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

Sunday, June 07, 2009

On Hiatus

Yep, after thrashing it out and not reaching a resolution, the Ratzaz Diaries is on hiatus at this time.  Due to intensive, extensive and accelerated personal renovation, I find that the things I want to express, at this time, are probably not something that most readers of this blog want to hear.  And I really have no intention to just come on to intentionally offend people, at least not anymore.  

A lot of you noticed a change in the contents of this blog, beginning last fall.  I thank my last few years of earnest Zen practice for bringing me to a new perception of things.  The things I perceive are not particulary Buddhist.  So I have a real Catch 22 here.  And I've learned that there really are evil entities out there, human ones, and you have to watch what you say.

Of course I do feel continue to feel the urge to express myself.  At past times, in these Diaries, I was quite taken in by, well, the things we have all been taken in by (although not the demon of Grammar, apparently).  I feel the urge to correct my mistakes, but it would seem simply mean to build an audience of people who think a certain way, and then tell them they are wrong, and that I was wrong.  I may be developing a new blog, or perhaps even a full-blown website.  Then again, I could change my mind tomorrow and post here.

 I want to thank all of you who've been supportive or at least  interactive for the last three and a half years on this blog.  Continue to try to open your eyes.  Don't believe anything anyone tells you, especially me.  Find a path with heart.  

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm anything but a pacifist. Peaceful, smiling compassion is not in my genetic makeup. I do believe strongly in fighting for a cause that you know is right.

As I imagine is true with most people, the ancestors I know best were soldiers. On my mother's side, her bloodline came to America in the form of a Hessian mercenary in the Revolutionary War, who came to fight for the British, but stayed on. Her genetic father was mustard-gassed fighting for the U.S. in WWI. My father and his four brothers fought for this country in WWII; all but one fought overseas, and all came back alive. I shall forever remain proud of all of those men, and for the women who supported them. Although the cause and the justification varied greatly in kind and in value, all were brave men and did what they had to do.

So some of you haven't been happy with some of my posts on the warfare of modern times. And it's true that my politics, as it were, have changed a good bit since I began these Diaries, notably in the last year. I think that I've become more reconciled to the inevitability of war; it is, at the bottom, an inextricable part of man's history, and ironically perhaps, of his civilization. As long as there has been Man, there has been War, and I believe there always will be. It's in his nature.

Yesterday morning I finished reading the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War, with text by Bruce Catton. (If you follow that link, I think it's a different edition; mine was a two-volume set published in the sixties). If, in this age of digital propaganda, you want to read some real history, I suggest you go find a book - preferably an old book. The version of the Civil War that I hear is being taught in the public schools, where it is taught at all, is scarcely recognizable. Your children's teachers will tell you that the war was fought to free the slaves, which is was not.
You'll hear some old Southerners still arguing about who was right in that war; it's a bit late for that, and most sides had their reasons, neither was ready for war, and soldiers were misled a bit on both sides back then, too. Soldiers probably always have been. At least, in the day of my tribal ancestors in Europe, the chief who "declared" the war usually led his soldiers into battle. It's been a long time since the men who made wars had to fight them, or even since their sons had to fight, and that's the biggest shame of modern war.

But regardless of what you think of the screaming Secessionists in South Carolina who really made the rift final that led to the Civil War, there's no doubt that as to what the soldiers in the South were fighting for. Union soldiers were called up as an invasion force; the Southern soldiers were fighting to defend their homes. Under equipped and greatly outnumbered, and for the most part badly led, the Confederates won almost every battle but still lost the War.

It's really not at all hard for me to say where my sympathies lie here. I have two direct ancestors on my father's side, at least, who fought in the War; the father was killed after his own discharge, taking supplies to his soldier son's embattled and under supplied company near Chattanooga - on horseback from Warren County through the mountains. As a legal matter, I think the Southern states' right to secede from the Union was clear. And while the soldiers on each side fought bravely, how could anyone forget how Sherman re-invented Total War for the modern age with this march to the sea? At least Goebbels was honest about his motives!

I graduated high school in 1975, when the disaster of Vietnam was still fresh in everyone's minds and the military was not popular. Joining up was just not something you considered unless you couldn't go to college or couldn't get a job; and there were plenty of jobs. I fell into a lucky window of just a few years, of males who never even had to register for Selective Service. Would I have felt differently in a different time? Perhaps. I do know that the spectre of Vietnam was a dreaded one for almost everyone I knew. I would in know way denigrate the honor, courage or nobility of anyone who fought in that war; it's the people who sent you there, with whom I have a problem.

After Vietnam, bypassing Carter's and Reagan's minor excursions, by the next time the U.S. went to War, it had all gone to bad. Both Gulf Wars have been fought for money -- foreign money at that, lining the pockets of the warmongers. And there may be worse, more sinister forces than simply greed in play, I haven't yet decided. But assuredly, the soldiers who have been sent there (and yes, even the contractors who've had quite a few pieces of silver lain in their silk purses) have been used. Regardless of who or what you believe is ultimately responsible for these crimes against all of humanity, you need go no deeper than Dick Cheney and Haliburton to see who pulls the strings a few levels up from the soldiers. And be ashamed.

So please, on this Memorial Day, do honor and respect those who fought and died in years past for your liberty. Memorial Day was begun as a tribute to Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, and expanded after WWII as an occasion to honor all of our veterans, which is appropriate, I think. But don't stop at those who fought for the American flag. Honor your Confederate ancestors if you have them (and remember Jefferson Davis' birthday is June 3!). The photo at the top of this entry is from Carnton Plantation near Franklin, TN, site of a really stupid battle where lot of men died for nothing; such is the nature of War. That would be a good place to go today.

But, please: If your home, your family, your tribe are attacked, defend them with all your might. Fight for what you know is right. And learn to tell right from wrong. Know when you're being used. And when that happens, fight not the targets that the evil men chose for you, but the evil men themselves.

And now my favorite song about war, courtesy of the Dropkick Murphys...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

I used to be a voracious reader of books; now, not so much.  After staring all day at a computer screen, most of my free time is now used otherwise, with the result that I usually wind up with a backlog of books.  And to tell the truth, most of what I've read lately has been disappointing.  So much to my amazement, I picked up Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis Davidson where I'd left it months ago and discovered a nugget of scholarly and, may I say it, religious delight.

List most children growing up in America in the 60's and 70's, my access to the religious, mythological and folkloric history of the world came through (1) ridiculous Christian tales mixed with dogma, incoherently presented as "Truth"; and (2) tales of the Greek and Roman gods presented as silly stories, which were somehow supposed to enhance our understanding of culture and literature (which they may have, had we in fact been presented with any of that culture and literature).  I may have heard of the Norse gods as a child, but I think I really discovered them in Thor comic books.  And Thor was nowhere near my favorite; the rather pompous blond(!)  superhero was nowhere as enticing as The Avengers or the X-Men for me.

