Feeling Yucky

The highest virtue is like water.
Since water helps the myriad creatures,
And settles, without contention,
Where no one wishes to live,
It is near to the Way.
In a house position matters.
In mental quality depth matters.
In friends kindness matters.
In speaking honesty matters.
In government order matters.
In transactions ability matters.
In actions promptness matters.
By not contending it never errs.

Tao Te-Ching, Lao Tzu VIII

When I walked away from teaching I resolved not to contend with anyone over anything. It wasn’t worth it. Anything anyone was going to learn they would learn without me. The resolution not to contend was a wise one. Contention makes me feel dirty, polluted, as if I’ve sacrificed something precious. It makes me think of a theme in the novels of Yukio Mishima in which a protagonist “falls from grace,” and is no longer able to experience bliss.

When I read Mishima’s novels in my late 20’s that idea resonated with me. Mishima seemed to say that by holding fast to an imperceptible thread we could walk through the labyrinth safely. Dropping the thread? Mishima’s characters lost everything.

Contending with that child yesterday left me feeling icky. I guess a few walks with Bear and maybe a little skiing will clear all that away.

Wearing Pants

It is better to leave a vessel unfilled than to attempt to
carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been
sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them
safe. When wealth and honours lead to arrogance, this brings its evil
on itself. When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming
distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.

Tao Te Ching

Humility is part of the “code of the West” as I learned it growing up. “He’s not so special,” my mom would say about someone, maybe a guy I had a crush on or some politician or a TV personality. “He puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else.” And then there were the proverbs, “Pride goeth…etc.” After a few humiliations and failures, and I got the point.

I’m a humble person. I always have been. I always have hated being pushed front and center. I have never had any real ambition, but many things I’ve wanted to do. Success in any of my endeavors would have led to a better financial situation, but whatever I have had has always been enough.

Humility doesn’t mean you don’t try to do your best. It means understanding that what matters is the doing and that, after the GREAT moment has passed, no matter how GREAT that moment was, you go home, change out of your fancy clothes and put your jeans back on…

One leg at a time.

(I-Ching, Hexagram 15, Modesty [Humility or Balance])



Nature is often called “serene” but it’s only serene because somebody said so. Nature has (also) often been called “harsh” and that’s a lot LESS in the eye of the beholder than is the serenity. The battle between humans and nature is as old as humanity, but it’s a silly battle. Nature WILL WIN, at the very least against every individual human.

My life in the destination we call nature has involved lots of small negotiations. I live in a house. 😉 I carry a stick to warn snakes. I wear warm clothes in winter. Because there are legitimate foes out here, I leash my dogs. Now I will wear bug repellant at the slough. I accepted that if I did see a mountain lion someday (I did) it might not go so well — did I still want to? (I did) Lucky for the lion and me it was a happy meeting. If the lion had attacked me, it would’ve been killed by a ranger or something. Most important, staying alert. I know if I take Bear out in a thunderstorm it might hail. Can I get to shelter along the way if that happens? And what about lightning? There’s a long list of accommodations like these that I can’t even think of now; they are second nature. I think the most important thing is knowing my limits (also nature) and, if I want to expand them, knowing I can’t do it in a day (nature seldom does anything ‘in a day’).

I think that the one lesson we can get from nature that might lead to serenity is the lesson of humility. A horsefly is small, but it brought me down.

“When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.” Lao Tsu


Go with the Flow; Navigate by the Stars

“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.” Salman Rushie Satanic Verses

Sorry, Bumblepuppies, but I can’t accept that whole romantic myth that only the “…cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze” idea changes the world. In fact, I think Rushdie presents a false dichotomy.

Over the years, I discovered the virtue in surviving. This past Saturday, when I received very good news about my novel, Martin of Gfenn,  I was, at first, very happy. Then, as it sank in, I thought about where I stand in relation to the time of my own life. Then I felt very lonely. The people I would like to share that moment with? Well…”smashed to bits.”

At the beginning, there were others with me — three in particular. Kirk, my brother; Peter, my lover; Wes, my friend. All of us were artists and we were united in a fine and blazing mission across future’s infinite sky.

One by one, demons found us and pulled at our feet, hands, hearts and minds. Peter fell first, then Wes, then my brother. I fought and extricated myself from my demons, only to be trapped by the same demons time and again. My “idea” held me aloft. It always beckoned from that empty sky, blazing bright and waiting. Because there is a bit of the “…cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool…” in me, I never turned away.

Unlike my allies, I supported myself. In that I learned the usefulness of the other “idea” “…the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive…”  What good are my dreams and aspirations, how can I “change the world” if I am not here?

So, Saturday night, I thought about how long it had taken me to write Martin of Gfenn. I started in 1999. I wrote it completely three times. It’s had a life of its own. In 2009, I almost gave up, let go completely of the whole thing. Then I thought I owed the experience of writing it, and the protagonist, more than that. Was that “cussedness,” stubbornness, some romantic notion of “unwavering faith” or was it love? I rewrote it.

And I am here. My friends are dead, their books unwritten, their paintings unpainted. I miss them. I wish I could share the good things that have happened with them, but…

A brave and passionate man will kill or be killed
A brave and calm man will always preserve life.
Of these two, which is good and which is harmful?
Some things are not favored by heaven. Who knows why?
Even the sage is unsure of this.

The Tao of heaven does not strive, and yet is overcomes.
It does not speak, and yet is answered.
It does not ask, yet is supplied with all its needs.
It seems at ease, and yet it follows a plan.

Heaven’s net casts wide.
Though its meshes are coarse, nothing slips through.

Tao Te-Ching, 73

I wrote about this topic in detail in another post — a talk I gave last spring at a conference. The title is “Old Heroes: the Heroism of ‘Mere’ Survival”.