Saturday, April 5, 2008

Layer 1 The Writer

‘OK,’ he thought, ‘If I’m a writer, then I’d best be doing some writing’. But what about?

It didn’t matter. There were a thousand starting points, and a thousand possible strands. And in the end they would all converge. They would all meet up and interweave; they would layer and inter-twine, and they would become like a fabric or a palimpsest of sense and maybe some nonsense.

Like a painter he could start with the yellow or the red, or the green. So what was red in his life right now? What was green? What was yellow? And what was blue? Deepest, darkest blue?

Somehow or other he’d end up with a painting, and if he didn’t like the look of it, he’d paint something different right on top of the first painting, and carry on adding until he had something worthwhile, something he felt good about. He might end up with a painting that was several paintings right on top of one another. Only he would know what was beneath the surface.

These days he had problems with remembering. Some days he tried to remember who he was, and who he thought he should be. On the whole he’d made up his mind not to worry too much about what other people thought he was, since they themselves were usually pretty confused, and often didn’t have a clue. Either about him, or about themselves.

He thought he needn’t mind too much about remembering what he used to be, since he now had the freedom to be whatever he’d like to be. Maybe he’d always had that freedom. Maybe he’d had it, and somehow lost it. Maybe he’d got carried away by his mission and his cause, and got stuck for too long in his combat, and his fatigue.

But that was then, and this is now. There had been battles won, and battles lost, and a strategic retreat. At least he was still in the war. He was now living underground: part bohemian and part guerrilla. At least he still had his sanity and he still gave a fuck.

There is a war between the rich and poor,
A war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn't.

There is a war between the left and right,
A war between the black and white,
A war between the odd and the even.

Why don't you come on back to the war - pick up your tiny burden?
Why don't you come on back to the war? - let's all get even.
Why don't you come on back to the war, can't you hear me speaking?


I’ve loved those lyrics (and that song - There Is A War) since I first heard them in Y & J’s flat in Manhattan in 1975. Leonard Cohen at his most brilliant. Who By Fire is on the same album - another brilliant song; incredible poetry. That was the summer of hitch-hiking around the States and Canada, my swansong, my last ever summer of being on the road, being a hitchhiker. My final fling at being Jack Kerouac, Dean Moriarty, Sal Paradise, Neal Cassady.

"On the Road was written in three weeks, while Kerouac lived with Joan Haverty, his second wife, at 454 West 20th Street in Manhattan. Kerouac typed the manuscript on what he called "the roll": a continuous, one hundred and twenty-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets that he cut to size and taped together. The roll was typed single-spaced, without margins or paragraph breaks. Contrary to rumor, Kerouac said he used no stimulants during the brief but productive writing session, other than coffee." (Wikipedia)

The first-ever blogroll? These days he’d do it on the Internet. Apparently the original roll is now owned by someone who paid just over 2 million dollars for it. Food for thought. Especially when you recall that Jack died of cirrhosis after becoming a recluse in order to escape from the nightmare of celebrity.

Apparently Jack managed to meet and have conversations about Zen with Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki. Who are the modern-day Watts and Suzukis?

I need to get around to pulling together all my notebooks from my own hitchhiking days - with V in Europe, starting in ’68. 40 years ago, and a lot of water under the bridge.

After that I should bring together all my memories (including my notebooks, my photos and super 8 movies) of the epic trans-Africa trip in ’73. That would include the part where we drove in the VW microbus, B and P and me, and my friend J (as far as Nairobi), in our brilliant little 2-wheel drive camper van, all the way from Malawi to northern Nigeria, via Kenya and the Indian Ocean, and via Serengeti along with the wildebeest migration, and via the jungles and mud of Zaire in the rainy season . . . and it should take in the bit where I hitchhiked with B, after we’d sold the VW in Kano, up through the Sahara (and back again to Niamey via Tamanrasset so B could get a visa for Algeria) and back through Europe in the rainy season, the bloody freezing cold season, to England, just in time for Christmas.

Here's a coincidence - my mum remembering just the other day our house in Foxford, and B - funny freaky hippy little B - washing her hair in the kitchen sink. Mum still thinks about that, still smiles about that.


When does the past begin, or - when does it end? Or when did it? Maybe there was no such thing as the past? Maybe there’s only ever the present? And should he even care about the future? Was there even a ‘he’ who should care about anything?

Obviously he was several he’s. Some of the he’s cared about a lot of things, and some of the he’s cared about nothing at all.

What was it Dylan said about caring? “I used to care, but things have changed.” Now there’s a guy who always knew stuff, who people turned to when they were looking for stuff, who always claimed he knew nothing. He knew nothing, and he knew everything. He knew so much that he knew he knew nothing.

But you know there will always be a part of him that cares passionately about lots of things.

The truth was that he knew better than to believe he was a simple entity, a single ego with simple truths pertaining to who he was and who he’d like to be.

Zen, for instance, knows that we change from moment to moment, and all we can really aspire to is knowing from moment to moment what we think we think, and what we really know that we know, and what we feel about what we think or what we know.

And whilst we ought to really care about what we are, and what we think and feel, and what we do and how we act - ultimately none of it really matters anyway. Our poor little egos are like atoms in the fabric of the universe. Individually they don’t matter a jot. But collectively they mean everything. Life is really that complicated, and that simple.

We’re all actors here. We may have our different methods, but we understand our ‘characters’, or we think we do, and we act accordingly. Even if we’re just improvising, or if we’re just working from sub-conscious mini-scripts - as they say in transactional analysis-speak. We’re still just actors really. Zen says that enlightenment consists in part of becoming spontaneous and authentic. How many people really feel they can afford to live that way?

I was reading the other day about how scientists have proved that atoms can be in two places at the same time. Atomic and sub-atomic. Macro and micro. Galaxies and solar systems. Suns, planets, molecules, atoms, electrons, neutrons, photons.

What the fuck are photons? Apparently "the photon differs from many other elementary particles, such as the electron and the quark, in that it has zero rest mass". Which as far as I can see means that it doesn’t exist. You should see what it says in Wikipedia about photons. Read it, blow your mind, and realise that you, if you’re a non-scientist in this instance, really do know fuck all. It’s really very humbling.

We are what we are. And then again, we’re never what we think we are, except in parts, for some of the time. Why worry about any of it?

Zen says empty your mind and allow wisdom to enter. Zen says there really is no such thing as mind. Zen says meditate, don’t worry, be ‘mindful’ of the now, because that’s all there is, really. Be spontaneous, be original, be yourself. Only there is no self, really. We’re all one, all part of everything. I can’t be part of anything without you. And without you I’m nothing. Without one another we can never be anything.

In fact, if we can only forget ourselves, and stop worrying about ourselves, and start caring for other people, then we can start to live properly. Zen, and Jesus, and all spiritual intelligences know that loving others - doing good things for others - is the best thing we can possibly do for ourselves. That’s just the way it works. This is the bodhisattva principle. That way lies the possibility of true happiness, or enlightenment, or a life well lived. Things fall apart when all we care about is ourselves. Love (though not self-love) is the magnetism and the gravity of the universe.

Mind you, we have to take care of ourselves if we’re going to be able to care for others effectively. This is another paradox. But taking care of ourselves is not the same as loving ourselves. We should be humble enough, and egoless enough, to neither love nor hate ourselves. Our many selves.

How to take proper care of ourselves is a very big topic.

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