All of which was really sad, but it just got worse.  The next inkling I had that there were options to pursue,  with regard to the the origins of our culture and mindset, were little pieces of Hindu art and lyrics from George Harrison albums, which led to the silly but fervent religiosity of the Hare Krishna's, and ultimately to my investigation of other religions from the East, and probably ultimately to Buddhism and Zen.  So here I was, of German and English descent, being led in a big cultural circle which intentionally or not -- and more of that later, I promise! -- circumvented by true  heritage, as a product of Northern Europe.

If you're of Northern European descent, the religion of your ancestors was that of the Celts or of the Germanic tribes.  Although most of what we know of the "Norse" religions comes from the Eddas written at the end of the period of the northern gods' dominance -- when the stories had degenerated a bit -- they had their origins in the Europe of prehistory, in the same tribes which ultimately spread them to India where they (when integrated with the lost culture of the Dravidians) produced the Vedic period and all its children, including Hinduism and Buddhism.  Which means that most of the gods of the Norse pantheon (which is usually presented by educators as sort of an alternate version of the Greeks and Roman pantheons, as opposed to an aggregate of the cults of separate deities, which it was) originated as German deities -  Odin was prefigured by Wotan, a darker god.

If you are of Northern European descent, your lack of acquaintance with your true cultural heritage is a crime -- and I mean that literally.  And there's no better way to catch up quickly than to find, if you can, and read a copy of Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.  It looks like one of those little summaries of dry culture or myth that you read in high school or college because some instructor asks you to -- usually the quickest way to speed-ingest little summaries of some dry myth or the other.  But those myths are dry because they're not presented properly, and because you don't have the background to understand them.

Davidson's book could easily be mistaken for one of those at first glance -- and in fact that's initially what I did.  It starts out with a terse summary of the the Eddas, written by Snorri at the twilight of the myths themselves, and the little stories of the gods, without explanation or background are pretty much unintelligible and seem silly.  So beware! because at this point I put the book down and only came back to it after reading some modern books on Asatru and wanted to know the scholarly versions of the myths.  Whereupon this little book, after the first fifty pages blew me away!

Davidson not only presents the myths so that they make sense, she makes them relevant and real - and all this in a book published in 1965, before the rise of Asatru.  For me, it brings it all home.  Not only do I understand now more about the culture of my pre-Christian ancestors, but I see in them the roots of my own personality.  The Nordic peoples were distrustful of authority but fiercely loyal to their kin and their own.  I can relate not at all to the grovelling of the spawn of the desert religions, and can only respect and acknowledge the deep but foreign formalities of the Asian ones -- but the Nordic peoples, their stories and their yearnings, I feel in my heart.

My exploration of my true heritage has only just begun, but nothing in quite a while has so excited me.  For the clarity to see, understand and accept what I feel in these things, I thank my Zen practice.  And indeed, for these books - this little tome and the Icelandic sagas -- I thank one of my Zen friends, without whom I'd still be feeling that vague lack of cultural identity I've had til now.  And now that my eyes are open, I have to know why this obvious connection to my past has been hidden from me, even denigrated.  

Sometimes when one sees the truth, one doesn't like what is revealed.  I'm often amazed at how popular "mystic" religion promote some sort of insight to be gained by practice or experience -- yet on the other hand tell you that they already know what the insight will be! What part of "unknown" don't they understand?

If you're not of Northern European descent, and you want true insight into a culture which is not your own, I still heartily recommend this book.  Presented without paternalism, and indeed with a fascination which the excellent scholarship does little to conceal, this is the best introduction to the true cultural heritage of the civilization which has dominated the world stage for at least five hundred years, and is only now heading toward - obliteration? Hard to say.  But maybe at least you can see now what is worth preserving.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dharma for One

Actually, dharma for four, yesterday (not these four; this pic is from the retreat). It's rained here every day for forever here, now - a rare event in recent years -- and I think yesterday most of the little Zennies took it as a good day to sleep in, or whatever it is people do when they're lazy. Personally, that's one vice I don't' have much temptation toward, so it's hard to know. Maybe they lay in bed counting their toes, or other things.

Not that I minded. To be fair, several of our regular sitters were out of town in exotic locations, either because they don't have to work, or their work takes them to such places. Mine, unfortunately, keeps me tethered.

No, the dependable Dharma for One comes on Thursday mornings, at the "Multi-Sangha" sit which was begun for a member of another group who's quit coming, and a member or ours who's done the same. They both have good reasons not to come; I don't, so I do. I actually enjoy that one. And of course my own intentional sitting alone on the other days of the week, at home.

It only concerns me a bit because the reason I do these group (sangha) sittings is, first because I enjoy the company -- a rare thing for me, who would rather be alone most of the time -- and because I want to provide an opportunity for people to sit zazen, and to have enough support to be able to get their own practices going. Not that I would proselytize for zazen. I've realized that most of the people who come to us come already knowing it's what they need to do. The rare ones who come for some other reason usually drift off to an easier, softer practice. There are plenty of people out there who will spoon feed you "Buddhism" if that's what you want. And there are other groups who will make you work, too, don't get me wrong. But there's no reason or purpose trying to convert anyone. As I said, they come.

And to tell the truth, there is a bit of "steering" to be done, if people are to get it right. People come wanting to solve their problems, or to get enlightenment. Or because they want to calm their stresses, or find meaning. All those things can happen, but not if you try for them. And ultimately the only real reason to sit zazen -- well, the real Zen teachers would say, is to sit zazen. I'd say it's to experience what's there, whatever that is, and accept it as it is. To stare at its uninterpreted face, nod, and say, OK. Let's go.

I've been saying for a few years now is that the main reason I thing it's important that people who want this habit, this ability and this perception, to have it, as that there are hard times ahead. For most of us, the end of times. And I don't mean just in the sense that we're all gonna die, eventually. I mean that the survival of the world as it is now, is untenable . The only way that the human race can survive, is that people will die, en masse. The earth will cleanse itself of its excess; either that or the planet, the host itself will die, and we the virus will die with it. I hope the former happens, given the choice. But it won't be pleasant. Could be no one reading this, including me, will be around in ten years, or less. Could happen. I still think pandemic, natural or manufactured, is the mostly likely option. Pick your poison.

I think that zazen will enable you to stare into the face of the most horrible of times, which is not death but the other stuff that happens first, and accept it. Not that you'll like it. You may still scream, and depending, you may still fight. That's good. You'll do what you'll do. But you'll understand what that moment is. And live in it. This I believe. That hasn't changed.

But something else has changed for me, lately. I'm observing that humanity has a habit of surviving when it shouldn't, and that so do its individuals and its cultures. And so I'm thinking that some of us will probably be alive in a few years. Maybe not me, but still us. Under what circumstances, I can't say. I just watched this wonderful German TV mini-series called Dresden. And since I was a child I've had this version of walking through a city in ruins. That, I think, is inevitable for survivors.

