Archive for July 2012

A Zen Poem

I do not draw water
Nor carry wood
My Zen is to run
And to sit

No mind, no thought
Then I am 'here'
Drawing breath
Carrying consciousness


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Big News, Big Change

I wrote a couple of drafts of what I hoped to have posted yesterday. The words seemed lacking in exact meaning, and I failed to express my feelings in any way appropriate to my current state of mind. But I've been here before, many times before, when life converges, then diverges again in a watershed moment.

I must no longer identify with “I am an author.” The experiment is ended—for now. I won't stop writing (it's too much fun and too interesting to give up), but I think for the foreseeable future, writing will not be my main priority as it's been for the better part of a year.

Fact is, I have a problem with perfectionism, with this feeling that I must be a “somebody.” I do a pretty good job about not caring about being anyone important, but I've worked writing up so much in the last several months that every time I sit down to write, or even more, when I don't sit down to write, I am reminded that I am not somebody. Such a burden on my mind, and I do not care to have it. If success means tormenting myself for not living up to society's standards of fame and fortune, I'll gladly do something else.

Anything else, but not try, not force myself to write for money, for fame, for success.

Call this my “fuck it” moment.

Now it's out of the way, and I can talk about positive things! Like the fact that I do not plan on quitting writing. I'm going to tone it down a bit, but I still hope to be consistent (an hour a day, a little for the blog, a little for a story, a little poetry or whatever). My main focus will turn to LIFE.

Right now the most fun I'm having with anything I'm doing is my studying of the Spanish language. I've been studying it on and off for several years, and I have a pretty solid understanding of the language and a pretty basic vocabulary, but I want to push myself for the rest of this year to reach some sort of mastery.

The main difference between spending most of my time writing, and most of my time studying Spanish is that Spanish is tangible. They're both dealing with language, with words, which I absolutely love, but with Spanish I can open more doors in my life than I can with writing. They're not mutually exclusive of course, but I need something concrete, practical. Learning Spanish, I'm a stone's throw away from more career options, not to mention the fact that my beautiful girlfriend's entire family speaks Spanish as their native language. I see in Spanish a quicker, more effective way to gain some success, because it's something I can actually show people, and do.

Another focus in my life at this time is in my spiritual development—and this is directly tied to my anxiety disorder.

I'm a very phobic person (very neurotic), and for as much confidence as I have in my abilities and in myself as a human being, I have an equal amount of doubt and hesitation to actually unfold myself and enter back into society. Yet that is exactly what I've been doing for the last couple of months, breaking out here or there, doing this or that, unfolding as the flower unfolds in the morning sun after a long, damp night.

I've been helped along tremendously by a friend who has moved back to town recently, and by my girlfriend who continues to support me even though her own fears are evident. Recently we (my girlfriend and I) even plotted out a possible career path in counseling. Getting a masters degree in counseling seems like an intuitive thing to do (I talk a lot, am a reasonably good listener, love psychology even more than I love writing, and love even more helping people), but it'll take many years, and will be a goal that will have to be worked on piecemeal, part of which includes overcoming my social anxiety disorder.

Writing has always been my crutch; most specifically my dream of being a published, paid author. My dream of writing for a living and my desire and need to let go of my anxieties and live a well-balanced, fruitful life are mutually exclusive. If you were to ask my mother or my girlfriend what they would rather have me do, be a reclusive, malfunctioning writer or be a well-rounded and sociable human being, I think they'd both pick the latter—and so would I, because I know that I will not lose my ability to write by taking more risks with my life.

I want to be a published writer because I don't want to go out and get a job, go to college, or otherwise interact with large groups of people (which is ironic, because to succeed in writing one must be able to socialize). Yet I've been doing a lot of spiritual cultivation lately, finding my true self and all that jazz. I've realized something important. There's a difference between writing and writing. Writing is a physical act of putting ideas down on paper, and in that, is a perfect exercise of what a Zen monk would call “Drawing water and carrying wood.”

But writing is totally different. It is a matter of wanting, of craving, of possessing, identifying, and reaching for something wholly intangible, abstract, and unreal. “Success.” This wanting to be somebody.

Having a job, working, especially if it's something completely menial, would be perfect for me because it's just practice—drawing water and carrying wood.

And so as I reach out to the world around me, join in it, however painful this is (and it's been quite painful), I must let go of the intangibles I've cultivated toward writing. Now when I write, as I'm doing here, I will treat it as practice. I will write for writing, and not for anything else. I will publish for publishing, and not for anything else.

