See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jukkai Ceremony, Nov. 15, 2008

To see all of Nat's slideshow: Go hither.

If you'd like to join us, let us know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Begin Again, Every Moment

Yesterday was my 51st birthday; I've just begun my 52nd year of life. There's nothing that significant about 51; it's just another in a long line of anniversaries I never thought I'd see, when I was younger.

50, of course, was significant; last year, it was for me, a very relaxing event, the unexpected entry into a stage of life in which I'm much more comfortable in my own skin. Or maybe it was my Zen practice; that and my life are inseparable, at this point.

For those of you who have been following, I'm more comfortable in my new job, as of yesterday -- realizing that I may be in a better position than some, with the economy long gone South. So really for me, it's just time to relax, take a deep breath, and surf existence.

And thanks again, to the men and women of the Nashville Zen Center, and to Abbott Michael Elliston of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, for another redeeming weekend. When everything else seems to be falling apart, I now at last have a sangha to keep my energies up and my faith in myself renewed, which is something I never had before. And I'm proud of us; the NZC was a collapsing structure on a path with no heart when I walked into it four years ago. Now it's found direction, some much-needed new blood, and enough minds with a common focus to be something worth fighting for. What was one of many nest of Bullshit Buddhism has become (with some flaws and reversions, warts and all) a place and a resource for those who truly want to accept reality. I am at last able, with some degree of comfort, to direct those seeking a softer way, and an assurance that they will have eternal live in some eternal, compassionate, mindful Bodhisattva moment -- elsewhere.

No more Nashville Buddhist Festival bullshit. This is it. You've hit the wall, the final moment. No softly mumbling Teacher is gonna save you now. Grab your ass with both hands and hold on.

I am reassured by the national elections. Even if we go down the tubes, having saner hands at the controls, is better. It appears to me that Obama is a bit soft on the appeasement of traitors -- the Bush people need to be prosecuted, Joe Lieberman needs to be on the street. But we'll see. If this country ever needed a purge...

And I'm relaxing into aspects of myself that I never knew existed. Zen (and hence, life) is not about changing oneself into some idealized version. The teachers who will hold that carrot out to you are liars. Zen and life are about Zen and life -- right here, right now, as it is. Deal with it.

I've also managed to scrape some very shallow people off my shoe. Big loss. New flash: If someone who pretends to be your friend terminates your friendship because they don't share your opinions, they were never your friend. You were being used, for something. Let them go.

By the way, the pic above is of the ASZC Abbot, Michael Elliston, showing me how to wear a robe. Hmmmmm.....

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Brief Statement of Intent

In these brown days, I almost gave up these Ratzaz Diaries. As recently as yesterday morning, I thought about putting up a post that the Ratzaz Diaires were in remission indefinitely. Considering the reception that my "Saga" post of October 26 got, I suddenly wondered if it were indeed worthwhile exposing my thoughts to the world, as I so carelessly do here. And it's not just that; as the world spirals down toward the Greater Depression and I approach my fifty-first birthday, I feel more and more that I'm shouting into the Wilderness.

But then again, I need to worry less about this blog's impact on its few readers, and realize that I do it for myself. Here, if in few other places, I can expound things which are meaningful to me, and thereby try to keep myself a bit of sanity in a world which increasingly lacks it.

And yes, if you couldn't tell from the "Behind Enemy Lines" post, my day-to-day situation is not workable, barely tolerable. I really shouldn't have taken this stupid and pointless job. I have a feeling it'll end of its own accord, about which I'll have mixed feelings. I just realize how rare it is to be hired, period, in this day and age. But eight hours a day of living in a Kafka novel (or maybe Solzhenitsyn) does not contribute to my mood.

I really don't like to explain myself, but I'm going to a bit, with regard to that Oct. 26 post, and the last one. I thought I had laid down the preamble pretty well in the "Zen for the West" and "Blood" posts, but people just hear what they want to hear, read what they want to read.

A couple of readers, surely not most of you, took my posting of the first Saga video and my comments as some sort of statement of a Neo-Nazi ideology, which anyone who knows me, knows is ludicrous. What I meant should have been evident from the preceding posts. But let me just state this: I am not racist, in the normal sense of the word. Hey, I voted for Obama. I just think that all cultures, including mine, have a right to exist, and to preserve their own integrity. And if they want to blend, that's fine. But I think people ought to be able to preserve their own heritage, no matter what that is. And we live in a society in which the preservation of all cultures except that of Northern Europeans, is encouraged. I want to preserve mine, too, but not at the expense of others.

