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Adam Byrn Tritt and the Story of the 34th St. Wall -Isis Ash

Gainesville’s 34th Street Wall, loss and poetry. Courtesy of WUFT, Gainesville and WJXT, Jacksonville, Florida.

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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Culture, Gainesville, Poetry, psychology

 

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(Im)perfection

There are no scars I can see,
but we know they are there.
The flesh is warm and
tender though beneath
it feels different
than I would have imagined,
I suppose.

Years before
at a youth conference
I was a mentor for the teens
and my partner in class
was a young
lady of forty,
I suppose.
Margot had a close crop of hair
and we talked about imperfections
as we sat on the floor,
she on one side
I on the other
in a circle of kids
all there because they didn’t belong
and so was I.
Margot’s turn came
and she reached into her shirt,
pulled out her left breast and
threw it to me.

Dear Margot,
this is not a normal introduction
is what I said
and the kids laughed
the shock away
as I squeezed lightly
the translucent bag,
jostled it between my fingers
making a mental comparison
which could be seen on my face,
I suppose,
and the kids laughed
as I passed the breast to the left.

Dear Margot,
may I compare
is what I asked
and she said yes, with a smile
I walked the few feet as
she pulled her bra out from her sleeve,
I squeezed lightly
and jostled it between my fingers
making a mental comparison
which could be seen on my face,
I suppose,
and the kids laughed
while passing the breast to the left.

I wouldn’t have imagined,
I suppose,
anything,
because being here
with you, in this way,
feels normal, fine and right,
but who could have seen it coming
as I squeeze lightly,
jostling them between my fingers,
making no mental comparison,
which you can see on my face,
I suppose,
until I kiss your warm flesh
and my face disappears.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Culture, Poetry, Social

 

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Seven Questions for Craig Smith

Craig Smith is an author and web designer, a translator to and from dead languages, the well-respected and well-read author of the blog Notes from the Dreamtime, the translator of The Inclusive Bible and a shaman. Even better than that, he is my exceptionally good friend.

Craig has been interviewing interesting characters for some time now. But no one has interviewed him. While I could not believe such an oversight, I sought to correct it. The result is below.

Enjoy.

________________________

Late Monday night, Adam emailed me and asked, “So who’s doing your interview?” I replied that he was the first to offer. On Tuesday morning, these questions appeared in my mailbox. I replied that he was the cruelest human on the face of the planet.

His questions both terrify and exhilarate me, which I guess means they’re good ones.

1. You spend much of your time, it seems, as an editor. Thurber once wrote about editing, “Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

Do you prefer to be an editor or collaborator? Or do you play both roles or either role depending upon with whom you are working?

The latter. It depends entirely on the writer.

A good writer—that is, one who has a strong writing style and a good command of the language—needs minimal editing. Then the task is to find overt mistakes (which the writer in haste simply didn’t notice), and occasionally smooth over rough passages where the writer’s intent doesn’t come through clearly. I am very careful not to change their style, and yes, it’s very much the role of a counselor.

The vast majority of writers fall into a second class. They’re not great writers, they’re just writing as a means to an end. These I take a heavier hand with. For a while I got a reputation for being able to cut a piece in half without the writer even realizing he or she had been edited—”You make me sound so good!” is a comment I’ve heard more than once. For them, I honor the writing style they’re trying to establish, but which they haven’t quite succeeded in creating. For them, I am definitely more collaborative.

Occasionally I come across bad writers. Honestly, I want nothing to do with most of them. I don’t want to read them, I don’t want to correct them, I just want them to go away. A few are on the bubble, and if I like the individuals at all, I absolutely want to show them how I’d approach it if it were my piece.

2. You once traveled, though shortly, rather extensively across the U.S. Whether you were in search of something, drawn by something, or leaving something may be of debate, but travel you did, and you wrote about it rather extensively in your blog before stopping short. Many of your readers might think you stopped before a revelation or just at the point you found a portion of your travel unresolved.

A Zen monk once asked, “It is the same moon outside and the same person inside, so why not sit?” Does location really make a difference or is it the process of transition? What did you gain? What did you lose? What is stuck? Could you have done as well staying at home? Does changing location change the person?

“Many” of my readers? Really?

Did I stop just before some major revelation? I didn’t think I did, but maybe you’re right. I had gone all revisionist on it in my mind; I thought I had stopped writing about the trip shortly before I took that long break between last December and this April, but it turns out my last Big Trip post was in March of 2007. I was shocked when I realized that.

