Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 14: A Date With a Star...


In the years as I was entering High School, my brother dated a beautiful young woman named Jane. She was fresh-faced and true, and very, very intelligent. They went to college together. She supported him – pecadillos and all – bearing witness to the craziness of our home with great grace and compassion. For a while there I had a chance to know a balanced and loving person who lived in their own skin, and while it may not sound like much, at the time it seemed a rare and curious thing to me. Through her I learned a lesson about who we are at our beginnings, and who we can be.

    She came from a close-knit family, talented and a bit eccentric perhaps like our own, but right side up. They were supportive of one another's eccentricities with obvious and enviable love (which I now recognize as Source energy), while our own family struggled along living an illusion of wellness.

    In the wake of my first teenage break-up, Jane and my brother often encouraged me to date her younger sister, but to me she seemed much too young. At seventeen, drugs and alcohol were all around me, all the time. There'd been trauma at home, and within my peripheral family. Aside from that invisible resumé, I'd been working in the world of adults from an early age and I just felt old already. In my finite teenage wisdom, I didn't see how an innocent 15-year-old girl could possibly have the necessary experience to match my worldly self-centeredness.

    I finally succumbed and picked up Jane's little sister for a date to Balboa Park in San Diego (seen as "Xanadu" in the opening of Citizen Kane). Since I've learned that the thing that often offends you most about someone else is caused by the subconscious awareness of that same characteristic in yourself (thank you, Dr. Jung), it follows that I diagnosed Annette as suffering from a case of unconscious vanity. She kept noticing herself in the reflection of store windows, which I couldn't help but notice when I was noticing myself. So she unintentionally made me uncomfortably conscious of me.

    After touring the museum, we were sitting on a big park bench making very small talk when Annette suddenly pulled her feet under herself, and stood straight up next to me on the bench. She threw her arms up over her head, rolling her wrists out to push her palms up, and agitating like some fairy princess washing machine she loudly pronounced, "SOMEDAY I'M GOING TO BE A GREAT AND FAMOUS ACTRESS, AND EVERYONE WILL KNOW MY NAME!"

    I was casually chagrined. I tapped her on the leg and suggested that she get down as people were looking. And people were looking, and they were smiling. Her future fans were already noticing as Annette was molding the plastic life ahead of her in an altogether good-natured way – and I hadn't a clue what I was witnessing.


    She starred in the high school drama club. She went on to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She broke out in Stephen Frear's popular movie The Griftersand went on to become a great and famous Academy Award nominated actress. Among other things to her credit in a very accomplished career, she married Warren Beatty and had a family of her own. They're probably a little eccentric, and lovingly supportive of it.


    I liked to joke that she settled for second best, but as usual I was painting "funny" over my feelings – flummoxed and intimidated by someone so young who could create their karma with such focused intention, when for so many years I just kept feeling, well clueless. It all makes me smile now – the beautiful accuracy of her park bench prophecy.


    Some people are born with symphonies in place, ready to come out by age five. Others enter into young adulthood blossoming into their co-created karma. Annette just knew already. Some people (ahem...) don't know what their purpose is until they've had to survive every other possibility, and like a painful Sherlock Holmes deduction, whatever else remains must be the truth.


   Her older sister Jane went on to Johns Hopkins and became a cardiologist, I think...and I think she knew too.

  "You have your paintbox and colors. 

         Paint paradise, and in you go."  

                                                                Nikos Kazantzakis

Read about this and much more in: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor from Llewellyn Worldwide available direct on this page, or online, and How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond – available the same ways – but ask for it at your local bookstore!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everyone has unseen influences that make up who they are. Influences from inner and outer worlds, from other dimensions of being. In Faith and Mr. Floppy, the kids all have "esoteric energies" that contribute to their personae -in the "real" world, and in magical dimensions. Here's Gideon, Faith's sort-of boyfriend, and Topher, her step-brother, and their respective esoteric selves...

Well Well, Another Metaphor...

"Don't they know who I think I am?"

