All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The title of this essay is also its illustration. It is a rainy day --not the title, the title is the upper-case alphabet. I mean I am in a rainy day-- and what happens on rainy days is I can't go outside and fix something on the world. I used to, no matter what the weather, go out in storms and do vigorous things. I had measureless confidence, immunity to discomfort and the figure of a discobolus. Now rain inspires me to hole up with fluency, ease and artistic fervor. Such is the changing intellectual climate of age and the lure of comfort. With age also comes reflection, sometimes in so many directions it makes no sense, so I will limit this discussion to two distinct streams of thought.

Not an easy prospect. It is late March, usually a time for sitting in the sun thinking of nothing while woolly-ants trumpet and gallimaufry blooms. I believe I have just described idiocy, but that is my approach to clear-minded meditation. However, it's raining and I am in here, doing this. What is this? A response to friends' oft-repeated scolding that I ought to seek wider readership. I figure people read what they want and don't what they don't, but maybe if I offered something sensational they would gain in number. Unaided human flight sounds good. I just added it to the title. Let's try that.

First, let's talk about architecture. Too much coverage is given these days to international belligerence, elitist power-grabs, scandals, social upheavals and too little to architecture and the upper-case alphabet. One can be full of good intentions and mechanical know-how and still accomplish nothing because of architectural ignorance. Consider the Golden Gate.

There is a strait in California defined by headlands of the San Francisco and Marin peninsulas. When it was discovered, in 1769, by Jose Ortega, he wisely turned his party back until a bridge could be built. They circled nearly 170 years, which seems a lot until we consider what went into the project. Schools of mechanical know-how had to be built and operated until they produced architects. Meanwhile, Sgt. Ortega hiked all over the state founding things named Ortega. My Stunt Double grew up on Ortega Street, which I mention only to show we were born much younger than people are now and weren't so nervous about details.

Point is, mechanical distribution of gravitational force through the science of architecture saves many lives. Motorists who tried to drive across the Golden Gate before there was a bridge pretty much lost everything. Those who survived blamed their calamity on fog or misinformation, but make no mistake, gravity got them. Then came architecture, a beautiful orange bridge, and millions of lives get saved every week. Similarly, literature has been saved by the invention and arrangement of the alphabet.

The basic mechanics were there, and the know-how, but literature escaped us for eons. Chief reason humankind was so late to it is each letter had to be forged individually by blacksmiths. They were heavy, cumbersome and a lot of them couldn't stand up by themselves, nor could the letters they forged. But there are certain details that cannot be detected at ground level. You need an overview of the whole alphabet to see why it begins and ends as it does.

From this vantage, you can see that A and Z are the best choice for containing the thing. Neither letter will tip easily, even when Y topples or C heaves back. Midway, you'll notice sturdy-looking M, N, R, and a businesslike boot under Q to keep P upright, especially after O rolls into it. T, U and V are so inherently unstable it takes both W and X to keep them off Y, which, as we've seen, has its own problems. From a bit higher up, we can see F will never stand on its own and I will fall off anything, given the opportunity.

If you leave off admiring the sound architectural principles of the alphabet --which held it still long enough to serve literature-- you'll notice you are flying. Don't be alarmed, but as I write, the rain has run to thunder and lightning and it's best we land now and go indoors. Age seeks its own comforts, and I think it's time for a good cackle in the chimney corner.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

True Meditation

As illustration for this essay I am using a panel of our dining room sideboard that was particularly ugly and deserved what it got. It got several decades of kids growing up and pasting anything having to do with bicycles on it.

I considered this in two ways: it would decrease the resale value of the house and thereby keep me from getting snagged in the recent real estate crash; it gave the kids something meditative to do while I meditated and their mom bounced off walls taking care of everybody. If you would like audio accompaniment as well, I suggest Olivier Messiaen's (1941) "Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps", in which Jesus is a broad phrase on the vionocello, a Word --Logos-- to express infinite slowness, which is how light experiences time. But you can substitute anybody, even yourself, who wishes humanity would realize the universe speaks through us too, whether we like what it's saying or not.

In physics we learn the universe is composed of events. In broader philosophy we learn matter and mind are two ways of organizing events. Matter exists without biology; mind does not. We can safely infer the universe uses both organizational modes to communicate with itself. Because both combine in production of meaning, we assume the universe is getting to know itself in greater detail. It seems to be having a childhood. What further cosmic devices it develops by the time it begins dating are as yet unfathomable. Our job is to puzzle it out and help.

