Nonesuch Explorer Series

When I was very young, I had a cassette tape of the Nonesuch Explorer Series with Shakuhachi Flute, that I played so much.. As I got older, it stayed with me, across all the media as technology grew. I would have purchased the entire series if I had had the finances to do it, but thankfully through Spotify, it’s all available on this playlist. It’s a way to explore the myriad expressions of music across cultures all over the world, and this will be all I will listen to, for the most part, in March, to remind me that there is an enormous world out there, so beautiful, and not to forget that in the isolation of the pandemic. I hope it will bring you as much wonder and exploration as it has been doing for me.

February in Sound

It’s been quite a month. Here, as a diary, is my complete playlist for February. There’s so much in here. Hope you enjoy it. It captures all my hope and despair, everything I couldn’t say in words, and I’m so grateful we live in a time where I can share things like this with you. As someone who didn’t grow up with technology, things like Spotify, despite it’s flaws, will always be a kind of magic to me. I’ll always be able to return to this and really feel these moments again. It’s epic. It’s a little over four hours, so if you ever get a chance, listen to the whole thing, and you’ll get to know me so much better, seriously. Love you guys, and wish you a pleasant evening. I’m lighting a candle and listening to this all the way through tonight.

Jazz, Music, and Hope

As I’ve been spending a day waiting to hear back from publishers and agents, filled with both hope and sorrow, for some reason I started listening to my jazz recordings. Coltrane, the Gilbertos, Wes Montgomery, Dorothy Ashby. I’ve had my ups and downs over the years, especially in the great silences while authors await news on their submissions. Then something came to me. Who’s approval was I really looking for? Did it matter at all? My writing is for an audience, but shouldn’t it be first as a primary healing act? Do I need approval? I try my absolute best in all I do to be kind, and searching. I give so much, sometimes with no return, and in this internet age, which can be so uncaring.

I’ve been completely honest on this blog. All my hopes and dreams are here if you care to look, my truth and deepest hopes and fears are here. All it takes is listening, and if you’re a publisher looking at my work for the fist time, I welcome you. I may not have the approval of everyone at all times, but I’m cool with that. That’s just the way things can be sometimes.

I’m heading to a dreaming state here at the end of the day. With all the hate and fear we sometimes experience as artists, we still put our work out there, selflessly, if you’re not in the gallery system as I am. Jazz, the voice of the modern world, the birth of so many movements, are here in this playlist I made. I hope it brings you as much solace as it has for me. Take good care, stay safe, and be kind in all you do. Just the tiniest things can have lasting effects. We all make mistakes, but they can always be set on the right path again. Wishing everyone renewal, peace and thoughtfulness this weekend.

Morning Coltrane and Coffee

It’s been quite a few months, but my foot is feeling better enough to at least go back into the office and not be stuck on the couch all day. It’s a welcome experience. I really feel for anyone who is disabled and has impaired movement. For me, it was temporary, but for so many it’s not. I have my own chronic conditions, but I’ve adapted to it. I think I really found my strength and resilience in the last two months, going from complete fear to being well enough to continue my creative work. I’ll be working on the Gaia II story next week while I wait to hear back from publishers, so there might not be too many posts on the blog while I get into the research.

A couple of days ago, everything I’ve been going through just kind of hit me hard, and I cried for the first time in years. It took me a couple of days to get back to work, since I was so shaken, but it really was a good cry. I spent the rest of the day just in an after glow of the emotion I released. It’s hard to describe, but it was definitely a turning point. I’ve grown a lot through this. While I’m away, I really encourage any of my readers to listen to the John Coltrane Atlantic Years Mono Recordings. It’s by far my favorite Coltrane collection, and being with it all day was yet another turning point for me, in an incredible two months of personal growth. Wishing everyone well as the pandemic continues. I’m hopeful we’ll get through this soon and will be able to get back to the issues that are so important to us. Stay safe everyone, and I’ll be writing again soon to update on my progress.

Billy Bragg

My partner and I fell in love one night while we watched a Billy Bragg show in Austin sometime in the mid 90s. Like so many others, we’ve had some tough times here in the pandemic, but we pulled through. This is the most beautiful song I’ve heard. And I fell in love with her all over again, listening to this beautiful song.

Getting closer to normal life again.

