“Falling Into Art” (an excerpt)

“We are most nearly ourselves
when we achieve 
the seriousness
of the child at play.”

—Heraclitus

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Central to our ideas about spiritual and literary authenticity, I think, is our old friend struggle. Whatever is “serious” must be difficult. The poet Mary Oliver, for example, tells us in her Poetry Handbook that writing memorably is “unimaginably difficult.”

In one sense I agree with her. I have been re-writing this section of the book for weeks—adding, subtracting, revising, driving myself crazy to find the trail, to feel the electricity flowing through it.

But my “work” in revising wasn’t the Sisyphus kind, grinding and thankless. It was the “dog gnawing a bone” kind—driven, fueled by a fire inside. That’s not difficulty, that’s engagement.

Another poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that a person “should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”

Emerson’s words suggest that if writing well is difficult, the difficulty is of a different nature than the kind we’re habituated to.

It’s not the kind that requires heroic force, but rather subtle attention.

The difficulty consists of taking ourselves more seriously than “bards and sages”—or any institution, moral code, wife, or relative. Or as Jesus put it metaphorically, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” The “me” here isn’t really Jesus. It’s you. Central you. Core you. Deep you. Beyond the chatter you.

Writing memorably is unimaginably difficult only because it’s unimaginably easy. For who could imagine that in order to write, you don’t even need to write? You need instead to trust something else to write—the you that isn’t you.

Musicians don’t look for a ridge; they look for a groove.

Art is not a mountain you climb but a hole you fall into.

 

—An excerpt from
Making Belief: Speaking for a Natural, Intelligent, Outlandish Faith
available here

 

 

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multiple metaphor

every morning i get up
and surf—you saw
it, just there, and now
here
i cut back but the wave is propelling me onward till
here, i cut back, then race
further along; call it slicing or falling, it’s messing
my hair, until here,
the swell

eases… i float, and i
wait… my mind… wanders, the gulls
make their… noise?
slanting by… and the sea’s
in my chest

so

i caress
what is left
of my
noble intentions

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goal

every act calculated
towards an end is an act
of futility.
i’m sorry.
 
every act offered for the joy
of acting, or failing
that, for at least
the chance to burn,
to move, to feel
something and not
nothing—the blurt
of a goat, the pulse
of muscle, the way
your dog’s eyebrows
dance as they try
to make out
what you mean—
every such sputter
of eternity
is the song
you’re after.
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“You Are Picasso” (But Probably With More Hair) — An Excerpt from “Making Belief”

Book from AmazonIf we decide that reality is out there in the “objective” world, then everything we know about reality comes to us through our senses. Can we trust them to tell us about the ultimate nature of that reality? What’s happening at that interchange, where something “out there” in the world registers “in here” in our experience of it?

Take the smell of coffee. What does that subjective experience—that delicious, indescribable aroma—correspond to in the objective world? Scientists inform us it corresponds to molecules of a particular shape. That’s it: molecules. It is we humans who transform those boring molecules into the incredible fragrance of coffee. The molecules land on receptors in our nose which causes a nerve signal to be sent to our brain, where somehow that electrical signal is experienced as something wondrous.

Similarly, scientists tell us that what we experience as different colors is, out there in the objective world, just different wavelengths of electromagnetic energy. What we see as blue is really light with a wavelength near 470 nanometers. What we experience as red is light with a wavelength of about 700 nanometers. Somehow that quantitative difference in the wavelengths is transformed into a qualitative difference between the experience of blue and red. The difference between the two wavelengths out there in the objective world is boring—they’re just two different lengths. But the difference between blue and red is exciting, graphic, indescribable, subjective.

Molecules transmuted into smells; wavelengths transubstantiated into colors. What performs these miraculous acts?

Our subjective experience is of a profoundly different nature than the objective input that triggered it. There’s no rational connection between the two. “Interpreting” a molecule into the delicious smell of coffee is like “interpreting” a word into a burrito. We don’t interpret objective stimuli. We create something entirely new from them. This “something new” exists in a completely different dimension. It’s as if the objective stimuli just served as a tiny prick of inspiration for our subjective experience of it. We are inherently, effortlessly, biologically creative. There’s no escaping your status as a master artist in every moment of your experience.

Get Making Belief on Amazon

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Last night

Last night as I walked through the gate after work and then my walk,
I saw the goats lying on the mini-trampoline, as is their new habit at night.
This time, as I neared them, neither got up. I approached quietly and crouched down.
I watched them, the peace they lived in.
Slowly I reached out and petted Pepper more gently than usual—soft strokes
down the length of her side, feeling
the bulge of her warm belly through her dusty fur.
Before this, they have always arisen and milled around me when I come home at night,
but now Pepper remained lying, forefeet tucked, head up, eyes gazing at something
only goats can see. I could hear her breathing,
as though she were inhaling and exhaling extra-long,
as one does sometimes in meditation.
Then she turned to me, with that breath of fermenting grass, and chewed her cud,
her jaw moving languidly side to side, as though this were another
part of her meditation. I leaned in and she offered
the flat bone of her forehead for my kiss.
Cookie lay in the opposite direction, along Pepper’s other side,
as though the ripples of communion reached her through her sister’s body,
as though my petting were being multiplied like loaves and fishes.
I thought, This is what I like—tendering the tenderest affection
and feeling it being received.
The world standing still around us.

free this morning, a book of poems, available on Amazon here

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Excerpt from Making Belief

Book from Amazon“At first, there were no writings, no rules, and no churches. Just stories about Jesus of Nazareth.

Try to picture that for a moment. Nothing but wide-eyed people whispering to one another about an amazing man.

Gradually people wrote down these stories, whether first or second hand. As they were passed around, there blossomed myriad interpretations of this astonishing person’s life and the things he was said to have said. Different communities with different ideas and emphases sprang up in different places—wildflowers in a field—the revelation of Christ interpreted differently in the hearts of humans.

If by “traditional” we mean the oldest version of something, then this ragtag riffing, these quirky campfires, are the most traditional form of Christianity we know of.”

—from “Making Belief,” now available on Amazon

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Excerpt from Making Belief

Book from Amazon

“Physicists tell us reality is a lot less Puritan than we imagine. Time doesn’t march to a steady beat. It gyrates to different rhythms, dilated by gravity and speed. Matter and energy pretend to sleep in separate rooms, but Einstein stayed up late one night and watched them slipping back and forth. (He even took a picture: E = mc2.) Solid objects are putting on a show—flickering playfully between existing and the likelihood of existing.”

“Making Belief” now Available on Amazon

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