Because what I'm pretty sure won't survive, is multiculturalism. I don't mean that only one culture will survive; I certainly hope not, and if I had to make odds on what that would be, I don't like what I see. The world has more than enough Muslims, and they're growing every day. More on that some other day. And maybe not in this blog. But if there's any religion crazier than Christianity, it's Islam. That's just the truth. Deal with it.

I' m not a big fan of multiculturalism, or what's usually referred to as diversity, anyway. I got attacked for this last year, but I still stand up for it. What's commonly seen as diversity, is cultural homogeneity. I love true cultural diversity. I love walking the streets of an alien culture, when it can be done reasonably safely. It's getting harder to do. They've all been blended together, by force of law, and by the machinations of the international consumer machine that reduces Chinese culture to restaurants. We pick and choose here and there. We do it in our religions, too.

And yes, I think that when times get hard, we will break up into groups, and we will fight each other. That's not optimal; it's just inevitable. When times get hard, you will look out for you and your own, whoever you perceive that to be. It's in your genes.

So there really is a point, or two, to all this. More on the other stuff later.

The first is, if one of the motivations I have in encouraging zazen is that it will help people enable hardship, it would first be necessary that the people coming to it, come not for entertainment or out of curiosity, or for that cushy warm glow better supplied by brandy. It would be necessary that they seek it, as the old proverb says, with their hair on fire. Nothing else will get you where you need to be, to get to the bottom. Otherwise I may be enjoying myself and telling myself I'm making a difference, when in fact, I'm just wasting my time. I have to sit with that a bit more and see where it goes.

There's another point, too. It has to do with what you see when you get down to the bottom that you can get to in zazen, where form is emptiness and emptiness is form and yada-yada, and in which you realize that although you don't exist, it's all up to you. And you can build up with there with the values you choose, or which are so ingrained in you that if they're not there, you're not you anyway. And that's where I find my values don't have much to do with the "philosophy" of Zen, which I'm finding is a beast quite different from the practice -- and which I'm finding, to be honest, is neither interesting nor helpful to be at this point. I'm finding those values in quite a different place. Values that can help to rebuild a new world, or to try to preserve what I see to be the best of the old one.

But more of that later. I've pissed off enough PC Buddhists and others already, and this one is getting long (as they do when I don't write for a few weeks). Save your steam, I guarantee I can raise your hackles another time. But maybe not here; I haven't decided. See the previous blog.

Oh, if the title seems familiar; it's not that other multicultural Buddhism I'm referencing; it's this stuff; old school great stuff (you can skip the first 1:28 if you're in a hurry).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

April Showers

I've been so busy this month until now, that I'd barely taken notice of what time of year it was. April was never a very significant month for me until a few years ago, when it became a time of milestones. Six years ago my mother died, as part of a nexus of events which threw my life into chaos for a year or more and changed everything forever. A year ago, I had to have Ms. Johnson put to sleep. It was also in April three years ago that I discovered the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, an event which over time led to the changes in my own life and the lives of other Zen practitioners in Nashville which are probably the biggest stabilizer in my life today. Then there was this year's NZC retreat.

I came to this realization last night while watching Storm Over Mount Blanc, a surprisingly gripping 1930 German movie, my favorite so far of Dr. Fanck's mountain films - starring among others Leni Riefenstahl (of course!) and Ernt Udet (who was, interestingly, Germany's number two flying ace in WWI, behind Richthofen, of Snoopy fame). The film is an amazing depiction of man against mountain, all the more interesting when you realize that there were no stunts, in the modern sense, and no special events. Real mountain, real glaciers, real athletes.

The film itself is full of storms, and it was after the movie, when I went to bed early, that the real storm moved in. I've always loved storms, but I was rarely uneasy; the tornadoes last week did damage to the homes of people I know. Which seems to be the metaphor for current unease about these Ratzaz Diaries, among other things.

I think I began this blog because I felt isolated. Maybe a bit because I still felt, in the aftermath of my mother's death two years before, I still needed someone to talk to, and although I had some people I cared about in my environment, I had to go out of my way to carry on an intelligent conversation. That is, I was surrounded by nutball right-wing Christians and nonthinkers of every stripe at work, and I was frustrated in my search for the "spiritual" path I was looking for in my return to Buddhism a year earlier. The earliest Ratzaz Diaries entries (go look!) were rants against Christianity and the Bush administration. I think everyone finally figured out the Bush administration -- eight years too late, at least -- and I rarely hear from the Christians these days, or at least the oppressive variety.

So the Ratzaz Diaries lacks a focus -- instead of lashing out, it is more likely to celebrate. Which is okay of course. But there's a more insidious issue; I have friends now, and what is more, because I still seem to be the main communications outlet for the Nashville Zen Center (since inability to communicate is probably my biggest gripe about the people I now call my friends, which is not bad, considering how I felt about most of the people in my environment 3 1/2 years ago when I began) -- I find myself being (shudder!) careful about what I say.

Because I never wanted to be a spokesman for anyone but myself. I never want my own opinions to be mistaken for the opinion of a group, especially the NZC, or any of my Zen teachers, or even of my friends. And I find myself in a position in which it's hard to make that distinction easily. My principal Zen teacher, Michael Elliston, has encouraged me to let my zazen take me where it takes me, even if it's not where I thought I was going. And in many ways, the way I would express what I've learned so far would not fit into any Buddhist text. Thanks also to Brad Warner, for writing the book which brought me back to Zen from the particular angle of learning from practice, and not approaching "from the top down" -- from theory. That has made all the difference.

I still shudder at almost every dharma talk. Except for rare, brilliant moments, like Saturday night April 11 at Penuel Ridge. But more on that some other time.

And really, my personal opinions are not as strident as they were in late'05. I voted for Obama, he won, and though I don't agree with a lot of what the present administration is doing, I really hate to think what could have happened if the Republicans had remained in power. Indeed, it is the failure of the Obama administration to pursue and punish the villains of the previous one that is my biggest peeve with it right now; I conceptualized and then failed to write "Leon Panetta at Nuremberg."

I had a "friend" from one of these "Buddhist" events who really wanted me to write about politics. And I did. And when months later I wrote of rediscovering my own ethnic and cultural heritage, she decided that I was some sort of White Supremacist or something (which was not at all based in what I wrote) and decided not to be my friend. Which of course she never was; I can't imagine every excising a true friend from my life for any opinion they might hold. And strangely enough from that episode, the Zen practitioners came to my defense. Which tells me a couple of things.