A group of people stand looking down into a dry well. They complain about their thirst, about their withering gardens. One man, driven by desperation, at last steps up and climbs down into the well. He begins to dig, at first resenting the work, but then finding an easy rhythm and satisfaction in the effort, until finally he removes that last obstructing bucket of dirt, and breaks through to the great aquafer that flows underneath and through everything. That infuses and enlivens everything. The well begins to fill again with cool water, and bending over, still digging to assure the steady flow of this renewed life, he sees his own reflection in the source. He is this. What he thought he was, who he thought he was is only a reflection of this source.
And when he climbs back out of the well and meets with the various responses of the others-- the heartfelt thanks, the casual acknowledgements, the proud dismissals; he carries with him that source reflection, only vertically now, so that wherever he goes he's looking into that. He sees his own reflection in the the faces of everyone that speaks to him. Their eyes are his eyes. Their fears and foibles and joys and realizations are his own.

"Thou art That"
Chandogya Upanishad, 6.12-14

So our very own form can provide us with the entry to that new, relaxed, and naturally productive way of seeing the world. Infused and enlivened by that flow. We are all the same thing. We all think the same thoughts and feel the same feelings. And where we used to entertain those cruelties that defined us – the harsh comparisons, snap judgments and righteous justifications, there now lives an easy sense of compassion – the door to source. This sweet and sustaining flow of source that is available to everyone is absolutely free, and totally liberating. It just takes a bit of humility, of "digging" – the honest self-examination that allows us to truly see ourselves. To learn who we really are meant to be, as opposed to who we think we're supposed to be; how did those psychic obstructions to source and purpose get put in place, and how do we remove them?
The most critical facillitating aspect behind discovering this freedom, the metaphor of "going down into the well" (in the prophet Yeshua's story), is finding your inner place of silence where you can gain the calm perspective on who you really are. Your own personal well, where the deepest obstructions between you and your source are hidden.

"In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness."
Mahatma Gandhi
By finding the silence within ourselves, we can individually defuse the demanding inner voice that provides life's running commentary, and then perhaps we can collectively turn off the delusional egoic "reality" that drives our species in ruinous directions. By becoming aware of it, we can strip away the obsessive "story of our life, our country, our people," etc. -the delusional view of life that the Hindu call maya. Christians misinterpret it as sin (in the original greek of the canons: amartia, meaning "to miss the mark"). Buddhists call it selfish craving.
That silence resides in The Tao, The Brahman, The Kingdom of Heaven, in Emptiness, in Source Energy; and in us - within and without us. In that silence, in the absence of anything personal, that power lives. Then we find it's all personal. And we are all that person.

"The Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you."
Logion 3, The Gospel of Thomas

The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere, but ask for it it at your local bookstore!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happiness Redux

    When you were a kid, like in Kindergarten, did you have a snack in the afternoon, followed by naptime?  You rolled out your mat, the teacher turned out the lights, and you laid there...napping.  I used to lay there, wide awake, wondering are all the other kids just laying here wide awake in the middle of the afternoon like me?  It wasn't even dark at all.  Not even with the lights out.  And there were no pillows.  I used to lay there and wonder what's the point of this?  Why do adults make us do such dumb stuff?
    I wish I knew then what I know now. So I wanted to share some of that what by inviting you back to Tips for Happiness, #'s 1, 2, & 3.   
    I coulda found happiness back then, if I'd known these tips.  I'm sure they'll help you find some, and keep some...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 13: Simon of the Marquesas, conclusion...

"A long time ago, I met a girl while I was fishing in the lagoon on the other side of the island," he said as he waved over the ridge, "...and she had my child.  But back then I thought life was only about Simon, so I left the far lagoon and returned to the village." He narrowed his eyes and looked out past the horizon. "There I met another girl, a wild one, and went to live with her. She wanted things, so I went to work on the copra boats – there were many more of them back then. I sailed all over and made money, and spent it all on my life with the wild village woman."  He shook his head sadly, looked up into their eyes, and began to turn a little magical.

