Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not Obscure

To be not obscure, without attachment to ego, a not obscured mind has the ability to rest in awareness, to let go of thought, to be calm and clear, regardless of what is happening. A person with a not obscured mind would probably be able to sleep every night like a baby, without anxiety about what is going to happen tomorrow, or regret about what happened today. A not obscured person doesn't dwell on how somebody insulted him or her and doesn't waste time planning revenge. A not obscured person would be happy to live alone and happy to live with somebody. Desire, anger, confusion, and various emotions are not a problem. They're like air currents in the space of mind, or waves. Waves happen and then they don't. A not obscured mind recognizes the nature of mind and is therefore not led astray by the delusion of concepts, naive views about reality or strong emotions.

To be not obscured is my aspiration. However, like most people, my mind is obscured. I toss and turn at night sometimes, react to situations and become a burned out, discouraged, nervous wreck, obscured with negative thoughts and emotions.

We're born into confusion. My parents were confused. I understand now that I'm a parent, how it's difficult to be a parent. There are so many challenges. You want your child to grow up to be happy and wholesome. I appreciate the love and concern of my parents.

It's not easy to let go. Negative thoughts and emotions keep happening. That's fine. Let them come and go. The main thing is to have a sense of direction or aspiration. My aspiration is to let go of ego and to relax in the calm and clear nature of mind, rather than being blown about like a feather in the wind of hope and fear.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nervous Energy


Two week holiday in winter, I'm sitting in a room in Barnet, Vermont, light rain, snow melting. Relax, recover from the madness of work. A lot of nervous energy from the job goes into the nervous system; competitiveness, nasty gossip, back-stabbing, insults and discouragement. It takes time to recover and feel human again. For the first time in weeks, I'm able to sleep through the night. For weeks, the stress of work invaded my dreams, woke me in a sweat, caused me to toss and turn.

Everybody's gotta work. You'll meet the same characters, no matter where you go. They're archetypes, the one who craves power and tries to get people to conform to his or her opinions, the one who sides with the boss as a way of attacking colleagues, the one who can barely conceal his or her negative opinion of you, the one who feels that he has to be rude and aggressive, otherwise people will screw him over, the evangelist who wants you to join his or her cause, because he or she knows what is best for everyone. It's exhausting to stand up to these archetypes every day.

Of course, the less I'm attached to ego, the easier it would be. Ego responds to a situation with a whole bunch of thoughts and feelings. Nervous energy builds. It goes into the muscles and bones. There's a feeling of being attacked. Nothing is secure. An unpleasant surprise could wipe out security.

Work is part of the human condition. Don't be upset by the senseless squabbling. Drop the whole ball of thought and relate to whatever is happening. That's my aspiration, to see ego for what it is and then to let go. Without ego, what would happen to the nervous energy? That kind of energy can only happen when one hangs on tight to opinion, belief, hope and fear. I aspire to let go, to step outside the mental prison and stop clinging to ego-games, self-deception, hypocrisy, aggression, greed, insatiable hunger.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Sin


