Monday, May 26, 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day



How about we do this, on one of the first Memorial Day celebrations since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell? How about we remember another group of honored soldiers I still don't hear anybody talking about in the usual patriotic buzzword-filled emotional Memorial Day speeches? How about we remember those other fallen heroes many would still neither honor nor claim?

Let us pause in memory of those many LGBT men and women in uniform who silently served and silently gave their lives for our country, who remained closeted while they served, because until now they could not be proudly out and proudly serve.

Let us honor those living LGBT veterans who wanted nothing more than to serve their country, but who were denied their right to do so, and were discharged early and dishonorably when their sexual orientation was discovered.

Let us honor those LGBT soldiers who gave everything they had for their country, even while their country would not give them equal rights at home.

Let us honor those other veterans who died when they returned home, some by their own hand after being hounded throughout their service and their lives by prejudice, some by neglect because ignored and invisible, those for whom it is too late to offer living honors, for whom all we can give now is a wreath. For some of these, let us bow our heads in the knowledge that that they took their own lives once discharged for being gay or lesbian, because they could not lead the only life they loved, and could make no other life for themselves. Let us remember these lost ones, so that no future veterans may be driven to such extremes.

Let us honor and remember all of these good veterans, who also served out of love and duty, even when it was hardest. They gave honor even when it was not given to them, these genuine, true, proud warriors who put others before themselves, who chose to put duty before personal honor, and who sometimes sacrificed everything just so they could serve. They served valiantly and courageously, not because it was easy but because it was hard.

Let us remember their service with pride and with some small amount of shame, for they were poorly used. When they were dishonorably discharged for being gay and lesbian, it was not they who had no honor; it was those who discharged them, for no other reason than their being LGBT, who showed dishonor. Let us remember this not to cast blame, but so that we never treat them, or each other, or ourselves, so poorly again.

Let us honor these great men and women. Let us remember their sacrifice. Let us never forget.



never forgotten
those who served so silently
because forbidden

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Day 2014: Flags of Memory

Flags of Memory

A short film depicting flags that are on display from Memorial Day till Fourth of July, Veterans Cemetery. This is an annual tradition that I love, evoking memory in a beautiful and affirming way.

Video and still photography in color, B&W, and infrared, & editing by Arthur Durkee
©2014 AP Durkee. All Rights Reserved.
www.arthurdurkeemusic.com

This short film is my Memorial Day tribute to veterans and soldiers, fallen and living alike. This is one day we set aside to remember service and sacrifice: let us not forget these things during the rest of the year.


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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Harvey Milk Day



Happy Birthday to Harvey Milk, and also to his legacy.



A couple of years ago, I was inspired, and I'm sure I was one among many, by the anniversary of Harvey Milk's death, to write a piece of music based on his words, and in his honor. I chose to set to music, for a capella male chorus, words from his famous late speeches and recordings. The music was premiered approximately one year ago, in concert.

I share it here in continuous celebration of the life and legacy of Harvey Milk.

Words by Harvey Milk
Music by Arthur Durkee
Performed by Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus, Madison, WI
dir. by Ken Forney

You Gotta Give 'Em Hope    

I know that you can't live on hope alone.
But without it, life is not worth living.
And you— and you— and you gotta give 'em hope.




Hope will never be silent.

I cannot say enough what these words means to me: Hope will never be silent. I set these words to music, more than any other, in my piece. It is the refrain. You gotta give 'em hope—hope will never be silent. That is the message of the music. If I am at all a good composer, I hope that I have made the words come alive for you.

I am not by nature a positive thinker, a deeply hopeful person, or a Pollyanna optimist. Despite what many people who know me think, I am also not, therefore, a person who is by nature a negative thinker, or a cynic, or a pessimist. I am none of those. What I am not, however, is blindly or thoughtlessly optimistic, or a positive thinker who ignores reality. If you look at the record of history, you can see that hope is one of the most important dynamos of change. But it is not blind hope, it is activist and effective hope. It is the kind of hope that Harvey Milk embodied: laughing hope, refusal to despair, willingness to speak out in opposition to oppression, even thoughtless and ignorant but otherwise unintentional oppression. He could have despaired. He did not. He never gave up. He inspired many to keep fighting for what was right, past every obstacle, even past threats of death, and actual murder.



If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.
Burst down the closet doors once and for all,
and stand up and start to fight!


Harvey Milk continues to inspire me. For me, his words are a beacon of hope. And I struggle with hope. Hope doesn't easily to me—because all too often the kind of hope that is presented to me is toxic hope, built on fantasies and expectations, that in the end leads only to more disappointment and suffering. That's not the kind of hope Harvey Milk teaches me to follow: he teaches me to follow difficult hope. Earned hope. Hope that has been earned by struggle, and by an occasionally stubborn unwillingness to give in to all-too-available despair. I often struggle with this. Despair comes all to easily to someone who has been through the dark night of the soul, and who is (hopefully) intelligent enough to observe and report on life as it is, not just as we wish it was. Harvey Milk teaches me clear-eyed hope. Hope that is real because it acknowledges suffering, and is built on experience rather than fantasy or ideology. Harvey Milk gives me hope.

This is why I wrote this music.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Oracular Advice of the Morning

The oracular advice of the morning recommends that I slow down, take a few deep breaths, and not try to do so much. The irony of this, for me, is that I constantly feel like I'm not getting enough done, because it takes me so much longer to get things done than it used to, and than it does for everyone else. But then I have to remind myself, and struggle to be patient with, the context.

When I was in Arches National Park in Utah last year, there was a strenuous hike on a challenging trail that I wanted to do. I couldn't do it, even though I wanted to. I got halfway along that journey, then I had to stop and rest for awhile, and turn back. I very suddenly ran out of steam, which can still happen. I sat in the shade of a dramatically wind-shaped tree (which I later made photos of, and even later painted a portrait of) for awhile, feeling sorry for myself, while both younger and older hikers hurried past me in both directions, in the 106 F degree heat.

And I imagined a dialogue with a younger, stronger, healthier man—perhaps from that couple in their 20s going by right now, perhaps a younger aspect of myself—in which I had come to some sort of peace with my journey. The younger asks the older if he can make it to the top, and the older says no, go on without me. The younger, who expresses concern, asks if that's really okay. The older man, who realizes the truth even as he speaks it, says: I was sick for over twenty years. I almost died. That I managed to hike this far up this mountain, even though I didn't get any further, is a miracle. That I'm here right now, even this far up the mountain, only halfway along this trail, is amazing. I am amazed that I have come even this far.

And that's true.

I constantly deal with feeling impatient about how little I can do, compared to my friends. I still have days of suddenly having no energy, for no reason, like I used to when I was sick. (Like I did yesterday.) I still have to remind myself that I might now at last have the strength for "normal" activity for a few days in a row, but then I must rest. Oracles aside, today has to be a rest day. I don't have a choice.

Yes, my garden looks ragged (any friend who wants to come visit and help me with that will be treated to a fabulous meal as reward), yes I have some paperwork and other mentally-engaged work to do this week that takes me twice as long as anyone else to get done, and so on, and so on. Ironically I am being told to take a break, and all I can do, despite brain fog, is worry about what I am not getting done.

Yes, I know, waste of energy. But before you throw more new age positive thinking aphorisms at me, well intended perhaps but clueless and ignorant of what I've actually experienced, just remember: YOU don't have to deal with the aftermath of a lifelong illness that almost killed you, so shut up about what you think I should be able to do. That I'm here at all is a miracle. That I've climbed even this far back up that cliffside trail towards something you call "normal life" is nothing short of miraculous. (I say this not only to the well-intentioned friend, but also to the voices in my head.)

I'm just going to sit here for awhile, sip my tea, and enjoy the view.

Maybe I will never get to the end of that trail. Maybe I will never be able to see the view for myself from on top of the mountain. Maybe all I will ever be able to see is the view of the opposite cliff from my vantage halfway up the canyonside trail.

And that's amazing. Look at those rock shapes! And see over there, you walked right past those windflowers and petroglyphs on your rush to get to the top! I'm stopping and taking ten and looking around me right now. I might never get to the top of this mountain trail. And someday I might. Just not today, maybe not for a few years more.

Meanwhile, the view is pretty amazing from right here.

Now, hike on, and leave me in peace, right here, right now.

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Gathered Leaves

Recent journal entries of varying profundity, somewhat at random:



One of the most important, yet unnumbered, rules of wizardry:

You are required to leave the world a finer place than it was when you found it. Always work to make the world a finer place.

Your constant adversary is entropy. That long slide into the dark.

