Tag Archives: learning

Anti-Virus: a complaint or lamentation

I wonder how the world would be
if thirty years ago,
instead of playing thankless gigs,
a soundbyte of a show

I’d done when merely seventeen
(and better then, than now)
would have been made, and hit the ‘net
(God knows exactly how),

gone viral, and been seen worldwide.
Would I have been star?
I wonder, would I then have bothered
LEARNING the guitar?

By that, I mean becoming part,
just part, of what it means
to gain through time some mastery,
by living in between

the wanting and the knowing how,
the skill and the desire,
each note both torture and caress,
both kindling and the fire.

True art is more a crucible
where souls are bent and forged,
than an exciting carnival
where egos are engorged.

I wonder now, when looking back,
on things that could have been;
and thank the gods for then and now,
and the time in between.

What good would I be if back then
I’d caught on like a flame?
I would have not learned anything,
and been, today, just lame.

03 MAY 2011

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On Bards of Old

Did bards of old, I wonder, ever tire
of rooting through their souls for a new verse
in order to instruct, praise or inspire
through their connection with the universe,
and after twenty years of “learn by rote”,
requiring mastery of form and feel,
the skill to recognize a tune by note,
a repertoire to make the senses reel,
and knowledge of the history and lore,
not only of their clan, but the whole world,
while at the beck and call of some great lord
who nine times out of ten, was partly churl,
requiring curses cast against their foes
or songs of praise to elevate their fame?
How often did a bard observe a rose
for just its fragrance, not speaking its name?

And when a verse or two was shared between
a group of bards that met along the road,
how often did the conversation lean
to simple things, not meter, rhyme and code?
I wonder if the burden that they shared,
the weight of culture’s future on their tongues,
was often thought a curse, even compared
unfavorably to being deaf and dumb?

They say the pen is greater than the sword,
that eloquence breaks down more doors than steel;
how treacherous that makes a life where words
are just as precious as true love, or meals.
Let modern poets suffer for their art,
imagining their angst so great and pure;
where their woe ends, the bard’s task only starts,
and leads where few may travel, or endure.
Those bards of old are gone, some may declare;
Their arts? Anachronistic and no use.
So few remain who act as if they care,
and on the struggling poet, heap abuse.
Did bards of old, I wonder, ever think
to give up, knowing that their audience,
who when given ambrosial words to drink,
gained neither wisdom or experience?

04 MAY 2005

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The Loss of Art in School

There is no good in writing it,
for no one cares to read;
no point in baking word-filled pies,
there’s no one here to feed.

There is no point in singing it,
for we have all gone deaf;
besides, no one remains who knows
a bass from treble clef.

There is no worth in painting,
for we’re all as good as blind,
and tend to favor style and flair
instead of good design.

There is no use in playing;
Why not sample? Why waste time?
Those who can tell the difference
are but few and quite sublime.

There is no good in writing it,
except to help preserve
a history beyond these times
that poetry deserves.

There is no point in singing it
except to save the voice
so in some future silence
those who wish, will have a choice.

There is no worth in painting,
save to safeguard fading skills
against the simple, quick and cheap.
If you don’t, no one will.

There is no use in playing
except that future museums
will not know about instruments
if all you can do is see them.

28 APR 2005

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The School of Osmosis

OK, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about knowledge, its accumulation, and how application of that acquired or accumulated knowledge can best be used to affect change in society. And here’s the thing — one of my father’s favorite catch-all phrases and concepts was osmosis. Of course, he was a civil/sanitary/environmental engineer, so a lot of his work had to do with the purification and/or modification of one substance via the introduction or removal of another substance.

And reflecting on that very thing got me thinking. Any knowledge that I have gained throughout the years is largely due to osmosis. In biologic terms, osmosis refers to the passage of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated to a more concentrated solution until both solutions are of the same concentration. In another sense, osmosis refers to gradual or unconscious assimilation or adoption (as of ideas). In other words, to learn French by osmosis means that rather than study it directly, or formally, you acquire the language due to immersion in that culture, or by being surrounded by French speakers.

Applying that same logic to the arts – our culture is the semi-permeable membrane. In many ways, it is rigid — there are certain, direct actions that when taken against the culture, result in the equivalent of rejection at a brick wall. But there are more subtle ways to overcome the obstacle, getting to the other side, so to speak, that eventually will result in the ideas being so promulgated being integrated into the mainstream, almost without the mainstream even knowing it.

