Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Songs, Eros, Demons, Angels

Three books have come into my possession during the course of this roadtrip that make up a kind of trilogy of considerations of creativity. Each is self-contained, written for the author's own purpose; perhaps all that links them is synchronicity, and the connections they evoke in me. Nonetheless, they bring to the foreground what has very much been in my mind while traveling.

I haven't been conventionally happy on this trip across the Southwest and West. I have had moments of joy, and moments of real connection, real work. There have been some ecstasies. But overall my mood has been neutral to dark. Some of this is because of the reawakening in me—experienced again as insomnia gets me out of bed to write, as I spend a cold night in Jackson, WY—of emotions of violation, fear, agony, and despair: all remnants of the illness and surgery and recovery narrative of the past year. I lay awake in my bed tonight unable to stop thinking that my narrative of surgery is only half over: I am nowhere near done with this story, I am instead in the limbo between major surgeries, each them life-risking, dangerous, and powerful invasions of my corpus. My physical self finds it impossible to be cheerful just now. The rational mind, which of course, despite its delusions of grandeur, is the least aspect of the self involved in this process, finds a lot to be positive about. Indeed, many friends have been remarking how positive and life-affirming I seem to be, lately, when I talk about how I have more physical strength than I've had in literally decades. But to me that all seems like a lie: more accurately, a mask, a partial truth, a performance of partial completion. People want me to be positive, they want me to be well, and they want to avoid contamination by the angel of death still hovering over me, hovering closer than it's ever been. People want me to be cheerful, and happy, and feel good about life. The truth is: I don't. I feel neutral a lot of the time: not dark, not bad, but not jumping up and down with giddy happiness, either.

The truth is, I feel like I'm presenting a false face, like I'm lying. I'm not upset about this feeling, and I'm not feeling like there's anything wrong with talking to friends mostly about what's going well, rather than about my lingering fears and doubts. But there is a cognitive dissonance between the mask and what I feel inside, a strong disconnect between what I feel and what others want me to be feeling.

I'm still feeling distant and disconnected about art, about life. I still have no idea if anything I'm doing is any good. That doesn't mean I don't like what I'm doing: one or two photos I've made on this roadtrip will stand, I think, among my best work ever. One or two moments of inspiration, when I felt fully present, fully alive, while making art, writing, making photos: these stand out as ecstatic moments, the perfect moments that I seek out, as an artist, a musician, a writer. They stand out in high relief, more than ever, in contrast to the daily grind of mundane survival and ongoing medical narratives. (This is one thing I can't seem to get any of my medical team to understand. But then, perhaps it's so far outside their gamut that I'm speaking Martian to them. Certainly I feel like a stranger in a strange land.) So I can't really tell if anything I'm making now is any good. I just keep on doing it. That has to be enough. I can figure it out later. (The rational mind likes to think it leads, but truly it follows.)

The rational self really doesn't understand what this is about. Am I numb? Am I in some kind of ongoing PTSD-type emotional shock? Is it exhaustion? Perhaps. Certainly the blows have kept coming and coming without cease for months beyond counting. Am I just worn out by the real drama of life? I don't really know. I feel detached and disconnected even from caring too much about knowing the why of it all. I'm a little thoughtful about it, but by definition I'm not having any extreme drama about it. (At least not this week. There have been a couple of real meltdowns on this roadtrip, earlier, when basic self finally rose up and said What the frak has happened to me?!)

So I plan to just keep going. I have no answers. Other artists will let me know what they think of the art I'm producing. (Or not. Sometimes I feel a genuine vacuum of attention, and want more than I get. Then I remind myself to detach from that wanting.) Meanwhile, I just keep going. Tomorrow I will take the cameras and notebooks out into the wilds, and drive to the end of the road, and spend the day out there.

Part of me wonders if this detachment isn't part of my spiritual program, my existential post-surgery healing and life-story reassessment. I am, after all, suspended in the limbo between two major surgeries. (Again, those basic-self emotions have been coming up a few times along the road, now that I have leisure to face them: violation, shock, horror, mortality.) I wonder idly if this detachment I feel is not numbness but genuine detachment, an arrival at a Zen state, an actual detached state. It's true I have become very impatient with things that don't matter, the little unnecessary and pointless dramas of life—spiritual impatience, if you will. I get only hints of response to this question. I'm feeling unambitious about it—a lack of spiritual ambition—but rather humble.