First, that I find myself sharing more of parts of myself with my fellow Zen people only. And that's a little scary really, because I never want to be seen, or to think of myself, as withdrawing into some sort of closed group, especially of others who share my opinions on something. But it's not really that -- it's the ability to see clearly I cherish, and at this point it's the people who've been practicing zazen for a while who can do that,. The "Buddhists" without the essential practice can never see that, because they've simply exchanged one set of delusions for another. I never said any of the things that my false friend thought I said; she was simply incapable of seeing what I was really saying.

But a part of me is not really content to let the Ratzaz Diaries go on being a shadow of its former self. So you tell me: can I continue to say what I really think without having my words be taken as the twisted manifesto of the Nashville Zen Center? I really don't mind driving people away from me personally, if they don't understand me. I do dread the thought of fucking with someone's zazen practice because they mistakenly take me as some sort of leader, and think that my thoughts have anything to do with the totally personal development and "blossoming" they can realize through their own practice.

I even thought of abandoning this blog to the lotus-sniffers and developing another anonymous blog to get a little more virulent. Opinions?

Photos courtesy of Sharon Bogner.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nashville Zen Center Spring Retreat '09

If I ever needed a reminder that zazen is a physical practice, I have it this morning. Every muscle in my body is sore - sore in that way that makes it hard to move when you first get up and send you right back to bed til you convince yourself otherwise. I mean, I've been on a physical fitness binge (for me) since about mid-February, working out (step aerobics and yoga) since the third week of February, and I was probably more sore this morning that at any point in that period.

The occasion was the Nashville Zen Center Spring Retreat at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center, just out of town here toward Ashland City, out in the country where the cell phones work slowly, if at all. I had looked forward to and dreaded this one. It was the bookend to a transition period in the Zen practice of both myself and the NZC, the "[" to a "[" that began with the legendary (in my own mind) Empty Well retreat in March of '06 that also happened to feature Brad Warner. I knew that the outreach I'd made to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center the month following, had made all the difference in my own Zen practice, and I wanted to see if the NZC had been revived as well. It has. The transition period is over, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here. Since it's Zen, there's nowhere else for it to go, of course. But still...

And to tell the truth, it hasn't been a period of transition for the NZC -- it's a rebirth. We started with seven people who spent the night at Penuel Ridge on Thursday to set up, hit a dozen on Friday and it just got bigger and better from there. Most of the people who came, stayed. The people who made up the old NZC just didn't get the concept of a retreat, and used to drop in for a few hours, say, on Saturday when the wife didn't have them busy clearing the garage, and that was it. But I'm really proud of our new people. And I'm proud of us for rebuilding the NZC the way we did it. We made it real, with no compromises. If you want to start a "Zen" group these days, it's easy to do, especially in a town like Nashville with very little background of authenticity in Buddhism. I mean, there are Vipassana and Tibetan groups which have real teachers, with all that that entails, but if there's been a real Zen practice, it had to have been before my time here. It's easy to fool the hungry, and people have done that, exploiting the "Barnes and Noble Buddhists" (thanks for that phrase to one of our new members) by offering them more Talky Buddhist Shit. If you've got the money, you can jet off to France and join up with the Thich Nhat Hanh Army of Pablum, or you can just get your ordination out of a cereal box; it doesn't matter.

For our newcomers, we offered the unrelenting: seven to eight hours a day of zazen. We had two very different teachers: Taiun Michael Elliston, Atlanta Soto Zen Center Abbott,  who built a real Zen school in Atlanta over thirty years ago, and who is the head of the Silent Thunder Order, the disciples of Soyu Matusuoka; and Brad Warner, author of three books starting with Hardcore Zen through his latest, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, head of the Dogen Sangha, the disciples of Gudo Nishijima.  We had originally planned the retreat with Elliston Sensei, who had to pull out due to an unrealized prior commitment, and was able to make it up only for Saturday night and Sunday, for our Jukkai ceremony.  Meanwhile, Brad was coming through the area, sort of, and happened to email me after the retreat dates were already set, being available just at the right time.  Of course I said, hell yeah, and the Monsters of Zen retreat was on.

I was a little scared of this one. I couldn't handle another failed retreat at Penuel Ridge, especially with Brad present again.  And the idea of having the two men whom I consider my teachers both present, if the new NZC had failed to appear in droves like the old one did, would've been just too much.  But I had nothing to fear.  By sticking to the real practice -- by leaving the armchair Zen of the old NZC and refusing to be seduced by the New Age crap and the "all is one" Unitarianism of the blenders -- we attracted the real people, the genuine article.  And in attending their first Zen retreat, our new people made it work.  Our first-time Tenzo pulled off the whole operation (which means running the meals and the housing) better than a lot of veterans I've seen.  And Zen happened.

I was able to make a few modifications I thought would help.  A little Yoga stretch every day.  A good hiking Rinzai-style kin-hin on Saturday afternoon when the rain stopped (possible the best remnant of the NZC old school).  But for the most part we didn't pull any punches on the zazen, which is why I'm so damned sore this morning.  And our new members are too: Congratulations, you've found the real practice.

There's more to talk about.  The semi-impromptu Q & A session Saturday night with both teachers was about the best I've ever seen anywhere, especially for the nubies.  And I was reassured: doing right, is right, even when it's hard, even when at first people don't understand.

The pic at the top is not from this retreat; it's from the ASZC March '08 zazenkai, with these same two teachers.  I'm waiting for someone to send me pics from this one; I just couldn't wait to get this up.  Congratulations, guys.  I won, you won.  More soon to come.

And come see Brad at Davis-Kidd in Green Hills tonight at 7.  I understand there will be a guitar involved.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"Stripped" - Leni meets Rammstein!

OK now, this is such a strange coincidence that I just had to post it. I just finished watching Disc 2 of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, which is Olympia: Festival of Beauty (Disc 1 was released separately in theaters as Olympia: Festival of Nations). If you missed that blog, shame on you; it was one of the more important recent ones, to me. Anyway, I pop in my latest Netflix disc of Rammstein music video, and in the seventh one I stark recognizing the scenery.

Yep, not only is "Stripped" the first Rammstein song I've ever heard in English, but the video itself is 100 % Leni - from Olympia! Just to show you that great art is eternal...

Although this is not my favorite Rammstein song, they do a good job with the movie footage. This is for those of you who complain that there's not enough nudity on this blog. Enjoy!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Return to the Black Diamond Sutra

I woke up this morning with the intense conviction that I need to make more room in my life for myself and my art.  But I have no art.  Such, I guess, is the nature of dreams.

Most people would probably think that this "realization" is nothing but another expression of selfishness.  After all, I have more "room" in my life than most people.  I live alone; I have no family except some stuffed mole-rats, since the passing of Ms. Johnson, and I've gone to great lengths to keep it that way.  I see my father maybe every other week and although I enjoy his company, I find myself resenting the time I spend trying to read through the blaring TV.  My job is stupid, as I think all jobs are probably stupid; I just got lucky enough to dispel the illusion of career early enough, to eternally bask in the pointlessness of meaningless labor.  I have recently re-committed to my physical exercise routine, which is probably the most important thing I can do at this point in my life, although the exuberance I discovered when I started it twenty-three years ago is hard to find these days, and I am probably fighting a rearguard battle against the deterioration I see in myself and those around me, more than trying to advance, as I was all those years ago.