As one wizard once said, Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas)



Someone, perhaps someone who doesn't even know you, gets it into their head that you're an asshole.
So they start treating you as if you were an asshole.
They act like an asshole towards you.
In self-defense you start responding to them like an asshole, because they're acting like an asshole.
Then they point their finder at you and shout, "Look! I said you were an asshole, and you are!"
Because now they have pushed you into acting just the way they expected you to act.

The name for this process is:

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

And that, dear friends, is the danger of having expectations in the absence of experience or data.



At some point I suppose people will figure out that merely stating the obvious does not constitute an actual revelation.

That doesn't mean it's not a personal epiphany to the person who just had it. And when said person takes their epiphany to their spiritual master, who then laughs, "well, duh," then a certain amount of humility is in order.

Because what's really toxic amongst seekers after personal growth and/or enlightenment is spiritual ambition and spiritual hubris. And most of the time we don't even know we're doing it.

As the Zen masters have said, Ambition in seeking enlightenment will prevent you from achieving enlightenment. Just sit there!



In India, there is a Hindu tradition that comes out of the belief that the Divine exists in all of us, in everything, in everyone, all the time.

A person who needs to talk to the Divine, who just needs to be heard, for whatever is bothering them, will go up to a stranger, and ask "Will you be God for me?"

Which means, that the one asked will sit and listen, standing in for that person's God, as the person pours out their soul and heart to their Divine. (Its not always out of desperation or something bad, by the way.) This is always meant to be a temporary job, not a permanent one. The person is asking to talk to their God through a channel of another person, since the Divine Immanence is in everything and everyone.

We all sometimes need a Face of God that we can personally connect with. Most people connect better to an image of the Divine (what Joseph Campbell called the Masks of God) that they can relate to, that they feel they can talk to directly, and be heard. Westerners who discover this tradition in Hindu India are often amazed; but if you think about it, this isn't radically different than praying at the foot of a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The main difference is that in the Abrahamic religions God is thought to be transcendent, while in India God is thought it be immanent and transcendent.

As the stand-in for God, you don't have to do anything but listen, and listen with your heart. The gods behind all of reality, behind us, will hear. When the person who asked you to be God for them are done, you bless them, as God. If they ask God for advice, all you have to do is get yourself out of the way and let the Divine speak through you. Speak from your heart, and it will be true.

Anyway, this tradition always seems to work, and the person gets what they need. After the speaking to God is done, both people get up, feeling blessed, and depart, probably never to see each other again.



Any attempts to ascribe simplistic explanations of cause and effect to events in dreamtime are doomed to equivocacy.

First, because in dreamtime, time itself is neither linear nor narrative. Second, because in dreamtime, spacerime is malleable and non-relativistic. Third, because simplistic explanations of anything are usually just wrong, anyway.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Sealife

Rain on the tin chimney cap, pebbles falling on a black slate seacliff.
Everything is so hard. It all takes longer than it should, longer
than I remember it ever taking before, than i want it to. A wish is not
a promise, not that sudden spring storm that takes breath away.
A mug of tea in hand to light the keeper's soul. These rocks, this island.
Rain on the pebbled path, shattering light in ripples and shards.
The world won't pull itself into shape anymore. I've lost whatever way
I once had. It just falls apart. New paths haven't coalesced. The fog
just sits there, luffing the sails, becalmed. Fog and wind never share.
When my mind fills with fog I make no sail. Even this harbor fills
with ghosts.

        Here I am alone at last. Again and again. Do you see
where the waters meet, surge, blend, change color, finally merge?
Where green and brown become blue, and sink to ancient seabed,
slow limestone forming from the deep rain of falling plankton shell
and skeleton. Limestone is the graves of millions of sea lives.
The same layer and rind of calcium that is the mineral shine
of human teeth. Not mine, which are more than half fake, product
of a childhood spent away from treated water. Lifelong battle till my
minerals flake and fall away, leave gap and gouge in jaw and skull,
holes where pirates put gold, once, when they could.
But I have both eyes.

         And strange cavitation of sea-driven screws vortexing deep waters.
Dark shapes pass close by in the invisible rain and unsilent dark.
In the rain, in another world, I would be warm and naked under
a warming sun. But not yet. Not here. Prophecy is mere
vision that skips across an inner eye like sunlight, starshine,
bad clams. It's as corrosive as it is demanding. Skip ahead,
wild-breasted daughters of sunlit terraces on Mediterranean islets.
Let the wild boys chase you, not knowing you will tame them
once they've caught you. Who owns this trap? Its jaws full of light.

             No,
here I am slunk again in immobility. A broth of lassitude that verges
on desperation. I'm not saying I don't already know. I wish the news
were something that would save me, but it's a perishing blast of ice.
There's a blade of Antarctic iceshelf broken off and floating north,
an island of ice larger than your splayed-out hand from low orbit.
When it grounds and melts, or where, no one can guess, but there will be
hell to pay, a guaranteed disruption and dismay. Prophecy that.
For someone. I'm spinning in polar current circles, as this ice field,
touched down nowhere, frozen and lumbering along. No certainty here,
either.

      It's been awhile since I knew what shape to take to match the world's.
Every certain thing fallen away. Again and again. From first
void-filled vision to slower cracking, a splint on splintered world,
effect preceding cause. We know what caused the plane to fall,
but what caused the plane? What caused falling? It's remote. Iced over now.
Paleolithic.

         Stone axe shattering years between years. Blue red
stone shining when held just so to sun. Slickness of stream-bedded
quartzite sheens like water but doesn't lose shape. Polished sand
that once was river mouth filling the ocean plain below, now
sandstone and glinted mica shale, melted, reforged, made ever harder
beneath the pressure of a world's living, now glass. Still we can see
ripples that lay under river's glint and gleam. Glass-clear trout ghost
across memory of mountain sands that now rise up mid-lake
after being washed and ground to ocean, rippled in waves, crusted,
sealed, frozen, polished, reflecting sun again after long sleep. The memory
of water glistening stone surface as though an ancient river still flowed.
Under time-bent starlight, still, it does. There's no peace in this falling-apart
world, but the long breath of deep time, starlight on wet stone,
at least reminds us how short these few breaths are.

             Your hair
has not spread over my pillow in eons. Will we meet again, in a million years?
Perhaps these atoms, in your bones, in mine, will once again mingle,
making teeth in a future we cannot imagine. Perhaps your stone heart
will indeed be fossilized, preserved between beats as a clenched fist
in concrete sands.

         I cannot wait. Rain on galvanized tin grows louder, steady, still
circling all these eons. Rain wash me away. Rain wash all this to sand.
But the body, breathless, clings, and worries, and wants to go on,
even when we know it never could.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tango and Milonga

Over the past winter I wrote a pair of instrumental pieces to be performed with dance, and they were premiered live in March, with wonderful dancing. I have listened to and enjoyed tango for many years, although I had never written in the genre before this. The process of analyzing (yes, we do use that music theory we learned in music school, sometimes) and figuring out what I wanted to write was a long process, with several false starts and blind alleys explored before I reached that point where I often write my best music: the feel and style of the genre becomes internalized, and I write by following my ear rather than from an intellectual outline. Once I had done that, these two interlocked pieces appeared, one a fierce, fast tango, and the other a slow, inward but still darkly passionate milonga. Part of my loves the milonga form above all, because of its inwardness, its passion and melancholy, and the feel of a very late night after you have survived something dangerous, exhausted and sad but still glad to be alive.

When we premiered the tango and milonga live, with dance, I thought it went very well, and I got some good feedback about it. This is the kind of music I love to play, to accompany dancers. I've played a lot of live dance concert music, some of it improvised, over the years, and the excitement of live interaction never gets old. So everything went well. But we didn't get a very good recording, mostly due to my errors of mic placement; well, it was a new unfamiliar room to perform in, and I guessed wrong. So a few weeks later, we set up a living room recording live session, and made some good recordings of the music. These videos are from that session. The live music vibe is still there, I think, as we recorded live to two-track from the room sound, and I didn't try to over-produce or over-control the session. We just set everything up, turned it on, and played each piece several times till we felt we had played it well and made a good take. I edited that session down into these short music videos. I may at some point edit down the premiere performances, with the dancers; that will happen if I can get the audio to a place where I like it well enough to share. So stay tuned.