I don't care where it takes me, if it takes me anywhere. I have a goal, but I'm not attached to the outcome. The goal is to make the words, focusing always on making the words (as well as editing and publishing the words, but in their own time and place).

Hopefully I will not put down my dream of being a published writer only to pick up another crutch. I must guard against that. But also, I'm in no way denying success. I'm not sitting here saying “I don't want it.” I don't not want it, either. If I wake up tomorrow with a million dollars in my pocket because of something I wrote, I'll put it to good use!


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Telekinesis in Writing

Intro: I wrote this a few weeks ago, forgot about it, discovered it today only to wonder why I never posted it when I wrote it. It's a fascinating piece of work which took me by surprise. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did with fresh eyes.


In Time Frank Rich wrote about Apocalypse Now: “while much of the footage is breathtaking, Apocalypse Now is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty.”

I read this quote on Wikipedia the other day. My initial thought was this:

Because you don't have the imagination to see it.

Now Frank Rich is a very prominent and respected critic of theater and film. He definitely has an imagination, probably a greater one than mine (at least he's put his to better use than I have), but I obviously got a lot more out of Apocalypse Now than he did.

How can two people hold such different views of the same thing? The beauty of art, especially of writing (but it is just as true of music, stage and film, painting, and other media), is that it's wholly subjective. It is so subjective that in many cases it is solely up to the reader or viewer or listener to give the work meaning. Once the painting, song, or movie is finished—once the book is finished—it is no longer the creator's job to give the work meaning. It is out of his, her, or their hands. It becomes nothing more than a blank canvas for the consumer to decipher in his own terms.

Writing is, as Stephen King said in his book “On Writing,” a form of telekinesis. But it is not a certain form of telekinesis. There is a risk of being misunderstood, by which the author's original intent is misinterpreted by the reader. Yet even in misinterpretations, there is an amazing thing going on. If the reader of a book takes the time to read, takes the time to understand, even if he misunderstands the author's original meaning, he is giving the book a great power, drawing that power from it into himself.

All works of art possess this potential of power. Even the simplest, most basic, or poorly done pieces have the potential to move and astound. This is why books like Harry Potter and Twilight have been so successful. It is not just that these books have huge marketing machines behind them. The books themselves, as with all books, are essentially blank slates. The words, meaningless jumbled piles of letters. Until someone comes along and casts their imagination upon them. Then the words take on life, meaning, power.

That a certain book is successful and well respected is a sign of the times, but more importantly a window into the minds of readers. Why is one book successful and another not? Specifically, how is each book being interpreted by readers?

Books that make it, make it for no other reason than that readers found them easy vehicles to express their own innermost emotions.

The author, not a master of telekinesis, but the perfect doorman, opening the door into, not the author's world, but that of the reader's. For when a writer writes, the reader reads. The writer writes what he sees. The reader reads what she sees.

And so millions of possibilities, of potentials, unfold.

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Get headphones, put them on and lay down with your eyes closed. Listen to this entire song. Don't analyze it. Don't judge it. Just listen.

What did you feel? How did you feel? What did you hear?


Obviously Echoes is an instrumental, save for a couple of minutes of lyrics near the beginning and near the end. What is this song saying? Hopefully you've already listened to it and have an idea for yourself, and my own won't contaminate yours.

The lyrics (for me) put forward the idea that we are separate, that we struggle to connect with each other, and yet that we are all each other, all the same. The words have a very heavy pantheistic tone to them. As I listen, I am the albatross, the waves, the coral.

I am you and what I see is me

Most importantly I am the music itself. Pink Floyd had an amazing ability to create beats, tones, rhythms, sounds that meld with the body, and Echoes is one of the best (but far from the only) example of this.

There is an underlying layer of spirituality in the lyrics, and the long instrumental in the middle, of tones and beats and odd sounds, acts as a cacophony emulating life itself. Then this seeming chaos gives way to order and a more normalized sound.

I'm going to break down the lyrics because they seem to have a steady pattern in them that touches a deep part of me and the ideas I hold about life.

Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant tide
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine.

This is the first segment, and it's fairly natural. No human presence, just animals, water, sand, sights and sounds. It sets the mood. Think of Adam seeing Earth for the first time in the Garden.