Then there's the Zen stuff.  I both look forward to and dread the Nashville Zen Center's Spring Retreat at Penuel Ridge over Easter weekend.  My role as a Zen "leader" and organizer began almost exactly three years ago, at a largely failed though strangely rewarding retreat at the same location, with the same teacher.  I've belabored that occasion enough herein.  At this point, I long for a retreat, but I dread the role I'll have to assume in this one.   I long for the simplicity (from my lowly participant's point of view) of the retreats I discovered in Atlanta just three years ago, driven there by the farcical nature of what passed for Zen here.   I long for the time in which I could spend that adversary but always productive time with myself, without dealing with the maintenance of others.  

But no, I have to organize, and lead and produce, and to what end? I have no desire to teach Zen, and no qualifications to do so.  If people can only sit up straight and sit still, Zen will teach itself.   I have enough compassion to want others to have the opportunity I have found, the framework within which to do what they need to do.  At this point, I have no real interest in being a part of that framework.   Atlanta should give them all they need, and there are others here to carry on that spirit here.  I just want to go back where no one knows me, as a student, and sit quietly.

This Easter weekend, anyone who truly seeks will be able to find.  They have Michael Elliston and the ASZC for the aforementioned framework, organization and competence.  They have Brad Warner, for the primal spirit and need to know, the work that brought me back to Zen in the first place.  They who do not find what they need at this event -- I have nothing further to offer them.

Me? I want to go back to the mountain films of Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstaller.  I find inspiration in strange places of history in these days.  Germany in the twenties and thirties of the last century - the American Civil War (the real one, expressed so well in The American Heritage History of the Civil War, not the tripe you read these days about Lincoln freeing the slaves.  Lincoln was a pompous politico, and the freed slaves can go to hell).

I find my motivation now in a dark beauty it appears I can only pursue within as, I found over twenty years ago; the undefined (except by me) spiritual practice that I named the Polishing of the Black Diamond within, the mythological adherence to an unwritten Black Diamond Sutra that finds its expression in music dance, and a fine edge of adrenaline, a Sutra that exists not even in my head, for it finds no words, just a feeling a tendency -- a straining toward art in one who finds himself without the skills of artistic expression.  I am a failed musician, a writer who's never had the patience to generate a work of substance, a worker of words who's fallen out of love with them.  Because the vision I have sits on the edge of a dream; I can almost see it, but I can't bring it to you.   I have the additional benefit and advantage of having had philosophy fail me a long time ago.  Perhaps it is life itself that is the only true work of art, at least in my case.  Certainly, i can't see my obsession with diving to the bottom to bring back the black pearls of beauty and wisdom which transcends expression, as anything else, unless it is pointless madness.  And if it is, well then, the world is mad and will be no worse for my labors.

So, then, when these travails are done, then they are done.  There will always be, while I must live in this society, a modicum of working to fulfill the goals of others.  But I need to remember this time when I feel too trapped by the demands of enterprises I have accepted as my own, when they are not.  I need to pursue this dream, where the pursuit is the dream itself.  I have spent the good parts of my life getting to this place where no one else is; they need not try to follow me now, because there are minefields at every turn, and I have no yearning to go back for them.

A beautiful darkness beckons.

The little pic above is a poster from The Holy Mountain (1926), the first of German silent film maker Arnold Fanck's mountain films to star Leni Riefenstahler. If you'd rather watch the stuff you usually watch, no skin off my nose, as they say.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roxy Saint

I, like a lot of people, discovered L.A. musician/filmmaker/actress Roxy Saint on Zombie Strippers, a brilliant zombie movie parody (featuring Jenna Jameson as a Nietzche-reading lead dancer, that really deserves it own blog). Roxy plays Lilith, the Goth stripper, and I was drawn to her when I noticed that a couple of the soundtrack songs were credited to her. In the movie, Roxy has a powerful screen presence, and I wanted to see more.

I wanted to put this blog entry up last week, but I was split between two videos -- "Rebel" above, which is my favorite song from the Underground Personality Tapes, her 2004 dvd movie/video collection, or "Firecracker" below, which is my favorite video from the collection. I elected to open with the hook. But watch "Firecracker" to see what she does with video.

I can't resist the dark power of these videos. Roxy fronts an L.A. based band, and appears to be about to come out with another release; check her out on her site, or the videos on YouTube; the aforementioned dvd is available through Netflix.

Roxy Saint represents the hottest, sexiest aspect of the sex, drugs, rock and roll, vampire goth porn culture, that strangely enough sends to find its best expression on the streets of Hollywood, amongst the palm trees. I wish I knew more about Roxy, but you'll have to research along with me. Here's the antidote to your Sunday morning church or your puffy cloud Buddhism. The videos of Roxy Saint are a good way to make your way through the world of darkness alive and still make it to work on Monday morning. Just make sure to wipe the bloodstains off your oxford cloth. Enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Olympia: Remember the Body

I think that probably the stupidest criticism of any movie I've seen in that of the reviewers who have claimed that Leni Riefensthal's movie Olympia is fascist because it glorifies physicality. I've actually seen that. I mean, the movie is a documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, obviously held in Nazi Germany three years before the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war in Europe. Obviously, the Nazis are in full parade. and in fact the film was commissioned by Hitler to glorify his party and his people. And it's understandable if the modern viewer is made uncomfortable, even if fascinated, by the marching soldiers and the ever-present swastikas. The film features quite a few shots of a smiling, healthy-looking Hitler who was obviously enjoying himself, laughing and cheering the sports. Without the hindsight of history, and the images of the later, depraved and desperate-looking Hitler we're used to seeing, the film wouldn't be quite as... strange.

But it's a beautiful film. As I mentioned in the previous blog, Riefenstahl's movies were all commissioned directly by Hitler himself, and were made free of oversight of the Goebbels propaganda machine, which turned out a fairly lifeless product. At this point I've only seen the first part of the movie, which is quite lengthy and was released in two parts. Olympia: Festival of the Nations is a full two hours long and ends with the marathon. But it's another piece of Riefenstahl's genius. It opens with a lengthy video montage which begins with the ruins of the Parthenon and builds through classic statuary of the athletes of the Greek games, and movies to artful sequences with models representing the modern athletes (or maybe the athletes themselves, I'm not sure. Riefenstahl, an athlete herself who qualified to represent Germany in cross-country skiing but opted to make the film instead, appears uncredited as one of the nudes). I would've posted a video from YouTube, but the only version I could find was re-cut with Vangelis in lieu of the original music, and I think this art deserves to be seen, as made.

