Keeping Calm‘ and the upcoming ‘Roses in Space’, to be released this autumn, 2020. Keeping Calm is a memoir covering his life’s pursuit of the spiritual, striking a good balance between anecdotes of youthful misadventures, accounts of meeting prominent teachers from various traditions, and insights and advice on meditation practice, with an emphasis on Dzogchen. Roses in Space is a collection of his poetry, with extensive commentary. His review of The Tao is None of Your Business follows:

“The poems initially struck me as Dadaist, with occasional glimpses of brightness and wit, a casual mixture of metaphor and observation that succeeded in eliciting a feeling of camaraderie of spirit in some instances. Others revealed an earthy substance that teased a sense of playfulness and joy from me. Still others hinted at philosophical reflection oddly reminiscent of Emily Dickinson if she were a contemporary urbanised wayfarer. Humour employed surprised me with a giggle or two. These poems grew on me, and I caught myself wishing for just a few more as I journeyed through them. Tossed into the mix were the odd prose poem, a contemplation on sound and another on air and one on time that wove in a story of sorts just to check if the reader were paying attention. But more about the poems, Randall takes a simple act like slamming a door, in ‘Slam’, and riffs on it until it takes on a philosophical significance almost, a revenant that continues to return to mind. This ever curious awareness drifts swiftly, latching onto the things, but only momentarily. Or check out the mini-tragi-comedies of ‘Heat’, ‘Making It’ and ‘Omerta’, pungent speeches on the environmental crisis that is modern humanity. And I am just hinting at the silvery richness of this slim volume–the next reader will have to discover the rest alone, but I must mention that there are some pithy insights into the nature of existence later in the book.”

Europa

Title track from John Gentry Tennyson’s Europa (2000), a jazzy piano romp with accompanying bass and drums. Positively packed with amazing little phrases.

Gallery, July 2020

Here’s some photos from a brief visit to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, and a few around the Hive, all taken in the last week of July, 2020. My latest obsession is the High Pass filter which, when abused, gives that smokey, dreamy look. Both bird photos taken at home. At the nature center I saw no birds at all, as in none.

Red-vented Bulbul

Exotic resident of the Heights, Houston, Texas, US.

I had caught glimpse of this bird several times since I moved here and was stumped on the ID. That white rump patch is distinct and not present on any other North American bird of this general size and shape. Not to mention the bright red below. Finally got a photo and tracked it down. Red-vented Bulbul is an Asian transplant, introduced and established in a number of countries around the world. In the US its range is limited to Houston, TX with highest concentrations in the neighborhood where I live now.

eBird reported sightings: that’s Houston, Texas buried under that cluster of map pins.

Having done web searches on its description and coming up with nothing, I fed the image above into Google Lens and it popped out the correct answer without so much a moment’s hesitation. Another handy bird ID tool.

African Blue Basil

The neighbors keep bees and they sure love that basil. It’s a really large bush covered in blossoms now, and bees.

Inca Dove

Lots of Incas around here.

Mannequin head scarecrow is now sporting a facer. Smart lad! I saw a Carolina Wren poking around at the rear opening to his hollow head.

There Will Be Blog

It played out slow, like danced-out
Music, a trace of smoke from
A years-old fire, like doubts sneaking
Peeks at a once-proud confidence

I’ve had my encounter with the covid-19, or at least suspect I did. One night of fever and feeling quite ill, followed by a week of mild flu-like symptoms. I was already in self-isolate mode and well stocked for supplies so no biggie. At day five I called Family Medicine at UTMB and they got me right in for the test. Being aged sixty-five gets you something like a senior discount in this particular pandemic. During my examination I got to revisit my blood pressure issue and got a new stronger scrip right there on the spot. The covid test came back the next day, negative, but with the caveat that they’re seeing a lot of false negatives.

Two weeks out and I’m feeling back to normal, newly resigned from my job, looking at a thin gruel of future to sustain me. The new blood pressure meds are working great though. About the only good set of numbers I’m seeing these days.

Stability is sodded
with an eagerness to perceive
that things aren’t changing.

aging: —a gradual dissipation of vanity, by force if necessary. Resistance is possible, though the subject’s levels of self-absorption must increase four-fold in proportion to the level of sustained mirror gazing desired.

Being is the tiger’s tail
these bodies come and go

Being is the monkey’s grin
if only it weren’t so

Notebook, April 2020

Health Care

I am not advocating for universal health care. I believe we should establish planet-wide care for all inhabitants first, and then concern ourselves with the rest of the galaxy. Those who dwell in other parts of the universe must implement their own programs. Our resources are not, like the universe, infinite.

Reading Life Aloud

Late in the evening the wail of a siren.

We had not heard any gun shots, though they are frequent enough these days to elicit shrugs. Neighborhood dogs start to howling, echoing the alarm, filling in their own parts in harmony. The air is stickered with it, like a collage with scraps of noise, pasty smears of sound. But it’s nighttime and the sounds make their way sightlessly until they find an ear, any ear. The noise of day with its throngs of listeners is retired now, and the evening runs things its own way.

Lacking earlids we live with sound’s endless impressions. We are always hearing, always soaking in sound’s pressing embrace. I like to tap on glass to hear what it is, to hear its clarity. In the seashell we hear the sea. In the wind rustled leaves, music. Halted in traffic, the signature of a culture comes booming from a nearby truck. Idle chatter or clarion calls, these pings and flourishes are themselves the markers of silence.