Tango of the Knife Fight:



Milonga of the Time of Leaves:



Daniel Atwater: Accordion
Brian Schultz: Piano
Arthur Durkee: Chapman Stick

Written, Produced & Engineered by Arthur Durkee. ©2014 AP Durkee. All Rights Reserved.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

winter's cycle, bitter rain and wind

something like snowfall and secrets blue in twilight indigo shadow
hoofprints in fresh drifts under a tree red with bitter gall cherries
red glow of eye and breath steam along woods trail hidden in thickets
too cold to feel beyond this circle of candle lantern light
blue beyond the script table edge where words fail and music begins
feet cold sore fire to fire their warmth restored
no place between there and here no way to fathom the gulf
abyss of contradiction valley of shadow and remembrance
clamshell of dreams made secure in illusion
no way this horse can step on the same red anthill twice
a rose called betrayal but bittersweet and wine red in the heart
there are six hours of circles in this beaten grass a haystack religion
in the prairie rain closest under the eaves of bluff and front range
rain on sandstone fat snowflakes sticking melting not quite safe

and then there's no winter but red rose turns to white
simmer and shimmer of sign on wood stone sky cloud earth
come rising prophet come rise and see this promised land
sunflowers in the lee of storm hill and treason gulch
burn green fire in blue wolf and sun cry
circumnavigate this braised suspicion
it's all words only words and hung upon the night's edge of a fabric shroud
and into something like snowfall and secrets blue in twilight indigo shadow

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New Short Film: "Brush on Wood"



"Brush on Wood"
AD, images, words, and music
©2014 AP Durkee. All RIghts Reserved.

The brush poems and painted segments in this short film were calligraphed by hand on iPad.

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Winter NIght

it's so silent
as I go to sleep
there has been music
in my mind for days
now still and quiet

in the bitter silence
past frost-laced windows
an antlered god plows
moon white meadows
huffed breath wind-muffled

some still breath fogged
with snow makes white mist
on white fields, and I, waiting
sleepless, start at every sound
the house ticking in night's cold

an owl at the window calls
the brow horned dark velvet
lifts eyes and waits unmoving
silence deepens, becomes all
this unlined roads blues into

a greater, colder Road

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cabaret 2014 Banner

Just finished designing and illustrating the poster and web banner for the next musical event that I will be part of: Cabaret.

This began with a photo shoot with members of Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus, I then used several different digital painting methods in combination, to make the main illustration. The titling were made in Illustrator, where I usually do logos, or titling that needs special effects work.


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Day Gratitudes 2013

Almost ten years ago I began writing Gratitudes instead of New Year's Resolutions. I find New Year's Resolutions to be incredibly toxic, since most people habitually set up unreasonable expectations and goals for themselves, which they can never meet, then beat themselves up when they don't live up to them. It can all seem rather masochistic. There are a few things in life which I am most definitely not: sentimental; nostalgic; masochistic. What I definitely value is honesty, and clarity, and accuracy.

I was asked by some friends, some of whom have now taken up the practice of Gratitudes themselves, to write down how it works. So here's a little "how to" essay I wrote to answer that request: Writing Gratitudes.

Now here we are near the end of another calendar year. Northern hemisphere Winter is creeping up to slap us down again. There's snow on the ground, I've just spent Thanksgiving Day alone at home, mostly resting after overdoing it for the past few weeks, and so I watched a bit of a movie marathon (I do not give a tinker's damn about televised sports events). I am sitting in a mostly darkened home, candles burning here and there, a fire in the fireplace, sipping another mug of good hot tea. I'm enjoying the near silence of a cold winter late night. The fireplace makes a dance of light and soft sounds.

I'm genuinely happy for all my friends who had big joyous wonderful family dinner reunion feasts for Thanksgiving Day. Bless all of you, and best wishes to you.

And my own head is in a different place, this year. I spent Thanksgiving Day alone today. That was mostly by my own choice. No one (well, almost no one) invited me to celebrate with them today, to join their family or family-of-friends feasts. I chose not to reach out and ask to join anyone for the day, as if you have to ask you can never be certain that an invitation is sincere or made out of guilt. I am not unhappy about that, nor do I feel lonely or whatever. I realized a few days ago that I've been burning the candle at both ends for awhile, and I've been feeling overstimulated, and wasn't sure that I had the strength to spend the day with a wonderfully loud group of fantastically convivial friends—in other words, to be even more overstimulated. We introverts need our silence and solitary times with which to recharge. I would have liked to spend the day with a small group of two or three friends, that would have been fun, but it didn't work out that way, and I don't mind. And most of the people I would have chosen to spend the day with are all at least an hour's drive away from me, if not clear across the country. No regrets.

I began the practice of Gratitudes several years ago, and it has been a good practice. And I'm really struggling with it right now. I'm not feeling very grateful, or thankful. And I'm not going to pretend to be what I'm not, just to please others. I know I keep talking about how almost dying a couple of times really has changed my perspective on many things in life, and that's really true: life is just too short to waste time and energy on things that don't matter. One of those things that doesn't matter anymore is editing myself to please you: you can count on me for continuous honesty from here on out. Not that I've ever been known for anything but blunt honesty. It's true that I value honesty and openness more than almost anything else, now more than ever. And I am actually very good at diplomacy and tact; I just prefer to use them when it's appropriate, rather than by default.

I know I have many things to be grateful for, and I am genuinely grateful for them. A small circle of best friends, who are equally honest with me. A larger circle of friends who are not as close to me, perhaps, as my inner circle, and who I nevertheless am very glad are in my life. I have a roof over my head for now, enough food to eat, and enough money to pay most of my bills. I'm not afraid of the same things that many others are, because life has taught me that I can survive those, because in many cases I already have.

And yet I am still struggling with Gratitudes this year.

Because, to be honest, I feel really dumped. The past ten years have been a continuous saga of feeling like I've been ratfuck pissass bullshit orogenically dumped on by the Powers That Be. I've been homeless in the desert, I've lost both parents, I've lost more than one close friend, I've been through some medical hell including almost dying twice, I am now apparently permanently disabled, and I remain under the threat of losing everything I own and spending all of my remaining savings on paying off medical bills. It just keeps going on and going on, and even though there have been amazing wonderful awesome great positive moments in all of this shitstorm, it's really wearing me down.

The fact is, I'm tired. It's been an uphill struggle for a very long time now, and I still am nowhere near the end of it. I've been hard on the "positive thinkers" lately, even when I agree with their basic message, which I often do, because what I need now isn't cheerful platitudes but genuine support. I still need help with getting through all of this, but it seems I still have to get through all of it on my own. Which is an exhausting thought when I've been working hard to overcome it for so long, battling uphill into a headwind, when I've been dealing with surviving a chronic illness that stole all of my endurance, strength, and stamina, and that may never all come back. I'm doing better, but I'm not well yet, I'm not healed yet, and I'm still exhausted easily. It just gets overwhelming. Everything still takes me much longer to get accomplished than anyone imagines. It can take me four days to have enough energy to get finished tasks that those have never been sick think nothing of getting done in a single afternoon. I still have to rest more than exert, most days. I do have good days, when I have almost the same energy available to me as is daily available to someone of my age who has never been chronically ill. I can even have two or three of those kinds of days in a row now—but then I have to rest almost as many days afterwards.

And yet I can't really talk to most people about it any more. They don't want to hear it, they can't deal with it, and they don't know what to do about it. I don't blame them for that. Well, actually, sometimes I do, a little, although I tend to squash that impulse and not tell anyone about it—expect that I promised to be honest herein. It's all too easy to feel like no one really gives a shit. After awhile you stop asking for help.

And after enough of this endless cycle of feeling held back every time you make even a little bit of forward progress, your sense of being grateful can get lost in the overall static. There's a lot of noise covering the signal. (If you think I'm so unaware of my own self that i don't know that the source of most of the noise is internal, you're wrong.)

i get really pissed off, sometimes, at the shallowness of some people, who seem to think that platitudes alone will cheer me up enough, or that somehow all it takes to fix everything and overcome all your problems is an act of sufficient willpower. Two problems with that: one, if all it ever took was an act of will, no one would ever get stuck, but we all do, so clearly willpower alone is not sufficient; and two, what makes you think that sufficient strength of will can be generated by someone who was sick for twenty-five with an illness whose main effect was chronic exhaustion and a depressed immune system? What's offensive is how clueless people can be about that very thing. Well, I don't take it personally anymore, and neither do I feel any need to tolerate it patiently. Recently, I've run into numerous examples of people who seem to think that, because I'm no longer being dragged further down the drain by an ongoing illness, I am suddenly "all better now" and available to take care of their needs as well as my own. Seriously. Is it that they don't understand, or don't want to? The fact of the matter is, I have a strong, very well-trained, very determined will—and it still wasn't enough.

