Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top 5 Songs of 2010

It may be a little early to be making 'best of' lists for 2010, but it's unlikely that during the next month I will find additional songs I enjoy and to which I can develop a lasting emotional attachment.  Not enough time really. That's how I picked these songs. They are listed in no particular order.

"The Last Days of Disco" - Glam Sam and His Combo
This is probably my single favorite song of 2010. It's from Glam Sam's second album The Paradise Groove. There is such a fresh, summery, free energy about this track that just makes me want to throw a big party where everyone is dancing and celebrating life in full-on sunshine! Fabulous track from the lemongrassmusic label.
"Fafa" - Vieux Farka Toure
Vieux is the son of Ali Farka Toure, a guitarist from Mali who I first heard when his song "Ai Du" appeared in the French movie L'Auberge Espagnole. It's moody, electric, and bluesy all at one time. "Fafa" has some of that power, but I can definitely hear the younger Toure making his mark here as well. Can never decide if his music belongs in some bayou deep in Louisiana or around a campfire in Mali. Maybe both! The live CD this track comes from is probably under the Christmas tree with my name on it right now.

"Tonight" - Samantha James
I had to put something from Samantha James' second CD Subconscious in this list. It was a tough choice to pick one track, because so many songs from this fantastic deep house album struck a nerve with me. I chose this one because, like "The Last Days of Disco", it has a warm feel that makes you want to celebrate the moment you are in. However, this song's lyrics actually speak to that very emotion and the soothing feel of the track puts you in mind of a warm summer night. Another winner from the Om label.

"No Time" - Gaudi
I dare you not to move when you listen to this track. The beat is high energy and driving, complete with a phat rasta vocalist (Dr. Israel). Gaudi is an Italian producer and arranger who I heard came to light while working behind the scenes on the show X Factor. While I'm sure his work there was as generic as American Idol fodder, Gaudi definitely has chops. Entire albums by producers rarely work for me, but this track is throbbing, thumping, and slammin'! Off his No Prisoners CD from Six Degrees.

"Forget Me" - BT
Like Samantha James, BT put out a phenomenal album in 2010: These Hopeful Machines. A stellar trance producer, BT has spent years positioning himself as some sort of breakbeat mixologist (with iffy results). This album does a fantastic job of fusing his pretensions with his trance roots and even grafts in his closet pop sensibilities. There are a lot of gems on this CD, but "Forget Me" is especially rousing with its surging emotions and aching vocals about the 'beautiful mistake' of life. The song totally had me but, when the chorus break down reveals a child (BT's child actually) singing, I got goosebumps. These Hopeful Machines is BT's best work since his debut (which is one of my favorite albums of all time).

Honorable Mentions

"The Passing Stars" - Thievery Corporation. This is a new track off their best of disk (It Takes a Thief). I had to add it because these guys have become my favorite band. While they have more compelling tracks in their catalog, what I like about this one is that it merges a lot of the differing sounds they have been playing around with for the last 15 or so years into one delicious 3-minute slice of chilled-out downtempo.

"Rocket To Uranus" - Vengaboys and Perez Hilton. I know, I know, I know. This piece of Eurocheese is shallow, silly, and it has Perez Hilton on it. What on earth am I thinking? Answer: I can't help it! It's fun, it's filthy, the video is just a blast to watch, and it has Perez Hilton on it (clearly enjoying himself immensely). Not everything has to be deep.

Hope you check out these tracks and artists. They are proof there is good music being made these days; you just won't find it on the radio, MTV, the charts, or carried in a Walmart.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mumonkan, Koan 9: Daitsu Chisho Buddha

A monk asked Koyo Seijo, "Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. How could this be?" Seijo said, "Your question is quite self-explanatory." The monk asked, "He meditated so long; why could he not attain Buddhahood?" Seijo said, "Because he did not become a Buddha."