The human urge to judge and place limits on the unknown, I find mysterious, even though I sometimes do it myself. A young man was asking all sorts of questions about my past.
I'm living in an Inuit village of five hundred people. They're as curious about me as I am about them. I moved here after becoming severely disillusioned with society. Moving to a village in the Arctic, literally on the tundra, on the edge of an endless water system, gave me energy to keep going at a time when I didn't think I could go on.
Nature came to the rescue and offered consolation, comfort, inspiration. To be in a village far from the familiar set up had a powerful effect on a mind tormented with worry, regret, guilt and shame. It's amazing to live alone, in another culture, where people speak a different language. In some ways, it's like being a space alien, arriving on another planet. It takes some time to understand the ways of a different society. Respect, or the patience and willingness to understand what lies beyond the boundaries of one's conditioning or personal opinions, is key to understanding.
The other day a man asked me all sorts of personal questions and in response to one of my answers said: “That's a sin. You sinned.”
And I thought, wow, there are still people on the planet who believe what a group of men wrote long ago in a book and then inflicted on western society for the next two thousand years. It's quite ironic to leave western society in order to live with aboriginal people and then to be confronted with such a loaded statement as sin. Sin, wow. The guy obviously never read Nietszche or listened to Einstein. Of course, simple minded ideas of right and wrong exist all over the world. A friend phoned me from Arkansas to tell me how in her town, where she was hired to teach at a university, people hate you if you're not Christian and if you're an immigrant who speaks English with a foreign accent. And of course, racism flourishes, even though a black president was elected.
The man respected me and didn't mean his comment as an insult. The fact that I married twice and got divorced each time means I'm a sinner. I need to beg Jesus Christ for forgiveness and then be saved. I watched people being saved during healing sessions, led by evangelists invited from the south to provide a little old time religion. Afterwards, I met some of the men from the healing session in the bar in Kuujjuaq. Some of those men and women got drunk and wild, beat each other up, harmed themselves and the children, but they could always go back to church and be saved, which would make everything all right, as long as they don't commit a sin. It's a sad situation, involving a lot of confusion. It blows my mind.
After living for several years in the north plateau region of Montreal, a region populated by artists, musicians, dancers, writers, actors, intellectuals, eccentrics, slackers, bohemians, professors, a region rich in culture and free thinking, I forgot what it was like to be confronted by old time religion. I grew up choking on the stuff. As son of a preacher man, I read the Bible, cover to cover and attended church for twenty years. It was an oppressive, suffocating experience. Going to art school helped free me from a lot of the restrictions imposed by the religious milieu. I experienced first hand how people could project authority on to objects, such as a book, and to ideas and then become fanatical and aggressive. They had no hesitation about telling me when I sinned or went too far. It was like growing up in a cage, or being tethered to a rope. Religious dogma put walls around my world. I was forbidden to go beyond the limits prescribed by god and my father. That meant, if questions arose in my mind, I should stop asking and turn to Jesus and then everything would be all right.
But it wasn't all right. In spite of Jesus Christ, Bush sent troops into Iraq, unleashing horror on innocent men, women and children. Bush apparently read the Bible and prayed every day. Was there nothing in the Bible that could tell him to slow down and reflect before undertaking a crime against humanity? Bush recently said he was sorry that weapons of mass destruction were not found. But God was on his side. Unspeakable human suffering is the result, not to mention the fact that the Bush administration ruined the American economy, driving the country deeply into debt. Imagine if the trillions of dollars wasted on war had been spent to help Iraq and areas of the world tormented by famine, poverty and natural disaster. After all, Jesus did preach generosity, love, kindness and compassion.
Religion, intolerance, hatred and war have a long history. It starts on the local, everyday level. Stop and ask yourself: how do you feel when someone disagrees with your ideas, opinions or beliefs? Does it make you uncomfortable? Does it make you angry? Or are you able to respect the person's right to disagree? Of course, I can't agree with ideas that condone harm. If a gangster tried to harm my family, I would phone the police and ask them to do whatever necessary to stop the thugs. Sometimes force is necessary.
I hate talking platitudes.
I was just trying to describe the strange feelings that happened when, out of the blue, a kid told me I had sinned. At first, I thought it was some kind of a joke; but then I realized, the boy was serious. Older people also told me it's a sin not to believe in Jesus and that if I don't believe, I will go to hell and burn in the lake of eternal fire, after death. I do believe that Jesus is still a powerful force to be reckoned with and that untold harm has been done in the name of Jesus and hopefully some good as well.
Of course, maybe it's not the fault of religion. Maybe it's an expression of confusion and some tendency in the psyche to close down and become aggressive when confronted by the unknown and to become puffy and arrogant when things are familiar. Which came first, confusion or religion? Maybe I'm all wrong. Jesus, forgive me; Lord have mercy! If you see Buddha on the road, kill him.
Even among agnostics, simple-minded ideas of morality persist. I've met fanatics who believe strongly in opinions and have no hesitation about expressing approval or disapproval for something they don't even understand. The non-critical, non-reflective reactionary approach of stimulus/response still prevails. I think, therefore it's true. If it makes me feel good, it must be all right. If it makes me uncomfortable, then for sure it's bad. Science can back up my feelings of discomfort. You have to be this way, otherwise that will happen. There's scientific evidence to prove that blah blah blah. Experts say blah blah blah. Therefore, it's true. You better act within the company mandate and clear your ideas through the proper channels. A committee will be formed to look into the possibility of forming a committee to deal with the committee formed to deal with vaguely stated and open to interpretation obtusly written policies, and actually quite clear, government mandates. You better be responsible and do what you're told, otherwise you could turn into an anarchist, or free thinker, out to wreck civilization. Leaving early for lunch or not filling out the proper forms could lead a person into a downward spiral. You could end up becoming a communist (wait, that was the fifties, now days we have different fears and bogey men).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Palimpsest