I am not rehearsing grievances by going over this once again. I am not a victim, amateur or professional. All I am doing is laying how difficult things remain for me. There are still many challenges. It could all still fall apart again. And so I find it hard, in all of this, to find Gratitudes.

So here I am.

On a holiday of giving thanks, when everyone is supposed to gather in family groups and have a feast of gratitude and convivial argument over cultural affairs, I find myself confronted with not wanting to do any of that. I actually chose, by default, and by not being asked to join anyone else's celebrations, to spend this holiday alone. In part to rest, because I needed to, and in part because when I am this tired I find big groups even more exhausting than usual. So call it self-defense.

And there's more. I'm finding it hard to be grateful, when what I see all around me as thanks-giving seems somehow phony. I mean no offense to anyone who might read this. it's just that, once again because almost dying changed my perspectives, I have become allergic to expectations about what we are "supposed" to do on holidays, especially when the rituals and expectations actively distract us from the original, deep meaning and purpose of the holiday. We have accrued all this baggage around the holiday, and I feel that many of us have lost our way towards genuine gratitude.

It's supposed to profound. It's supposed to come from deep within the self and soul. It's originally meant to be simple, and plain, and honest.

It's easy to be grateful when you're at a feast. Yet if you can find something to be grateful for when there's a famine instead of a feast, that's when it really counts, and counts for something more. I am scrounging for things to be thankful for, right now, because I know that if I can come up with even one or two, they do count. It's hard work, and I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job.

I don't want to set aside just one designated day to be grateful, and have that be an excuse to forget about it the rest of the year.

I am struggling with Gratitude in general right now. It's not that I have nothing to be thankful for, it's that it can be overwhelmed by not having time to reflect.

I've been living from crisis to crisis (some of them literally life-threatening) for far too long, and it has worn me down. I wanted to take this holiday of giving thanks to reflect, mostly on my own rather than in a big room full of terrific yet loud people. I want to recapture recall what it is that I am genuinely grateful for. This holiday is a chance to rediscover the real purpose of Gratitudes, and not be easy, superficial, or "supposed to" about any of it.



Infinite gratitudes for the small group of friends and family who never left my side during this long descent into near-death and the long return, and who never pushed me away, or took themselves away, because they could not deal with it anymore. I know I'm not the only one who got burned out by these past ten years of actual continuous crises. Some of my friends still have no real idea. I am grateful that some of them will never have to know any more than the little I've told them.

Infinite gratitudes for the tears that cleanse, for the release and healing of weeping, when I can't go on any more, i can't cope even one more day, and I just can't see any end to any of this. I have been scrapped raw of most of the armor one acquires during a lifetime of learning to cope with a sometimes-hostile world and not become too wounded or jaded. My emotions are if anything more free-flowing and available than ever before. So I do sometimes let myself weep over a stupid feel-good movie, even one with a predictable cathartic plotline I saw coming by the second act, just because the release is good.

Infinite gratitudes even for the shitty days. This is bottom-basement lowest-level gratitude, it's nothing remotely worth being proud of oneself for. Because it looks like this: even on my worst days now, I am still grateful to be alive rather than dead. Even when it sucks to be alive, I'm grateful for it. (Why don't more people get this one? It's so incredibly clear. Well, maybe you have to come close to death to learn how to really value your life.) I did almost die. I have a powerful and unignorable awareness of my own personal mortality now. I have an incredible amount of things I still want to do in this lifetime, and I know better than anyone that our time here is limited. So even on the days I wake up feeling shitty, and sick, and weak, and not at all like I can cope with even one more thing, I still somehow manage to be grateful that I woke up at all.

Infinite gratitudes for the lessons learned about human nature that have come from this entire experience of high medical drama in my life over the past ten years. I include what I learned from my parents dying, from being their live-in caregiver, and then from myself being diagnosed with a chronic illness that had been there a long time, unknown and unlabeled.

Infinite gratitudes for the eventual diagnosis of my chronic illness, and the post-surgical confirmation of it being ulcerative colitis. Because for the first time in over 25 years I could comprehend that my life wasn't all my own fault; that I wasn't just a lazy slacker who lacked ambition; that I wasn't an aimless wanderer through life; that in fact many of the problems I'd had in not being able to sustain a career over recent years was not because I was incompetent, but because I was sick. I was SICK, you sons of bitches. Father, you never thought I was competent to handle finances or deal with life, you always thought I was weak and lazy and fucked up—but in fact, father, I was SICK. Getting the diagnosis of my long-term illness took an enormous weight off my back: a weight of guilt, of self-doubt, of poor self-esteem and confusion and suffering. I am still recovering from the psychological impact of years of being labeled a failure, even though I know that it wasn't all my fault, I really was SICK all that time. So fuck you if you still want to blame me for any of that.

Infinite gratitudes for finally being forced by illness and recovery to sort through all the mental drama and psychological bullshit, so that I could realize anew what I had known as a child, but which I let my birth-tribe's anxieties and neuroses about survival beat out of me: that, in fact, the reason I was put here in this lifetime is to make art. To be an artist. To Make, in all the creative modes that I know how to do, and in those modes new to me that I keep discovering and trying out. I was put here to be creative, to be an explosion of creativity. Everything else is secondary. Making art is what I am best at doing, and it's what I'm FOR. The Goddess made me for this. I regret spending so many years believing otherwise. And I do my best to let go of that regret as quickly as it arises.

Infinite gratitudes for also finally understanding that making art is what I'm best at doing, and I'm really not very good at doing anything else. I'm a good composer of good music. I no longer doubt my purpose in life, and I no longer lack self-confidence about it. I know I can do good work, sometimes even great work. It's what I'm good at, and it's what I'm for. And I'm really not very good at doing anything. And that's good enough. That's okay.

Infinite gratitudes for the soul-deepening and self-expanding that these years of hard pain and suffering have made happen in my Self. It has often sucked, and sometimes it still hurts, and a shallow person I am not. I'm still working on being patient and tolerant with shallowness and stupidity when i encounter it—but I'm not working that hard on being patient, because sometimes what people really need is a kick and a slap. This is why the Zen master slaps you with the stick when you start to fall off your meditation cushion.

Infinite gratitudes for that truth that, having been myself through the crucible, the refiner's fire, the forge of making, I can recognize it when I see it in others, and know what to say to them when they need encouragement or direction, should they come to me for that. I am grateful for the insights into people that have been given me, learned the hard way, by going through all that myself—even though sometimes people are afraid of me, or intimidated by my being able to see right through their bullshit to their truest selves.

Infinite gratitudes for somehow having received a push to force myself to do this writing, tonight, when it would have been so much not to. Procrastination, thy name is avoidance. I know it goes on and on, I'm just dumping it all out because I promised to be honest, and clear, and accurate.

Infinite gratitudes for wine and sex and song. Not to be indulged in to the limits of dissipation, but as the things in life that bring us together and make us feel alive and give us reason to go on.

Infinite gratitudes to Perfect harmony Men's Chorus for singing all of the music that has been pouring out of me and written down over the past few years. I am incredibly lucky to be "playing in a band" again where I get to write new music, and hear it performed. Music is the core of my life. Destroy everything else, and there remains an unkillable song. A melody that rises out of the Void, unquenchable, unending, as fluid and continuous a line of music as the vines that grow from the Greening each spring. Where such music is rooted in the Greening of veriditas, it is undying, endless, renewed.

Infinite gratitude for the exaltation and ekstasis of kenosis, kronos, and kairos. The process of emptying that leaves a void in you which can only be filled by the One. "If the only prayer you ever said in your life was "Thank You," that would suffice." —Meister Eckhart

Infinite endless gratitude for this unending creative force that flows through my life like an underground river of sparkling black water that rises up to endlessly fill and overflow the wells and springs of my life with music, art, poetry, and every blend and mix and remix of creativity that is, as I have remembered, my purpose in this life. The black water that fills me, that sustains me, that is the power under life, that which holds me up and gives me reason to go on, always. To go on, even when I don't want to, when I'm exhausted and unable and want only to sleep the long sleep, to go on anyway. "I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on." —Beckett

And so it goes. We begin in despair, and somehow we work our way around to ecstasy, to remembered joy. Because life is nothing if not the quest to remember the joy and light from before we were born, and to which we must all someday return.

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Lessons from Having Been Bullied 5: the Dark Night

It's entirely possible to be someone who has gone through the dark night of the soul and at the same time do one's best to be a positive thinker. To wish to live in the light, and to share the values of most of the positive thinkers.

It is, however, not possible to have survived the dark night of the soul and still believe that positive thinking alone is enough, by itself, to get you through. It's not possible to be a Pollyanna wishful thinker. It's no longer possible to ignore that bad things do happen to good people.