Here's how some Eastern groups go about it. They concentrate on the purposes of meditation, which are to live in the moment, pacify negative emotions, attain physical, mental and emotional health, live non-violently, purify consciousness, balance action, reaction and inaction. Modern medicine has ascertained this discipline improves the neuro-endocrine system, regulates emotions and hormones, reconciles subconscious mind and personality. Not bad.

Here's a generally Indian procedural list: Kayotsarg, relaxation and self awareness; Antaryatra, exploration of body & consciousness; Svash Preksha, perception of long breathing; Sharir Preksha, perception; Chaitanya Kendra Preksha, perception of psychic centres; Leshya Dhyan, subtle perception; Anupreksha & Bhavana, auto-suggestion; Asana & Pranayam, postures and breathing; Dhvani & Mudra, healing and hand posture. The goal, briefly, is transformation of negative emotions into positive ones. Lot of terminology but simple enough.

Here's how it translates into Western Dialogue, at my house anyway:

She: Wake up! Wake up!

I: Mmmphh?

She: You're asleep in your chair.

I: I was meditating.

She: You were snoring.

I: Chanting sub-vocally.

She: People who sleep in chairs fall out and hurt themselves. You were about to fall out!

I: You know Norma, this is the reason monks don't usually have wives.

She: Nobody'd marry them because they're always asleep and falling over.

I: Meditating, prostrating.

She: So you'd rather be a monk than married to me?

I: Uh, I'm all enlightened now. Think I'll go outside.

And I do go outside, usually to think. In thought, one solves --but with each answer more questions present themselves. This makes life marvelous and frustrating, so many people wisely stop thinking before it gets out of hand. I, however, have learned to shuffle off to the pumphouse where, among other philosophical instruments, I keep a humidor. Nicotinic meditation tends to clarify facts at hand even if it does not pull them out of thin air. It does not unify one with the universe or smarten one up, but it does calm one down during spousal bickers and successive attacks by offspring upon the paneling.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Flight Of The Aerolark

In the early 1950s, my uncle drove up in a new car. New Car, wheeee! It was an Aerolark sedan, made by Willys of Jeep fame, sold to people who wanted the sturdy dependability of a service vehicle in their family cars. I scampered out to see it.

Uncle had the hood up so we could see its works. There was no light alloy anywhere. Valves were in the block, and the block was all heavy slabs of cast steel secured by big black bolts. Six pistons and twelve tappets made no more noise than a soft spring rain. Carburetor drew with satisfied, throaty sighs. It was an engine built for the ages and I was entranced.

But what most fascinated me was visible only after the great gray curve of the hood banged shut. It had an ornament on its snout, a sculpture in chromed steel of a streamlined dreamship, an avicular aerodyne that seemed to speed thru space despite being bolted down. I was lifted and held up where I could look down on it. And there it was, the essential Aerolark, the soul, and beneath, reflected in the shiny hood, a sky of scudding clouds.

Yesterday I got out my sketchbook and returned to that moment. I drew and remembered. The '50s were a very forward-looking time but there were setbacks. For example, sometimes I was given a dime, and I liked dimes. I liked Mercury's winged head. It represented fleetness and futurity, but one saw fewer and fewer of them. New dimes had Roosevelt on them and I supposed it was prudent and accurate to leave wings off him but I was disappointed. There were many disappointments.

Then I began to grow. After my tail dropped off, I commenced to think, and realized much of thinking is the creation and identification of reliable analogies. One encounters symbols sacred and profane, pedestrian and sublime. One fashions them into patterns and, from patterns, derives axioms. One strives for algorithms of enduring stability. One strives for method, synthesis that embraces the outer nebulae and the human heart. We strive for a design that will always choose the future that best includes us.

So I share here an image that has soared across my sky in dreams and hopes, a shape composed of negative drag and anti gravity that speeds, despite its antiquity, into a bright future. It has its own vitality, its own life, roaring and streaking over all stages of labor, love and living. One looks up and sees the Aerolark caroming into the future, raises one's hat-brim, wipes the sweat from one's eyes and says, almost reverently, "Geez! What the hell was that?"