At the age of twenty-one, I was paid to clean a psychiatric ward. It was like something out of the movies, back in the seventies. Desolation is the word to describe the feeling of being in that place. Put a sane man or woman there and for sure the person would come out worse than when he or she went in. I had bad dreams about the noise and behaviour of certain patients.

Apparently such places don't exist anymore. Medication has become more sophisticated. Contemporary psychiatric wards look like any other ward in the hospital. I spent a month, back in 1978, cleaning walls, windows, air vents, ceilings and stripping, sealing and waxing the floors of adult psychiatry. The experience made me realize the importance of making an effort to cultivate wholesome mental habits, in order to avoid getting sick. Mental illness is complex, involving factors such negative conditioning, alcohol or drug abuse, family violence, sexual assault or incest,biology, family history, social and economic problems such as stresses related to work, failed relationships, loss of a loved one, accident, financial loss and numerous other situations.

The other day at work I had a flashback to the psychiatric ward. I remember the first day on the job. My cleaning buddy warned me not to talk to the patients. It felt strange to go up an old, heavy metal elevator, operated by a key, thick doors, a security elevator leading up to the locked ward. Patients interred there would not be able to escape. It felt strange to get out of the security elevator and to step into an archetypal world—madness, the real thing, after hearing about it, finally to be there.

On the first morning a man defecated into a waste paper basket and then wandered down the hall, muttering to himself: “This is for real.” A couple of mean-looking youngsters, in punk hair and clothing, laughed as he walked by. A woman climbed the step ladder I brought along for cleaning the high part of the walls and the ceilings and asked me to grab her bum. An anorexic woman came up to me, a few hours later, and asked if I could be her boyfriend. I felt sad and embarrassed. An orderly witnessed the scene and told me not to worry about it.

That's one diary I shouldn't have thrown away. I walked around, folded sheets of paper in my back pockets and would write during pauses, in an empty room or stairwell, in the janitor's supply room, or on a toilet in a cubicle. As a hospital janitor, I spent most of the shift in the public eye. One had to look busy and be as invisible as possible. My buddy told me the tricks, where to find an empty room or seldom used stairwell. Staff washrooms were excellent places to take a break and do some writing, because they were spacious and you could lock the door. I loved writing, and still do, writing for no other purpose than the pleasure of writing.

My buddies were fascinating people, from a side of life I never even knew existed. I grew up in middle class comfort, the son of a preacher man and then suddenly was working along side a refugee from Europe who had lived through war, blood and guts and had a drinking problem. He berated me constantly, pointing out my character flaws, poor behaviour, and careless grooming habits. It was an educational experience to be the object of so much projection. That guy, about forty-five years old, really hated himself and couldn't bear to be next to a healthy, sane young man. He did have a point: what was a guy like me, with so much opportunity, doing in a janitor job? He was born into poverty and abuse. Most of the people doing that job had horror stories.

I obviously didn't belong. I was there because for a few years I was really unhappy and wanted to commit suicide. I remember one day my buddy even offered to help. He wanted to watch me die. He offered to get hold of some rope and to secure the rope to the ceiling of the janitor closet. I said, no thanks. Then he criticized me for walking along, so bored. At one point, the supervisor sent me for a medical exam, because I had all the symptoms of a living-dead, glazed look in the eye, no energy, always tired, a bag of jelly, a zombie. The doctor said I was suffering classic symptoms of boredom and should not be doing such a job. My social-economic situation would not allow it, without psychological damage. Fortunately, I only did that job for nine months and then went off to do a masters degree at the University of Western Ontario.