Let’s see, when last I left the story, I had just visited Little Bighorn and was heading toward Bozeman. And I guess I do view Bozeman as the gateway to the most significant part of the journey. It doesn’t feel like I’m afraid to dig deep and expose something important, but my behavior may be telling another story. I’ll have to look at that.

That said, each trip post takes a long time to write. At the time I remember thinking I wanted to do some lighter, faster, easier posts, to take a little break. But you and Indigo have rattled my cage long enough; I’ll have a new Big Trip post next week.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that trip changed everything for me. You know how a lot of people personify Nature, talk blithely about the Web of All Being, and speak of divine immanence as being “the Goddess”? I knew all that, intellectually, but on the trip (somewhere in Washington, if I recall, but I haven’t checked my notes in a while) I had a palpable experience of it.
Does location really make a difference? I have no doubt that it’s possible to have any important growth experience in any number of ways. The same truth keeps knocking on our house until we let it in; sometimes it comes in by the door, sometimes through a window, sometimes down the chimney or up through the floorboards.

But for me, it was important to go out on my own, with two thousand bucks in my pocket (and no credit cards), in a car that really wasn’t all that road-worthy, to follow a quiet but insistent tug in my heart—a “calling,” if you will; to camp out in the national forests and wildernesses, searching for some essentially spiritual experience, rather than trying to go sightseeing; to be utterly alone with my thoughts and the world for an extended period of time. All of which I don’t think I could have gotten sitting at home.

“What did you gain? What did you lose? What is stuck?” Tough questions. I gained an understanding of the living, nonphysical energy that interconnects everything in the material world. I gained a hunger for greater personal and physical freedom. I opened the door just a bit to becoming more authentically myself and less what others expect me to be. I lost a parochial worldview, a limited image of who or what God is. I guess I’m still stuck in Comfortville (I laughed as I typed that, because everything in my life seems the opposite of comfortable): I don’t need to risk my life, physical or emotional, right now. I’m all initiation and no completion. As one of my favorite (and one of your least favorite) poets, T.S. Eliot, wrote:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act . . .
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow.

3. It has been argued that cues for discrimination that are obvious, such as gender or color, are of greater import than those which are not, such as religion or gender preference.
Is this so? Has discrimination affected you and, if it has, has this been your choice to reveal what could be occult and accept the discrimination as burden?

I don’t know that obvious cues for discrimination are of greater import as much as simply inevitable. When you can’t hide, the bigots have a more obvious target.

I came out in 1982, at the age of 26, shortly after my father’s death. I used to describe it as feeling a cloud of judgment over me had been lifted. In time I came to feel that my father had been a convenient excuse for my not being true to myself. On the other hand, when we decide it’s time to make a change in our lives, I think we probably use whatever tool or trigger is at hand to aid us.

For me it was all tied up (as just about everything is in my life) with my spiritual journey. I was wrestling with the realization that the God I knew intimately and the God of conservative theology (and much of society) were in conflict with one another. I knew that my God valued truth in the inner being above all else, so I knew I had to speak the truth about my sexuality even if it meant being damned for eternity: to save God, as it were, I had to be willing to give up God. And the moment I did, I knew that love and acceptance and was the ultimate truth, and nothing else mattered.

I can’t say I’ve faced a lot of discrimination. Some of it is because I’m not terribly fey (though I’m not terribly butch, either), so many people just assume that everyone is straight unless they announce otherwise. And I don’t wear buttons or have gay bumper stickers, and I tend not to announce it unless or until it comes up naturally. On the other hand, I tend to correct people if they make invalid assumptions about me, because (a) it’s nothing I need to keep quiet about, and (b) it’s no big deal. The older I get, the less I care what anyone thinks. To quote that old philosopher, Popeye, I yam what I yam.

In the ’80s, I lost dozens of gay friends or acquaintances—thirty-two to AIDS, one to a gay-bashing incident, two to drug or alcohol abuse. That was pretty awful. And I’ve seen lots of discrimination; I just haven’t been on the receiving end, except for having a few bottles (and epithets) hurled at me. Annoying, but not that big a deal—just some drunken rednecks.

So I don’t feel much of a burden, honestly. I once had a dream in which I was standing at the creation of the world, and God said, “This time, would you like to be straight instead?” I thought a minute then said, “No thanks, I’m quite happy the way I am.” It was a very satisfying dream.