As I've written before, the events of the past year and more have me seeing everything in my life from a new perspective. Everything has changed, and all the old maps are gone, while the new maps contain many obscure regions, many mysteries. That's probably the way it's supposed to be: Mystery and humility lie at the core of this distance I feel from life and art: this unknowing. In some ways my "I" has been taken away—that personality-ego upon which the rational mind is built—or greatly diminished. Certainly I know my own limits, my own mortality, as never before. Which is neither complaint nor praise, merely observation.

So the Universe provides me with reflections on life and art, and adds resonance to my unknowing in encounters with three books on creativity that resonate deeply with my process at the moment. I feel deep responses in myself to each of these three books, different as they are in subject, constant as they are in wonder. Each of these are books I want to engage with more thoroughly, individually; I group them here because of the synchronicity of their arrival in my life at this time (a crisis time in my creative life? or a post-crisis time?), and here I can give at most a taste of why they each are worth responding to individually.

Daniel J. Levitin: The World In Six Songs: How the musical brain created human nature. (Dutton, 2008)

I am increasingly skeptical of claims made by neuroscientists about anything, as there has been a growing tendency in neuroscience and brain studies to want to explain every aspect of human life through the lens of biochemistry. (While simultaneously explaining away the mysteries that remain.) The resurgence of militant "new atheism" has gone hand in hand with this. The problem is, neuroscience typically assumes a biological explanation for every facet of human experience, of human existence, and is unable to comprehend the synergy of body-mind: in other words, that the brain doesn't determine what we experience, it reflects and records it. It's not an operating system on a hard drive, it's a holographic storage device. In other words, in the language of Tron, we are users, not programs.

So I approached The World In Six Songs with this skeptical attitude in mind. I have to say, I was entirely won over by Levitin's approach, which is not to explain away life, but to embrace it. This is an artist's book as much as a scientist's. Levitin is himself a jazz musician, and brings that viewpoint to his brain studies. He extensively discusses creativity with many musicians from many walks of life: songwriters, composers, singers, jazz players, dancers, and more. The six "songs" the book is divided into are huge themes: friendship; joy; comfort; knowledge; religion; love. This is overall a very positive and life-affirming (and arts-affirming) book, not at all reductionistic, and not at all afraid to admit that there are mysteries we don't comprehend. Music (as I am quick to agree) has a power for us quite beyond the conceptual: music and dance are intimately linked, and go back to the origins of civilization, the founding of our species as self-aware. Religion grows out of our desire to make sense of the world: the dance and music we use as part of our religious practices are ways of organizing, of shaping our understanding: religious ritual is nothing if not performance of foundational myth, nothing if not reenactment of core faith. (Contemporary organized religion is often hollow precisely because it has become detached from the body, from the experience of contemporary life, and the enactment of myth rather than its mere recitation.) One other aspect of this book that deserves mention is its appealing use of pop songwriting lyrics to make its points about our biology; this is not only quirky fun, but quite convincing. And there are extensive interviews with great contemporary songwriters, including some profoundly relevant quotes from Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, and Sting, among others. I find myself agreeing with Levitin's responses to pop music a lot; for example, he shares my respect for Bob Dylan as a songwriter while also sharing my distrust of the slavish devotion of many fans.

William Everson (edited by Albert Gelpi): Dark God of Eros: A William Everson Reader. (Santa Clara University Press, 2003)

Everson was one of the great California Coastal poets, and writers about poetry. He was the self-proclaimed "lone acolyte" of Robinson Jeffers for many years, championing Jeffers even when his popularity was at low ebb. (Disclaimer: I am a member of the Robinson Jeffers Association, and have been deeply affected by Jeffers' writings myself. So I bristle slightly at the "lone disciple" attitude, even when it was merited.) Everson lived a dramatic, charged life, went through the equivalent of three religious conversions, and wrote darkly-muscled, often violent poetry that is nonetheless powerful, beautiful, and resonant.

This volume is an excellent, thorough introduction to Everson's work and life. In addition to a generous selection of his poetry, it also contains long prose sections of Everson's writings about poetry, about Jeffers, about hand-press printing—he was a master printer of fine editions of poetry, and founded several small presses during his lifetime—and about his personal cosmology regarding erotic mysticism: the truth that mysticism is rooted in the body more than in the mind. There is also a generous sampling of other poets writing about Everson, a posthumous selections of responses and appreciations. (Robert Hass gives one of the most revealing here.) I've been exploring Everson's writings about Jeffers for a little while, as part of my expanding research into Jeffers—my responses to the poet are mostly artistic, not scholarly in an academic sense, nonetheless I appreciate reading literary criticism about his work—and this is not my first delving into Everson's own work, although this is a deeper delving than prior visits.