That's why it was scary to clean the psychiatric ward, because I didn't feel too confident about my own state of metal health back then. I worried about going insane. At the age of twenty-one, the future appeared bleak, like a gaping pit of misery awaiting. Nobody has an easy time on the road of life.

I started out a space alien, lonely, desolate, forsaken, and heart broken. I prayed to the Mother of Jesus to release me from self-absorbed, self-pity, bitterness and resentment. I asked her to enter my heart.

A woman in mauve velour, body moving in two sections, bottom and top, separated by exposed midriff, with navel in a soft belly, walked beside her boyfriend, a man dressed in what looked like a Halloween costume he'd been working on for years, a blue mechanic shirt with pencil pocket, name-crest, baseball cap, work-boots, jeans, black case and mobile phone strapped to the belt.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Apology


Author's apology, at the end of a text or drama, an apology would sometimes happen. It was a traditional part of old time etiquette.
Sometimes the apology could get out of control, for example, when Gogol burned the manuscript of part two of Dead Souls. His great novel remains incomplete because a priest told him his writing was sinful so Gogol destroyed it.
Kafka gave instructions to have a friend destroy his writing and so on and so on, authors apologizing, feeling bad or uncomfortable about the writing. Beckett's later writing became stripped to the minimum, for example the short novel, Worstword Ho, is written in terse, short sentences with sometimes no more than one word at a time. It's like the narrator would like to erase each word immediately after writing it down.
Even the average Joe blog writer, like myself, might feel an urge to apologize, for example, please don't take anything on this site seriously. It's just psycho-babble of a guy squeezed in the machine, doing the process of life, without understanding what it's all about. I have no idea why existence is happening. I look at this the writing day later and think: what a waste of time, to write such nonsense. I did a web search about blog and read in one place how most blogs have less than five readers, but the process is beneficial, therapeutic, even to the point of boosting the immune system and making the writer feel better. My only defence, against the urge to apologize, is to say, even when I destroy the writing, I end up writing it again, over and over. A few times, during moments of despair, I filled garbage bags with sacks of writing and put them out for garbage. Years worth of diary and random scribble, thousands of sheets of loose-leaf, went out with the trash. I have no regret. There's plenty more where that came from. It's also therapeutic to let go and destroy. It's a way of letting go of the past, especially after a divorce. Suddenly, everything felt worthless. I would have put myself out for trash, were that possible. Despair. Most people know what that means. Fortunately, those moments don't last. It's like water under the bridge. The wheel keeps turning.
Anyway, no need to apologize. It is what it is, no big deal. The ego in me sure gets neurotic sometimes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Meditation on Sound

Drive a northern country road into imagination of some place like northern Alberta. Fields in the country, land, spring, huge puddles on the dirt road, easy to get stuck, park the car. Get out. Walk around. Straw sticking up through mud exposed after snow melted. There's nothing like a walk in the country.

Euphoria of space.

Field of vision, field of knowledge, lilies of the field, immense fields, subcategories of subcategories, huge fields, some of them between brackets and set aside to deal with later—a very unusual, and at first, bewildering situation, but, in fact, quite ordinary. So many details pop into awareness and lead to difficult, but extraordinary relationships.

These are the words of a cartoon philosopher. A fly dancing on the table, listen to the sound of a spoon scraping food out of a cast iron frying pan, fried rice.

Sound is easier to digest than dinner spilled all over the table like billboards along the freeway, as I listened to the sound signature of a rental car. Microsounds of coffee swooshing into a cup, buzzed on sound, sneezing, slapping sound, construction powder dust, musty, rotten wood, door-slamming, delivery trucks, important intersection.

Complicated, very serious, migraine, dissonant, hectic, random sound situation. Plug in the toaster. It starts to rain. The phone rings. It stops raining. I left the butter on the stove and when I got back, it had melted into lemon yellow fluid.

These are random Sunday afternoon images that floated through my mind as I slept for half an hour in the easy chair, while the sun went down about 3 PM.