4. Your religious and spiritual experiences are not quite within what we might call the common American experience. How do you define your present spiritual life? How have you come to where you are? Do you find your spiritual life effective? If so, are you more a spiritual materialist than purist—in other words, do you practice to build ego or to gain something, regardless of what that might be, or for the practice itself? Where do you think you are going with it?

I am an animist because I see all natural phenomena as alive. I’m a pantheist because I see God as synonymous with the material universe. I’m a panentheist because I see God as interpenetrating every part of nature and extending timelessly beyond it as well. I’m a Christian because for me Jesus is God enfleshed, and teaches us how we too can become God enfleshed. I’m an adopted Jew, a God-fearer who learned Hebrew to read the Bible in its original language because I wanted to know what YHWH was really saying. I’m a Buddhist because of the life and teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, and the silence, and the kōans, and the still point. I’m a Hindu because I revere Ganesha. I’m a Yoruba because I was visited one night by the orisha Shango, the sky father, the god of thunder and ligntning. I’m a pagan because I honor the natural rhythms of the earth, the sun, the moon.

But beyond all those classifications, I am a shaman, because shamanism, stripped of its cultural overlay, is simply a toolbox. It’s how the human brain naturally accesses nonordinary reality. It’s plugging into the way the body and the psyche can be balanced and healed. And it’s what underlies all human religion and spirituality, the barebones of our Selves, if you will.
How have I come to be here? Wow. I guess it’s just a straightforward process of following where my heart and spirit have led me. I would say it’s a combination of the theological and psychic shattering that my coming out afforded, and working through decades of chronic depression until I came to understand myself and God (or spirit or the Universe or whatever terminology you want to use) and the world in a radically different way.

I’m not sure what an “effective” spiritual life would be. Does it give me comfort or meaning? Yes, definitely. Does it make my life work better? Yes and no. It doesn’t make me more “successful,” particularly as the world defines success, but it gives me tools to deal with many of the challenges I face, and gives me a context with which I can understand the world better. But I can’t honestly say I practice it as a means to an end, as a tool to get something or become something.

It all comes back to that ineffable Call, the music from the Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I’m like a dog snuffling the air, forever following the scent, wherever it may lead.

5. We all have traits that are annoying. Some of those traits, when found in another, are deal-breakers and we simply cannot abide them. What traits can you simply not abide in others? Which traits mean “I’ll not deal with that person,” and why? Which traits send you running? Of those traits, how much of each is found in you?

When I was a good deal less self-confident (and those of you who know me well will be rolling on the floor by now, because you know that deep down I am a mouse afraid of his own shadow), I was in a relationship with someone I believe has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One day he gave me a collection of Jane Kenyon’s poetry, and told me to read a poem called “Biscuit”:

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can’t bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

He didn’t need to say so, but I knew I was that dog to him. And more often than not, I was given a stone instead of bread. Much has changed in me since then, and such cruel treatment—toward me, or toward anyone, frankly—is intolerable, and provokes a fierce reaction from me.
I can’t abide liars, though I understand the impulse all too well: the need to protect oneself at all cost, even when telling the truth might be so much easier in the long run.

And yes, the cruelty and the lying that I hate: both of these are parts of me. I don’t know that I hate them because they are in me; I know that I have worked hard to overcome them in myself, and so perhaps I am like an intolerant ex-smoker. I don’t know.

I am impatient and short-tempered with people who give poor customer service (I used to teach classes in how to go above and beyond expectations when dealing with the public). And I am intolerant of people I call “willfully ignorant,” who seem defiant in their lack of education or gentility. Perhaps this intolerance is a form of intellectual snobbishness, but I hope it’s because I love the language so much that when people abuse it, it’s like spitting on something sacred.
Occasionally I’ll run across people whose “vibe” makes me want to either run away or (more likely) do them bodily harm. I can’t explain it. It’s nothing they’ve done or said, really, or maybe it’s everything they do and say. It’s a reaction so visceral and so strong that I have to step outside myself and say, “What in the world is that about?” So far I haven’t found an answer.

6. Tell me about poetry. You say you are not a poet. Why have you said this?

Payback is so unbecoming, Adam.

I am not a poet because I am clumsy at it. (And don’t tell me that lots of people say they are poets who write perfectly wretched poems. Just because a mouse is in a cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie.) I can sometimes shape prose with enough felicity that it sings; poetry needs a much sparer touch, which I don’t often have. Generally the best I can do is take a prose poem and break it into shorter lines.