"One day I was fishing in the lagoon, and a shark swam up to my boat and he began to talk to me.  He said: 'This is no way for you to live. You will never be what you are meant to be living your life this way. You must return to the far lagoon, to the girl you left. She is there – I saw her the other day, she is raising your child.You must go back and live there, and take care of your family.'  But how can I take care of them, if I do not work the copra boats?  I asked him. Il a me dît: 'You will fish in the far lagoon, and you will carve tiki to celebrate the gifts of a true life, and that way you will be able to take care of your family.'  Then he swam away."  Simon seemed to be telling the God's truth.
"So I left the village woman with all the things I had bought her, and returned to the girl in the far lagoon, and our child, and we had more children.  And I took care of my family," he looked around at the kids emerging now from everywhere, smiling, "and I still do...and these are children of those children's children!"  He laughed and showed the kids off, and they laughed too.

At that very moment, the Aranui's first horn bellowed out over the bay.  Koko asked "How much is the large tiki?" and I think Simon told him two hundred francs, which was only about thirty dollars then, but  Koko hadn't brought along any money at all. They said their goodbyes, gave Simon a hug, and hurried back down the hill, but by the time they reached the shore, they knew they had to go back for that tiki. The other tourists were already in the whaling boat. Up to their thighs in the surf, Koko and Grace took up a collection. The woman who'd won a lottery in Ohio lent them the two hundred francs, and they ran back up the valley together in case if they were left, they'd be stuck together for the month until the Aranui's return.

When they got back to Simon's shed, he was waiting for them. The second horn sounded from the ship below. "I knew that you would return."  He laughed. " This is your tiki. You had to come back for it."  Koko picked up the heavy stone, and felt it's energy charge up his arms and fill his heart. Grace felt it too, standing next to him. They paid Simon, hugged him goodbye again, and Koko folded the tiki into his arms and headed back down the hill, Grace running out in front to hold the boat at the shore, if she could.

By the time they got back to the beach, the crew members were waving them in frantically. The seas had picked up, and it was tough clamoring on board, and even tougher rowing out through the surf.  As they pulled up alongside the ship, the waves were pitching the small boat up and down eight or ten feet.

The crew always boarded the paying passengers first, and one of them snatched the tiki as two others hoisted Grace and Koko on board at the top of a wave. They looked back at a worried island woman and her new-born, still being pitched up and down in the boat alongside. One of the rowers took the infant in one hand and raised the little one up overhead with the rising wave. Then, in a magical moment as the wave reached it's peak, a brawny crewman reached down from the Aranui's deck, and as securely and tenderly as you'd pick up a perfect peach, he took the baby with one hand and passed him to safety. On the next violent wave up, he grabbed the mother by her outstretched arm, and as though she were as light as straw, lifted her straight up and on to the deck. They handed her baby back to her as if such things took place every day, because here- of course, they did.

The crew were, to a man, incredible physical specimens. They hoisted and stowed the whaler with easy dexterity. One of them ran like a cat along the railing, despite the wallowing seas. They were some of the most amazing fellows Grace and Koko had ever seen, and every night on the top patio deck, where the free passengers slept under the stars, they brought out their guitars, tiples, and spoons, and sang the most beautiful island melodies.

Koko was thinking of Simon, of his color-of-the-lagoon smiling eyes, as he tried to explain the bomb-shaped volcanic rock past the skeptical Customs officers at L.A. International.
It seemed then that being with Grace would always be, so at the time he failed to pay proper attention to Simon's story of responsibility in love. Likewise, he failed to fully grasp the allegory of the empty materialism of the village woman, and true direction in the words of the shark-spirit, until many years later. He never saw the stone again, Grace kept it when they parted, but he never forgot it's weight, the stone carver's hut, the handing of the baby, or that enchanted night music under a million stars, rolling over the violet South Pacific, the Southern Cross slowly laying over on it's side.

 "Life can only be understood backwards, 
            but it must be lived forwards."
                                                                    Søren Kierkegaard

The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere, but ask for it it at your local bookstore! 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

As long as the next post takes place in a tropical lagoon, here's the bottom rough color art for Duck's Pond in Word World, Season Two!

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 13: Simon of the Marquesas.