What I don't think is necessary is the compacting of all cultures together into a sort of hodge-podge in which no one has any cultural identity. When I sit down to eat a steak dinner, with a salad and a baked potato, a glass of tea and perhaps a slice of pie, I take a bite of each in turn, usually, savoring the individual flavors and the way they complement each other. I don't put them all in a blender first and hit "puree." For me, that would be less satisfying. If you want to eat that way, go ahead, just don't make me do it.

But our society, particularly in the U.S., has been conditioned by the disease of Political Correctness, not to see what exists, but to see the stereotype laid down by the PC creators, a fairly unconscious entity over a course of years. That conditioning is part of the educational system, especially at the upper levels, and then some people choose only peers who reinforce their own systemic point of view, so that they all think the same -- if you call that thinking!

But let me be more explicit: I am a lifelong Democrat. I preferred Hillary Clinton to Obama, because of her proven competence and the way she could have hit the ground running with Bill's people, and I am a huge fan of Bill Clinton. However, I voted for Barack Obama (what sane person could have done otherwise, in this year of all years?), and I am impressed with what I see so far. Because what we need in a President right now is competence, and Obama shows all signs of having that. I hope I'm right, because the next four years are going to be the bitch of all bitches.

As to other issues: I am not only not prejudiced against, but strongly in favor of, most of the peoples and cultures the Neo-Nazi's abhor. I think most (especially northern) Asians and Jews have a cultural background superior in most ways to mine. I think in many ways this makes them more "intelligent," in the functional sense. Likewise, gays; in fact, if everyone were gay, our world would be in a much better place. No doubt about that.

Because genetically, we're all about the same. All the differences are cultural. I like some cultures better than others; I think some have been better preserved than others, and the values of those cultures are going to help the people who share them, through hard times, far more than the homogenized non-culture of the American street. If that belief is a thoughtcrime, I'm guilty.

I note that most of the responses to the first Saga post were made not on the Blog, as truly courageous critics would have done, but were announced to my email list. Two of them, Tanya and Mark, are people who should've known better. I would never normally give the name of someone who responds to me personally about the blog, but these two decided to use their names in making their rabid announcements to my email list, and thus made themselves public. Tanya's more hurtful comments were made privately, but she did publicly ask to be removed from the list. Mark's public comments deserve a public rebuttal, which I don't want to take the space to do in this entry, which was supposed to be brief. But I will take the time, soon.

There were supporters. I'll quote one of the more perceptive ones, anonymously: A most unfortunate response from some of your readers, though you obviously expected some of this. What struck me was the two most visible responses were more about the perception of others of the individuals concerned than about anything to do with the subject matter – even though I don’t know them at all, and have no interest in their views.

Thanks. You would think, wouldn't you, that supposedly educated people would know what 'ad hominum' means.

And thanks to the others, particularly to the one old friend of mine who commented on the blog itself, albeit anonymously. I wish we lived in a world in which people were free to express unpopular, non-PC views, without fear of reprisals. Obviously, we don't. We do indeed live in a world in which "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I'm doing my best to reverse that trend.

More later, for those of you who choose to continue on the journey with me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Saga: "The Nation's Fate"

This is a positively wonderful album; I had to buy a copy from Sweden, because the U.S. is pc-censored. If you'd like one, contact me!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Behind Enemy Lines

Break down. Sweat.
Blacker than black.
Can't take it one more day.
I am a leader of no one into nothing;
Can't take it one more day.

I can't go back to that place even one more time,
But how do I buy you your cheese?
Go down to the ocean,
Let the sun bleach my bones dry,
But how do I buy you your cheese?

When nothing's worth saving, I try very hard to save nothing.
I do not believe in believing but believing is all.

Broken down, sweat-wrapt,
Coffin to live in.
Can't go to that place even one more time.
No one to talk with, no human crying,
Can't move one muscle, one bone.

Fear is a chemical, love an illusion.
But how do I buy you your cheese,
Without going out to the world I can't live in,
The place I can't go to even one more time?