And no-one called us to the land
And no-one knows the wheres or whys
But something stirs and something tries
And starts to climb towards the light

The second segment portrays Man's creation. Not by a god, as in the story of Genesis, but naturally, from the foam of the sea. It is mysterious and mystical. We don't have the answers, but we are here. We never asked to be here, but here we are. We move toward the light (toward a higher evolution) by instinct. 

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can

Now in the third segment we have arrived. We are in our society, our cocoon, separated from nature, from the green and submarine, and even from ourselves. This third segment is the deepest and most meaningful to me. It is filled with so much hope and potential, that all we have to do to connect to one another is to catch a glance, take a hand, and go.

And no-one calls us to move on
And no-one forces down our eyes
And no-one speaks and no-one tries
And no-one flies around the sun

The fourth segment shows our failure, our inability to connect with each other, and it seems to be a cry of frustration. And no-one speaks and no-one tries, And no-one flies around the sun is an irony. We don't try? Hell, we must not be here at all then, flying around the sun!

Cloudless everyday you fall upon my waking eyes
inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning

And no-one sings me lullabies
And no-one makes me close my eyes
And so I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky

The final two segments are reserved for the end of the song, separated by what went before by nearly fifteen minutes of sound, sometimes random, other times organized. These lines are an extension of the fourth segment, or at least seem to be. He speaks of the sun, the one constant in our world. And then of the loneliness of living in a world without others to care for us, to stand by us.

And so he calls to the sun, the constant - Nature herself. When we have forsaken each other, what else can we have but her?

Deep, eh? It's a great song.

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Practical Application of Eastern Philosophy

A few days ago I made it a priority to reach what Zen Buddhists call Satori. My aim was to see if I could “force” myself into this altered state of consciousness. I have experienced it before, and it's a very peaceful place to be, even when things aren't going so hot, but I got there by accident, by chance, by reading or listening to something that shocked me out of my “self.” This time I wanted to find out if I could put myself there.

This sudden mining for spiritual gold coincides with an equally sudden interest in a psychologist and lecturer named Richard Alpert—otherwise known as Ram Dass. Ram Dass is an interesting topic in and of himself, but all that needs to be said here is that I am at the right point in my life to get the most out of his teachings. Just as, seven years ago, I was at the right point in my life to get the most out of Alan Watts's teachings and the teachings of Taoism. My intuition is at maximum, I have reached peak receptiveness.

So over the last few days I have meditated, and I have listened to Ram Dass lectures and clips on Youtube, and I have—as well as I can—put myself into a semi-enlightened state. I say “semi” because it is not permanent enlightenment. It is mostly intellectual (as in I “know this to be the case”), but it is yet to be known if I can apply what I'm meditating on to my non-meditative life. Osho calls this semi-enlightenment Little Satori. Big Satori is permanent.

My spirituality must be practical. I have stripped away many concepts. You won't catch me talking in New Age jargon. I don't “believe” in anything I cannot experience first hand. I am very much a minimalist.

I don't believe in deities, souls, spirits, angels, demons, good/evil, etc.

What I believe is straightforward, grounded.

I am not my body. I am not my mind. I am not my senses. I am not that which I sense. I am the experience of all of these things happening at once, in this moment.

Meaning that I am no one thing, but all things. What I seek in life is, above all else, to blend with the experience. To observe it, yes, but to understand that the observer (the “I”) is not the self.

A physical illness, a funny joke, a beautiful sunrise, emotional pain: these are merely phenomena. My purpose is to experience these phenomena.

My neurosis is Social Anxiety Disorder. Most humans live in fear to some extent, but for much of my life—throughout my teens and early 20s—I have lived in unmanageable and illogical fear. Fear of driving, flying, going to school, going to work, being sick, being healthy, dying, living, failing, succeeding—risk of any kind.

What I am trying to do is to disidentify from the self that fears. To be “no thing.” To embrace the void. The moment.

In order to get through that part of me which “stops” when it comes to doing something normal people find easy, if not outright boring, I must change my state of consciousness. Altering my mind through meditation and Eastern philosophy I can see the world in a different light. Not from the point of view of a human being, but from the point of view of the Cosmos itself.

That is enlightenment. Satori. It can last a millisecond, or for the rest of my life, however long that may be.

Living as the experience (the phenomenon), not the experiencer. Living as the event, not the observer. Then what can hurt me? What use are my old fears? What use is standing still? If I am the experience, then I will experience anything. Joy, sadness, ecstasy, pain, love, loneliness, freedom, even fear.

At the end of all of this is death. The void. But for one who lives and dies in each moment, the death of the body and the final death of the mind is nothing new.

