Three collaborations

Thinking about authority, the fiction of it. I visited my father over Christmas and his authority is both gone (dementia) and intact (father). To raise the stakes, he’s an emotional tyrant, bossing, judging, huffing, storming. With his memory going and his reason close behind, his displays are imposing and ridiculous in equal measure. To me as his son they are. To one more or differently outside, maybe they’re just absurd.

Beside this, the fun of teaching, and getting beat at, five-card draw by hyper & precocious eight- & ten-year-year-olds. It’s a joy to be defeated by children. Their green outdoes me. Watching my father go replays my loss of him in childhood and predicts my own losses to come, aging body, faltering mind. Watching these kids, no relation to me, knowing their minds are taking in what I say and do at a lightning rate – amazing.

No one’s in charge. White supremacy, patriarchy, unitary self – the delusion is someone or thing’s in charge. Teacher & student isn’t any of these, but it’s an asymmetry, and best not to reify it. A girl can be a teacher and an old man can be a child.

While in California, I worked at redesigning a course I’m to teach this winter, ENG 459 Editing and Publishing. I’m creating modules, collaborative and solo projects, for the students to choose among, and leaving more than usual to be figured out by the students, or among us all.

I don’t talk a lot about “diversity.” It’s too cramped a construct for the revolution of perception asked of us, though we’re fixed on it right now because of accidents of American jurisprudence. But these projects are an effort to diversify viewpoint and redistribute authority. They may look less radical than other such efforts. But you become what you hate by inverting it. I’m trying here for a pedagogical madhyamaka, a middle way.


Module A: Collaborative projects

There are three collaborative projects in this course. You’ll each be assigned to one of them – your first choice, I hope, at worst your second. All three ask for a lot of independence and self-direction. I give you goals, parameters, and grading criteria, and ask you to work out, as a group, how to get from here (aspiration) to there (accomplishment). Why so hands-off? The more you figure out for yourselves, the more you learn.

And, these are works-in-progress. I’ve taught the course before, but not in this form, and I’ll be learning how this modular design works. Students maybe don’t like to hear their teachers are learning alongside them, but we are, or should be, and it’s good to acknowledge the fact at the outset, or I think so anyway. Be ready for me to make adjustments as we proceed. Maybe in response to feedback from you, and maybe, apologies, if later I see dodges I want to block I don’t see now.

Each group will hand in a portfolio that represents their preparatory work and final product. We’ll work out its contents together as the projects take shape.

Webzine

This group will produce one issue of an online literary journal – soliciting, evaluating, editing, and publishing creative content in a form that’s on a par with professionally edited online literary journals.

I’ll give you examples of online literary journals, some produced entirely by creative writing students, and you’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished, in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the online examples about how they were created? Don’t be shy about looking for further examples.

Goal. One issue of an online literary journal, of professional quality in both content and presentation.

Parameters. Content may be partially or wholly by Western students, but no content from students in this class, and I encourage you to think beyond Western, and to solicit work from established writers. Content may be poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or multimedia, including visual work. Literary values count here – no light verse, no genre fiction, no self-help prose. The platform should be a website, not a blog.

Grading criteria. Literary quality of content. Expressive range of content. Creative vision as manifest in both content and form. Attention to zine as a web object – design and navigation. Mechanics – format consistency, editorial correctness.

Chapbook series

This group will produce and distribute a series of chapbooks, soliciting, evaluating, and publishing creative work by a diverse range of authors.

I’ll give you a few examples, and suggest how you might find more. You’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished and in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the examples about how they were made? Are there ways you might do better than the examples on offer?

We’ll figure out the number of issues (three to five seems reasonable) and the print runs (I’m thinking 50-75 copies) as the logistics clarify. I think we’ll be able to coordinate the printing without cost to us. Remember that effective distribution is part of this project.

Goal. Production and distribution of a short series of chapbooks containing literary work by a diverse range of authors.