Stare into darkness, no moving, no crying,
Maybe one little tear, make sure no one sees.
Because I'm the dark one, here behind enemy lines,
Who's just got to buy you your cheese.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lou Reed's Berlin

In 1973, Lou Reed released his masterpiece: Berlin, a concept album about the sadness, desolation, lust and ultimate loss of a doomed couple in Berlin. The album was a commercial failure, and he never performed it live until his neighbor, director Julian Schnabel, recently convinced him to perform it as a piece, live with an incredible backup band featuring some of the best musicians who have played with Lou over the last 35 years, in, of course, New York. With the addition of interpretive films of the work's heroine, Caroline, the film is a powerful performance piece demonstrating the true and deep nature of Reed's art.

I started getting serious in music about age 12, and by 15 or so was disgusted with the direction music had gone. Looking for more, I discovered David Bowie, and I bought Lou Reed's Transformer album because Bowie produced it. Now, as I'm sure I don't have to remind you, Reed was the main singer/songwriter of the pivotal Velvet Underground. What the Grateful Dead were to Bill Graham's Filmore, Owsley's acid tests of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, the Velvets were to Andy Warhol and the darker stuff of New York in 1969. They were hard, dirty and chaotic, and classics like "Heroin," "Waiting for the Man," and "Sweet Jane," grabbed the souls of the disillusioned and strung out. Where the Dead's drugs were acid and grass, the Velvets came on like speed and heroin.

Probably no one ever affected my songwriting like Lou Reed, even down to his unique phrasing. But by 1972, the Velvets had broken up, and Lou Reed was working in the office of his accountant father back in Brooklyn. Bowie, at the height of his powers just after Ziggy Stardust, resurrected the career of his idol and forebearer with Tranformer, but that album, featuring "Walk on the Wild Side," was a unique and unrepeatable event for Reed, inured in Bowie's glam rock presence. It is of course a beautiful album.

Berlin was Reed's next album. It had a new, orchestral, dark sound, and was produced by Bob Ezrin, Alice Cooper's producer. At 15 I was totally unprepared for its darkness and for most of the specific experiences in it; the speed addiction, the debasement of Caroline, her promiscuity, her loss of her children, her beatings at the lands of her frustrated lover Jim (Reed's narrator). But I was fascinated by it, and if there was one piece of art that left me longing to explore the darker sides of human life, as I was so inexorably drawn to do in later years. This was one of those records that could change your life, and did.

After Berlin, Lou Reed went on to record a couple of live albums, the most popular of which was Rock n Roll Animal, which even drew my high school classmates away from their Led Zeppelin or whatever, but which I found disappointingly mainstream live rock. Reed never recorded another Berlin, though he went on to record a series of albums with a reliable clique following, and the highest degree of artistic integrity. This last April he married Laurie Anderson, who mainstreamed performance art rock in the 1980's with Oh, Superman (watch the video).

Unfortunately, as a concept album performed as a live show, you do get distracted. It's best if you buy the album as a 15 or 16-year-old and listen to it every day with the printed lyrics, wondering what life would be like on the dark side. Then maybe some day you go on to find out.

If you do watch the movie and haven't heard the album, the three songs after "Sad Song" are a bonus encore, including the best version of "Sweet Jane" I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot!) as the credits closer. Watch for Steve Hunter, the lead guitarist of Reed's live Band from the Animal years, as the band leader.

I'm mad at myself now for censoring myself earlier this week. Lou Reed is another artist who proves that you don't make your friends or anyone else happy by following your muse, but you can always look at your own face in the mirror, with pride and respect.

This a video clip from the movie of Reed performing "Caroline Says II", Jim's soliloquy after his frustrated beating of Caroline. It's depressing, as life can be, but still haunting and beautiful.

Caroline says, as she gets up off the floor,
"Why is it that you beat me? It isn't any fun."
Caroline says, as she makes up her eye,

"You ought to learn more about yourself;
think more than just 'I'."

But she's not afraid to die.
All her friends call her 'Alaska'.

When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind? What is in her mind?

Caroline says, as she gets up from the floor,
"You can hit me all you want to, but I don't love you anymore."
Caroline says, while biting her lip,
"Life is meant to be more than this, and this is a bum trip."

But she's not afraid to die.
All her friends call her 'Alaska'.
When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind? what is in her mind?
She put her fist through the window pane;
It was such a funny feeling....
It's so cold in Alaska.

It's so cold in Alaska.....