Everson was a strong personality. As strong as his poetic master's, in many ways. As independent and uncaring about critical reception. Everson alienated a lot of poets and readers, though, with his often violent rhetoric, his dramatic changes of direction—all of them, in the end, religious responses to erotic embodiment as a spiritual path; which is one reason I find him so intriguing, as the mystical/erotic path is one I feel myself following as well. Everson remains in some ways as controversial as Jeffers. (These endless comparisons are brought in part through his own fault of identifying himself as Jeffers's disciple.) I find myself responding to his prose writings about mysticism and poetry, and their connection, as I do to the poems themselves. I have two or three other books just of his poems; I find this sampler gives me a way into the other books of poems which had sometimes been daunting.

Basically, what Everson left us with is a life-long passionate encounter with poetry, which engages you even where you disagree with him in some details. (As a gay man who has long felt sex and spirit to be one, I celebrate Everson's erotic mysticism and explicit depiction of sex in his poetry, even where I find his worship of the archetype of Woman, his imago dei, sometimes a bit difficult to appreciate.) In all phases of his life and work, Everson was fierce, passionate, and questing. I feel very much the same: I feel as Everson did that one thing contemporary poetry is severely lacking is enthusiasm, passion, and commitment. A lot of "cool" and cerebral poetry, a lot of ironic mannerism, still dominates the scene. Everson's writings are a tonic, a reminder that a genuine, sincere, non-ironic, unsentimental, and fiercely engaged poetry is not only possible, but necessary.

Edward Hirsch: The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the source of artistic inspiration. (Harcourt, 2002)

Unlike most art critics, poet/critic Hirsch does not begin and end with the artistic product, he is interested in how the artist creates, in what the sources of artistic inspiration are. He does not question whether inspiration exists—which is a somewhat unpopular critical stance in these Mannerist days of replication, sampling, and ironic distance from inspiration. I have every reason to recommend this book, as it goes a long way towards synthesizing everything I have ever talked about in terms of my own sources of creativity.

Hirsch begins with Federico Garcia Lorca's engagement with the duende, the "dark self" that Lorca saw as the source of artistic power and inspiration. (A translation of one of Lorca's seminal writings on the duende can be read here.) The duende is the demon, or more properly daimon, the ancient Greek term, of the book's title. Then angel is RIlke's terrifying angel of The Duino Elegies. Many artists and writers from ancient days through to Modernism have talked about feeling "taken over" by inspiration, almost having their work dictated to them—an experience I have had myself numerous times. I've written before how sometimes my most surprising, best, and most challenging work is written at white heat. There's a feeling of inevitability to what emerges, as though some greater part of the self was in charge, completely bypassing the everyday consciousness we normally work from.

The Demon and the Angel is a book of critical synthesis, a book of many short chapters in which different aspects of the duende and the daimon and the angel are considered in detail. In addition to a thoughtful, thorough response to Lorca, Hirsch discusses how the duende appears in all the arts. He discusses Yeats' daimon; Martha Graham's expressive solo choreographies; Rilke's angels; the American angels of Walt Whitman William Carlos Williams; Robert Bly's engagement with the duende in his essay Leaping Poetry; and much more. What I find exciting about this book is to read many of the same sources being discussed that have opened up the same questions in my own thinking, over the years. I almost feel as though Hirsch and I have been on parallel tracks. (Being a known poet and critic, he gets to publish his thoughts in book form; I on other hand just get to ramble on about them here.)

For me, one of the most telling of chapters here is where Hirsch discusses the late, black paintings of Mark Rothko. I've had numerous arguments with poets and artists about Rothko, about how to approach his work, and how not to dismiss it out of hand, as it so often is. This chapter on Rothko is ammunition in my future arsenal for conveying Rothko's essentially spiritual goals as reflected in his paintings. Hirsch discusses several of the other Abstract Expressionists, as well, as they are prime Modernist examples of artists who sought both abstraction and emotional content in their work. One of Robert Motherwell's famous "Black and White" paintings graces the book's cover.