Meditating does not equal becoming a Buddha (i.e., being enlightened). It's merely a tool to control and discipline the mind. It should help you get there (and there are some Zen practitioners who would tell you it's the only way to get there), but I doubt anyone would say meditating guarantees it. Most simply, Seijo's explanation means that if he did not become a Buddha then he did not become a Buddha. Period. Sitting in zazen for a million years isn't going to make a difference.  Being enlightened occurs when you achieve the right mindstate, both in zazen and in your life. If you fail to do this, then it doesn't matter what else you do.

I had read this koan and meditated on it years ago - well before I bought my copy of Mumonkan - and I'd come up with this solution. However, when I read it this time, I felt like my understanding of the solution was deeper and my understanding of the implications more complex. This suggests a very positive thing to me: that the more I learn while practicing Zen the deeper and more meaningful my responses will become. In a sense, I could return to any of these koans a few years from now and expand my understanding.

I've been keeping all my reactions to the koans in a written Zen journal, as I found it helps cement things in my mind if I write it down. Later, it can be helpful as a sort of a review. This helps me build on what I have learned. Given my discovery about being able to return to koans and get more out of them, I think this journal will be a great way to continue building my understanding.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mumonkan, Koan 8: Keichu the Wheelmaker

Gettan Osho said, "Keichu, the first wheelmaker, made a cart whose wheels had a hundred spokes. Now, suppose you took a cart and removed both the wheels and the axle. What would you have?"

This one took me a while to figure out, but I guess most of them do. Not that common for me to automatically 'get it'. My solution might be different from Mumon's, but I think I get to the same place he did. I focused on the fact that without wheels a cart cannot function and that Keichu's cart had such intricate wheels. A crude but well-made wheel will function - or allow the cart to function - as well as a beautiful one made by a master. 

In his verse, Mumon writes:

When the spiritual wheels turns,
Even the master fails to follow them.
They travel in all directions, above and below,
North, south, east, and west.

I think this addresses the idea that I'm speaking of above. They physical wheel doesn't matter, so long as the spiritual wheel turns.

I may not have this one completely after all. As I'm writing here, I feel like there's still a piece I'm missing. I can think it, but I'm having trouble putting it into words. Maybe I need to meditate some more on this one, after all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Haiku Thursdays

howling winter night
all creation takes shelter
I pursue the wolves

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hits From Around The World

According to the stats page on my blog, which I've just now discovered, Zen Throw Down has received almost 2,500 hits so far. While that figure isn't going to get anyone to pay me for ad space, I'm very pleased I've been read by that many people. Clearly people other than my friends are dropping by, and I've checked to see if me visiting a page is counted as a hit (it's not). Here's my top 6 posts in terms of number of visits.

1. Concrete Poetry (5/6/10) - 95 visits
2. Delayed Halloween Post (11/2/10) - 23 visits
3. Droid X (8/8/10) - 21 visits
4. Bliss, Quiet Letters (7/2/10) - 16 visits
5. Emilie Autumn's Victorian Asylum (7/26/10) - 15 visits
6. Beset By Owls! (11/21/10) - 15 visits

Some of the hits are from surfers drawn via searches (for images or music). However, not all of them are, and I've had hits from Canada, Brazil, the UK, Poland, India, France, Hungary, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and much more. I find this incredibly encouraging.

Hey all of you! If you stop by, drop me a note and say "hi!". I'm curious about the people I'm making a momentary connection with and what they read on here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chicago Vacation: Postscript

Gretchen sent me one of the pics from Garbage Fest! Truly memorable night of theatre and performance! Definitely click this to see the full size. From what I gather this monster was made partially of sofa cushions that were painted as needed.

Chicago Vacation: Day 3

Last day of my vacation was similarly a bit busier than I had planned on. Today was the Mag Mile! I started off Michigan Avenue at a used book store. They weren't geared for the true antiquarian bibliophile, but I did find a hard copy edition of Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott. Good buy since I would not want to spend a whole lot on his work at this point. After that it was up to the Mag Mile for window shopping and Christmas shopping. I got Jim something really nice (but I can't say what it is because it's a surprise!). I ate lunch at Baisi Thai at 900 North Michigan Avenue. Tried something semi-sushi: an octopus and sea kelp salad. It was actually very good.

