I noticed the new season of Word World is on now, so I'll put up a few designs that are finally airing...
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy...our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."
The Dalai Lama
It was no coincidence that the first time I became open to religious experience in my life was when I first fell in love. (The medium of spiritual connection is Love) She was a beautiful Mormon girl who lived about as close as you could in our spread-out canyon community. I became interested in her religion. And while I do believe the true search for religious meaning is a search to find love, to find connectedness, the truth is that I really wanted to impress the girl.
I'm sure that my parents probably intended for me to get the basic values that people often find attending a church, but their limited and unsatisfactory experiences with organized religion apparently didn't inspire them to pass along any kind of spirituality, or even dogma, to their kids. My father had grown up a left-handed Catholic, which is to say persecuted and defiant. He quit the church at his first opportunity. My mother never went to church, and didn't have much to say about religion, except that it was probably a good thing for some people. I recall her suggesting that it may be a good thing for me, but she wasn't sure which church I should go to. She did offer to drive me to which ever one I picked out.
I had my own spiritual inspirations of a sort from the stars and canyons- that sense of a native experience with the land, perhaps my Kickapoo blood arising. My gung fu teacher had shown me a mysterious invisible force called ch'i, and given me some eastern wisdom, some western philosophy. And then way back there had been those strange, other-worldly moments I'd felt in my early childhood accompanying my Czech grandmother to Catholic mass.
In those days, the mass was performed in Latin by elaborately-robed priests who kept their backs turned to you. There was rich, gilded ornamentation lavished in the huge space with it's towering vaulted ceilings, huge oil paintings and tapestries. Smoke clouds of burning incense and eerie chanting. It was almost spooky, and I was (as intended) transported into a strange, foreign dimension. But all the hoopla only led me to believe that religion was something awesome and unattainable, and without any preparation or repetition, the Catholic faith could gain no purchase in my little boy's heart. Even as a small child, I couldn't trust a life-discipline based on guilt and mortification that weren't of my own creation. Besides, something didn't sit right. Why would I pray in a Roman church to the image of a guy being executed by Romans?
...A Vonnegut, circa 1975.
Reading had given me something of a set of beliefs by the time I reached puberty. My library was pilfered from my college-aged brother and sister, and was rich in philosophical prose. From my brother I copped Kafka, Sartre, and Mark Twain. He could keep those Russians, they were just too intimidatingly thick. From my sister I "borrowed" John Steinbeck, whose ghost I would later stalk (from King City to Monterrey); Henry Miller, who wrote about sex! And my teenage literary hero and default guru, Kurt Vonnegut, whose funny and pointedly nonsensical morality plays made perfect sense in my tiny nation of one. God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. Years later, I'd go to see Vonnegut on stage with Art Buchwald and Lewis Lapham, discussing the betrayals of the second Bush administration. He was beautifully wise and cranky, and full of love. Within just a couple months, both he and Buchwald would shuffle off this mortal coil, and Lapham would retire from the editorship of Harper's, which for me was also akin to a small death in the family.
I mixed all this heady literature up with the latest Marvel Comics, particularly The Mighty Thor, and The Sub Mariner, completely failing to equate the psychic sufferings of the Existentialists with my favorite quasi-mythic comic book idols. Marvel Comics were existential, and I, as a mere visitor to this planet myself, could identify with all those displaced anti-protagonists completely.
Adding to it all at just the right moment, my high school teacher assigned us the option of reading a book called Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl. I read it. All my strident inner-dependence and resistance to embrace an absurd reality whose beauty could only be grasped in brief, unpredictable moments, suddenly dissolved in my young psyche in just such a moment. I was just here. It didn't have to make any sense. I was a visitor whose chief occupation was making the most of a poorly-planned vacation on a beautiful, but messed-up planet. I only had to do. To be. So it goes.
"This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there."
'Isa, (Jesus in Islam), from an inscription at the mosque in Fatepuhr Sikri, India
Monday, August 17, 2009
Except, God forbid.....a crocodile.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
The high desert makes me think of Sam Shepard. Here's a portrait of him from years ago, and years later I met him in Astor Place. He'd always been a hero, and when I thanked him for everything, he said, "Not everything." We have some history in common, in fact, in this painting he's wearing one of my old shirts...
"Wherever you go, there you are." Thomas á Kempis
The traveling started early. Perhaps it was the expansiveness of the west that brought it on. Or maybe just the desire to be somewhere else that living a young life kicked off it's tracks can bring about. Having Mexico, an international border, right down the block added a bit to the scope of what seemed possible. There were fronteras close by that could be crossed in minutes. Horizons one could easily wrap one's life over in just a day or two's time.
There was that inner expanse too. The invitation to live a multiple life that in fits and starts led me to an identity that I'd rely on through several lives, and several deaths. Back then, I didn't know where I was going in life, so I felt most at ease when I was going somewhere else. The regular road trips with my brother from San Diego up into the high desert through the Owens Valley, up the "backside" of the Sierras through Lone Pine and Crowley Lake to the great blown-out crater that was Mammoth Mountain, soon became forays deeper and farther into the desert west.
In the evening after supper I'd take a deep breath and set off in my '59 Volkswagen Beetle, with it's oval rear window, cloth roll-top sunroof, furniture wheel accelerator, and foot-thrown reserve gas tank (no gauge), bound for Utah. I felt like Lindbergh setting off across the Atlantic, and in that bare-bones can of a car with it's little airplane engine droning, sometimes it sounded and felt like I was flying at a thousand feet through the dark, thin air of the high desert. Sunroof open, stars shining in. There'd be a stop in Vegas for coffee and a donut before pressing on to St. George, Utah, en route to the Wasatch Mountain range above Salt lake City.
Sometimes an eighteen-wheeler would come barreling by, nearly pushing the Beetle right off the shoulder with it's great whoosh of air -but once it passed, I could swing that little green bucket in behind the trucker, and she'd shudder and rise up off the ground as the big semi sucked her along in it's draft. I covered a lot of road that way, attached to those big trucks like a remora attached to a shark. They didn't care, the little car's weight was so insignificant, they couldn't even feel me hitching a ride... and I think they liked the company. The feel of serving someone. I'd get 50, 60 miles to the gallon being carried along like that, and never have to worry about anything in the road- especially in that green tin can where a collision with a wayward heffer would mean oblivion for cow and boy alike.
As my host trucker finally pulled off to a road stop, I'd honk him a pallid little VW honk, and wave like a fellow sea-captain veering off into the darkness of the open ocean. And he'd always wave back, acknowledging my gratitude for the portage and protection. In those days when there was so much nothing between Las Vegas and Salt Lake, just being out there going someplace in the same direction was enough to fashion a headlight camaraderie out in the lonely desert night, navigating by the stars and the glow of a town on the horizon.
And when I finally arrived, I'd always brought very little but my several selves along. And maybe who I could be this time. Until it was time again to be somewhere else.