This is the doorway to being a human being again. Walking through it, embracing that enlightened altered state of consciousness, I am free to be both human—with all of my faults, with all of my fears—and at the same time Cosmic—understanding fully that I am not the body, the mind, the senses, but the experience. The phenomena.

This thought gives me great peace. It's a contradiction to all that I've told myself for so many years, gripped by anxiety. It's strangely similar to the feeling I had when I was a six-year-old child, before my adult ego took over. When I was a child I got scared, but I never identified with my fear. It was not “me,” but only what was happening at the moment. When that moment passed I would be happy again, but I never recall identifying with that happiness. As a child, I was enveloped by the moment, every moment.

My phobias exist because I grew up and began to believe that I was my fear. That I was my uncertainty. That I was my anxiety.

Yet I'm not simply discovering a way to cope with the world. I'm not, as psychologists have people like me do, learning to cope. I'm learning how to live, more deeply and fully than I've ever lived before.

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Motivation and Literary+

Lest we forget that this is a writing blog:

I wrote over 1,200 words today, not including this blog post, and not including the paper I'm about to edit for my girlfriend. It was fiction that I wrote. I enjoyed it very much.

Today is the first day this month that I've written anything, and in June, the writing was sporadic at best. In my experience, when I feel fulfilled in other areas of my life, I write less, and even develop writer's block, because satisfaction is a poor motivator. When I'm dissatisfied, hurt, wanting, the writing is incredible. I spent the last couple of weeks in an emotional slump, so hopefully the writing will be picking up, but I won't hold my breath.

I'm at a stage right now where I don't need writing like I did 6 months ago, when I was working 8 hours a day on my novel. I've made my priorities elsewhere, have found satisfaction in other things than the written word. I can't say it's what I wanted. Last November I wanted to stick to this incarnation of my writing career. I wanted to push past the boundaries, the limits that have always held me back.

I have gone through several phases through the years, none of them materially successful, but all rewarding in their own way. I edited a couple of e-zines, made one into a paying market. I had a semi-successful anxiety blog that is still out there, hopefully helping someone somewhere. I've written several unfinished novels, many short stories, tried my hand at writing internet articles (I absolutely hate doing that).

I don't know what it is about me. When I'm on I'm on fire. I'm the most motivated man in the world. When I'm off, nothing turns me back on. 

Am I too goal-oriented? 

Success in writing comes slowly. It comes to those who stick to their guns, but slowly, and it's rarely ever (almost never) the superstar success non-writers imagine it to be. If you write for the end, you're going to be in for disappointment. If you write for fun, putting blinders on so you don't pay attention to the material success that may come, not only will writing be incredibly rewarding emotionally, but the money to be made may make for a nice surprise.

So I'm going to regroup. I hid most of my current projects in a folder, and have just two things on my desktop that I want to work on. They're two short stories I am passionate about, but haven't approached because I've been writing other things, things farther from being finished. I want to get work out there. I want to get more stories published. That is my main “professional” goal. But short of that, I want to have fun. That means I must write what I feel like writing; finding the path of least resistance while still challenging myself.


Now I want to shine a light on something a friend of mine is doing. Shen Hart is working hard to bring together writers. The dream is simple: we will help one another.

We will help each other edit and market and do all the little things that writers need to do to find material success (and we deserve it, too!). Some of us are much better at certain skills than at others, and that holds us back in certain ways. Combining our efforts may help some of us break out.

I'm incredibly proud of Shen for doing this. It's something I've tried in the past and have given up on because I lacked her passion and I lacked the community that is Google+.

If you're interested in joining Literary+, I hope you will take the time to speak with Shen. Find out what we're up to, how we can help you and how can you help us.

Many writers are at different stages of our careers, with different talents and different needs. But each of us may fit in somewhere, benefiting from the community effort.

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I wrote this post in pieces. Some of it early in the day, some of it later in the day. I've been struggling with these ideas because they are so new to me. Just two months ago I did not believe these things. I have undergone some sort of transformation since the beginning of May. Something shut off, something else turned on.

I believe there are three main reasons for this sudden transformation. I once believed that we needed war to maintain peace, that it was necessary for prosperity: I embraced the military-industrial complex. But this changed literally overnight when I stopped watching the news, began studying war from another angle, and began meditating more deeply than I had ever done before.

Without the news I was no longer fed negativity on a daily basis.