As everyone knows, the Nazi's intended this Olympics to serves as propaganda for the German race, and the irony is that it was the success of Black American athlete Jesse Owens which was its big story. The Germans do well, though. And I've seen nothing in the film derogatory of the other races involved. The marathon which closes part I was won by the Japanese, with a Brit in second. In view of Riefenstahl's work as a whole, I find it hard to believe that she was a racist. A thrall of Hitler, yes, as were many, until disillusioned by later events. But it's pretty clear to me that at least for the artist, this film - which is indeed art - was a celebration of the athletic celebration of the human body, a subject to which Riefenstahl was quite close, and that was for her, as it should be for all of us, a celebration of the human spirit.

I can't let this go without mentioning that this film, a good fifteen years before TV, was the advent of modern sports coverage. You really should see it, for its groundbreaking methods as well as for its artistic beauty, and for its fascination as history. It takes you into a part of the life and the soul of 1936 quite unlike anything else I've seen. And it leads me to want to investigate further certain oddities - why no Russian athletes? And anything that motivates us to reduce our ignorance is worth our attention.

And, to get back to that idiotic reviewer's comment with which I opened: It's a sad critique of our intelligentsia that someone could say that a celebration of athleticism is fascist. And it's said that anyone could hear this without being offended, as a human living in a human body. I'm no athlete, but I do work out frequently for the pure joy and immediateness of the human experience. I've been doing various forms of cardio since about 1986 when I was 28; at any age when a lot of people are starting to let themselves go to seed, I truly got in shape for the first time in my life, and experienced a level of consciousness, awareness and benign brain chemistry that I've tried to maintain, more successfully at some times than at others. When I've lost that practice, things go badly wrong. Just recently, I've thrown a good part of my energy in that direction, and with the resulting new clarity of mind, am not surprised that the rest of my life has improved. I've been doing yoga for about nine years, not because I'm good at it, but because I'm bad at it. It's the experience of being here, now, that comes from becoming our bodies rather than just inhabiting them, that makes the human experience a true one.

The longer I practice zazen, the more I am struck by the experience of no longer living in my head, but in my body and in the world around me. Personally, I think the value of a good exercise program, one which involves meaningful movement rather than just flailing to work the heart muscle, is underestimated in Zen, and that any good retreat should involve some yoga or some dance or some martial arts or step aerobics or something just to shake the head and body loose and keep us aware. Sadly, many of us who are drawn to philosophy and its kins are so dominated by logos, by the demon Language, that we can't experience ourselves and our worlds in any other way. If it were up to me, we'd throw the books in the fire and learn to tango. Haven't you had enough words?

I just noticed that Olympia: Festival of Beauty has gone, between yesterday and now, to "unavailable" on Netflix. The censorship continues; alas, I have to buy another beautiful film from Amazon.

So, if you can find a copy, go see this amazing work of art. And get some exercise. Truly live in yourself and in your world. Shut up. Touch something.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leni Riefenstahl

I stumbled into the remarkable life, art and career of somehow on the internet, and saw a remarkable biopic about her before I saw the full versions of any of the films she made. I write this blog entry with some trepidation, not having seen the films for which she is best known and most infamous - Triumph of the Will, her record of the 1934 Nazi party Congress in Nuremberg, widely known as the most powerful film ever made; and Olympia, her documentary of the 1936 Olympics (which, as you may or may not recall, were held in Berlin and featured the amazing Black American athlete Jesse Owens). I decided to go ahead and write this before seeing those films, based on The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) and two of the films she directed which are, uh, less controversial, and try to reserve my judgment on those other works til I've seen them in their entirety.

I'm wondering if Leni is one of those artists whose biography ultimately overshadows her art. Her life story is in itself fascinating. The first link above is an excellent wiki bio, but to summarize: Leni was born in Berlin in 1902, and not only saw but was a part of, an amazing period in history. She started as a dancer, and attracted the attention of German director Arnold Fanck, who after he found her made her the star of most of his films. Most of early early acting career was in silents, of course. She specialized in a genre known as mountain films. It's fascinating to watch clips from those movies and realize that she did her own mountain-climbing and that all of those scenes are real!

What amazes me is how quickly Leni rose on her own; with Fanck's help and learning from his style, she begun to direct her own films - in the 1930's The first film she directed is the most beautiful black and white film I have seen to date, bar none. If she had done nothing else, Leni should be revered for The Blue Light (Das Bleu Licht), a 1932 film she directed and in which she plaid the lead role. The Blue Light is a fairy tale set of course in the mountains; based on an old German fairly tale which was later incorporated by the Brothers Grimm, it concerns a girl who is perceived as a witch by villagers, who lives high in the mountains in a cave of beautiful blue crystals. Her contact with the villagers leads to the ruin of all, and is seen by some as a foretelling of the then imminent future of Europe. Probably not, but it is truly gorgeous.

Like most Germans in the 1930's, Leni was enamored with emerging politician Adolph Hitler. This is not the place for a discussion of the historical and socio-economic inevitability of Hitler's rise; the parallels between 1930's Germany and the current world situation are way too much for this little article. The uncontroverted story goes that Hitler was also a fan of The Blue Light, and upon meeting Leni, he asked what her goal was. She replied that she wanted to make great films. Hitler replied, "I want you to make them for me." And to all indications, she did.

Leni is known by some as the Mother of Modern film. From what I've seen of Olympia, I can understand how it changed the filming of sports (and thus modern sport itself) forever. The reason I haven't seen Triumph of the Will is that it isn't available on Netflix. Amazing how we, in our supposedly free society, will censor a film on the basis that it was propaganda for a political party and a government that we see (justifiably, of course) as opposed to freedom! Are the folks at Netflix truly afraid that Hitler will rise again, based on this film? That must be some amazing propaganda! I understand that the entire 1934 Nuremberg rally was staged around the film itself - I can't wait to see it.

Leni herself denied that she was an active Nazi, the girlfriend or collaborator of Hitler. It's certainly true that if you were a German in that period, if Hitler wanted you to make films, you either made films or ran like hell. And if you're the true artist that Leni was, if you're going to have to make a propaganda film, you'll make the best damn propaganda film you can.

From her bio's (and I intend to read more, as I intend to see more, as my fascination is ongoing), history disputes Leni's lack of complicity. The reports indicate that she was starstruck by Hitler and continued to support him well into the war. On the other hand, her career as a war correspondent for the Nazis ended abruptly when she protested the abuse of some Polish peasants (if you weren't a favorite of Hitler, that kind of protest got you dead). Another interesting point: all Nazi propaganda including films was under the aegis of Goebbels, but Leni was responsible to Hitler only. Thus the massive budgets and films made carefully with time and care.