It's soothing to sleep in the easy chair, in a quiet room in a house in the arctic. Straining my ears to hear something, I hear nothing except a buzz, the buzz of the ears, various tones. There are those who head off in search of new sound and those who return to the sound itself, the sound as no sound. If you listen hard enough, suddenly there's no sound. You could be running after a new auditory sensation, but then it gets all mixed up with voices in the head, (as Samuel Beckett suggested in the novel Company), or voices outside the head, voices somewhere, a world full of voices, some trying to say something, others attempting to eliminate silence with the rumble of nonsense.

Hectic, happy grandmother, grandfather sound, acceleration of a motorvehicle, slowing down and then speeding up, everybody is going somewhere, if we didn't all go, we'd stay. It neither comes nor goes. It doesn't start or end. I remember how grandmother stood beside the huge, cast-iron woodstove inside the kitchen, while I waited outside and gazed at her through a flimsy screen door, a few holes in the screen where flies got in and how she waved her finger, warning me to stay away from psychotic gibberish. It was also ok to admire bee hives in the meadow and then to wander into a stand of paper birch at the edge of the muskeg, filled with tamarack and some jack-pine nearby.

Each time I set off down the road of sound, I meet distraction. I can't listen more than a few econds before another sound grabs my attention and leads me off into different music.

Chorus: hammering, tearing, drilling, cutting—circular saw, power drill, bird song, hammering, tapping, ripping, battering, sinking, tumbling, teeth-grinding, fingernail-destroying sound. An epidemic of noise, degrees of clarity or obscurity, turn towards the uncomfortable sound. Bring it into focus. Leave out the reaction to sound. Listen to the actual sound, burning, freezing, tearing, scraping, crushing, piercing, biting, sucking, throbbing, suffocating; or perhaps joyful, like that famous piece by Luigi Nono entitled: Calm and Serene Waves.

Monday, November 3, 2008

blah blah blah

Ok, I'm having technical problems and was unable to insert this text below the picture below, of a couple hugging. This text is supposed to go with the post called Company, but i got an html error. so here goes:

The romantic moment is from a comic I drew last weekend. It reminded me of the short novel
Company by Samuel Beckett. When all else fails, there's always the company of imagination, or whatever you want to call the voices that may or may not be in one's mind. A voice comes to one in the dark, that's how the novel begins, sort of like the famous beginning of Proust's giant novel about memories, a child lying in the dark, trying to figure out exactly where he was. Amazing things happen when you look at the mind. I love imagination and the wonderful things that happen in my mind. Even when outer situations are not pleasant, there's always the playfulness and adventure of inner worlds. Imagination is my sweetheart. I hug her many times during the day and during dreams at night. After a few failures at relationships, at the age of fifty-two, I finally came to terms with living alone. Part of dealing with living alone is learning to find company. Friendliness is the way to go.

I woke up this morning and a large black dog came running to say hello. The dog sat down and we had a little friendly conversation. The swoosh of wings, a loud sound of psychedelic laughter, a raven flew by, dark blue, almost black, a perfect moment, a dog and a raven, early in the morning, there's no need to lie around in the dark when the world is out there with open arms, ready to offer good and bad.

COMPANY

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paulo Poopini Wishes You A Nice Day



It’s nice to be wished a nice day in the morning, to hear a friendly greeting as you walk into the workplace, a cheerful hello, how are you doing, have a nice day. Right away that tunes me into the cosmic comedy, that we’re really players, pretending to be doing something really important, because we need the money. The almighty dollar, tinkle, tinkle, like pee pee, bestows worth on the sweat and blood of one’s brow, as one struggles to earn a living.

This day will most likely be forgotten. How could one possibly remember every detail of each instant? In fact, each instant could be infinitely divisible, to the point where the instant vanishes as it appears. In other words, each pinprick of an instant is like a hole in the tissue of reality spun on the loom of strong emotions and na├»ve views. As the tissue of self-deception shreds to pieces under the analytic gaze, unlimited opportunity opens up. Once self-imposed boundaries begin to dissolve, then there’s no reason to hold back. There’s no reason to be miserable or elated. Things are as they are, without limit. The overlay of hope and fear, of like and dislike is irrelevant.

Trying to impose one’s point of view, or to assert ego is about as effective as trying to drive a nail into the sky, or trying to sign your name on water.