While I see no reason to run on about this or that store, I did spend some time in one of the galleries along the strip: Hilligoss Galleries. Lovely interior with cordial staff. Some of the painting were quite appealing. Several of the artists were into a sort of post-impressionist style with heavy impasto that I quite liked. Not exactly edgy (subject matter ranged from Venice, flowers, water lilies, and portraits of ladies), but something I could certainly see hanging in the living room if I found just the right piece.  While I liked the paintings and they were well-executed, there is part of me that feels if I am going to pay a gallery price then I would prefer something that's less decorative and a bit more of a 'statement'. I suppose a purchase of that magnitude really should approached as an investment rather than as an expensive indulgence to fill a space on a wall.

After napping for part of the afternoon (by this time I was truly wiped out from walking around so much), I had dinner with my friend David at an Italian place in my old neighborhood. The place was actually located about a block from an apartment I rented in the city for a couple years on Broadway.  After dinner, we skipped the frou-frou desserts for ice cream sundaes.

Next morning, I walked around a bit but really just packed and relaxed before checking out and bringing this brief sojourn to an end.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chicago Vacation: Day 2 (part two)

Okay, so after the Art Institute, my back was broken from standing around so much (ah, yes, the advance of age and infirmity!). Had a great lunch, and then went home to nap before my 1.5 hour hot stone massage in the hotel spa. Soooooo nice after a strenuous day bumming around the city.

Later that night I met up with Gretchen and her boyfriend Camilo for dinner at some little Mexican joint is Pilsen, and then we went to see Garbage Fest, a night of performance art/theatre. From what I can gather they kinda squat in a building and set up shop (and stage). So not sure how legal it is, but the various plays we saw were very thought-provoking and enjoyable. Plus, it so takes me back to my twenties to be in the city and just wandering into something really amazing just because there is so much going on in the city.

The place was decked out in these huge replicas of Garbage Pail Kids. Gretchen snapped a pic of me with this big fat satanic baby, but I haven't got the pic yet to post here. The hostess of the event was dressed up as a trashed up woman and I think she was carrying a forty with her while she gave 'drunken' introductions to the performers. The night started with a weird sort of wedding ceremony that was more flatulent than creative. Then these two guys came out and did a sort of weird intro (but I couldn't understand much of what they were saying into their mic). Their section ended well though. They had a strobe light behind a fan and were playing a repeated sound of what I think was a slowed down needle getting pulled across a vinyl record. The one guy was hunched over a tin bucket and yelled into the mic (NO. ONE. IS. FORCING. YOU. TO. DO. A. WHOLE. BUNCH. OF. STUFF. THAT. YOU. DON'T. WANT. TO. DO.). The other guys would emerge from behind the speakers and at set intervals timed to the words being said, approached the other guy and dumped some metal 'coins' in his bucket. Then the yelling guy immediately dumped them out and they did it again. Over and over and over and OVER!!! You start thinking, "This is pointless; why don't they just stop? AHA! I get it! Why don't any of us, right? Very futurist/theatre of the absurd.

The next guy came out in a strange yellow suit and did a bit of a monologue/prose poem/one man show. Part of his piece was lying out a replica of himself in his yellow suit on the floor made out of pieces of some kind of plastic. He was a little all over the place and the piece probably could have done better had he tried to not do so much. Still it was thought-provoking as you were watching it.

Then this other guy comes out with some sort of makeshift mixing board and for twenty minutes (the max time allowed), makes the most ear grinding noise by warping and twisting the noise created from his contraption. Interspersed with the noise were fragments of radio or TV programming from a snippet of a basketball sportscast to the Lava jingle to laugh tracks. By the end, many of us were plugging our ears because the noise was so loud that it made you worry about your hearing. Okay, I get it. The media is noise and we can't stand listening to it, but we don't shut it off. Still it was a bit overly annoying, though I guess theatre like this is supposed to be anti-entertaining to a certain extent. I still would have liked to wring the neck of the young guy in charge of this sound torture chamber by the time it was over.