Leni was widely seen as a Nazi collaborator, though cleared as such by the tribunals after the War. She was banned by Hollywood and by film companies worldwide, and never released a film after the War until Tiefland, made during the War but not released until 1954. Tiefland is another very visually interesting film, made under the harshest and most bizarre of historical circumstances. Its filming moved from Spain where it was set back to Germany, for obvious reasons when War broke out. Leni herself plays the leading role -- remember that she was around 40 at the time -- which was obviously written for a much younger actress, because all the actresses she wanted were unavailable. It's a disappointing, although very interesting film, mostly for that reason of casting. Leni has also been reviled for this film because when she requested extras, she got concentration camp inmates, most of whom later died at Auschwitz. She denied this, and how much she knew at the time of course will always be unclear.

Despite the ultimate blacklisting, Leni lived on until she died of natural causes just after her 102nd birthday, in Germany. In her middle age, she had turned to still photography and produced a remarkable body of work on the Nuba, an African tribe she adopted. Her last film was of undersea creatures.

I really can't recommend the aforementioned biopic enough, for a portrait of a remarkable woman. Leni got her scuba-diving certification at the age of 70 by lying and saying she was 50. As an athlete and an artist, a strong person from a strong time who emerged as the strong female that even Camille Paglia probably never had the guts to praise as a ground-breaking feminist, Leni's place in my personal pantheon is ensured. I'll let you know more after I see some more films, read some more books.

Interesting, one of the works I keep running across in my research on Leni is a book called The Films of Leni Riefenstahl, by David Hinton, a professor (and I believe, Dean of Students) at the Watkins Film Institute (or whatever it's called now), here in Nashville. Mr. Hinton, whom I know somewhat, is also a leader of a Buddhist group here, and I intend to try to pursue a discussion on the subject with him when I eventually get further into my research on this fascinating artist. I'll let you know.

Friday, March 06, 2009


Well, since I posted here last I've gotten enough of the things done to which I'd (over-) committed myself, to at last do a few things for myself. The much-debated and agonized-over Nashville Zen Center website is now up, warts and all. Yeah, I stretched the pics. Deal with it. Where's your website? But at last, with the help of someone who understands the tech, I managed to use some free software where it wasn't supposed to go and created a dark and timely expression of what we feel to be our group's true nature. So go see the original face of the NZC.

Our April retreat is now for real. It's set for April 10 - 12 at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center, near Ashland City. Brad Warner has committed to being there pretty much the whole time, and to stay over for a book-signing at Davis-Kidd the Monday after. I'm pretty sure he'll be more than willing to sign copies of Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma (his third book) - or I'm sure the other two). Plus, our own teacher, Taiun Michael Elliston, Sensei, from the ASZC, will be around for the last part of the retreat and initiate some brand new (or used) Buddhists. If you're interested in the retreat, which involves 7 to 9 hours a day (at least) of zazen, you'd better let somebody know soon.

Plus, I got sucked into doing some financial stuff for the NZC, and let me warn you now: whatever else you do, if you're thinking about opening a bank account, DO NOT do it at Bank of America. They lie to you, and they suck ass. Consider yourself warned.

By the way, the NZC MySpace page is up and running. So come be our friend. You don't even have to practice. Your loss.

Oh, yeah. My own life. My job has actually gotten tolerable, as jobs go. And in this economy, that's OK. I'm pretty lucky; most of my friends still have jobs, and the ones who don't aren't trying too hard. I'm pretty tired of trying to help people who don't want to be helped, with jobs or otherwise. It's your life; live it.

I've been trying to tell people for several years now that things were going to get Different. Strange. But most of them kept living in their heads, breathing in flowers, breathing out kittens. The one day you run out of puppies and kittens. Now what?

But when I have to do too much of this stuff which is external to the core of my life, no matter how rewarding it may be, my own life suffers. I'm not gonna miss any more workouts (back to the hated YMCA; I love my instructors, hate the institution) or any more morning zazen. The main mistake that most of my smarter friends, and sometimes I myself tend to make is, they tend to live in their heads. Live in your body. I've got a lot of slack to make up in that regard. I was quite aware of it not so long ago, but life needs constant tending.

What else can I say? I'm gonna try to blog more, but I don't feel like political rants at the moment, and the Zen stuff is what it is. I'm trying to read a book which is a dialogue between a bunch of scientists and philosophers and the Dalai Llama because my Zen teacher recommended it to me. So far both sides are a full of crap; we'll see if it improves. I was much better off reading Njal's Saga. So read that, and watch Tideland and Zombie Strippers. I'm sure I'll be more verbose later, after these blisters heal....

Oh, and you must start downloading and listening to Aural Apocalypse. Music for the Final Days. More on that later.

Oh, and here's some Zombie Strippers for ya.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Allt är Slut

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The founder of a U.S. Muslim television network has been arrested and charged with murdering his wife by beheading her, the network's Web site and local media reported.

Muzzammil Hassan, founder and CEO of Buffalo, N.Y.-based Bridges TV which launched in 2004 with a mission to show Muslims in a more positive light, was charged after reporting the death of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, on Thursday night.

After Hassan, 44, told police his wife was at the Bridges TV offices, in the village of Orchard Park, they found her body there, beheaded, The Buffalo News reported.

Authorities said Aasiya Hassan, with whom Hassan had two children, had recently filed for divorce and had an order of protection mandating that he leave their home as of February 6.

He was being held in a county detention center charged with second-degree murder.

"Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to the families of the victim," a statement on the network's Web site said on Monday. "We request that their right to privacy be respected."

"There had been problems before and there had been prior incidents of physical abuse," Corey Hogan, whose law firm Hogan Willig represented Aasiya Hassan in the divorce proceeding, told the newspaper.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Name of the Game" by Badfinger (song by Pete Ham)

If you were a Badfinger fan, or if you missed them and want to be, you should watch the slideshow. If not, just give yourself a chance, lie down in bed in the dark and listen to this, over and over like I did when I was 15. Pete Ham was another great lost soul; I won't be beleaguered if you won't find out about him.

I have nothing else to say to you about this. Lie down in bed, listen to this, over and over. If you don't cry, I won't bother.

Or if you want a more straighforward love song, the following is the best power pop rock riff ever written (Hans?):

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The End

If some strange, theoretical alien historians were to write the history of planet Earth, they would say that it all peaked out by 1970.

The generation that produced Jim Morrison made the final decision to destroy the Earth, by omission. Go figure.

I was a child in 1970. I would've been 11 at Woodstock. I didn't know what was going on. But I did.

Hunter Thompson was there. He saw it all. He knew. He put a bullet in his brain in 2005.

It could have all changed, but it didn't. It could have all been avoided, but it wasn't. We're living in the Aftermath.

Jim Morrison died in a hotel room in Paris in 1970 of a heroin overdose. Jim wasn't a junkie; he was a drunk. There's a big difference, no matter what the 12-step zombies tell you. Pamela Morrison fought a legal battle for five years for his estate; she won. She was dead within two weeks.