It's no longer possible to pursue the light in denial or rejection of the dark, because you know the dark personally. You've become good friends. You've even moved in together and been roommates for awhile.

Sometimes it feels like at least some of the positive thinkers are infected with some kind of willful denial, a rejection. It just doesn't seem realistic.

Maybe it's because I've been through the dark night, or maybe it's because I was bullied a lot when young—one of the key lessons of that being that you know how people often conceal things even from themselves—and I cannot help but feel, sometimes, that some positive thinkers I've met are hiding something from themselves (or us), or suppressing it or denying. Or perhaps it's that people who have not survived the dark night—and I have met many just like this—really just have no comprehension of the more shadowy sides of life's colorful palette. They just don't get it, because they haven't experienced it. I don't know. I just wonder sometimes.

I've told my story of being bullied (for being gay, for being smart, for having grown up overseas, for just being different) to some of my friends who are dedicated to being positive in all aspects of their lives, and some of them just don't seem to get it. They're politely accepting, but you see it in their eyes, in how they won't look at you with real focus or conviction, like they really don't believe you, or maybe just don't want to.

This is not a criticism of any of my friends. It's just something you notice from time to time.

And when you tell someone you've been bullied, and they clearly don't believe you, even if they are polite about it, what are you supposed to do with that? It's looks too much like the people who didn't believe you when you were being bullied as a kid, and who did nothing to stop it, and often were in complete denial about it. When you've been bullied, one of the lasting effects is a distrust of figures of authority, because they were either clueless or powerless to stop the bullying, back then. When people deny that this happened to you, they sound a lot like the bullies themselves, who are really good at denying to the authority figures that they've done anything wrong, even when they're caught doing it. It creates substantial cognitive dissonance.

This all comes to mind because one sees the media talking heads right now asking how a big tough rookie football player in Miami could possibly have been bullied by his teammates. Neglecting to mention that they're just as big or bigger than he is. Or that rookies always get extra shit from the rest of the team. And then of course there are the comments that it's just boys being boys, roughhousing, hazing, all that stuff that serves as the usual excuses not to believe that bullying is going on, or to stop it. It's all just fun and games and you shouldn't take it seriously.

But that's the denial line. That's the rejection line. It's very odd to hear that line coming from someone who declares themselves to be a positive thinker. It makes you wonder if there's a man behind the curtain. It makes you wonder if there's denial.

One thing you learn from the dark night is just how common denial is. You don't learn this from the dark night itself, because what the dark night does is strip away illusions and denials and suppressions, leaving you naked and alone in the desert of your spirit. You learn about the commonness of denial when you return to and re-enter everyday life, when your experience has changed you and given you insight into what people do and say, most of which no longer seems real or substantial to you, after the dark night, but itself illusory. And then you try to articulate what you've been through, and no one wants to hear it. It's politely rejected, and denied, and ignored. Probably it makes most people uncomfortable. Which is all fine and good, until the moment their discomfort leads them to try to deny your experience. Incomprehension, cognitive dissonance, denial.

So, there are no answers here, just some observed realities, some speculations.

I'll say it again, just to be clear: I think positive thinking is great. It's just that it doesn't always ring true. If it's in denial of the darker shades of experience, it becomes shallow and one-sided to be believable. You can't really see Heaven till you've been standing in Hell. And that's how the dark night deepens the light side of experience. It gives it dimensionality. It gives it depth. And that matters, if you want to be whole.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

Thin Waters

Yeats, the bardic lord, foretold the condition
of modern poetry when he said, "Things fall apart,
the center cannot hold." He was foretelling the breakdown
of the centers of civilization, but it was really
as always about poetry. I've read enough
Gertrude Stein now to realize that she was right
in her self-assessment that she was shallow actually.
Words glorious words about nothing much at all.
If you get under the surface of her plays, they're parlor
plays with little drama. Still, a good pun is a good pun.
A phrase well-turned, she is the darling of the language
that that nothing poetic to say except about itself.
There's a golden maple outside my window, blown
in bleak gusts, half its leaves on the ground
shed like words or worlds, its branches still
half-leaved. It's not that shallowness is bad, unless
there's no center to hold, but that these word players
glory in their inanity. They don't even want more meat.
Robert Duncan, whose word tangles were at least as
exotic never lost the center of his purpose, which
was bardic. Bards, skalds, tellers of the insistent news
of other lands, travelers between small kingdoms
more cultural than geographic, small minds in large halls
firelit with retellings of the oldest Anglo-Saxon epics,
lust and battle and pointless deaths albeit monstrous.
Put that in your meerschaum and scribe it. I wish,
as everyone probably does, that life had some kind of
meaning or purpose, even an invented tradition rife
with accumulated verbal fossils. These vintage lake beds
are very shallow, many layers but all very thin. Not enough
time to compress them to solidity. Word-play is no bad thing.
It's just that like Duncan meaning lurks below the scintillation
of the surface tension. To glory in one's tepid ordinary,
no mass, seems shale. I keep looking for the dark matter
hidden behind the facade of words, but telescope not
wit nor jot. A list-poem of fashionable name-checks even Whitman
would reject. I ramble incoherent, here myself at play with words.
More leaves fall like words in the wind. Apples and maples all fall.
I find I cannot go along with embracing pointlessness as being
the point. Some part of me yearns for dragon's teeth in the warp
and weft, handspun yarn uneven and clumped, not perfect
but dangling with threads of connection. Go to, young language.
You can be small-scale, explore domestic mysteries, or overblown,
making a life mythic because resonant with archetypes. What else
is "Beowulf" but a cautionary tale of hubris and self-deceit?
If I name-check other poets it's to weave them not deceive them.
My own word-hoard is darker than you think.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Narrows

Here's a load of tripe, committed to destiny
rather than memory, a burden of a round
that goes to ground, unsung, unsingable.
No one wants to hear it now. A solo
for late night wineglass and solipsist.
Resources running low, worries running high,
disappearing starts to appeal. Just run away
from everything, become unknown, become
nobody anyone wants to know. Out there's
a desert not only of conception, but fact.
Sunflowers glazed in heat shimmer. Black rocks.
It's worse on darker days with no visible sun.
Heliotropes, confused, don't know who to follow.
Here's an intruding message from the mail,
reminder that no one gets away with anything.
You pack up all your worries with you. No motor
fast enough to outrun shades you don't want
to look at that lurk in the angles of any room.
The dead use a different kind of geometry.
They can ignore most walls, they run in circles,
although the worst of them, become demonic,
can only move in straight lines, and have to back
up, unwieldy tractors, to truck new angles
at the temple door, again and again. It's alright.
The sacred precincts are all out in the wilds,
all god's buildings erect by men are just decoys.
Nothing in there but field recordings. You can't expect
your weaker congregants to climb that mountain
every time. Little revelations come from littler gods.
It takes a real mountain to make a restless soul
into a rooted, deeply sourced well. Eventually
you run out of metaphors, left with just the facts
of change and worry. Don't expect to unpack
those bags too soon. What's learned can be
unlearned, but hangovers outlast a binge.
My scars remember every wound I'd forget,
if I could. Can't run too far on legs that limp,
muscles cramped and clenched on the past.
Time's required to undo each knot, time first
to crawl before you fly. Down in the arroyo,
long narrow passage dark before a waterfall,
shoulders curve under time's old weight, but
the rocks themselves support you, little gods
made of sand and time. The passage is too narrow
to allow for slouch. Stand tall or get stuck.
Even if you want exhaustion's weep,
there's no room. The geometry of surrender
is all upright. Then you're released, on your
knees again, but the air's fresh, wet and bracing,
here's a waterfall, let it do your weeping.
I don't know how to end this round, it's all
a circling intensity, a spiral labyrinth,
light and shade spun in a textured mist.
Go to ground, begin again. Silent song,
secret song, snow and stone, sung around.

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Happy Helloween from Spooksville



Happy Helloween from all the deadbeats down in Spooksville!
Just a quick vid for all the spooks on All Hallow's Eve.
Video brewed and soundscape decanted by Arthur Durkee 2013.

Just some gratuitous spooky fun. . . .

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Aubade of the Ghost of Loss

Some perilous joy, algorithm of loving,
of conscious geometry of tide and thigh and sand,
delicious salts of ecstasy,
sunlit, triple-mooned, quivering, solid,
this strand of pearl and praise, islets
adrift and melting, chocolate into ocean.

I quiver at our mutual agony, memory.
But you, you killed me, again and again,
fear creating you into what could not companion.
So lost, that room with one bed and three windows,
so lined with blind curtain and Venetians.
There was a time I wanted you or nothing.