Religion has known about osmosis for quite some time. And most revolutionary leaders, if they are effective in the least, employ it to some degree. It was Malcolm X who said (and I paraphrase, as he ultimately was paraphrasing a much older Sufi truism) … “When I try to convince someone that my ideas are right, I don’t just come out and say their way is wrong, or that mine is so much better. That’s like telling someone that the glass they’re drinking from is filled with dirty water. It’s the only water they know, and they’re going to have accustomed themselves to that dirty, cloudy glass. No, I don’t confront their wrongness. I simply stand there, holding a clean glass filled with crystal clear water, and sip slowly – and wait for them to ask me where I got it. And then, I tell them.” One of the most common bits of advice that holy persons (of any stripe or conviction) tell their would-be followers is this: if you want to become holy, hang out with holy people (or at least, others who are trying to be holy). As you think you are, so you will become. You gain insight into being, into thinking, into understanding the perspective, by the process of osmosis.

How osmosis has affected my education is largely through books. Like Henry Miller talks about, each book you read that mentions other books leads you on an ever-increasing journey. One author leads to ten others, who lead to ten others each. Eventually, your house is filled with books by people who most folks would have trouble connecting to each other. It’s like seven degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon … LOL. Miller leads to Hamsun leads to Kierkegaard leads to … you get the picture.

A lot of what I see as earth-based, pagan spirituality operates on this same wavelength. Ultimately, at its core, the casting of spells is a form of osmosis. You change the universe by changing yourself – and in that process, because you are PART of the universe, when you change, the universe has no option but to be changed. The easiest spell in the world? Smile when you walk into a room. You’d be surprised at how the energy changes, and how quickly. But of course, intent and responsibility are lying in wait for you there. In order for it to work effectively, you’ve not only got to smile, but you have to WANT to smile. And on top of that, you’ve got to take responsibility for being thought of as someone who is smiling (and is therefore, imminently approachable — don’t try this if you’re trying to get in and out of the Department of Motor Vehicles in a hurry, without being chatted up by every other bored person in the waiting room).

How does this relate to art, and in specific, the arts which I practice – Poetry and Music? Well, as any observant reader can tell, my poetic style runs the gamut from traditionalist to modern to post-modern. It’s all over the place. And that, to me, is how it should be. We are each a product of a myriad of forces that combines to create a unique instance of energy in a limitless field of shared energy. The question that needs to be answered is: how to return that energy; how to ultimately disprove entropy (which avers that energy systems constantly lose energy) by illustrating that energy does not grow or ebb, but merely change form. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. One of the strange things about a lot of religions is that they forget that if God (or god, or goddess, or what have you) is infinite, without limit, and omnipresent, it is NOT possible to avoid Him. You can pretend not to see Him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. Likewise, and this is main reason, IMHO, that there is so much contention about religion in the world – all religions pretty much posit that man is incapable of perceiving the entirety of the Divine. At the same time, they fail to acknowledge that perhaps every other spiritual path that is not theirs sees a part that they do not. It’s like the Sufi story about the blind men and the elephant. Each one’s got a different part – the trunk, the tail, the tusk, the belly, and they each define “elephant” based on that isolated section underneath their small, and sightless hands. To suggest that there is enough elephant, or God, to encompass every possible human interpretation ever made, and that ever will be made, without exhausting the possiblities of what encompasses the Divine, is to speak heresy against almost every major religion out there. And yet, that’s what all the texts teach us. That our interpretation, this fumbling in a cloud of unknowing between what we think there is, and what really IS, is SO small. That’s the Fall. That we assumed that we knew what the Gods knew; and that what we could hold in our pea-sized brains was enough to run the world with. Well, just because you can’t see the ground doesn’t mean you’re flying. Most likely, you’re in free-fall, and sooner than you think, the canyon floor’s gonna catch up with you.

Anyway — Here’s my proposal. The School of Osmosis. Gathering information by lying in the stream bed of inspiration, to borrow a Celtic metaphor. And dissemination of that information by acting upon it, in the world as it is, until the world is converted, not by the sword, or by propaganda, but by example. Example wrought out of direct, personal experience with the universe, and not translated, but demonstrated. Of course, filled with error and overstepping and inconsistency and blurring of the lines between traditions, modernisms and schools of thought. Because that’s what the world REALLY is. That’s what makes it whole. Everything. And not a jot or tittle less. For better or worse. It’s ultimately an egalitarian society. Because if you’ve got the skills needed at the time, you lead. If someone else has the skills required at a different time, you follow. A circle has no head, remember.

Or something like that. Any takers?

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My life as a Moody Blues song …

Several entries ago, I mentioned a book on learning to think like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, I am slowly working my way through the exercises (very slowly indeed, as I am mired somewhat at the first one), which is to come up with a list of 100 questions – the focus being on curiosity, to see what it is you are naturally curious about. The point is to write down 100 questions without stopping, coming up with the first 20 or so rather easily, but then really having to stretch to come up with the latter 80. Well, some of my questions are rather banal, and a few are indeed interesting. But that’s not the point. The point is that I noticed that while in my teens, twenties and even early thirties, a lot of my questions probably would have begun with “why”, a lot of my questions now start with “what” or “how”. Not that I have become more practical or experiential, nor do I think I have become less philosophical. In fact, I’m probably a lot more “big picture” oriented at this juncture in my life than I have ever been. But it is interesting to note how the “big” questions didn’t seem to make it on my list. As an idealist, this level of pragmatism seems odd to me — but more troubling is that coming up with 100 things I wanted to know seemed extremely difficult. It’s not so much that the depth of my curiosity has lessened, but rather than the scope of my inquiry seems to have gained a sharper, more narrow focus.