I'm not telling you to follow Jim's path, or Hunter's. It would mean nothing. You're too late.

If you're alive in 2009, and you're old enough to remember the Real Times, you know you're living in the Endgame. Unless you're seriously deluded enough that you're still part of the problem.

If you're under 40, you were born into a meaningless world. I'm sorry; I didn't do it. This is the Aftermath. I can tell you how to address it. I can't change it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taking It Personally: A Bit More About Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate

Sunday's blog rambled all over the place, as a result of which, while discussing Brad's book, I omitted a pattern or collection of coincidences that really brought it all home to me. I doubt that these trivia will add to anyone's understanding of the book (though they might tell you more about me, upon which subject, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you are unfortunately becoming an expert, against your will). Maybe it's an explanation of how, when something comes home to you, it comes home in a big way. Maybe it's just a rare (again, for me) illustration of how having had some connection to events in a published work, however minimal, gives a bit of insight. Maybe it's because I become so obsessed about my own issues that I see them everywhere.

Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma does clear up a couple of factual questions I (we?) had. When we'd met Brad the first time here in Nashville, chronicled herein, Brad's wife Yuka was one of the unexpected joys of our retreat; she helped our fledgling retreat cook get through three days' worth of overly complex vegetarian, Japanese and Thai recipes, sent us gifts afterward (and Nat, where are all those chopsticks? I'm sure the food has gone bad), and generally was a ray of sunshine at that odd and pivotal event. I'd noticed she wasn't mentioned much in his blog anymore, or at the 2008 ASZC retreat he led [and that link has a version of last blog's pic with me in it; see I was there]; I hated to see it confirmed that she was really gone. Hope things are going well for her.

Then there were some weird little geographical links to Brad's life that I found both just odd and insightful. Of course anyone who read Hardcore Zen knows Brad's basically from the Cleveland area, and I'm from Nashville. My mother was from Ohio, and grew up there and in Texas. So it was interesting to me to discover that Brad has family in Knoxville, TN, whom he regularly visits (which we knew from trying to match schedules with him, but he talks about it in the book so I can mention it here). I went to UT Knoxville from 1975 - 1979, so I know that turf, or did. What got me about his one geographically is that his parents, prior to the events of the book, had been living in the suburbs north of Dallas. Now, a lot of people have relatives in Dallas, but my mother's sister's family had all grown up in a suburb of Dallas which used to be called Lewisville, though I think their little segment has now been split off as Highland Village. Another little split-off part of the same incredibly overdeveloped suburb is what used to be a little country junction that had no name when I used to visit here, but which is now known as Flower Mound, which is apparently the location of the Funeral Home which had Brad's mom cremated. Another weird turf I know.

The final geographical coincidence (I won't count L.A., where lots of people live for a while. I lived there for about three months and didn't like it much either, except for the beach and Hollywood) was Mansfield, Ohio. It shouldn't have surprised me to read about Zero Defex playing a show there, since it's just up north of Cleveland on Lake Erie, but still, it's where my mom grew up before her mother remarried and moved them to Texas. Of my mother's Ohio relatives, I remember mostly a bunch of retarded-acting guys in white wife-beaters pulling up in campers to occupy our lawn in Manchester, and this one real pervert. But I do remember Mansfield.

But the one real factual-world resonance of this book for me was the job situation. Now, in this dying economy, as the U.S. moves into the sunset, it probably seems like anyone with a job shouldn't complain about it. And I shouldn't be either, as when it's gone I don't know how I'll ever find another. But still.

Of course, Brad was luckier than me. His job situation in the period covered by the book was indeed deeply strange; as the lone US employee of an overseas corporation that shifted management as soon as it sent him here, he had a position with no real duties or direction, no input or power to get things done, but a continuing duty to report. This was already his situation, apparently, when I met him in early 2006, though I didn't realize the scope of it til I read this book. Actually, his situation, though it must have been frustrating since he really did want to help promote Godzilla and Ultraman in America (and note that the names of his employer and the trademarked entities are disguised in the current book, though not in the previous ones or his blog; legal advice from the publisher, NAL?), sounds really sweet in some ways. He was being paid by the Japanese company to live in L.A., write his books, set up his Zen teaching operation, and then he was free (and somewhat funded) to travel all over the country promoting his books and trying to help shitty little Zen operations like we were in 2006. I'd kill for this kind of funding with freedom.

I, on the other hand, also have a job that makes no sense. I quit my previous job last fall,, in despair at falling commissions and the ridiculous situation of trying to work in a department headed by the managing attorney's mother. I was just about ready to start looking for another one, about a month later, when I got a call out of the blue, from the HR person of the company for whom I now work(?), based on a resume I'd forgotten I had online. So yes, those things actually do work, randomly. They wanted to hire me to start a new commercial department specifically for a new client. It paid enough at the base to minimally pay my bills. As the job market had already deteriorated, though not to its present level, I thought I'd better accept.

However, the new client fell apart within weeks after I started the job. They've never really been able to find anything for me to do since -- I keep getting minor projects assigned, which get yanked away about the time I get them organized and running. Most of the time I have nothing to do at all, and as of this week I don't even know where the last set of files I was working, have gone. I'm supposed to get some work which had been brought in for me but foolishly placed somewhere else, soon. I guess. Yesterday, with my old files gone, I had nothing to do at all until I jumped in on the project with the busy people amongst whom I sit.

Otherwise, mostly I've been surfing the internet. Repeatedly, and compulsively. Which, if you work with internet disabled like a lot of people do, sound great. But not for eight hours a day. As that old commercial hinted, you really do get to the end of the internet. Plus, the situation is not such that I can concentrate on doing anything like writing this blog. I tried it once, and it didn't turn out too well.

But now, I'm getting reassigned, and they're going to move me. And where they're putting me, I might not have the internet. And if that happens and they don't give me a full workload, I'm going to go stark raving bonkers.

See, unlike Brad, I'm not free to roam all over the US. Or even all over Nashville. I just have to sit there. It ain't zazen.

I can't complain, really. I'm sure that everyone in management knows I've cost a lot more than I've brought in, which is essentially nothing, ever since I've been there. And they still keep me; it's like they don't know what to do with me but don't want to let me go. Which is a good sign, of course, and speaks well of them as humans. And I still get a paycheck, which is a lot better than a lot of my friends, these days, although I don't know how long my employer will see fit to keep it that way if I can't make them some money, which is what I'm used to being very good at doing.

But enough about me....

At this point, Brad Warner is still scheduled to be one of the leaders of our Easter Weekend Zen retreat, so if you're interested, watch this blog.......

No, the silly little click inside arrow on the pic of the book above doesn't work. Believe it or not, the only picture of that book cover I could find on the internet is that little one from Amazon. Sorry. But you can go to the real link in the text and buy the book.