Now this echoing re-emergence, so unfair, immaculate
resonant wipe out everything that ever happened.
We worked hard to retrieve forgiven mutuality.
It doesn't mean to work, this quiet mistrust silenced
and obscured. It means to forget, as though moving,
water like a brush on papyrus and wood, on.

Make it never happened. Make it gone. Demon lover,
I cannot let you back into my life. As though nothing.
It's the morning of a midnight just past. Dark, cold,
mysterious with spirits moving across the face of water.
How can you come back, once given and quit,
except to haunt, this night of a morning unasked.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Novels Are Not Non-Linear Enough

(This rumination was inspired by an essay by Jim Murdoch on how long it should take to write a novel.)

I love reading novels, although I think the ideal length for a novel is the novella, and most of what we get these days is pretty bloated. I read and re-read certain authors on a regular basis, and many of these are authors of novels. I'm pretty much always reading at least one or two novels at any given time. I read faster than most people, I have discovered, so I can read a lot more than many people do. I read broadly, with no loyalty to any genre of novel-length fiction except that which excites, illuminates, stimulates, and surprises.

I'm drawn to Virginia Woolf's least "narrative" novels, such as "The Waves," but also to "To the Lighthouse," one of the greatest novels ever written about the tension between the artist's temperament and the non-artist's inability to comprehend that temperament. I've read all of James Joyce, and most of Samuel Beckett. I've read all of E.M. Forster multiple times. I watch Doctor Who. I read theoretical physics, for fun, and because I'm interested in it and can understand the concepts if not all of the math. Richard Feynman is not over my head, but that's mostly because he was such a gifted teacher and thinker. I've read many of Michael Moorcock's books, including his literary criticism essays. I've read pretty much all of Nikos Kazantzakis, fiction and non-fiction alike, drawn to it because of his courageous encounters with the unknown mysteries that some call mysticism and others call existentialism. I read Peter Matthiessen's novels as well as his creative nonfiction, since he is a master of both. I read all of Jim Harrison's books, finding a voice therein that I feel kinship to out of similar experience and background, who is also different enough that I am stimulated with new ideas and directions of thought.

I read a lot of novels. Yet I don't read many bestsellers, as I find them very predictable. I don't many thrillers, which is what we call adrenaline-inducing suspense fiction written in the very plain "no-style style" of naturalistic narrative nowadays. And I don't read much "literary fiction," the genre of "naturalistic" fiction set in the present day, usually set in The Big City, that defines itself as being the only genre of narrative fiction that is not in fact a "genre" (as opposed to those categories booksellers use to help you find the books easier on their shelves: mystery; science fiction; self-help; etc.). In most thrillers and many mystery novels I usually figure out Whodunit well before it's revealed to the reader; the only time I don't know in advance of the reveal is when the perpetrator is deliberately concealed behind a screen of distractions, as I find most Agatha Christie type of mystery novels to do. I find John D. McDonald's and Raymond Chandler's mystery novels to be far more compelling, because they are character-driven rather than puzzle-driven, wherein sometimes their plots aren't very linear, their heroes and villains neither one-dimensional nor easily predictable. In most mainstream literary fiction, I am drawn to the outliers (Matthiessen, Kazantzakis, etc.) almost because they are considered outliers, a little bit odd, not quite in the mainstream. I was originally drawn to the Beats for the combined reasons that they were literary outlaws, and because several of them were openly practicing homosexuals. We find our (literary) role models where we can.

I do like to read stylistically experimental fiction (William S. Burroughs, Samuel R. Delany, Richard Brautigan, etc.), and metafiction (Jorge Luis Borges, etc.), but not because it's obscure and difficult—indeed, if I find it to be obscure mostly for the sake of being obscure, a kind of stylistc mannerism rather than form dictated by content, I throw it away—but because experimental fiction uses language poetically, in ways that shapeshift your mind into different ways of perceiving and experiencing reality. (Which is something that science fiction written from an alien species' viewpoint does too, at its best.) I like to experience thinking from inside the alien mind, even if that alien is a human from a different culture, or from a radically different psychology. I like to be surprised, and to experience new ways of thinking, of being.

So I read a lot of speculative fiction—which is usually called science fiction, or fantasy—because it puts your inside a completely different way of thinking about life better than any other literary genre. Speculative fiction is by definition a literature of ideas. Speculative fiction at its best gets my emotions engaged, because it is still telling a human story, even those told at a distance of centuries in the future, which actually is no more alien a territory than the profoundly human stories given us by Shakespeare centuries in the past. I've heard some critics argue convincingly that some of Shakespeare actually could be called science fiction, for the same reasons that Mary Shellley's "Frankenstein" is considered by many to be the first modern science fiction novel: fabulist tales told of incredible and amazing adventures in places not quite real, either in time or space, in which human beings act out the archetypes of story which such gripping writing that we are captivated and find ourselves mirrored in those distant and strange lives. Speculative fiction engages my intellect and sense of wonder, as well, because it is the literature of ideas. Sometimes it can be literally "wow!" mind-blowing, and you finish a novel that makes you think about things in ways you never had before. It can literally "change your mind," if you're receptive and open to that.

I read a lot of "regional" fiction, stories in specific times and places, stories written by writers strongly associated with particular places on the North American continent that happen to be neither New York City nor Los Angeles, the self-involved centrifugal linear accelerators of anointed Literary Establishment mainstream linear narrative novel writing. I like to read stories in places I know well, places I have lived in, places I love; places like San Francisco (which is always a character in any movie filmed there), Wyoming, New Mexico, Chicago, Ann Arbor, the Great Lakes region including Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Fiction set in places where you nod your head in recognition of both name-checked street names and locations, and the habits and customs of the local inhabitants. Of course, by this criterion New York City fiction is very much a regional fiction sub-genre (albeit often a very provincial one), and so is fiction set in Los Angeles. One of the things that draws me to "regional fiction" is, again, that it is marginal, not in the mainstream of the East Coast Literary Establishment. I have lived a significant portion of my life in the "flyover zone" between New York and Los Angeles, and I find that writers living and writing from within the heartlands of the continent often have much more to say to me than do writers of the New England or Southern California literary circles.

I also read a lot of shorter fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. I probably read (and write) more essay and poetry than anything else.

So I read a lot of novels.

But of all literary forms, the one I am least, LEAST interested in writing is a novel.

Some of that is because I'm not patient enough to want to write something that might years to complete. It's not that I don't work at making art, and work hard at it, and give my complete concentration and dedication to everything I write. It's that I like seeing a project completed, and another one begun. As a writer, the creative process is what engages me, more than does the artistic product.

And there is also the issue of my fundamental mindset: I simply don't think in terms of narrative. I am science-trained and can think very logically and sequentially, but perhaps that's the problem: a carefully constructed linear plot doesn't engage me very deeply because it's too easy to skip ahead logically and figure it out in advance. I don't even think in terms of linear time (between theoretical physics, a lot of reading in mysticism, and Doctor Who, my experience of time hasn't been linear in a very long time), so making a story conform to the norms of a linear narrative simply does not work for me. I liked how Richard Brautigan used to break up narrative into small vignettes, not always strung together in linear sequence. I like Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness in books such as "Big Sur" and "The Dharma Bums," which is more like Virginia Woolf than anything on the New York Times bestseller lists. As a writer, I have no natural "feel" for plot, narrative, or even linear time.

I am not really a storyteller. Well, I am, because every teller of stories is a storyteller, but I'm not a "storyteller" in any conventional meaning of the term. Thomas Merton was a storyteller, so was Kazantzakis, but their stories were told in ways that no one invested in linear narrative fiction would ever really like. The kinds of stories I most like to tell, or to hear, loop around and around themselves, explore ideas from multiple directions, and step "outside" the linear narrative to look at it from a different angle. (Samuel R. Delany's "Empire Star" is a science fiction space opera that does this unlike almost any other, expanding the narrative viewpoint from straightforward linear narration to multiply-layered causal time-loops that drive the original story by making it happen after it had happened.) So when I act as a storyteller, I almost always get bad feedback from people who want easy, linear, narrative stories—I suspect because on one level they're comforting and affirming, a hedge against the chaos of life that gives comfort by giving chaos structure and order and narrative.