On the main points about the duende that recurs again and again in Hirsch's book is how a sense of elation, of heightened liveliness, of ecstatic leaping, occurs in art whenever death enters into the room. I relate to this from my own sense of mortality and urgency to get more done, following recent brushes with death, surgery, etc. Perhaps the duende does come down to the truth of eros and thanatos, love and death, in the end. Lorca believed strongly that the duende was present when poetry or song fiercely chose to face and defy Death. In my own case, a literal encounter with dying and being reborn has led to many changes in the way I do my art, and the ways I perceive it. I was always attuned to the duende, though; it's just become more foregrounded now.

Hirsch points out that Lorca correctly identified the danger to art from the overly-rational intellect—the reason so much cerebral poetry is in fashion nowadays—but Hirsch also points out how evoking unreason risks evoking the deep strain of anti-intellectualism present especially in American culture. What I find contradictory about much American poetry nowadays is how it flirts with unreason, but uses rational control of its tools to strictly control it at the same time, often ending up with a dry, intellectually-rooted poetry that claims to be populist and anti-intellectual. Perhaps one reason that non-poet audiences feel unable to engage with poetry nowadays is that on some level they sense they're being lied to, that a game is being played at their expense.

The Demon and the Angel is a very rich book. I feel I could on about it at length. (Which I will do at another time.) It speaks to me on a very deep level, partly because Hirsch has gone exploring for the sources of creativity in many of the same place that I have myself. Perhaps this book will resonate more with artists and poets than it will with the general reader, nonetheless I would recommend it to anyone. It touches on so many necessary bits of knowledge about the creative process that I wouldn't hesitate to loan it to a non-artist friend who wanted to know more how what they discover in my own art got there.

I have said more than once that there are mysteries in the artistic product: things in there that I didn't know where there, that some audience member discovered and told me about—which is something I like. I like the fact that some smarter part of me put that in there, that my rational mind didn't know about. This book is a big help to all involved, towards a deeper understanding of how that actually works, how it happens. I will need to spend some serious time with this book, myself, as it has already clarified my own thinking.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Grand Canyon

(Images from Grand Canyon National Park, February 2012)

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witch-tree of the abyss, with self-portrait

(Images from Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, February 2012; in natural light & infrared)

the tree on the abyss edge
at hermit's rest
wind-grown sky-bent spreading
witch-tree against lightning-rent sky

in heat's long light
I move slowly across sky's limit
to burn under witch-tree's grip
a new birth new spread of old wings

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mornings Are For Writing

As usual, on this roadtrip that I am on this winter—traveling to the Southwest, then California, then back through the northern Rocky Mountains—when I feel like writing, I do so in my handwritten journal. It's more portable than any technological aid, in that I can just open it up and write. I do now have iPad and iPhone, but these do not have keyboards that allow me to type as fast as the words come; one must be more deliberate, more thoughtful, less spontaneous. So as usual I am writing in my journal, when I feel like writing. Usually a journal entry or poem—or, these days, a song lyric—every few days. I have never been a daily diarist; I usually only write when I have something I want to say, or transcribe, or just get down in words.

One of the facets of my creative process that has become clear to me on this roadtrip is less a revelation than a crystallization of tendencies already known, just not codified or stated clearly, before.

Mornings are for writing. The rest of the day is for more non-verbal art-making.

On a roadtrip, that usually means photography, video, maybe a little music-making. But mornings are for writing.

I have now been on the road a full month, with another week to go. I've had extended visits with friends, long stays where I could relax and just be on vacation. This is the first major roadtrip since my surgery last summer. It was a bit of a risk, as I didn't really know if I was up to the challenge. Dealing with the ostomy bag while traveling has often been easy and unproblematic; a few times it's been irritating, once or twice it's been downright annoying. I change the appliance every three or four days, as usual, no matter where I am; staying for a week with a friend means changing it twice. When I am irritated with the bag, it's usually because I'm out trying to hike or work on my photography, and it gets in the way.

There have been a few days of complete meltdown, emotionally. One important goal of this trip has been to have a real vacation—to return refreshed, relaxed, and recharged—and that has sometimes been a challenge. Some days I have questioned why I ever left home. But mostly I am indeed getting refreshed, mentally and spiritually, after the long painful time preceding, when I was sick unto death, had a few near-death moments, the first surgery, and recovery. What I've come to realize is that the emotional meltdowns are mostly, not entirely but mostly, the resurgence of emotions I didn't have time for, earlier, when mere survival was more urgent.

