Tangents

When people die suddenly in numbers and the reports start coming in, they always count the bodies as ‘lost souls’ but nobody really knows who or what up and took off, or how or where. There are beliefs about such matters, and they are codified in considerable detail. We are corralled into a struggling span of life with just enough awareness to get suspicious about the bigger picture and start crafting explanations.

A body with the life gone out of it begs a certain question. Convinced that everything has to have a location we consign the absentees to heavens and hells, based on our own prejudices. It’s the best we can do without actually knowing what is going on. Sometimes we allow that the souls stick around out of confusion, broken heartedness, or vengeful hankerings. We like this idea because it suggests maybe you don’t have to actually go and you can stick around in some form, maybe even harass some prick who richly deserves it.

It’s a fun game this speculation. We do that more as children because it has the mark of serious business and when we are young we look ever ahead to being older. Then we grow up and settle for one answer or another that seems to comfort that nagging doubt that so intrigued us as youngsters.

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I recently had an oracle tell me that I had in a previous life worked as a carpenter for the Romans, making crosses for their executions. I listened intently as she went into some detail. How I wound up in this meeting is a long story, but I can assure you it was not paid fortune telling session.

The Romans were busy in those days quelling insurrections and what not, and I had plenty of work. I was occasionally drafted into their horrid processions as cross bearer for the poor wretches who had been too whipped and torn to lug their own tree trunk. There’s a special indignity to that part, like digging your own grave.

So I served in that capacity too, though all I wanted was to shape wood. I had no choice, there’s no bargaining with authoritarians. The condemned would limp behind me as I marched along, quietly thinking about ways to make cross timber less weighty. The Romans liked the cross bar fat and heavy. Cruelty seems to serve some purpose when you witness it like that first hand. The grizzled spectacle drew crowds. They reviled me as the rightful representative of the prisoner and cursed me, spat at me.

Naturally, when I first learned of this incarnation of myself I rushed to the conclusion that I was the Messiah. Silly egotistical bugger that I am. Sometimes I think we never really grow up, we just suppress our childishness to the extent it interferes with all the serious things need doing.

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Once, when the Buddha had taken birth in one of the hot hell realms, he and another fellow were tasked with moving loads up the side of a steep, fiery mountain. His mate became exhausted and was repeatedly whipped by the cruel attendants so Buddha decided to carry his load for him. This inkling of kindness infuriated these brutes so much that they went mad and beat him to death right on the spot.

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It is early in the AM, Thanksgiving Day, 2020. I remind myself that gratitude is itself a kind of happiness, and that there is always something or someone you can identify that is completely worthy of gratitude. Even though the world is a ball of shit. That’s quite something, isn’t it? Happiness at your fingertips and all you need do is change your mind.

We really should, however, end this charade of pardoning a ceremonial turkey as we mindlessly slaughter a billion others. An honest tradition would have the president chop off its head. Why do we lie to ourselves like this?

Zen Curious

The archer's faulted for its lack
Subgenius craves it—calls it slack

Potter shaping mound of clay
Seeks wabi-sabi, so they say

Outnumbered by the many foe
Kung Fu's the only way to go

The Koan reaches eager ears
Throws a wrench into the gears

Like pyramids, real power now
Though no one knows exactly how

An author knows this very well:
Slipped in the title, book will sell

That certain something thought of when
You don't know what to call it: Zen

Just for fun, search “Zen and the Art of” and see all the various suggestions offered by your search engine. (I recommend DuckDuckGo as a privacy oriented search alternative to the big guys. I do not use Google anymore.) Turns out that Robert Pirsig was riffing on another book’s title when he published Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: which was Zen in the Art of Archery, by German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel, published in 1948.

Kyūdō: Bows are called Yumi (, lit. “Bow“)

Something striking to me about Western culture is that it’s thoroughly grounded in materialist orthodoxy but is endlessly fascinated with the ‘Mysteries of the East’ like Zen and martial arts. Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Kung Fu.

Spidered Man

Up in the wee hours having a bit of a snack attack and I find half an order of french fries in the back of the fridge from four or more days ago. One ketchup pack in there too, so I microwave them for thirty and indulge. Tasty, but a little leathery. Like if you made jerky from potatoes.

Then I go into the bathroom and my forehead and eyebrows get netted with spider webbing right there by the toilet. (This is where the photo above comes in.) So that’s always a weird surprise, to catch spiderweb with your face. It’s like thousands of tiny little fingers reaching in from another dimension and just touching you inappropriately.

But I like spiders and this guy seems to know it because he’s just sitting there looking at me with at least a few of his eight eyes, and I’m wiping my face and head with my bare hands like a man suddenly evacuated from the ordinary reality that decent people routinely enjoy as a God given right. It’s a bit humiliating, like having your credit card declined in front of people you are eager to impress. And I still have to pee, which always lends a note of emergency to any situation, no matter how mundane.

Next I find myself standing on the toilet seat with my camera in macro mode and it suddenly occurs to me that there’s just no reason for anything at all. So we should all stop worrying.

The Featherweight Before

I don’t know if the Sun had preferences what they might be.

Would a conscious Sun enjoy its solar flares, or would they be an annoyance, like a recurring skin condition? I don’t know if ocean currents have appetites, if cell division is motivated by anything, or how the universe feels about getting older. I wonder if the process of change ever gets tired of it all. Tired of change. I wonder if questions have a generative stage and if so, what are they before they form? Indeed, what was I before I formed?

I wonder why we layer on the plies of days like we’re constructing some pyramid-like destiny out of what ever’s just lying around, our impulses slaves to some obsessive, unseen pharaoh. I don’t know what’s to be done. I wonder what I would do if I did. I wonder why rows of tombstones look like rows of houses, or a city skyline, a garland of piano keys, a quaint picket fence projecting an assumed harmony about the goings-on in that little bungalow.

What difficulty in strange occurrence is it that familiarity becomes such a balm? Why does right take up arms while wrong is so content simply being wrong? Why are the shapes of things so particular? Where does the clock maker find the time? When does hunger not overrule reason? Why do philosophers all wind up in caskets? What on earth were they thinking?

When someone asks you how you feel, does it affect how you feel? I don’t know what feelings are or why they matter. I think a bad feeling that we know well is easier to bear then a confusing new feeling that we don’t know what to do with. What if confusion is just another feeling? I don’t know. I don’t like me when I’m feeling things. I feel like I’m up to no good when I’m feeling good.

There is a kind of liberty in not feeling, but then there are memories, like a jury of peers. And there are verdicts. Rulings we feel compelled to make. We find traction in the calculations. We make hay.

Ruled by questions we render unto Caesar his answers due. Let memory serve. That rock formation looks familiar. I think we’re going in circles.


I don't know who I am

Sprung forth alive from some
featherweight before, where a slant
projection of a protozoic self

Scrawls its base intentions
on the edifice of a blamed hereafter

And vanishes into memory
like a vandal caught tagging a fence

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