Parameters. Content may be partially or wholly by Western students, but no content from students in this class. Chapbooks are an ideal venue for emerging writers, so I encourage you to think as editors giving new writers a helping hand. Content may be poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or cross-genre. Literary values count here – no light verse, no genre fiction, no self-help prose.

Grading criteria. Literary integrity and quality of each chapbook. Diversity across chapbook series. Creative vision of series as manifest in both content and form. Attention to chapbook as a physical object – design, materiality. Mechanics – format consistency, editorial correctness.

Reading series

This group will curate (organize and promote) a reading series (at least three occasions) off campus involving both student and non-student writers.

I’ll fill you in on reading series in town, and student-run reading series I know of elsewhere. You’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished and in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the examples about how they were made? Are there ways you might do better than the examples on offer?

Goal. A well-attended off-campus reading series involving both student and non-student writers on at least three occasions.

Parameters. Readings must be at a venue or venues off campus. Some readers may be Western students but some must be unaffiliated with Western (not students or faculty). Readings should be promoted. Readers should be introduced by one or more MC’s.

Grading criteria. Appropriateness of venue. Effectiveness of promotion. Size and engagement of audience (best-effort basis). Quality of readers’ work and presentation (best-effort basis). Fluency of MCs’ framing.


That’s what I got. Joy to you at the turning of this year. May the new one bring succor to all those in need of it.

 

Valentine’s Shirt in Heaven

Zazen last night at Red Cedar for the first time in some weeks. My mind was a drifty sleepy jello, nothing new there. I moved from following my breath to following sounds. No alertness for me there so I switched to taking refuge

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

one on each exhalation. Just the utterance for itself, not trying to connect with what it means, I don’t know what they mean, honestly I don’t. I mean, I could try to explicate it, but phhhht. Nothing special happened and I left before service, tired after a long day and under the weather.

What we want’s so simple. To be loved. It’s so little and so much.

This morning, two poems by Jean Valentine, facing pages, saw me face to face.

OPEN

I lay down under language
it left me and I slept

—You, the Comforter, came into the room
I moved my head—

my blood, my mouth
all buttoned away—

Makers of houses, books, clothes-
makers, goodbye—

and

A LEAF, A SHADOW-HAND

A leaf, a shadow-hand
blows over my head
from outside time
now & then
this time of year, September

—this happens—
—it’s well known—
a soul locked away inside
not knowing anyone,
walking around, but inside;

I was like this once,
and you, whose shadow-hand
(kindness) just now blew over my head, again,
you said, “Don’t ever think you’re a monster.”

That Comforter, that kindness, I know them, & not just in memory.

& not only, please let it be, their recipient.


Image above, from a work still incipient, Dura Mater. Click to go bigly:

Image 1 col

Sumas Mountain ochre, olive oil, egg yolk, water on paper.

Caught then not

Got caught in a post-breakup jag of self-hate for a bit there. No one loves me, no one will want me, why should I bother. You know, that drill. It can be pretty compelling; it can be a rock fast at your head; a rock sunk fast in your head.

For me – I’m noticing this more and more lately, and wonder if it’s a lumpy fruit of years of practice, zazen, psychotherapy, artmaking – it was powerful but also clear-edged, I couldn’t push it away but it couldn’t take me over, either. Like, I can’t repress much anymore, walls of the mind don’t work so well anymore. What arises, I gotta suffer. But as recompense, what arises doesn’t wash me away either.

Or is it just getting older? Anyway, it came with a migraine, there was that much wave to it, and as I lay on my bed in the afternoon, near naked with the sun on me and the cat beside me, window wide open and the wind in the dogwood outside, and all the little birds, and traffic sounds, a thought came, and it was, the world wants you here. And another thought came, and it was, the evidence is, you’re here.

That is all.

 

Trump and the Diamond Sutra (I)

Worst case seems to be our case. Men of great sudden power – worldly power, outer power, power a manifestly decrepit political process has bestowed on them – are telling the media they are enemy and should just shut up. Are reinstituting torture at secret sites overseas. Are abhorring abortion abroad to placate a domestic audience though that jacks up illegal unsafe abortions in the Third World, and deaths by. Are waving threats of no-more-money at cities havening immigrants doing work few else want to and their DACA children, some my own very students. Oh if I keep listing I’ll never be done. The Constitution, frail bulwark, cries to think what comes next.