The final piece was much bigger in scope. About ten actors/dancers involved. They were each dressed in a costume that was based off old oriental ritual garb, but instead of ornamentation the costumes bore trash: empty milkshake containers, fast food carry out containers, scraps of fabric, etc. They were moving around a maypole like contraption as an eastern-styled piece of music that sounded ritualistic droned on with gongs going off every so often. They paced around in a daze and then started trading junk with one another as they passed each other. Then they brought all their junk to the center and engaged in a frenzied dance like some sort of psychedelic voodoo ceremony. The theme obviously was the fetishization of commodities. It depicted society as a group of religious zealots/hoarders gathering and swapping their junk, oblivious to anything else. Falls flat in my text, but it was pretty hypnotic to see it performed largely due to the actors being so into the 'characters' and the really elaborate and clever trash/fetish gear.

Day 2 was over and I'm extremely pleased I decided to take a 'vacation' with some of that 'use it or lose it' PTO time, rather than just taking a bunch of 'days off.'

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Beset by Owls!

We've been noticing for the past week or so that there is a spot on our driveway that has been slowly accumulating layers of bird crap. The area is only the size of a manhole cover, so it seemed odd that birds were dumping so much in exactly the same spot. Then a day or two ago, Jim noticed some big chunks of fuzz amid the bird crap. He figured a bird must be roosting in the tree above on that spot, and then he saw owl! That explains the fuzzballs, since owls vomit up the fur and bones of their meals.

When I came home from Chicago, Jim pointed out the owl to me but I couldn't see it. It took me a few seconds because it is so well camouflaged amid the dead leaves and tree bark. This morning, while putting the christmas lights up, I went over to check out our owl and saw a drop of bird crap in a different spot under the tree. I looked up and saw a second owl! And yes, the first one was still in his perch so it truly is a second owl. Plus they look very different. Owl number two has lighter coloring and is much fatter.

I have never seen a real owl before! They're perched about fifteen feet off the ground, and they don't seem at all disturbed by us.  Of course, we're not wanting to disturb them as they are likely eating a lot of mice and other undesirables infesting the area. While the bird crap and fuzzy pellet vomit are kind of unsightly, I hope they stay with us a long time! Here's some pics of our new housemates. Click on the pics to make them bigger.

Same day update: An old friend I've been able to reconnect with on Facebook (hi, Emily!) asked what kind of owls they were. I had to confess I was so excited to see them that I hadn't even bothered to learn this. After a search on the web, I believe they are eastern screech owls.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chicago Vacation: Day 2 (part one)

Missed a day blogging, but I am so beat from this vacation that I'm glad I have the next week off.

Started Thursday off slow with some Zen journaling, but then I got out and went to the Art Institute. I wanted to have a good long time to spend there before my hot rock massage, and it turned out that I needed the time. I spent about 4-5 hours at the Art Institute and the best was that I went mostly to galleries that I traditionally do not go to. I avoided all the modern art, Impressionism, Expressionism, and Surrealism galleries. Instead, I went to the Thorne Miniature Rooms (intricate models of room interiors throughout the last several hundred years), the new location for the armor collection (a great visit though it didn't look like they had even half of the collection out), the restored Chagall wall (have to admit it seemed a lot more impressive when I was a kid), Far East art (including the new Ando Gallery), and the contemporary art wing (always a hoot). However, the best was the seated Buddhas.

I also stopped into the Richard Hawkins exhibition (Third Mind). I always enter contemporary art exhibitions with some trepidation because if you don't like the artist then it's a downer. If you do, however, it's wonderful fodder for the imagination and really enjoyable. This was definitely the latter. I haven't read the brochure that was provided at the entrance, so I'm only assuming he's gay (pretty safe bet based on the art). I mention this fact because, knowing he was colored my initial reaction to his art. The exhibition was broken up into many rooms, each with varying styles. He does everything from collage to installations to sculpture so it was a wonderfully varied set of pieces.