It's a sign that in fact I am relaxing, that these feelings should be safe to re-emerge. No few of them have been of the category of Oh my god they cut me open and took out my colon! That sort of thing. There is grief tangled up in there, and lots of upset coming from the basic-self level: the youngest inner self who has been unable to understand such violation. So I have spent a lot of time with basic self, reassuring, doing Reiki, etc. So far, so good.

I am getting a lot more physical exercise than I have in years—and I'm able to do so, which please me enormously. I can hike with cameras all day long, and just be "normal tired" at the end of the day, not "illness tired," which often left me so exhausted it took four days to recover. On this roadtrip I have done a lot of hiking, with no ill effect. One day I spent wandering all over San Francisco, carrying a backpack full of camera gear, and was tired, but not desperately so; and I was fine the following morning. So physical changes are continuing, and many of these are good changes.

Throughout this roadtrip, I have often felt on the edge of a creative surge: something lingering just around the corner, just out of sight, wanting to emerge. In fact, it hasn't emerged, and has probably been wiped out a few times by social occasions and by general travel tiredness. Or in fact it has already emerged, but not in an anticipated form, but some other form. I have written a couple of poems, a couple of song lyrics, a fragment or two of music. I have practiced my own songs, written prior to the roadtrip, which I need to perform when I get back home. I have struggled a great deal on this trip with impatience and expectations. I genuinely don't have the same kind of toxic expectations I used to have; nonetheless, I have been short-tempered with delays, or when presented with abject stupidity from those around me. A little short-tempered about thoughtless or inattentive behavior from other drivers, other people. That was really starting to build up towards the end of my California stay. Now that I've been back in the empty desert for a couple of days, much of it has again fallen away.

Yet I realize now that what I am really impatient with is complacency, with inattention, with those who choose to march along with the status quo, rather than work to make the world a finer place. Starting with themselves, by enacting right action, by embodying right livelihood. I have found myself being very much more judgmental than I usually am, than I like to be. It's rooted in my knowledge of my own mortality: We're only here for a short while, folks, so quit wasting time and get busy. If I have become a kind of activist again, it's because I've been reminded, through my own brushes with death, just how urgent and necessary taking action is. It always has been. Most people have the luxury of being able to ignore their own mortality, to be complacent with their status quo lives—till confronted with change, death, and necessary wisdom. How often I have become impatient simply with willful ignorance, with the desire to deny what's right in front of us! I admit it. I own it. It doesn't have to be a problem. It just is. I feel sad at how many people choose never to awaken. I suppose this is one of the emotions I have been releasing, on those darker days emotionally that I've been experiencing: this nearly-judgmental desire to get people to just Wake Up. It causes me more suffering than I'd like. I'm working on it.

I have been full of doubts. The illness and surgery gave big hits to my certainties, to my sense of self, to my self-confidence, even to my self-esteem. I still feel like I am having to rediscover everything I once thought I knew, to examine it all over again, and see if any of it still works for me. Much of it doesn't.

I wrote the following some weeks ago, when I was still in New Mexico, revisiting places that had once meant a lot to me, when I lived near Taos, when I spent time around the region:

I don't know how I feel about my photo/video work this trip. I feel detached and disconnected sometimes. I feel more connected when I'm by myself, in the middle of nowhere, working alone, in the silence. That's how I'm going to try to spend the day today. I will wanter the land a couple of times today, revisiting and making images. It's necessary for me to be alone in the desert silence, to make good images—maybe that's not strictly true, but it's what I feel today.

I am uncertain if any of my art is any good. That's been a growing feeling lately. Life is very uncertain lately, and so is art.

Nonetheless it seems that other people like my art, sometimes a lot. So for now I can't be objective and assess my art for myself. Which I guess is some kind of normal. The problem is, what to trust.

The only thing I can think of to do is: just keep doing it. Keep making images. Keep making video, keep making art. Just keep producing art, keep going. Figure the rest of it out later.

Keep going on this roadtrip, keep scattering images as I go. Keep stopping for beauty, keep capturing beauty. I think of Ansel Adams on his various roadtrips, and I feel a kinship there. We continue to have a lot in common: music, photography, prolific art-making, forward momentum.