It’s been an incredible two months, meditating and working on Light Fields, while I was healing an injury. It made me reach deep in my soul, to all the places it could go. In many ways I’ve recovered. The record of these months will always be in Light Fields, and in any of our moments of despair I hope it can bring some light. In all my work, I try to reach deep within myself to find the strength that I hopefully can let rest in what I write, to communicate and share: a warm fire to sit by and share stories, hopes, and dreams.

Today was like catching up, which I absolutely had to do. It’s time. I watched the complete hearing on the capital riots, and it was important to see. It’s available online. I really urge anyone who can spare the time to spend some time listening to some of the incredible testimony and account of what could only be described as a horrific day, for the soul of our nation, the foundation of our democracy. But we all survived. And seeing how all sides came together to address this issue, was profound, solemn, and deeply moving. It truly showed the power of the senate, our elected representatives, who all showed today what it looks like when they come together. It was hard to hear the testimony, but everyone was truly amazing in their dedication and focus. It’s important to see.

I spent the rest of the day setting up the office, getting my research together, and preparing for the work for the next few months, while I work on the new novel, of which Light Fields may be a central part. But I think it’s important to not just look inward, but also address the inequalites, environmental crisis, and economic challenges of our time, to dream even brighter dreams, to reach into the world we all share, the possibliies in the future, as widely as possible. In Light Fields, there is a photographer who falls in love with a cloud. Perhaps in Gaia II, she will reach into the entire universe. I’m sure I’ll have more to share this week, but this is my first day of my 44th year, and I’m ready for the work ahead.

Thoughts on the day

I took the day off for my birthday, in many ways the last day (demographically) of my youth. I’m officially in my mid 40s. I took the day to do some simple things. I read they NYT, I checked my email, went on facebook for a few minutes. Tomorrow I start on the novel, starting with research. It was a good day. Celebrated with some coffee and some treats with my partner, just taking the day slow. Google honored an incredible indiginous leader, Zitkala-Sa. Amazon raised it’s minimum wage to $15, an incredible move, President Biden and the administration marked the day in such a display of leadership I was completely silenced. A good friend donated to the Alameda Food Bank for me. Then it all started to dawn on me. As our president noted today, we’ve had more lives lost to us than in all the previous world wars. This is serious. We have to do something to act. Stay safe, help each other, just embrace everything with the generous hearts we all have inside of us. We can do so much, together. Stay safe, be careful, always hope. I’ll have more things to share in the coming weeks. I’m settling down for the evening, and wishing everyone well.

Dharma Talk

Hi, good morning. This is my dharma talk. It will be brief, and I’ll only really focus on the dharma that I’ve experienced in my life, so I invite you to take three deep breaths. Be generous to yourself in these moments, extending your heart as wide as it can. Relax, and I’ll talk a bit about my experiences.

I grew up in a happy home, though I was often abandoned, in a small suburb of Dallas, yet it was very conservative, which I couldn’t really relate to. I had a lot of friends, but initially I always tried to fit in. I played football, went to very conservatively social events, and struggled a bit with my conflicted, at the time, class identity. My Mom grew up in government housing with a single mother in the mid century, something that wasn’t so common in those days, yet she never really noticed it. My Dad was an economics student who had turned to running his own business. I watched anime, made art and music, and had an essentially middle class upbringing.

Sometime in the mid 90s, like so many kids at the time, I started getting into grunge music and joined the cultural movements at that time by simply adopting particular Seattle inspired aesthetics: paintings influenced by the art on Dinosaur Jr. album covers, slightly Gothic inspiration. This did not sit well with the teachers at the time in the conservative environment, and at one point I had so many detentions, literally for keeping my shirt untucked, that I had been told that I would spend up to a year in detention. It was a very unusual system, but I know that a lot of people experienced things like this in their schools at the time. Expelled for wearing band T-shirts, things like that. I hope that has changed by now. We still live in an unjust society, but I feel that our country is a bit kinder than it used to be.

That’s a lot of background, but I needed to speak briefly about it in order to show my path toward entering a Steiner school after school absences and detention had started to cause significant damages. I loved this school. Set in an architect’s home, it was radical and unusual. I felt totally free to express my realities. It was all self paced. I loved geometry, and it was mostly secular, but we had one class called “Life Skills” where I was introduced in just one session to meditation. I laughed it off but it really profoundly changed my life, yet I didn’t know it. I spent my two years there writing, making music and art, going to punk shows and poetry readings, and it was a beautiful time.