One of the initial rooms had pictures along the lines of this one, collages incorporated pieces of Classical art with words scripted onto them. The text on them (unfortunately I could only find a tame example to snag off the web) commented on the 'delectable posterior', the genitalia, and the amount of come one of the youth sculptures might produce were he real, and insinuations of Roman men rubbing against the statues for sexual gratification. My first reaction was: "Oh here's another tired queen making everything into a sex joke."

But as I read more of the pieces, I realized he was visually declaring something that I had always sort of felt about this art. Some of this stuff is clearly sexual in content and was intended to celebrate the male form for largely male viewers and we all know homosexuality was a much less taboo topic then than it is today in our allegedly post-Victorian world. All I can say is that Hawkins is 'outing' art. None of the tip-toeing around the homoerotic content that you usually see in write-ups of the material. He confronts it head on in graphic language. Brilliant! He uses a similar approach with heavy metal artists and Asian male models, exposing the rampant homoeroticism that threads through the history of all societies.

All in all, it was a long, literally back-breaking morning and afternoon in the Art Institute. Okay, this is getting to be a very long entry. I'll hold off on writing about the rest of this day until later. Gotta get out there to enjoy the last morning of my Chicago vacation.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Haiku Thursdays

the cocoon splits
and the butterfly feels pain

Chicago Vacation: Day 1

Day one ended up being unexpectedly busy! If I do this again, I need to schedule more time to make sure I can relax.

While I waited for the room to be ready for check-in, I walked a couple blocks over to the Museum of Contemporary Art to check what they had up. The thing that always strikes me about that building is that it seems like there's an awful lot of wasted room/space that could go to displaying art. One of the exhibitions was called Lost and Found and it was various sculptures on display. Of course, I didn't memorize any of the artists names, and the museum website doesn't list them. And the few images they show on the website give you the message: "image protected by copyright laws" if you try to copy it. Yeah, it's all about the art, isn't it? I mean, I know I don't have a zillion people reading this blog, but why would an artist not want people posting examples of their work on blogs? Artists do make work to be SEEN, right? I mean isn't that the point? To have as many people see your work as possible?

This exhibition was very interesting. There was one work call "Weeds" that looked like a plant, but it was made of scraps of newspaper and magazine. Very visual comment on the media. Another piece I liked was called "Dialectic" (I think), and it was a wall of cinder blocks with the holes filled with material that was very simplistically rendered to look like faces. The eyes and mouths were holes that went all the way through to the back of the wall. Then there were two light sources, one shining on the front of the wall and the other backlighting it. They alternated slowly coming on and off, so that the faces were first illuminated and then back lit with light coming through the eye and mouth holes. All sorts of images went through my mind from the obvious: we're all just bricks in the wall, to stuff more specific to this work: illuminated face equals being communicated to while the back lit face is the individual thinking/reacting what they hear and all of us separated from one another. Very evocative work.

Another piece was two buddhist statues kneeling and facing one another in prayer position. Between them a string hung taught from one statue's hand to the others. In the middle of the string, a safety pin was suspended. Again this is an extremely evocative image. Is it some kind of statement about how we build these grand edifices called 'religions' merely to provide ourselves with tiny little comforts or is it a statement that two two praying people are in complicity to make each other feel safe and secure through shared religious belief, which isn't a particularly savory comment on religion overall.

Another exhibition was a single artist retrospective. The artist was Luc Tuymans, who creates simplified paintings (not minimalistic per se) of everyday objects based on photographed objects which he uses as his reference material. His approach (and pallette) really left me cold, with its unvarying and amateurish-looking approach. Too often, the pieces were so drained of anything that would compel serious introspection or engagement that you'd have to know the artist's objectives for the works to resonate, rather than having them stand on their own and speak on their own. He did have several pieces that justified the approach (and I was able to snag one off the web for this posting!). It's called "Within". It's a jail or gate with nothing back darkness beyond. This piece really makes you ponder some serious questions while you're trying to figure it out. Am I within? Or am I standing outside and looking at what is within? If I'm outside what does that say about that perspective; if inside the same question holds. Does my interpretation of the painting perspective say something about how I feel in general? Plus Tuymans' pallette really works here, creating a very ominous mood.

