I just finished reading The Uninhabitable Earth, a book of frightening and infuriating urgency by David Wallace-Wells... And I'm remembering a debate I had in the early 1990s with a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Edinburgh who told me: "We're not environmentalists. There's no such thing as the environment."
When Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, a layman approached him and said: "Master, you are renowned both for your wisdom and the beauty of your calligraphy. It would be a great honour for me if you would write down some words of guidance which I could hang on my wall and reflect upon."
In the 1960s, my friend Tom McGrath was living in London and was addicted to heroin. In desperation, he went to Samye Ling to see Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and ask for advice. Trungpa said, "You need to learn how to breathe."
McGrath was disgusted. He'd come all the way to the monastery just to be told he needed to learn how to breathe? He'd been breathing all his life! He went back to London.
He got to know R.D. Laing, and asked him for advice. Laing said, "You need to learn how to breathe, man."
Hearing the same advice from two very different and unrelated teachers, McGrath — who had asthma — realised there might be something to it.
Caught up in our stories, how often do we experience life as it is? No matter what's going on, no matter how frenzied our day, we can interrupt whatever story we're tormenting ourselves with and just be aware of the air we inhale, that keeps us alive, or the clothes that keep us warm, or the ground under our feet, right here, right now. We can turn our attention away from what is not, and bring it to what is. It probably won't solve any of our problems, and it certainly won't cure drug addiction, but it brings us to the work of living our lives.
summer weather, winter day
thoughts of oblivion
taste of tea
I recently wrote an essay against ad personam attacks on authors, so I was interested to read this essay in The New York Review of Books about how W.H. Auden rescued Ezra Pound's poetry from being removed from an anthology.
The headline — "Auden on No-Platforming Pound" — seems like click-bait, because the essay contains no account of any such thing. I'm all for denying fascists a platform, but not for censoring the publication of poetry, no matter who wrote it. I read books, not authors. And what Auden objected to, and prevented, was the erasing of Ezra Pound's poetry.
The editor Bennett Cerf, who attempted the erasure, said: "Pound, by his deliberate and consistent actions over a long period of years, sacrificed any claims, in my opinion, either to the title ‘poet’ or the title of ‘American.’" Nothing about the poetry, only its author, as though "poet" is a title rather than an occupation. This foreshadows the current fashion for "cancelling" the work of artists based not on the work, but on the personal behaviour, of the artists.
The essay is good, and, in this age of authors who see writing books as a way to call attention to themselves, I agree with Auden when he writes, in a letter to Cerf, "The whole case only confirms my long-held belief that it would be far better if all books were published anonymously."
What some warmly call “community,” others may experience as a mob. A friend of mine who’s a crime fiction author recently told me they were glad that the Mystery Writers of America had withdrawn its Grand Master award from Linda Fairstein, who, before becoming a novelist, was the prosecutor of the Central Park Five.
“I don’t think there’s a place for Fairstein in the community,” my friend said.
This told me I didn’t want to be part of “the community,” though, in Gary Snyder’s terms, my friend is probably mistaking network for community, as community includes people who don’t like or agree with one another. In an interview in the 1970s, Snyder pointed out there are networks of poets and networks of dentists. He said he had “followers” in the poetry network and the Zen Buddhist network, but not in the community in Northern California where he made his home.
No one could dislike Linda Fairstein, prosecutor, more than I do. I have no opinion, positive or negative, about Linda Fairstein, author, because I haven’t read her books. But I do know her books haven’t prosecuted anyone, innocent or guilty. And the books that made the MWA decide to give her the award have not changed since the decision to withdraw it. In giving in to pressure from those who dislike Fairstein the person, or their idea of her, in making a judgment ad personam rather than literary, the MWA showed itself to be not a literary community but a personal network.
Community is inclusive, not about who is “in” and who is “out.” In community, no one has the authority to exclude, to say who belongs and who doesn’t. In community, by definition, we’re all in it together. A network may be about cool kids and outcasts, Brahmins and Untouchables, but community can’t be.
My friend fell out with another crime writer on social media. The other writer had posted a quote from Mike Tyson, about boxing, and my friend responded by reminding them Tyson is a rapist. The other writer blocked my friend, who didn’t explain how a quote about boxing was invalidated by the criminal history of the former world boxing champion who said it. It seems no matter how authoritative a person might be in their field, if they don’t meet a certain moral standard in their personal conduct, then not only they, but their work and their expertise, are to be shunned. Whether or not they are proven guilty, whether or not they are imprisoned for a period of time, their livelihood, and their personhood, are to be denied indefinitely.
We should hope whoever finds a cure for cancer isn’t a rapist.
And why socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should leave the Democratic Party which is trying to sabotage her.
The following is from The Intercept.