What I think I do have is a poet’s heart. I think Deloney is a natural poet, despite the fact that his poems always look like paragraphs. Indigo Bunting sometimes comes up with phrasings that are breathtaking. I can see poetry in words. I can even edit poetry pretty well. But I think my natural element is prose. Maybe I just need a larger canvas to say what a poet can express in a few brush strokes.

7. We each have ways we make others suffer. Most of the time this is inadvertent or, at least, not on purpose. How have you made others suffer? Was any of it purposeful? How have you made yourself suffer? Are you doing so now? How and why? To what end?

I have been cruel. I don’t know if my cruelty made them suffer, or if they just shrugged it off. On the other hand, our actions have far-reaching consequences, and even acts of charity may have caused suffering, while acts of deliberate meanness may have brought someone to a new and better place.

I have certainly wanted to make a few people suffer, to make them feel what they put me (or others) through. I have wanted them to have a taste of their own medicine.
But me—ah, that’s the person I have been the cruellest to, both deliberately and inadvertently. I have a running tape in my head (I guess we have to change that metaphor now, don’t we? No one uses tape for recording things anymore!) that tells me what an enormous failure I am, how I always let everyone down, how I never live up to my potential, how stupid and petty and worthless I am. I think I am starting to hear it as old, worn-out programming, and I am trying to say “No, that’s not true,” and replace it with something that heals those old self-inflicted wounds.

Why is that programming there in the first place? Some of it stems from my childhood molestation. Most people who are abused spend their lives trying not to feel dirty and worthless. Some if it is habit—we keep repeating the things we’ve heard repeated over and over; we don’t question, don’t object. We’re sheep at heart, especially when the critical voice in our head is our own. We just say, “Yes, you’re right,” without questioning it. One of the blessings of meditation is that you get to see your thoughts as just thoughts, without attaching any value to them. You get to look at them dispassionately, then decide if you want to keep them or not. So I’m trying to rewrite the old self-destructive script, and I’m making progress. But I don’t know that I’ll be finished anytime soon.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2008 in Culture, philosophy, Religion, Social, Writing

 

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Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith

I’ve known Adam Tritt for a few years now, though it simultaneously feels like forever and no time at all. He’s a kindred spirit with enough significant differences to keep things interesting. His blog, Adamus at Large, is where he publishes essays and poetry. He doesn’t post as frequently as any of us would like, but when he does, it’s an incomparable feast of words and ideas.

(Note from Adam: To make this as authentic as possible, I did no revision and answered all questions given without reservation and as the responses came to me. What you see is what was written the first time. I looked back at not one question. I wanted this to be as conversational as possible and not a prepared document.)

1. Why are you a poet?

I am not a poet. What a strange question. To call myself a poet would be terribly presumptuous and boorish. Not only that, but it would set up an unfair expectation and then I’d have to perform. Sit, Adam, sit. Show the folks how well you poe.

I am not a poet, I simply think metaphorically. I think in metaphors about everything. The contents of the world—whether we believe they originate from within one’s head, are a combination of that which is without and the experiences and expectations from within, or come wholly from within one’s head—always rumble around and find things to connect with. Everything is a metaphor. Since I don’t see terribly well and remember nothing of the visual world, I think in words. So I get a picture or a sound and I make them into words.

Well, enough of that and my head fills up, so I write. I can’t stand not being understood so I revise and revise and revise, cutting out everything that is not meaning because I’d hate for people to think something I didn’t want them to. My goal is to lead them to the same metaphoric feeling and understanding I experienced. By the throat, if need be. By the hand, if I can. Though truthfully, by the throat is much more fun.

The poetic model allows me to do this in a way that is deceptively short so people will read it. Otherwise I’d have twenty-six page essays.

I then put it out there for people to read, on the blog, in magazines, in anthologies, and in my own books, because part of me believes Descartes: I publish, therefore I exist. Besides, I like the fan mail and the undies that get thrown at me.

Of course, none of that explains why I also write twenty-six page essays.

Asking why I am a poet is very much like asking why I have two legs. I can’t help it. I’d have a prehensile tail if I could. My wife would love that. It would be like in Venus on the Half-Shell. But I don’t. So I have two legs. So I think metaphorically. So I put everything into words. It’s burden. It’s a pain. I’m simply built that way. It’s not my fault, I swear. I blame my temporal lobe. I once filled an entire sliding glass door with poetry. I write on my office walls. I write on people if they stand still long enough and give me enough exposed area.