I never want to stop. Retirement is a stupid idea. I might slow down at times, but never stop. I want to be making art the day I die.

A few days later, when I was doing photography in Zion National Park in UT, after having spent the night in Page, AZ, then driving across the desert, I wrote:

Today a creative gear-shift day. Started out with poems, then when I began taking photos, the words slowed and dried up. Spent most of the day driving and making images.

And I got out and listened to the desert silence a few times, which was very fulfilling.

Then it all crystallized, a day or two later, when I was camping for two nights at Joshua Tree National park in California. I wrote in the morning, after camping the first night:

I'm a poet getting old:
I only just now figured out
that mornings are for writing,
the rest of the day for
more non-verbal arts.

An ars poetica of sorts.

And that's the way it's been going, on the rest of this roadtrip. If a poem comes to me, it comes first thing in the morning. (Usually. The creative imp is perverse enough that on the very day that I wrote in my journal that I didn't feel like writing poems any more, I got two poems and a song lyric, an hour later. Go figure.)

So, mornings are for writing. The rest of the day is for other arts.

And so we go on, and keep going, keep making. And see where the road will lead us next.

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The Range of Light

(Images from Yosemite National Park, CA, February 2012.)

after sunset
moon and road

in the blur of travel
the long ride home

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Ocean Swirl

Images from Pescadero State Beach, Pescadero, CA

seafoam swirls
sunset whirligig
lave of love in turning
whirl is king

ocean swell
long foam dancers
high tide and rising
whirl is king

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Taos Drawing

St. Francis of Assisi, Rancho de Taos, NM

Drawn on my iPad using a painting/drawing app called ArtRage. It's the most natural painter software I've used in a long time. Part of that is the iPad's touch interface, but the app uses the hardware very well. I'm pleased with the results.

When I was in New Mexico, we drove up to Taos for the day. From Albuquerque, that's a lot of driving, but it was worthwhile. I had a good day revisiting the places I knew well, from the time I lived there. I also felt some closure on some things. I wonder if the people I knew are still there; who knows. Meanwhile, we stopped at St. Francis in Rancho de Taos, the beautiful adobe church known from paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe and photos by Ansel Adams and others. It's still an iconic building, and I always enjoy a visit.

It was late in the day, with some thin clouds over the blue sky. I made this drawing impressionistically, not trying to be photorealistic. As I've said before, I have little interest in trying to draw photo-realistically. I prefer to be either impressionistic or iconic. I like cave-paintings, archetypal images, and impressionistic renderings of natural objects.

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Desert Inside

Hardness has become a way of life. A test of metals.
People think I'm all better but I'm not
even halfway home, and it gets worse before
it gets better. Now I'm in a small desert hotel room
again, feeling sorry for myself, again. The whirl turns.
The body struggles on with living, determined, always
optimistic. But I can't seem to locate any terrain
remotely near to happiness. Too many impossible
worries about futures both far off and near.
What reason do I have to start the day? I've learned
late in life that mornings are for writing, the rest
of the day for less verbal arts. A walk clears the thicket
of words. Just another drive through amazing landscapes
that dwarf everything human, having been around so long
that every pebble has perspective and worries not.
It's an offense to carve your name into sandstone
cliffs, a soft act of hubris equivalent only to
a glacier's fond erosion of everything that supports it.
I'm back to petroglyphs, beautiful mostly because
they've endured, mysterious in content, unfathomably aged
little icons carved into living rock's patina or crust.
What have I ever left that could endure so long?
Airy nothings. I dreamed last night that my wallet
and passport had been taken away, and not returned,
everyone feigning ignorance. For some reason I ended up
at a garage sale the size of a city block, arguing
with incompetents. I don't know what that means. Perhaps
I feel trapped amidst civilization's garbage heaps.
It's true I don't like feeling caged. A blacktopped road
is an icon for me as fond as any Beat's, as any petroglyph.
I feel trapped when I cannot travel. Cabin fever of the soul.
Not everything has a given name. Or needs one.
You hope for good weather, a clear day, nevertheless you go on.
The dream ended in fields of frustration, everyone jeering me
as I jumped into the sky and flew off the way I can in dreams,
flying above the street, evading telephone wires and other low obstacles.
The people below in the city's canyons began to look like black crabs
trying to pull me back down into their bucket of ordinary
aggravations. But I was flying above their heads,
and they could not follow.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Circle of Elders

I camped for two nights at Joshua Tree National Park. I spent the days roaming the Park, making photographs and video, and just stopping in isolated areas to listen to the desert silence. It was recharging. Sleeping was difficult, because the campgrounds are basically dirt over granite, so any padding you need has to come from your bedding. But the night skies were beautiful.