Another exhibit was called Contested Territory which, according to the MCA website "explores the continued conversation between history and present as well as the artist's ongoing duel with tradition as they test themselves, their materials, and the tradition of painting to keep it relevant and alive." One artist, in particular, from this collection really interested me: Leon Golub. Just glad the MCA mentioned him on the website or I would not have remembered his name at all! I snagged a pic of one of the works shown ("Reclining Youth"), which I really liked a lot. Apparently, he lays down paint and then (I think) uses chemicals or turpentine or something to corrode or chip it away and then relayers it to create a sort of eroded look. Some of his work using classical period themes (as in "Reclining Youth" which is layout is very much ancient Greek). I felt like his approach replicated in painting the passage of time around these images, almost creating the same ancient, worn appearance in his modern painting as we see in distressed sculpture from ancient societies.  Interesting way to rethink depicting standard artistic themes as well as paying homage to ancient works.

The last exhibition was around urban China, but it felt a little to cutesy-kiddie for me. Probably an 'outreach' thing of some sort. So I had a very good time at the musueum. In a way, I guess I didn't realize how much I saw in this visit. There's something positive about a musuem that doens't have so much stuff that you can't possible react to it all. I probably spent more time with the pieces here because I knew that I was going to see the whole museum so why rush?

After checking in and getting settled, I went out to have dinner with my old friend Ray. Should have got a pic to show here!!! Nice long conversation over a much needed burger/tater tot meal. Then I went to my old haunt Reckless Records and picked up Thievery Corporation's CD The Cosmic Game, which I cited in an earlier post as being sort of 'more of the same' and I skipped buying it. Well, Radio Retaliation has continued to impress me with its power and craft, so I thought I better give the Thievery boys the benefit of th doubt and grab this one. Came home quite tired and pleased with my first half day of this Chicago adventure.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

...but is it Haiku?

Jim liked the first haiku I posted (well, maybe he's not the most objective critic?). However, out of curiosity, he read up a little on how Haiku are written and he found some things that make me wonder if much of what I've written fits the definition of traditional haiku.

I had learned that haiku structure was the three line, 5-7-5 syllable format. My more recent reading added to this by suggesting a haiku should be able to be spoken in one breath. Jim uncovered a few more details I had never heard before. For instance, the 17 syllables are actually moras (or ons).  These are different from syllables in that a long vowel sound or an 'n' at the end of a syllable 'count' as moras. I checked into this and, while it's true, a lot of English haiku come in at under 17 syllables because some translators say that 12 syllables in English seems about equivalent to 17 moras. 

Losing 5 syllables in such a Spartan form of poetry is a major issue! On the one hand, this excites me because what I think most people like about haiku - and what appeals to me about it in using it to write about Zen Buddhism - is the immediacy.  The poet must make the most of every word used. Nothing can be wasted. The poet Basho apparently revised his haiku as he searched for the perfect word, and he regularly used words that had multiple definitions or homonyms in order to layer on extra meanings. That's something I regularly did in my poetry, so it's a tactic I'm well familiar with.

I've also picked up a few more things about traditional haiku from the introductory sections in my hardcover book of Basho's haiku. For example, there should be a reference (either a word or phrase) that tells the reader what season it is. This can be very, very subtle but some people feel its a requirement for the form. And there's also 'cutting word', a sort of pause in the flow of the haiku that would be similar to a comma or semi-colon. I've definitely noticed this in haiku I've read. Often, after the first two lines provide a mental picture, the cutting word comes and then the haiku has a sort of philosophical comment or another image that makes the meaning clear.

While I like the idea of writing haiku in a more traditional format, I'm not sure I'm going to edit anything I had considered finished. It seems like a bad choice to edit something that I'm happy with just for format concerns. But I will keep it in mind for the future. Frankly some of this (I'm especially thinking of the cutting word) may be something I'm already doing.  I know I've used the cutting word device already because I could pick up as a reader how dramatic and effective it was in some of the haiku I'm reading.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chicago - Pete Retreat Style

As I was planning my New York trip, I thought more and more that I'd prefer to go there with Jim so I'd have someone to experience it with. So I've decided to use some of my use it or lose it vacation time to take a 'vacation' to Chicago.