2. Your first public reading was at a clothing-optional event, and you performed in the nude. And you’ve written about your visits to the local nude beach, and clearly have no problem with nakedness. On the other hand, you write about how you wrestle with body image, and seem to feel ashamed when you are battling weight. For me, being fat means I don’t want anyone to see me naked, even though I thoroughly enjoyed my one and only visit to a nudist resort, and am a closet naturist (I’ve even been skinny-dipping in my neighbors’ pool while they’re away, when I go over to feed their cat).

So how do you reconcile that dichotomy? How do you find the freedom to be nude with others even during those times when you feel discomfiture over the way you look?

Because I’m ornery. Because, unlike dancing, which scares me silly and I force myself to do, or parties, which scare me sillier and I don’t force myself to do, reading poetry at a clothing-optional gathering flies in the face of so many conventions I have no choice but to do it. I teach myself my fears are meaningless and my self-judgments are baseless and thumb my nose at society at the same time? Hell, where do I sigh up? Can I do it twice?

You can walk all the fire pits you want, jump out of airplanes hoping the chute opens, bungee-jump from any bridge you choose, but for sheer fright, read your poetry in front of a crowd while wearing nothing but glasses.

I always reserve the right to not reconcile anything. No need. What makes sense anyway? I am about as dysmorphic as a fella can get. I just got over yo-yo binge and starvation. I no longer run three miles because I ate a piece of bread. That ended last Thursday. A friend who knows me better than well (bless you Joyce) will notice the look in my eye as we are out to eat and take away the menu and order for me. It’s insane. And so, through all this, while I thumb my nose at the culture I live in I simultaneously thumb my nose at that part of the culture that lives in me and is discordant with my world-view, or at least the view I would like to have of the world.

In my mind, the more I push this particular illusion, the thinner it gets and, sometimes, I can see clearly through it and know it is untrue.

There is another part to this as well. I want the walls, those illusory walls between self and other, to disappear. I want the illusions to go away. I am happiest when I cannot tell self from other. That is a theme in my writing. That is a theme in my spiritual practice. That is a theme in my massage practice and in hypnotherapy. That is a theme in my life. Maybe I know it is true and I am working to make it happen, to experience it as much as possible and bring that to other people as well. Maybe I am just trying to convince myself that it is so. Which depends on when you ask me.

And let’s be clear—I do not seem to feel ashamed when battling weight. I have, in this area, a self-disgust that is deep and abiding. It’s open 24/7 and never takes a vacation. I am not sure where it came from and I’m not sure when it’s going, but my job, since I can’t seem to shake it, is to be happy anyway. Happy with the world around me. Happy with myself. My job is to thumb my nose, even from within, at anything that keeps me from being happy, at anything that keeps the illusion of separateness alive.

Besides, I am awesomely cute.

3. In both “Funeral, Expurgated” and “My Grandmothers Came from the Ukraine,” you talk about the quandary a writer faces over how much personal or familial information to reveal and how much to conceal or change to protect the innocent (or guilty). David Sedaris, when asked if his books should be filed in fiction or nonfiction, replied, “Nonfiction. I’ve always been a huge exaggerator, but when I write something, I put it on a scale. And if it’s 97% true, I think that’s true enough. I’m not going to call it fiction because 3% of it isn’t true.” And I can’t remember which writer says that the first duty of a writer is to kill his family—that is, write as if there were no one to offend, no one who would be upset if secrets were revealed.

So how have you struggled with the issue of “truthiness” in your writing? And what kind of fallout has there been among friends or relatives when you’ve revealed something that they would rather keep quiet?

Some of what I write falls into the category of New Reporting or New Journalism. Some into creative non-fiction. But, regardless of what I write, I have never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Many have made the mistake of thinking every piece I write is true just because most of it is non-fiction. So the poetry must be as well. Sure, some of it is but much of it is not. Poetry can be creative storytelling just as much as any other type of writing. My daughter never gathered angels in a field. My wife never complained about her life over coffee as I dreamed of moving west. But with few exceptions, what I write is based on the amazement of that which makes up everyday life. So I did almost hit a wall while she was changing in the passenger seat and the monk did make the spoon stick to his nose. But just because most of it is true does not mean it all is. I reserve the right to tell a story from time to time.

Given that, those who read me know if you see a name in the essay, the account is true. Percentage? If you see a name, it happened. If you see my name, I reserve the right to make my life what I choose it to be. If that is after the fact, then that is just fine with me. My memory is fluid.

That said, there are some things I just don’t write. I don’t write things I feel will hurt a person or compromise them in some way. I have made that judgment incorrectly from time to time but I never set out writing knowing what I am putting down will hurt. I can’t do that. It’s not in me. Even if the person has done me harm, I won’t.