One evening I set up the camera on its tripod at my campfire, and made a series of self-portraits. I assembled these later into a Photoshopped collage, using myself as a model for a Circle of Elders.

The wool poncho I bought in Albuquerque kept the night chill off. Although it wasn't that cold at night. The fire didn't last long, because the wood was very dry, but it was merry.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sheltered Circles

Walking the land, making circles under the shelters of pinon pines, using curved branches from the trees themselves. Desert spirit calls to me, inspires me to make these sheltered circles. Every time I visit ZMS, I make some kind of land art. The pulse of power, fierce and pure, that runs through the land, heightens the senses, heightens the sense of power running through all things. New Mexico inspires so many artists because its pure power running in the ground makes everything more vivid. Emotions as well as inspiration are more vivid, more flowing, more potent. For some, that can become too dramatic, and draining. For many artists, it feeds the life in their work, makes their work come more alive. Myself no exception.

Sheltered Circle I, II, and III, Zuni Mountain Sanctuary, NM

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guadalupe Mountains 2: Infrared

Further photos of the Guadalupe Mountains, TX, in infrared.

stark etchings of light
stamp hard walls against shadow—
sunset rising cliffs

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Guadalupe Mountains, TX

(Photos from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, January 2012.)

On the TX/NM border, the Guadalupe Mountains, which are the same ancient reef formation that is the home of Carlsbad Caverns. You can see El Capitan, the end of the Guadalupes, from the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns; they are connected at the root.

What the Guadalupes have is abundant biological diversity, some amazing views and hikes, and scenery that changes mood and tone as the sun moves across the sky, and the light evolves throughout the day. I spent my time in the Guadalupes this trip mostly near the end of the day, before driving on to Las Cruces, when the light was moving up the walls of Pine Spring Canyon like a curtain raising.

I hiked into the evening, until the shadows turned as cold as the day's sunlight had been warm. I followed trails partway up the canyon, then back down.

I stopped at the foot of El Capitan as the sun bronzed and ambered the hills and rocks, making layers of gold and grey hills fade off into time.

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Carlsbad Desert Landscapes

The land over Carlsbad Caverns has its own austere beauty: desert, severe, astounding. Rather than spending time in the gorgeous caves, I spent my time out in the warm sunlight, on the top of the plateau, high above the plains.

I made several photos in infrared while visiting this time, as the sun and land seemed to starkly call to it. Pure simplicity of forms and light.

ocotillo spines
whiskering mesa clifftops—
high desert stillness

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chalice of Revelation

Afternoon, an omelette and lemonade. Here I sit
at the gates of heaven's light, watched over by
a mural forecasting mutated natural wild doom,
a mire and blood of funky apocalypse. Everywhere abounds
the pornography of despair, turning wheels, hazmat sigils,
barking epiphanies of desolation. Here I sit, failing
at Zen, lost to my epiphanies, nothing to do with the zeitgeist.
Rejection is a kind of affirmation. Humming wires,
a line of chihuahuan crows pecking at white sand grubs.
Even the lizards are lost to blindness. White light, white land.
Shoes off, white sand in whorls of toes pressed dry to dessicated
earth. Long walk up dune and down. Where's my shirt? Evaporated.
Telephone spine power poles line in retreat along the roadside
to infinity. Classic Western iconic highway. Open sky, two crumbled
black lanes, fading paint yellow line down center, bright hot dirt
on either side, line of telephone poles converging at infinity
with the road edge itself. All things converge beyond view,
in longer distances. That merciless light. Watched over doomed
by dead Indians. That long glance. As laconic as a fence line,
barbed wire keeping you out of malpais where you never
wanted to go anyway. Fence lines insignificant
under an infinity of sky, heaven, cloud, glare.
Black land, black glare. Butt sore from hours of driving,
sneezing at powdered road dust, thoughts turning at dusk
towards lonely forevers, it's hard not to get existential.
As if there was any point to this road anyway.
Zen of driving a long humming highway is a pillow of soil.
Don't try to figure it out. Just go. White light, black road.
Why this chalice of revelations, broken across sand lap of light.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Writing Through