I'm booked at a nice boutique hotel just off north Michigan Avenue, with easy access to all sorts of stuff (and I got a great price). So with the money I'm saving on the room and air fare, I figure I have a few bucks to blow on the Mag Mile.  Think it's time to do some early Christmas shopping. I'm also planning to check out if I can jump into a meditation class or something like that at the Japanese cultural center. Plus there's the revamped armor exhibit at the Art Institute, I'll be a few blocks from the Museum of Contemporary Art, and maybe I can book a spa day and get pampered with a hot rock massage.

Of course this is a vacation, so I will need to keep in mind that I'm entitled to kick back a bit too. Maybe I'll find a local coffeehouse, park myself by a window, and and write to jump start my potential new novel.  Not to mention I can hang out with friends. Three nights, four days on my own.  It's actually an urban Pete Retreat!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Haiku 1

still summer evening
i emerge from samadhi
black storm erupted

This haiku was written about an experience of satori I wrote about in this blog back in March of this year

Haiku Thursdays

I'll try to post one haiku a week (because my initial spurt of output was pretty substantial).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Since I was 13 or 14 I had kept journals with my thoughts, writing, everything. Over the past few years, I'd gotten away from keeping them mainly because I stopped writing poetry. Partly because my main journal-like activity has been the journal I keep about Zen mediation and the koans I'm working on. And partly because I have been inexplicably jock-ish for several years now. Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I made an entry in the 'current' journal.

Many of the things I realize or learn while sitting in zazen create an urge in me to write them as poetry. I've tried it, but the poems always come off poorly. The other day I thought the problem might be that these epiphanies need to be communicated with the simple immediacy with which I experience them or they will come off as canned or insincere.  I hit on the idea of writing them as haiku. That would force me to crystallize them, and it would also help make the ideas 'stick' since what I learn in zazen should be carried into my everyday life.

Like any poet, I've attempted haiku in the past. The results were largely disastrous. However, I feel as though through Zen I have a better appreciation for what a haiku should do functionally. I also have a hardcover book of the complete haiku of Basho - the master of the form - who lived in Japan during the second half of the 1600s (his gravestone is picture here). So between having a better understanding of the spirit of haiku and with Basho's work as an inspiration and guide, I thought I would give haiku another try.  I'll start posting the haiku I write and, hopefully, if I continue with it there will be a notable improvement in my handling of the form over time!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First Place!

After two months of bowling, the Barracudas (my team) is in first place for our division and tied for first place in the whole league! Congratulations to us!

On the down side, my weird sinus problems that I picked up after flying back from Panama City Beach have so messed me up that I get winded very easily. Just not getting enough air, I guess. Done the antibiotics thing (twice), so now it's time to go back to the doctor, get hooked up with an ENT specialist and see about getting my whole sinus cavity flushed out.  I'm doing the home version of it, which is vaguely akin to water boarding yourself. But whatever works, right?

The fallout is that I had to sit down twice in Hapkido tonight due to being winded. I guess this is what it feels like to be an old geezer. How humbling!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Emile Zola - 'The Dream'

I just finished the fifth book in Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle: The Dream. This book was different from any of the others I've yet read in the cycle. There was none of the overt social commentary or slimy depravity that I would have said before was typical of Zola's work. In fact, the main character (Angelique) is a young girl who largely lives a decent life. Her moral dilemma, though, is played off against what Zola terms her 'hereditary evil' (her connection to the Rougon-Macquart family is that she is the abandoned, illegitimate daughter of Sidonie Rougon). Sidonie is the only other member of the family to make an appearance in The Dream. She appears briefly at the beginning, but only to repel Angelique's potential guardians and convince them it's better if Angelique thinks her mother is dead. We don't get any better idea of what Sidonie's deal is, but she is nevertheless portrayed as an extremely shady character with a lot of skeletons in her closet.