Of course, that’s the purpose of the exercise, I suppose, to identify these kinds of things. But it got me thinking — perhaps stopping the asking “why”, looking elsewhere for the justification or purpose of things (i.e., “why is the world the way it is?”) and starting to focus on the “what” and “how” (i.e., “what can I do to apply what I know” or “how does what I know relate to what I don’t know”), is the result of my spiritual wandering, my questing for “Truth” (of course, ultimately one learns that Truth, in order to be universal, must at first be discovered to be absolutely and indelibly personal). But as I reviewed my list of questions to categorize them (and do some kind of preliminary prioritization, which is the second exercise in the book), I realized that I’m not looking so much for the answers to the big questions anymore. It doesn’t really make much difference to me at this point, for example, why the world was formed, or why human beings learned to swim, or found religions. I suppose the bottom line is that I’m not so much concerned with why things are the way they are, but rather with what I can do within the framework of what is. And that reminds me of several different things: the first being that simply realizing the way things are changes them (because based on a coagulation of Martin Buber and R. D. Laing, changing your experience of something in fact changes the thing being experienced, because now you are also experiencing your experience of a thing which is now an integral part of that thing’s existence), and also that the mingling of the observer and the observed (well, not so much a mingling, but a blurring of the line between the two, which eliminates the confines of duality to some respect) changes both the experimenter and the experiment. Krishnamurti proposed that to understand the answer, it is necessary to understand the question. Kabir said the destination is part of the first step of the journey. So few things are not related in that way.

On a separate note, I guess: Knowledge is power. That’s a common phrase, much quoted and bandied about. But I recently read a quotation from Emerson (that doubtless is based on the original source to some degree) that stated it a different way: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” Not quite as diametrically opposed as “those who are not with us, are against us” versus “those who are not against us, are with us”, but a slightly different shift in perspective, nonetheless.

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Untitled poem

It’s so hard to focus on the subtleties of life
Often times the fountain pen is like a carving knife
On clandestine maneuvers in the dark soul of the night
Without anesthesia or a sense of wrong and right

Once I thought to change the world without making it worse
Living in it seemed a drama that was unrehearsed
It lacked improvisation and was thrown together fast
Product of a culture that was certain not to last

Each unguided moment is a ruby in the dust
You try not to pick it up, but realize you must
Put it in a setting that you hope will resist rust
And watch the vultures settle on it, leaving you the crust

Watch a while and listen, there are voices on the wind
Some may whisper battle cries, and others just pretend
Once in many lifetimes can you recognize a friend
Sacrificed to sibyls speaking that they knew you when

12 SEP 2003

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One Can Learn Anywhere

Once upon a time, long time ago it was (a time of innocence / a time of confidences?), I was a parishioner at the Mennonite church in Bluffton, Ohio. In addition to being volunteered to teach youth groups about the Mennonite martyrs (which gave birth to the great memorization tool — thumbscrews, blunt force, burnt at the stake / severed tongue, rack-stretched, drowned in the lake — to remember the order of demise of the major participants), I also participated in a young adults study group where a number of interesting exercises were indulged in and then discussed. One of these exercises I provide for your edification and amazement below:

Take a piece of red construction paper and cut out a heart.
Take that paper heart and rip it into several pieces.
Using scotch tape, repair the heart.
Now, describe what that tells you about love.

Here is a paraphrase of my response:

First, the field from which the heart is cut illustrates that there is much more to love than we admit into our own perspective.

Second, the heart is a fragile thing that can be easily damaged and broken.

Third, the heart can be repaired. What repairs it is the adhesive bond of friendship and community, as well as sticking to it and believing that the “center will hold,” despite Yeats’ vision to the contrary.

Fourth, if you take the repaired, taped heart and handle it, look at it closely, you will notice one very important thing: because the ripped edges do not meet as closely as they did when the heart was a single piece of unmarred paper – it now includes a little bit of space between the parts. Your heart, thanks to the rending and breaking, and subsequently thanks to the added density of the tape which now holds it together, is bigger than it was before. In fact, it is perhaps even bigger than it would be if fitted into the original piece of red paper (the field of possible love, you’ll remember).

Finally, because of the tensile strength of the tape used to make the repairs, it is now much more difficult to break along the same lines. Yet, because only a single layer of tape is required to mend the broken heart, it is still as flexible as before; and its color and character, because of the transparent nature of the healing medium, are relatively unaffected and no less red and vibrant. In fact, it may be a bit shinier (and attractive).

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