I’m not a marcher. Don’t like slogans, crowds, group thought. Guess I could suspend that, and may, for the import of opposing. Cuz this is real real bad.

Want to know what inner power is. Have started reading the Diamond Sutra again, Red Pine’s translation, thought I touched something in these lines:

After crossing his legs and adjusting his body, he turned his awareness to what was before him.

At the start of the sutra. Don’t feel qualified to comment on them, but what I hear is, the Buddha is in a body. And wholly in it. He needs to attend to it and knows it. Maybe his knee hurts, so he adjusts. He was out in the city begging for his one meal, walking barefoot, he’s an old guy by now, maybe his knee or his insole hurts. He adjusts his body. Doesn’t blame anyone for his discomfort, just does what he can to lessen it, and moves along. No arrogance.

No blame. Turns his care to what needs looking after – what was before him. Is human, not a god, not omniscient, it takes a choice and a turn to locate his mind here, in mindfulness. But he can, and because he’s love, he does.

What answer does this offer to Trump, at the apparent dawn of proto-fascism in a capital empty of competent political opposition? I think maybe none.

Nor am I helping the petitioners, demonstrators, agitators, and such, whom I admire lots and am glad for greatly but find I am not one of, much.

The only answer I know to the sickness of outer power is cultivation of inner power. I have not heard a resonant response to the ill spreading among us anywhere except in buddhadharma. Which I don’t understand, and tells me nothing specific about how to act.

And, too, I reject quietism.

Thus astray, as I dive into the Diamond Sutra, I may post a few of my misprisions here. Will share by tweet in case lonely sleepless sad POTUS eavesdrops.


NEXT DAY. This post started to turn to crap. Had I had a beer too many? (Been through a breakup, second time round with the same o so lovely heartful hurted beloved, some beers is cheery to me.) Maybe I just lost the bead.

“Group thought,” that’s out, everything I’ve heard about the Women’s Marches, they were astonishing harmonious various, true response, right action.

“I have not heard …,” that out. Soon as I said it, started hearing fierce meaningful responses all over. L. in Portland sent this from HuffPo on ethnographic blogging, its quilting of irreducibly multiple voices, as resistance to the One Voice of the State. Adam Gopnik’s annoying fondness for the sleek epigram has transmuted under a new pressure to become a majestic voice of true opposition. He wrote this in the New Yorker, from which a taste:

Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Trump in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power. His base loves craziness, incompetence, and contempt for reason because sanity, competence, and the patient accumulation of evidence are things that allow educated people to pretend that they are superior. Resentment comes before reason.

And this in the Sun, which arrived today, its dawn offering

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America was never America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed –
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It was never America to me.)

Ironies multiply and compound. The whole poem here.

Could be said, these are buddhadharma, yo? A sutra‘s what stitches you up.

I just – I just – I don’t know how to turn acts of mind, poems and posts, to act acts. I want to knock a government down. What use, following my breath?

Sound w/ no human meaning

I am thunderous sad this howly eve. Why so hard to let go of what you never held ever. Well the wind it howl all my walls round, Heathcliffs me, heathens, encliffs me, as I prep my lessons.

Here’s a few on sound-as-sound, animal meaning, gut calls. Not that they have no human meaning but they have no meaning proprietarily human. Chords that binds us to birds, rats, rocks, grasses, ice floes.


One.

Hear sound made as its own meaning – Louis

, Ella

, then write a poem of pure sound.

Two.

Do the Dada, eye

ball-karawane-2

and ear

Karawane (click on the loudspeaker and give a list)

then do it again.

Three.

Make a list of sounds you make you feel are meaningless but just the same expressive, of you. For instance, “ugh,” “gahhhh,” “phphhht.” Go for as long as you can and spell them as accurate as you can.

Four.

Homophonic translation, as I’ve laid out here and here.