I studied the role America has played in its wars. I began to see holes in the logic that these wars were necessary. I began to see a dangerous trend. Morality was, time and time again, used as a motivator for action. America was portrayed as the great defender, the good superhero battling evil. Anyone who disagreed, anyone who challenged this belief was portrayed as a traitor, as unpatriotic. But like the super hero fights in film, the battles between Great America and evil Confederates and Nazis led to far more death and destruction than the enemy alone could have caused. I discovered that the price of war was greater than the reward. This was lost in the static of millions of well-meaning Americans falling for the morally based propaganda fed to them by the government. Even today I see good people, people who would do no harm to anyone, express faith in the flawed ideology that war, and the tragedy it causes people, is necessary to keep us safe. I hope to show below why this is flawed.

Through meditation, I was able to approach my true passions, and decide consciously where I wished to put my time and energy. Because of this, I am no longer concerned with politics, am quickly becoming a pacifist, and am struggling to find a sure footing atop my new worldview. I understand now that many millions of people are living out of fear, acting out of fear, and I realize, most importantly, that I was one of them.

There is no more fitting day than the Fourth of July to express these conclusions. My Independence Day.


I'm celebrating my Independence from Anger, Hate, and Violence.

The only way to freedom is to embrace uncertainty. You cannot be secure and free, because freedom means the ability to stay still, to fly, or to fall as one sees fit, as one finds necessary. Tethered to ideals, we are unable to maneuver. Especially ideals borne of fear.

Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity. It can be a hell of a lot of fun, but don't lie to yourself that it will work. It hasn't, and it never will. We are free not because of the wars we have fought, but because of the wars we have not fought; with ourselves, with each other, with the world.

Freedom doesn't come from the soldier on the battle field willing to kill, or die trying, but from the man or woman willing to die to avoid killing another human being. Freedom comes from men and women like Martin Luther King Jr., not from those like General Patton.

Anything short of that begs the question: Are we really free?

If it's not live and let live, it's not freedom, it's not independence. It's dependence. If we cannot trust others, we are only victims. If we cannot love, we are only slaves.


I believe American freedom is largely a product of intelligence and the creativity of its people. Through our technology we have been able to build a world with abundant resources, freeing us (mostly) from long hours in farm fields and in factories. It hasn't been a perfect evolution, but for the most part the average First World citizen has more free time than our ancestors (not just in America, but even more so in countries like France and Italy).

This has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for those who have been able to take advantage of this, whether it be with an appreciation (realizing the ease of life), or using the extra time to exercise their creativity, furthering our resource capacity. It is the curse of those who are bored and cannot find a way to appreciate what they have, or passionate enough about something to add to the progress meter.

After all, freedom really is time. With abundant resources we no longer need to work 12-16 hours a day just to survive (to avoid starvation), but can work a 40 hour workweek and still cultivate our goals. For over a century many Americans toiled as poor farmers, in brutal slavery, and as share croppers (slavery except in name, a modern form of feudalism). Until the 20th century, most Americans were not really free. Even today, some aren't (for poverty is not freedom), but many more are than ever before, and despite our current economic trouble, the trend will continue to push upward as more technology leads to greater efficiency, and even more time.

We can use this time to enrich our lives, and the lives of those around us, or we can waste it through negativity and idleness. It's up to us, and that is also a freedom.

This type of freedom transcends political ideologies. It is not based on who won what war (it cannot be bought with a bullet). It does not depend on laws to protect us (it cannot be legislated into existence). It has arisen not from protectors, but from the ingenuity of the common man, their desire, not for power and control, but for what people seek throughout all the world, in America, in China, in Iraq, in Uganda, in Britain and Brazil.



There is an argument made for war that, at first, makes sense to me. It is that many (a great many, in fact) of our technologies were created for the war effort. U.S. and German scientists, in an attempt to win World War II, made great strides in inventing things that would later find vital civilian uses.

I believe that civilian scientists would have eventually invented all of these things (be it the jet engine or splitting the atom). We may have had to wait a little longer, but war did not suddenly make us intelligent enough to discover something we would have been incapable of discovering without conflict.

Despite the technological advancements made during the World Wars, most of our greatest inventions came in times of peace, by private inventors. The telephone, the light bulb, the airplane, the automobile, the engine, the theory of relativity, and so many more.

I have a great faith in human ingenuity. I do not think people need any more motivation to do great things than simple inquisitiveness and passion, and a hope to make the world easier for our fellow humans.

We have prosperity and freedom despite war. Not because of it.

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