Yet Virginia Woolf said, and experience has brought me to emphatically agree: “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." E.M. Forster in most of his fiction has some sense of unexplainable mystery, a break in the ordinary plot of everyday life, which often cannot be explained but which always has a profound effect on the people involved, from his "The Story of a Panic" culminating in "A Passage to India." Beckett, well, Beckett is actually very funny, people miss that about his writing; but it's gallows humor, hospital humor, the humor of those who have survived the unthinkable void at the center of destroyed lives and need to laugh because it's better than crying. Joyce experimented with stream of consciousness, but in a different direction than Woolf; some say he went too far into the terrain of the unreadable, and some have tried to come up with pat explanations for why he might ventured off the edge as they perceive it.

I am having some short stories published early nest year in a literary journal. But really they're prose-poems, and pretty nonlinear. That's how I think, that's how I write. Not in any normative traditional linear narrative style.

But I'm an artist. I'm heavily trained in science, and I know how to think like a scientist, and think logically and sequentially, but I am an artist.

Art is not engineering.

Engineering can be creative. My favorite uncle was an engineer, an inventor, a builder; I helped him build a deck on his house one summer, which he designed himself, and the deck is still there forty years later. He had a very creative attitude towards all aspects of life, which manifested as a problem-solving approach to many things, and which worked.

I see a problem when artists start to think that what they are doing is problem-solving first and foremost. (I see this a LOT among designers and graphic artists, who are also very creative people but whose work tends to consist of more problem-solving than inspiration.)

One of the reasons I don't read many mainstream literary fiction novels is that I find them depressingly predictable, especially the ones oriented more towards plot than character. I find many substitute style for actually having something worth saying. I've read Don DeLillo, I've read John Updike, Saul Bellow, and many other darlings of the East Coast (meaning New York) Literary Establishment.

So I'll probably never write a novel. It's just not a form that works for me as a writer.

Well, actually, I might. I have it in me to write a science fiction novel, maybe two. I've had the basic idea and plot in my head for years, and someday I might write it. I've started writing it two or three times over the years, only to leave it unfinished due to other things becoming more urgent and important.

Novels are generally not non-linear enough for me. The novelistic fiction that I am most drawn to breaks those "rules" of "naturalistic" narrative rather than affirms them. Like certain theoretical physicists and mystics, I view that entire form of linear progressive narrative to itself be a fiction. Or as Doctor Who once said: "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but ACTUALLY from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey . . . stuff." Yeah. Exactly.

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In memoriam Dave King

My online poetry friend Dave King has passed over. (Thanks to our mutual friend Jim Murdoch for letting us know.)

This is very sad news. I will miss Dave, as will everyone else who got to know him. I can only speak for his friends online, many of whom became his friends, like myself, because of shared interests in art, poetry, and writing. My sincere condolences go out to his family and friends, and I will be keeping them in my thoughts.

Dave King was a prolific poet, and maintained a long-running blog called Pics and Poems that contained poetry, art criticism and appreciation, memoir, random bits of witty writing, and many close observations of people and nature. Dave's ability to observe and report was something I appreciated immensely.

One of the things that we bonded on was the history of art, of painting in particular, and its multimedia stepchild, ekphrastic poetry, which is poetry about visual art. Dave was sometimes very keen on the photographs I post on this blog, which regular readers know have often spawned haiku or other short poems.

There was always something cheerful about Dave's writing, as well as his online correspondence, that conveyed an unending wonder taken by observing the natural and human world. We commented on each other's blogs, critiqued each other's poems, and once or twice we communicated back and forth as though we were writing letters that were all short poems. More than once he produced a poem, or a comment, that made me laugh when I most needed it.

We shared a love of haiku. His were often funny and observational, mine a little more classically austere.

We also shared a love of writing about nature, and writing inspired by nature. One of our back-and-forth poem trades was haiku about the changing seasons.

We introduced to each other some writers we each liked, especially on the topic of creative nonfiction about nature. A few of these became writers that we equally treasured.

I will miss you, Dave. Have a safe journey, my friend.

The best eulogy I can think of is a poem.



Sometime in early autumn,
the tall tear trees wrap themselves
in wind and sunlight

now paling from summer's height,
thinner and complex,
bristles of a brush,

as though each leaf was endless.
Bones and blades and leaves. It seems
each brushstroke flicks out

past the page's defined edges
as though continued
past where the ink leaves

and subsumes itself in light,
much as we depart, unfinished
selves in the making.

Long strokes of wind make trees bow
low towards the sun.
I hear you smiling

out there somewhere in this light.

(for Dave King)



(Part of the homage in this poem is that it's inspired by some of what we shared and enjoyed. The form is a modified renga, or chain of haiku; note the syllable count. Another part of the homage here is that I went back and looked through some of Dave's comments; a poem and artwork of mine that he particularly liked got me going here. )

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Dream States

Very, very vivid dreams last night. Full of people in various scenarios. Busy trying to do things and get somewhere, the sort of dream where I need to meet someone, or get somewhere on time, or meet a plane, only things always get in the way, the airport gate keeps getting farther away, delays and misdirections, things crop up you have to get done before you can get to the main thing, I can't find the room in the crowded busy place where the seminar is supposed to happen. And so on. I usually call these frustration dreams.

But in last night's dreams, of which I can retain three or four important scenarios upon waking, there was a difference: for once with this kind of dream I was not feeling frustration or anxiety. These kinds of dreams usually make me feel, while in the dream, frustrated, anxious, annoyed, all of that spectrum of emotion around frustration and being unable to cope. But in these dreams, for once, I didn't feel that way. I felt strong, and forceful, and able to cope, if only by getting stubborn and angry enough to push through despite everything going sideways. So the tone of these dreams was different, even though the scenarios were not. My reactions were different.

Maybe it's because I have enough of that frustration and anxiety in waking life. Gods know I've been more or less continuously triggered since last week, with lots of anxiety, worry and PTSD to fight through during waking hours. So I'll take my attitude in these dreams as a good thing.



The most vivid of last night's dreams took place in a crowded outdoor area, lots of people, something like a hillside concert amphitheater. The crowded event has come under some kind of biologic attack, like a scene in a movie when the aliens invade the movie theater or big city park. I am on the fringe, in and out of the rough scrub along the verge. People are running towards the dark park. We are being urged to escape, although its not clear exactly why. The fighting or turbulence is off in the distance across the landscape. There is something about a biological situation, or experiment, that has gone out of control.

Intercut are flashes of the crowd seen in the bushes at the edge of the park with the open field beyond, seen from the knees down, walking, running, dodging, moving. A pair of legs belonging to a man, seen in glimpse after glimpse between other things. His left foot is changing, becoming monstrous, slowing his walk.

Finally I get to the park exit, near the car park, with one of my friends. I can see my car in the lot just across the highway. People around me and my friends are screaming and running. There is a man who is in the process of becoming a monster, whose body has been changing as he moves. The right side of his body is normal, but the left side of his body has changed into a reptilian humanoid form, scales, red eye, horny claws on elbows and knees, foot like a claw for ripping and tearing. People are running away from him.

I go towards him. I'm feeling adrenaline, but I go near him and ask him if I can help him. It takes awhile for him to realize I am neither attacking nor fleeing. He has some aggression showing in that reptilian eye, but he is not at the moment violent. There is danger there, but it's restrained. I have to say, as calmly as I can, "Can I help you?" several times. But then he stops his march towards the road that leads downtown and slows and looks at me. In difficult speech he tells me he wants to get downtown to confront the bio-scientist who was giving a lecture to the crowd before all hell broke loose. He believes the doctor may be able to fix his changing form, as he may have caused it to begin with. I listen and continue to offer to help. I am thinking of getting him away from the crowd that he is scaring, so I offer to give him a ride. Communications are slow, but eventually that gets through, and he will wait right there with my friend and his friend while I run get my car and pick them up.



This kind of dream, where reptile consciousness enters and starts to manifest, and change people, is often a rising up of the reptile part of the lower brain, the primal unconscious. At least it usually is when I have a dream like this. Throughout the dream I might be afraid but I remain focused and do not panic, while all around me is chaos and other people panicking. I meet the reptile self, and we do connect, and communicate, and agree to work together.