These for my intro poetry workshop, whom I wish to shake at outset, their sense of the possible.


Am drawn to them, believe or no, by an anything but frivolous practice, liturgical chanting of sounds that, some, to me, are just pure sound, e.g. the Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo

Kanzeon namu butsu yo butsu u in yo butsu u en buppo so en jo raku ga jo cho nen kanzeon bo nen kanzeon nen nen ju shin ki nen nen fu ri shin

because of my illiteracy. Translation,

Kanzeon! Praise to Buddha! All are one with Buddha; all awake to Buddha. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha – eternal, joyous, selfless, pure. Through the day Kanzeon – through the night Kanzeon. This moment arises from mind; this moment itself is mind.

But we chant them in Japanese, unknowing the meaning many, because the sounds themselves are, it is said, efficacious. Then there are dharanis with no semantic meaning anywhere, only mantra value

Namu kara tan no tora ya ya namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya fuji sato bo ya moko sato bo ya mo ko kya runi kya ya en sa hara ha e shu tan no ton sha namu shiki ri toi mo ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra rin to bo na mu no ra kin ji ki ri mo ko ho do sha mi sa bo o to jo shu ben o shu in sa bo sa to no mo bo gya mo ha te cho to ji to en o bo ryo ki ru gya chi kya ra chi i kiri mo ko fuji sa to sa bo sa bo mo ra mo ra mo ki mo ki ri to in ku ryo ku ryo ke mo to ryo to ryo ho ja ya chi mo ko ho ja ya chi to ra to ra chiri ni shifu ra ya sha ro sha ro mo mo ha mo ra ho chi ri i ki i ki shi no shi no ora san fura sha ri ha za ha zan fura sha ya ku ryo ku ryo mo ra ku ryo ku ryo ki ri sha ro sha ro shi ri shi ri su ryo su ryo fuji ya fuji ya fudo ya fudo ya mi chiri ya nora kin ji chiri shuni no hoya mono somo ko shido ya somo ko moko shido ya somo ko shido yu ki shifu ra ya somo ko nora kin ji somo ko mo ra no ra somo ko shira su omo gya ya somo ko sobo moko shido ya somo ko shaki ra oshi do ya somo ko hodo mogya shido ya somo ko nora kin ji ha gyara ya somo ko mo hori shin gyara ya somo ko namu kara tan no tora ya ya namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya somo ko shite do modo ra hodo ya so mo ko

And I can tell you, when you’ve chanted it, you’ve been rocked.


And if you want some words said to have meaning, here.

Lighthearted fundraising schtick, yeah! And my first time as kokyo, OMG. And my most sacred text.

Shittiest trip ever

Went to California for a writing residency. About the shittiest trip I ever took. Anxiety attacks cuz I went off a migraine med and they were so bad I had to go on another med it’s going to be shitty shitty hell to get off. Strains resultant with a woman I newly tenderly love, and asked too much of, and I can’t tell if she’s going to drop me or no, and she won’t say cuz she finds the question demeaning. All my abandonment holes opening inly. Out of the running early for the tenure-line job at my school I’ve waited five fucking years to come open and out for reasons I am fiercely philosophically and pedagogically opposed to. Also a stomach flu over Christmas. And, my father, now without question in dementia, and going deeper there.

2016 sucked for the free world. Little patch at the end sucked right here, too.

Blessings upon Nichae and my father who took me in, late night, when I was brokenhearting. Blessings upon City Lights Bookstore, Moe’s Books, Green Apple Books. Blessings upon the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, hills I walked at night sometimes sobbing, howling even, the abandonment daimon (H’s word) in me that strong. Blessings upon the inventors teachers and practitioners of EMDR. Blessings upon John Jordy. Blessings upon Barb you know why. Blessings upon my mother whom I have to say goodbye to we can’t meet anymore in this life. Blessings upon H, whatever you end up doing or deciding, it’s been exquisite. Loss addled me early, buddha dharma and sangha are bearing me forward on a stumbly road I don’t even know I’m walking.