The tone of The Dream, while providing Zola's usual naturalistic details, is also at odds with the other books in that it is set in a rather idyllic peaceful little town. Angelique is an embroiderer and provides her works for the Catholic Church, a far cry from the graft and corruption that typifies the occupations of the rest of the family. There is a lot of Catholic symbolism and mysticism in the book as a result. In fact, 'mystical' would be a good word to describe the tone of the book. It has an almost fairy tale kind of feel to it that diametrically opposed to the gritty realism of Zola's other books, and there are scenes that are downright romanticist and/or smack of the sentimentalism usually found in Charles Dickens' version of realism.

However, underneath the dreamy, mystic aura, Zola is up to his usual tricks. I think what's going on here really is a kind of social commentary: an attack on religion (and Catholicism specifically). As the (admittedly thin) plot progresses one gets the feeling that Angelique has given herself up completely to a sort of religious renunciation of reality. There is an implication in the last several chapters that prayer and faith in the supernatural is a dead end, and also - in Angelique's ultimate fate - the suggestion that triumphing over the evil in our hereditary nature - while possible - can only truly come about with the destruction of our humanity. Essentially, the only pure human is a fictitious human, like the dead saints Angelique adorates, a 'dream' if you will. This dark truth lives underneath the peaceful setting, the supposedly decent characters, and the mountains of religious symbols, like the piece of dirt at the center of a beautiful pearl.

While well-written, I did not enjoy The Dream as much as I have many of the other books in the cycle. Perhaps because it is so (melo)dramatic, and I found that jarring coming from Zola. Part of it must also be that the plot is rather thin and the descriptive passages can become rather tedious after a while. Definitely not the best book in the series, and I wonder if there will be others with a similar tone or if this one is an oddball of some sort.

Micheal Glencross' translation is recent and very readable. I'm always happy to get a volume of the cycle translated by anyone other than Vizetelly - as he freely admits to bowdlerizing Zola's novels as he translated them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Potential Travels?

Given that I have to use or lose some vacation time before the end of the year, I was planning on taking a bunch of Fridays off and then to be off from December 17th until the new year. Then I thought: why not try to take a few days during the week and go to a city and have some fun? I've thought about maybe going to New York City (or, as I'm typing, I thought about my earlier post about being a Chicago maybe I could go to Chicago?).

Jim and I are also thinking about the next destination style trip, and the leading contender is a return trip to Hawaii. This time we'd go to Kauai. Sounds like there's tons of hiking and that you can also do horseback riding and kayaking to see the inside of the island. Maybe we could also do some more deep sea fishing (and maybe have better luck than we did in Panama City Beach). Plus beach and snorkeling.

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Delayed Halloween Post

Unfortunately, I still haven't figured out how to efficiently download pics from my Droid-X. I can't find a way to make it link up with my wireless home network. So, I have to approach this in a very 20th Century manner and email my pics that I take with the phone to myself. It's looking more and more like I'm going to have to break down and get a cord of some sort. Poor cell-challenged me! Anyway, here I am at my desk revelling in the results of having slowly decorated it over the weeks leading up to Halloween. Click pics for larger views. And please note that the pretty balloons in the background are not part of my decorations. They're for a co-worker's baby shower.

Anyway, I'm sitting there taking a break from our decorating efforts.  Our team decided to do a group costume and decoration theme around the BP oil spill. In this pic, you can see some of the people on my team standing before the oil platform we built. You can't quite get the full effect from this because our boss brought in a fog machine and fake flame gadget to make the platform look like it was really on fire. Meanwhile, another team member bought stuffed animals from good will, smeared them with black paint, and we created an animal rescue station complete with a vat full of dishwashing soap. For costumes, we all wore black trash bags, masks over our mouths and noses, and blue plastic gloves. Plus we had black tarps on the floor and loads of nasty anti-BP propaganda plastered around the office (courtesy of Greenpeace).

This one to the right is my personal favorite. Man, those people at Greenpeace sure get nasty if you piss them off!