With the Aranui anchored about a hundred and fifty yards offshore the blue-green Pacific behind them, Grace and Koko trekked up the dry path overlooking the windward side of Nuku Hiva, one of the five Marquesas Islands the little copra freighter stopped at on it's thirty five day trip out of Papeété. They could see the whaling boats carrying materials into shore, and ferrying passengers, local islanders, out to the ship so they could hitch a free ride to one of the other islands, or pay a little for a ride to the Tuamotus, Rangiroa, or back to Tahiti.

The two followed the even incline up out of the creek valley, up the side of the hill where the forest thinned out a bit. The Aranui's "Social Director," a young Frenchman, had told them they might find tiki, his catch-all term for something of interest, up on the hill path, but warned them that with the first sounding of the ship's horn they had to hurry back, because the second horn meant au revoir to all passengers left behind on the island.
It felt like they'd gone a little far, the other dozen or so paying passengers chose to stay below in the village, but something had a hold of them, leading them farther up the path. At first there was just a little girl, about four or five, dirty in a simple cotton dress, pulling on her lower lip. She turned and ran up the path to a small clearing, to a shed coming into view around the bend. As they approached there was another dusty, barefoot boy the same age stepping out of the thatch-roofed shed. He stood behind a crude, homemade table like a counter boy in a shop. On the table was a small selection of stone carvings ranging in size from a few inches long to the largest, an elongated football-shaped stone about thirteen inches long and seven inches across, with a beautiful bas-relief of of a lizard, or a salamander carved out of the top half.

Through the doorway of the shed, they could see a worn wooden mallet and broken screwdrivers on the corner of a little table, and a man's weathered foot in the triangle of sunlight. The man set his foot down on the dirt floor and stood, hitching up his shorts. He stepped out the door of the shed and alongside the little boy.
"Vous ete ici!" he exclaimed in a certain kind of french that Koko could just make out. He said it with that same open- armed lack of surprise that Grace and Koko had been met with so often in their past year of travel around the world. Everywhere they went there were people, usually older local people, who seemed to recognize them- who greeted them like old friends. Like they'd been awaiting their arrival.
"Vous venez pour votre Tiki." the man said, motioning to the table. Koko reached out and shook his rough hand. He was not too tall, a little bent, and very brown, wearing an open short-sleeved shirt. His body was a twilight powerhouse, banded muscles wrapped around his frame, hands and feet splayed and lumpy. His face was deeply creased. His hair was a mass of pushed-back collar-length ringlets, shiny as though with coconut oil, mostly grey with satin black underneath. He was old, but you couldn't tell how old. His eyes shimmered a light blue-green, little versions of the lagoon that rose in him with the tide.

"Je suis Simon. Je fait lés Tikis." His speech was mellifluous and pidgeony as he swung his hand over the table. Koko had a little trouble translating until he watched Simon's eyes, and then his ear began to hear perfectly.
"These are some of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren," he said, rubbing the head of the little boy who hid behind his leg, motioning to the little girl who stood by the shed, pulling on her lower lip. Koko and Grace couldn't seem to take their eyes off the one tiki, the salamander stone. Koko touched it and tilted it up for a look.
"That is the very first creature. It says something to you. Every creature came from that."
" Dessous, tournéz..." Simon says, motioning as though to turn the tiki over. Koko picked it up -it was heavier than he'd expected as he turned it. There on the smooth oval underside, were the cut-in eyes and crescent toothed mouth of a shark. "Aaahhhh..." said the two in unison. Simon's eyes widened as he smiled.
"I'll tell you why the shark," said Simon. "It spoke to me. Il a dit a moi..." Then he began to tell his story...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Czech it Out!

With a nod and a wink to my Bohemian heritage, a small tribute to a couple great Czech illustrators.  First up, Miroslav Sasek, whose wonderful This Is line of kids' books is being reissued..

...his work reminds one of his Romanian contemporary, Saul Steinberg...Next, the great Josef Lada.  His seminal illustrations for the Czech classic, The Good Soldier Svejk, written by Jaroslav Hasek, have been a huge inspiration to lots of graphic and ligne claire illustrators like one of my heros, Ever Meulen.  Here is the classic Svejk!