Of course, as you might guess from the previous post, my mind is quite obscured and overwhelmed by emotional reactions to the daily grind and conflicts that happen when I bump up against someone who feels that what I’m doing is not quite right. Usually the person’s feeling is based on uptightness and nothing more. If you question the person, he might get angry, or argue in circles, contradict himself, get off topic and then totally deny what he started out saying. Such fruitless discussion leaves a sense of alienation, a bad taste in the mouth. It’s often better to keep quiet and not respond to verbal farts from people who don’t approve of what you’re doing.

For example, art, usually art meets with indifference, or hostility. Fortunately, enough people “get it” and have a good laugh, which is encouraging. Of course, I’d do art even if every man woman and child on the planet thought it was a waste of time. Art needs no justification or explanation. But it certainly awakens strong reactions, sometimes. Some people have ideas about what art should be. They say: John, why can’t you make something nice? Why does your art have to be so weird? Are you deliberately trying to piss people off?

Well, what am I supposed to say? Maybe I’m supposed to reply: oh yes, you’re right. My art is a waste of time. Thank you for letting me know. I will stop doing art right now. Or maybe I’ll do art that is easy to understand and enjoy, art with a simple, pleasing message. I will create images that insult and irritate nobody.

Paulo Poopini would like to take this opportunity to wish you a nice day. Paulo further underlined the urgency of this opportunity by saying: do not be bound by the wheel. I’m not sure what he means, although he did sit down to a plate of mixed vegetables and rice.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

unprofessional

Someone asked, what's anusol? It's a product similar to preparation-h. "Unprofessional" is a buzz word, used a lot these days, to describe someone who disagrees with your personal taste, vanity or views about reality. Workers often use this term of abuse towards those with less power.

The trouble with going to work is that you’re forced to deal with people you might otherwise avoid. On every staff, there’s at least one obsessive-compulsive, power-hungry personality, obsessed with rules and meetings. Such a person follows the boss into his office for briefings each day, to make sure he pressures staff into doing what she wants. Usually the boss has favorites.
Administration tends to side with the strong, in their battle to oppress those who aren’t power-hungry and who don’t like to quarrel, or to get involved in long, time-consuming disputes.
Such a personality will go after you until she finds something in your behavior to attack. She’ll then invade your personal space, like a dentist drill. The only anesthetic against such a person is to tune him or her out. Avoid such a person. But then the person goes after you. She spies on you and reports the little details of your day to the boss. She sifts through your coming and going until she finds something that goes against the ideal of right and wrong that cages her mind. Finally, you’re forced to make a show of strength, to assert the boundary; otherwise the bully will never stop. You assert your legal right and then the bully backs off, but not too far away. The minute you let your guard down, she’ll be back on the attack.

All this creates stress. There’s a knot in my stomach as I go to work in the morning and dread meeting certain colleagues. I’ve talked to other people and they say this is quite common in the workplace. Every staff contains people who delight in tormenting people. Too bad people can’t respect boundaries. Too bad people have trouble tolerating difference.

To cope, I make art about it. I have no choice but to work, or slide to skid row. In order to keep my cool and not sink into depression or fly into a rage, I need protection. Making art offers a kind of mind protection. I won’t elaborate on that right now. Another time.

I could also go on and on about the different freaks in the workplace, but you probably know all about it. You probably have your own tales of torment and misery, because certain hell-beings thrive on aggression, bitterness and self-pity.

Friday, October 17, 2008

the river felt she wanted salt


that's a quote from Finnegan's Wake, by James Joyce. a blog of this nature may or may not be suitable for somebody who sometimes has trouble sleeping, due to a lot of thinking. Finnegan's Wake is the perfect novel for moments of mental turmoil or insomnia.

That's a funny novel, a bit confusing at first, because it breaks down boundaries of grammar and evokes strange mental sensations. It's much easier to read after you give up preconceived notions, or approach it with an open and playful mind.

I chose this as a blog title because just about everything i tried was already taken. Finally, in desperation, i reached for FW and that sentence popped from the page. It fit perfectly, since last week i was actually floating on fresh water. Tommy Kudluk invited me to ride in his boat. Half way up river, salt water meets fresh water.