There is so much out there to write. There is no need.

As far a narrative therapy goes, that is the truest account, the most full exposition I can manage. Your example of “Funeral, Expurgated” is narrative therapy. So is “The Shadow.” I write them so fully, so completely there is nothing left inside and, in the end, the content is all without and not within.

Many fail at narrative therapy and are sure it does not work. But they just write it once and get it out in the immediacy of the moment. That is ineffective. To work it must be revised and revised and revised again, experienced over and over in the writing, pared down, blown up, filled and emptied until it is all truth as you see it, until it reads like drama and feels real to one and all. Then, and only then, is it out.

In the essay you mentioned I spoke about the potential fallout a writer can experience and the fear that can engender. My wife, I mentioned in the first paragraph or two, said she cannot grasp the bravery of writing in tha manner. Sometime, neither can I.

But I did not think I wrote anything that would hurt anyone. As my daughter had pointed out, if they thought what they did was wrong or embarrassing, then why did they do it? One would think they felt their actions just fine and so why not record them?

But I did hurt some feelings. After it was out for a while my mother calls with some confusing story about an email and a letter and whatnot. It took me quite a while to put the bits together and figure out it was about the essay. The feeling was, I gathered, that I had aired the family’s dirty laundry in giving the blow-by-blow account of the funeral days.

I have a very small family. Now, it is much much smaller.

4. A casual reader of your blog may be confused about your spiritual inclinations. Are you a Buddhist? A Jew? A Unitarian? A Pagan? How do you reconcile all your disparate beliefs? Or are they really disparate after all?

I am a Jewitarian Buddhaversalist Pagan. What could be more clear than that? I follow the shamanic elements in Judaism as well as in Buddhism but find Buddhism and Judaism are quite similar in their emphasis on tikkun and right action.

I am, of course, a panentheist. But I am also a solipsist and once attended a convention of solipsists where we spent the entire weekend trying to figure out which of us it was.

I spent ten years studying with the Center for Tao and Man. Master Ni told me I had the cosmic egg. What difference what I call it? OK, so I am a Taoist. I follow the watercourse way and sometimes that flows through Judaism and sometimes it washes me into the Thai Buddhist Temple where the abbot explains to me the deeper meaning of the Kol Nidre.

After many years of attempting to reconcile seemingly disparate paths, I have stopped any attempts at reconciliation. The result is that all things now seem much more similar and it becomes more and more difficult to see the space between them or recognize there are differences.

Besides, name one cantor who does not like to be accompanied by a rattle or drum.

5. Tell me about turtle shells.

[Note: I had a turtle shell that I brought out whenever I did any group shamanic work. Every time Adam was present, he clutched the shell as if it were a talisman or protective shield. And when I do energy work with him, particularly when I use quartz or amethyst crystals, he seems to find the shell soothing, since my energy feels “edgy,” for lack of a better word. It became clear one evening that the shell wanted to go and live with Adam.]

The carapace is the dorsal, convex, magical part of the shell structure of a turtle, though a turtle would argue it is concave. It consist primarily of the ribcage which is a strange concept because there is never any chance of the ribs escaping. The spine and ribs are fused to bony plates beneath the skin which interlock to form a hard shell when blue and yellow make green, locking freshness in. Exterior to the skin, the shell is covered by scutes, horny plates that protect the shell from scrapes and bruises. Underneath they are made of backhoes.

They are alternately named Don, Horace, or Filbert.

They are not like crystals at all.

They go wonderfully with a cup of papaya juice and Northern Exposure.

One called to me for a year before it ended up coming home with me.It was playing hard to get.

If you lie one on your stomach, you might not have seizures.

Turtles don’t mind.

6. A dear friend of mine named Geralyn said an old chum once told her, “You know what’s so wonderful about you, Schulz? You can’t sing worth a damn. But it never stops you!”

I know you love to listen to music—music of all genres, music that makes you think and feel, with a smattering of Broadway just for good measure—but I think you like making music even more. Singing for the joy of it.

I remember a workshop you conducted on chanting. It was something everyone could do even if they couldn’t carry a tune. And there’s that wonderful Yom Kippur piece you wrote where you imply that chant and prayer and incantation are different aspects of the same thing.

So what does singing give to you, or do for you, that other forms of creativity do not?