Very ancient beasts, the vast beasts within us, sometimes rise up like this. I have had many vivid and powerful dreams where I've met the vats beasts within. They are the Wild Things, those ancient animal parts of the self. They are an archetype, and need to recognized as such, and acknowledge, and honored, when they appear in your dreams like this.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

thick dreams of travel

thick dreams of travel
wake you late
might as well get up

you hear words and music
scribing themselves somewhere
in the tan papyrus

of the back of the mind
where dreams scroll
and vast beasts lurk

lines and curlicues of
thrust and melody
get it down before

the tornado of everyday
morning visits robs
you of what you can recall




Capitol Reef National Park, UT
digital painting, 2013


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Monday, August 05, 2013

The Hollow Places

That hollow place in you
Left hollow
When something you love has gone
When someone you love has left

Don't let it be filled in too soon
Or with just anything

Keep it open

Don't put a fence around it
But don't let it be filled in too easily

Let it be

Sometimes in the forest of the heart
A pine grows, sometimes a saguaro
But both are trees of the oldest Tree
Whose roots bind yours to
The root of the world



And sometimes the dark hollows
Are not a hole of what has been
Lost or gone missing
But a well

A well soon filled from below
By a flood, slow at first rising
Of black water shot with silver stars
The waters of the power under life
The creative force that drives the wold
And waters the roots of that same Tree
In which you yourself are rooted
Wellspring and branch and solace

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Conceptual Poetry: Shrug

In the ongoing, often heated debate about conceptual poetry, some voices have a more grounded analysis than others. One of these is Robert Archambeau, of Samizdat blog, who recently contributed an article to a Poetry Foundation roundup about all this brouhaha:

Charmless and Interesting: What Conceptual Poetry Lacks and What It's Got:

Fourteen months after reading at the White House, Kenneth Goldsmith found himself in the real center of American power: cable television. His appearance on The Colbert Report, though, coincided not with a general celebration of the conceptual poetics with which he is associated, but with two stinging attacks on such poetics: one by the young poet Amy King in The Rumpus, and another by the esteemed poet-critic Calvin Bedient in Boston Review. King’s criticism revolved around the idea of conceptualism as an in-group phenomenon, and on the hypocrisy of conceptual poets striking anti-establishment poses while simultaneously seeking, and beginning to find, such laurels as the established institutions of American poetry have to offer. Bedient’s article criticized conceptualism for a lack of concern with emotion and affect, which he linked with both a truncating of poetry’s possibilities and a kind of reactionary political stance. People’s responses to these criticisms, to judge by the emails, texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages I received, were passionate—half of my friends in the little world of poetry expressed delight that the horrible careerist bastards were finally getting called out for their sins, while the other half spluttered in outrage at those who dared try to quench the glorious yet fragile flames of poetic innovation.

This is a moment, then, for an assessment of the virtues and vices of conceptual poetry. What does conceptual poetry lack, compared to other poetries, and what does it have to offer? Any brief answer will, of course, be too general, but we can begin to sketch things out with reference to two aesthetic categories: the charming and the interesting. Whatever else conceptualism has got going for it, it lacks—at least in its pure form—the former. And whether one likes conceptualism or not, anyone who has engaged with it has found that it has, wonderfully or frustratingly, got plenty of the latter. . . .


I encourage the interested reader to peruse the rest of this article first, as what I am writing here is essentially a response to Mr. Archambeau.



My fundamental reaction to the brouhaha of pro/con argument regarding conceptual poetry as currently practiced is a resounding "Meh."

I shrug at the idea that anybody really cares about any of this except those already engaged in defining the argument and nature of conceptual poetry. While I highly respect Kenneth Goldsmith as an archivist and cultural bellwether, in my opinion his ideas about conceptual poetry, as most such are, give me nothing but smoke and mirrors, an no meat on the bone. I feel like Mr. Archambeau has come up with a very good synopsis of the whole situation, in his article, although he very politely avoids ripping the curtains aside to reveal the non-wizards behind them.

Conceptual poetry is, like conceptual art—and the point has been made that poetry lags behind the other arts in which this battle over conceptualism has already been fought and settled—the idea that once you understand the concept behind a poetic work, you don't actually have to read the work: the concept IS the artwork, the idea itself is what you are supposed to perceive as the aesthetic moment, while the artistic product itself is unimportant.

This applies to a lot of writing that is exactly like sample-based music: sampling art made by other artists, over which one layers one's own rap, or concept. It applies to re-writing an existing poem, to recontextualize it as a new work simply by putting a new frame around it. (This is not the same as John Cage's practice of, say, "Writing Through Finnegan's Wake," because Cage used an existing text to make a new experience of the text in a new way, which is a lot more than merely placing a new dust cover on an existing book.) You see a lot of writing nowadays made by doing a web search online then assembling a "found" text as a new work. Much conceptual poetry is anti-originality and anti-writing. A lot of it is about sampling, often without changing anything.

Of course, another way to think about this kind of poetry is that it really is nothing new, but rather is mannerist, or in the art-historical sense, Mannerist.

That is, self-referential (as opposed to observational or original), decadent (as in not interested in doing anything other than forms of conceptual quasi-masturbation), and late-historical in the sense that it is the end of an artistic epoch rather than itself being a new artistic epoch (post-modernism is to Modernism as Mannerism was to the Baroque, a recycling in exaggerated form of already-existing ideas). I see all of that in "pure conceptualism," especially when one considers that the idea that one doesn't actually need to see the art or read the poem to get the concept is an idea that Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists already did. Arguably, Duchamp did it better, too, and not just because he was first, but because he was a better artist. Similarly, "found" poetry is a very old practice.

I would think more of conceptualism if it actually had something new to present, either in terms of idea or in terms of product—but it doesn't. And that is precisely why it lacks all charm, even though it can be interesting.

And I do find it interesting. But most of it, having encountered it once, doesn't ever need to be encountered again. Like puzzles, once you solve it, there's no point in doing it again. There's no discovery in repeating the problem-solving experience because you already know the outcome.

And that is the problem in a nutshell: art needs to be charming—engaging, enticing, enveloping, inviting—not just interesting. I mean, if there's no point in having an audience, even if that audience is just a few friends, what's the point? Pleasuring oneself alone? (The dreaded M word again.)

"Interesting" in this context is just mental. There's no soma to it, no body, no sensuality—and they're PROUD of that. But art is an experience, not just a mental game. I've written before on the point that poetry that appeals only to the intellect is ultimately going to fail, and fail to have any kind of audience other than those who make it. Sound familiar? (Here again. And here.)

I find it hilarious when poets complain about lacking any kind of significant popular audience when they have worked so hard to create that very situation in which no one is interested in what they're doing.

"Charm" on the other hand is precisely what attracts us to poetry, or art, or dance, or music, which is as much as about embodied sensuality as it is about intellectual interest. In the context of conceptual poetry, "charm" is actively negated. So is anything but purely intellectual interest and engagement. This wing of the contemporary avant-garde in poetry, which sometimes oxymoronically calls itself the post-avant, is very much about disengagement, unoriginality, disembodiment, and disenchantment. I view it as an artistic dead-end. It might be very interesting in the present moment, but ultimately there's no man behind the curtain: he has been willfully removed.

So I remain unconvinced by the arguments supporting conceptual poetry—it should be said that some practitioners, like Mr. Goldsmith, seem to enact arguing about conceptual poetry as a form of performance art in its own right. I don't have a strong argument about the contents themselves of conceptual poetry, which for the most part are uninteresting, and deliberately so. I regard the meta-concept (the conception of conceptual poetry) to be itself fundamentally mannerist, and the arguments in favor of the meta-concept to be often transparently, hilariously inept. It's as if we all know that there's no man behind the curtain, but we all must wink at each other knowingly as we pretend otherwise. It's all a game. It's writing about writing that pretends to itself be writing: a labyrinth of recursive mirrors at a party hosted by narcissists.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

A Summoning of Fireflies

A new short film.



A Summoning of Fireflies. 2013.

Video, sound & music by Arthur Durkee.

Music: "Summoning" by Arthur Durkee
AD: Animoog, softsynths, bass guitar, live recordings, effects.
All Rights Reserved.

In June, when I was out shooting footage of the wind in the grass, as dusk fell the fireflies began rising from the verge. They pulsed alongside the road ditches, in the trees, and over the fields.

I have spent several evenings this summer filming fireflies at dusk, gathering a lot of good material. This short film is the first in a series.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Queer Art Show in New York City



I was very pleased to participate in this Qweer Arts gallery show in New York City, that was put on by the gallery and RFD Magazine, in celebration of the magazine's new issue featuring lots and lots of great art. I have artwork in the magazine as well (look for Dragon), which is why I was invited to participate in the gallery show. I'm very glad for the opportunity, and very glad I was able to participate.

I sent six works of homoerotic photography and digital art for the gallery show. One work was purchased at the gallery opening, which is very exciting.

So I regard the RFD Magazine "Qweer Arts" show to be a big success. Six prints of my photo-based digital artwork were shown in a gallery in New York City, and one of them was sold! Adding these elements to my artist's resumé brings me a lot of joy.

Thank you.

This is the third gallery show that my work has been shown in, in 2013. I hope this might be viewed as a good omen of Things To Come.

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