Out in the desert, away from roads and towns, the markers come from another quarter. It’s the yips of coyote or the serrated hum of insects that mark the silence. A pause in the mute dark recalls the ghosts of the sounds that had once passed this way.

Sirens or crickets, a gap, a faint distant ring. Like prospectors, we pan the grit and soil of our hearing, looking for specks and nuggets of silence. But a simple lack of sound is an artifact of subtraction. The quiet we found was there all along. We are to silence as fish are to water.

And the city, weary of its own bleats and braying, finally settles down. The dogs too, now that they’ve had their say.

—o—

There is wildness in the mechanical lurching of interleaved parts. Eagerness in the hum of transformers. You can feel it in the finger gliding sheen across chrome steel and in the abrasions of puckered tree bark. It all plies soundly in the aggregate. I see as beached waves, their edges traced in foam, the mark and sign of the human. The beasts we call tame reflect the wilderness of an unchecked procession. I do not condemn it. I take delight in these civil surfaces with their attendant racket and classify the most garish of artifice as natural.

I have looked for the dividing line between nature and us. It is ambiguous and replaceable. It is indistinct. There is always the wild, partisan little weed erupting from a crack in our concrete cornucopia. There is no edge to the wilderness, any more than you can assign a shape to infinite space. There are no sounds outside of silence. There are no unwild things.

—o—

World views define the qualities of nature, and a world view always selects one thing over another. But nature itself has its finger in every pie. Nature is its own nature, and we the curious, eager to understand, confront the absurdity of cataloging it all. It is troublesome that understanding lacks closure, that it’s always cutting another notch. But how we love the language, with all its baggage, hailing a taxi, catching a plane, late as usual for another explanation.

The manuscripts, tucked away in a folder, are themselves mute. The stamps and sprinkles of ink rest upon the paper, waiting for us. Waiting for our eyes and mouths. Then, to complete the purpose of language, we are born, we come to letters. But first, we come to know by reading life aloud.

—x—

About the image: I had placed some red wine in a small blue ceramic cup on the offering shelf and days later found it had dried to form a tiny crystalline planetarium.

Billion

If on the day that Columbus set sail for the new world you began to make $5,000 per day and continued to make $5,000 per day until this very day, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d be getting close, but not quite. Go ahead and check the math. This is what we should keep in mind every time the word billion or billionaire gets tossed around.

Think how you might justify earning that much money. I tried and came up blank. Nobody earns that kind of money. Most are born into it. A lot of them just plain steal it through legal means, the law being something crafted by those who hold all the power and money.

Go ahead and call me a Marxist for bringing it up, but you’re a fucking dupe and an idiot if you work for a living and actually admire these motherfuckers.

The above example has been floating around the net. I did not think it up myself.

Did You Sleep Well?

I arrived as if by chance at the opera house and began to negotiate with the box about admission fees, and then I decided to make a call to my friend who had insisted that fees would be waived on this special day, but couldn’t remember the number. I scrolled my contacts list but instead of names, there were various representations of water in its different states such as fog, river rapids, sea floor, a curtain-like waterfall over the mouth of a cave from inside the cave, rain, a vast and puddled Italian piazza after a storm reflecting distant clouds of an indeterminate weather, and so on. At this point I should have known I was dreaming but I’m an idiot, right?

Then I came upon a man painting the ceiling of the opera house lobby with an absurdly long pole attached to his little roller. Every time I look up, the ceiling looks higher and further away. The painter has opera glasses so he can see if he’s missed a spot way up there. It occurs to me that the pole is so long there’s no way he could bring it down to reload it. I mean the room isn’t wide enough. But I shrug it off, this sense of a post-normality that seems to be enveloping me at the moment. I swear, I will fall for anything in a dream.

But then I woke up a little bit, just enough to feel like I could decide what happens next and I find I am writing about what has happened so far and begin to come up with the descriptions I have already put down here except it is all still in the dream. And then I wake up the rest of the way and consciousness grips me like a frightened child. Oh, I think to myself, it was just a dream, like this is completely normal, which it unfortunately is. Later, I actually write down what you see here, but I’m still none the wiser. How can consciousness be such a shaky proposition?

I kind of see why people believe in a creator. It seems like someone is writing this material. Except they seem more extravagant than omnipotent. You know what I mean? So how about you. Did you sleep well? As Steven Wright once answered, “no, I made a few mistakes.”


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Indian Peafowl

Where on earth do things come from?

Everything is introduced to its environment, like the Indian Peafowl was to its range in North America. They are native to the Indian continent but no one talks about where they were before that. They have been introduced to many locales around the globe, where they form semidomestic or feral colonies. Here, they ignore their domestic heritage and roam free, yet they are not wild. Two of the females walked right up to me, in the manner of domestic pets. About a dozen there that I could see, on a rural stretch of the near-west end of the island.

I’d heard about them, and I had seen several in a ditch a couple of years ago. On this day I stopped and we visited for a while. The females are described as drab but up close they look striking. Big beautiful eyes with a dress of delicate pompoms on the head, bright turquoise and green on the breast.

The males are haughty and spectacular, familiar to almost everyone on the planet. They kept their distance across the road from where I stood.

There are stories but there are no true stories, everything is based upon something. Collections of fact are called nonfiction, a term in denial about the relationship between fact and what we imagine to be absolute truth.

We are ever where we find ourselves. Relative things abide in the complete absence of non-relative conditions, established as things only in relation to other such things. The contemplation of such truths does not seem to have a payoff so they remain, mostly unexamined.

There is no absolute peahen, though there she is, if appearance is taken as true-penny.