Everything sings. The Earth sings from beneath and around us. Everything on/in/apart of it sings. We come out of the Earth and go back into the Earth and, therefore are never apart from the Earth, and so we sing. Any part of a whole carries the nature of the whole. So I do a whole lot of singing.

I think everyone should. And, no, it does not matter if the person can carry a tune. Sing. We are made of an Earth that sings and it is a function of our bodies. We get caught in subjective notions of quality which we mistake for objective ones and which we then assign value to. People do not sing because they are not good at it. But we do many things we are not the best at. We don’t see people refusing to walk because so many other people do it so much better. So sing.

Music reconnects me to all that is around me. I can disappear as a separate entity—the illusion of disconnection evaporates—when I sing. When I am singing with others in harmony there is an experience that is ecstatic, in what I feel is the true sense of that state: I am outside of myself. The harmony creates a larger sound that is made of but is not simply the voices that create it. The harmonious vibration is larger than the sum of the voices. Larger and different. And that applies holographically from the macrocosm to the microcosm, and fractally from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

What is it that vibration does not do, is not made of? I remember someone wrote somewhere in some well-known book something about “In the beginning there was the word; the word was in God’s presence, and the word was God.”

Names, sounds, create things. And it is the naming that creates separation and, therefore, identity. It is my feeling that what wounds can also heal, and sound heals. Singing heals. Music heals. The cantor sings to the congregation the holy words. We chant holiness. Incantations create. All is sound.

Other forms of creativity are, for me, secondary. They are derivative. They pale. To learn to write I took music classes. My writing exists because I do not play an instrument well.

7. I actually went back and reread every single entry in your blog this evening. I teared up at a few, but mostly I smiled. Or sighed. I am honored to know you.

One of my favorites (though to pick even a Top Five would be next to impossible) is Day of the Manatees. There’s a quote by Henry Beston that we both like—in fact, we’ve emailed it to one another, forgetting that the other had already sent it to us—that goes:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

If you’re a panentheist, then you believe that God (however you define the concept) interpenetrates every part of Nature. My friend Tim has a wood carving of a fish; on the side is painted the word COD, except that the bottom of the C curls in just a tad too much, making it halfway between a C and a G. It’s the God Cod. (Or, for the dyslexic, the Dog Doc.)

Speaking of dogs, here’s my second favorite zen kōan: A monk asked Zhàozhōu, “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?” Zhaozhou answered, “Wú!” (Wú means “no” and “non-being,” and is also the sound of a dog’s bark.)

There doesn’t seem to be a question in there anywhere. Hmmm.

How’s this: Manatees. Dogs. Cod. Us. God. If all our separateness is maya—illusion—then do manatees bark, and does God swim in Turkey Creek?

Hafiz tells us:

Ever since Happiness heard your name
It has been running through the streets
Trying to find you.

And several times in the last week,
God Himself has even come to my door—
Asking me for your address!

If God can come to my door, I am sure God can swim in Turkey Creek.

 
 

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St. Adamus Day or The Slackers Jubilation.

It is my birthday party today. I just got this email:

In order to take no chances in offending the Gods (and or Saints) I have duly
pronounced the Ode to St. Adamus this morning. In my underwear of course
and toasting with a large glass of ice water (it’s hot here!) I’ll say it again on Friday just to make sure that the word goes up on high that I am a follower!

This is from a lady who, unlike me, is not afraid to admit she is wonderful. I’m learning. I’m a slow learner. Here is my response.

See, it’s a movement!

And I’m going to take a page from your book and proclaim, to everyone far and near, as they arrive, welcome to “me and all my awesomeness!”

A movement it is. St. Adamus started quite a few years ago and is now celebrated, though that may be a bit too energetic of a word for it, by lucky, lazy observers in many locals. Here is this year’s invitation:

You are invited, you lucky person you, to The Feast of
Saint Adamus

August 5th about 6pm

This year, we shall hold the feast at the sacred shrine. The shrine is located at Darwin Manor House at Peepton Hill, The Lap of Luxury (Palm Bay).

The Feast of Saint Adamus, also known as the Slackers Jubilation, is a newly created Ancient Tradition. Being traceable as far back as the necrotic period, records have indicated this to be one of the most hallowed of days, significant for the sheer number of people who kept the Holy Day, which comes as no surprise when one discovers the truly devout celebrants were required to do nothing more than lounge around in their underwear and snack.

Held on the Eve of the Ides Of August, or the Saturday night following the anniversary of the illustrious Saint’s day of birth, or whatever day is most convenient, during the dog days of summer when Canis Major rides high in the night sky and inertia and laziness prevail, when things seem dead and doing anything, exerting any energy for any reason, seems not only useless and futile, but impossible, The Feast of Saint Adamus festivities consisted of a costume party and pot luck. In ancient Mesopotomy, prizes were often given for the best Feast of Saint Adamus costume and usually went to infants and slave girls. This begins to make sense when one looks further into the customs of this most advanced, civilised culture and discovers that an ancient Mesopotomus hardly ever wore anything more than underpants, and infants and slaves less.

Food offerings consisted of gifts of leftovers brought in adoration of Saint Adamus. Anything hanging around the house would do, as long as it took little or no preparation, bespoke of no creativity and left hardly anything to clean up or wash. Utensils were considered an abhorrence to Saint Adamus, unless they were made of candy and entirely edible. Of course, in true homage to this beloved saint, as yet, no-one has ever taken the time or initiative to create these.

One must remember, the hallmark of the Celebration of Saint Adamus and the Feast bearing his name is that nothing special happens. A sort of Super Sabbath, celebrants are required to do nothing more than pay homage to their saint and each other by bearing witness to our mutual inertia. And let us do as the pious have done for centuries uncounted. This Feast of Saint Adamus, let’s get together and do nothing.


No-one ever goes to the trouble of coming in costume. Good. Some do come in their underwear. Excellent. Some come dressed and in their underwear: wearing it outside, on their heads, stuffed in, overflowing from, pockets.

When someone does manage to follow the rules, I find a prize. Since I never plan for this – it would be too much trouble – I just pick something off my shelves – candles, knickknacks, a flute – and hand it to them. I have too many things anyway.

People circumvent the rules by all sorts of strange means, like religions everywhere. Can’t use an elevator on the Sabbath? Just turn it on to stop at every floor from Friday afternoon to Saturday night. Can’t drive to temple? Drive mostly there and park down the street. Letter, not spirit. Likewise, people tend to make… Well… Here is another email:

Oh I have made something sinfully good for your party

My response:

As long as it’s a leftover. You can’t make something ‘special.’ then you
aren’t bein a slacker!

(Thank you)

Re-response:

It’s leftover. I made it yesterday 😉

What am I to do? One of the reasons I chose leftovers was to keep people from working to out-do each other. Also, I wanted a party that was not based in food, delectable, delicious, diet-shattering delicacies need not arrive. I want to talk, not chew, sing, not drink. You get the idea.

So, I started cooking in advance or picking up food I liked. Food, most likely, only I’d be eating. Not that others can’t enjoy them if they like. But, chances are, I’m the only one who’s going to drink the kvas and eat the cold-smoked mackerel. Today, I am smoking a rather large, a bit over a foot long, beef tongue. Smoking it means it’ll still be pink. As a centerpiece, I have a feeling that will keep a fair number of delicacies off the table I’ll be eating from.

A few hours of delight and pleasure need not end in extra pounds. I am serious. Really.

Besides, I’ll be far too busy throwing out Mardi Gras and being entertained by the masses there to celebrate the awesomeness that is me. Unless they read the Ode to St. Adamus, which, of course, is recited every year.

Ode to St. Adamus

A man named Adamus, a saint,
Had but a single loud complaint:
His workload nearly made him faint-
His time was not his own.

The other saints, he’d explicate,
Had time to sit and contemplate,
Philosophize and meditate,
Or solve an ancient koan.

But he alone of all the bless’d
Got not a single moments’ rest
He’d end each day dog-tired and stressed
His hands worked to the bone.

This sorry state continued ’til
The tired saint had had his fill
I need a day to just sit still!
The neighbors heard him groan.

Amidst the papers in his room,
A lovely thought then pierced his gloom
A way he might escape his doom
And find the time to zone.

To each saint is a feast assigned
And patronage of those whose kind
The saint’s good works were most aligned
With, when his works are known

Saint Adamus then beamed with glee.
It seemed that he would soon be free
His own feast he would now decree
Ere one more hour had flown.

A day of utter laziness
Steeped in the summer’s haziness
A break from all the craziness
Would be its general tone.

And so it is at August’s peak
When heat runs high
And will runs weak,
We gather, some relief to seek,
And sit around like stone.

Mind you, this was not written by me, Oh, no. It is by Jeannette Westlake. See, I have fans. It’s a movement.

I think I’ll need more knickknacks by the end of this evening.

Room for one more, Honey

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 5, 2006 in Culture, Family, Food

 

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