I’m not sure how I did this, but at one point my Mom put a yearbook tribute where I was sitting on a rock and meditating somewhere. I don’t remember where this photograph was taken. It stuck with me. 

Years later, in college, I don’t even know why, possibly due to my first panic attack, I started deeply learning about Buddhism. Every night I went to sleep with an audio book by the Dalai Lama, for months. Later when we moved to the bay area, I went deeper, and again, I didn’t really understand why I was doing this. It was just happening. I remember very clearly one afternoon where I meditated in the clear sunlight in the apartment. It was a profound experience that deeply changed my life. Around this time I realized that I identified as queer, yet there was no one to talk to about it. I had a band that I thought was radically feminist, and I have almost always identified with both genders.

Some time later, after fearing for my life, and as a result of a drunken moment texting in a car to facebook, when I was very frightened, I was placed within a very frightening mental hospital. And all the suffering within it’s halls opened my compassion and sadness. It was the most profound experience of my life for quite awhile. I met so many people there coping with devastation, and I realized at a certain point that suffering was endless. Since I was intoxicated when I was brought there, but completely sobered up by the time I arrived, I was completely  aware, and it was traumatic. I met people who had multiple suicide attempts, experienced domestic violence, and severe schizophrenia. People were assaulted in the hallways. Someone tried to attack me while I was sleeping. I also started experiencing online harassment, and it was so negative that I actually, as a very peaceful individual, started to think that I actually was a terrible person. It took years to recover, but I did, through an intensive Buddhist practice centered on self compassion.

Within a year I began searching in earnest through the dharma. I took meditation classes anywhere I could, and Berkeley had quite a few. I studied at Nyingma Institute, The Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Shambala, and in small church settings. On every trip south of the bay, I visited the Pao Hua Buddhist Temple in San Jose, and the Land of Medicine Buddha, where I accidentally sat in on a class about dependent origination. Yet nothing really clicked until I started studying Zen at the Berkeley Zen Center. While I’ve studied many spiritual paths, this was a family I could truly share my experiences with. Within a few months I then started at the San Francisco Zen Center, where I joined this Sangha for the two month practice period studying Bodhisattva archetypes. I still was undergoing harassment at the time, but I stuck with it, no matter what. I remember most profoundly the moments at Medicine Buddha, where there was a small temple in the mountains with a giant Buddha statue, and I was the only one there on every trip. I can’t describe my experiences there. It’s impossible, it is almost wordless.

That brings me to where I am in my practice right now. I’ve been healing a broken foot for almost two months now, and this is where my life was most profoundly changed. The result is the book I shared with you, Light Fields, which I won’t summarize, but sitting here on the couch, and meditating for hours is where I profoundly and resolutely engaged with dharma and the way. 

Of all of the Buddhist archetypes, I relate most strongly to Guan Yin and Avalokiteshvara, Samantabhadra, and Milarepa, a combination of ideals from many traditions. In Guan Yin I have always sought refuge in peace and compassion, and love. In Avalokiteshvara, compassion and the art of listening, in Samantabhadra, the ideal of the hidden Bodhisattva, and in Milarepa, a profound connection to Buddhist poetry, and a unity with the suffering of people who have been incarcerated, misunderstood, wrongly imprisoned, and suffering from mental illness. I suffer from deep, clinical anxiety, and the compassion both for self and others in unity, is how I guide my way.  

In this short talk I hope this gives you a glimpse, however slight, into my experiences that led me on the path to the dharma, and I think it’s a story of hope, resilience, peace and love, even in the most dire of circumstances. Thank you for your time. I am so grateful for all of you.

The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa

So many of the Bodhissatvas within the Buddhist tradition are depicted as born auspiciously and pure within thought and deed from the beginning of their lives. Milarepa stands out as an example of someone who turns their life around and becomes dedicated to the dharma. While I don’t relate to the violence that Milarepa’s legend contains, the beautiful thing about the symbology is that anyone can reach enlightenment and turn their lives around, at any time, and develop a path of peace and equanimity.

This book was recommended to me the very first time I went to a Buddhist book shop, yet I really wasn’t ready for it until many years after I was introduced to it. It is some of the most incredible poetry I’ve ever read, and in my influences this book is definitely among my personal canon. I’ve been reengaging with my Buddhist practice, and I picked this book up today for the first time since the beginning of the year. I hope this can serve as an introduction to this kind of beautiful Buddhist poetry, and it’s a great entryway to the Buddhist perspective.

Perseverence

Possibly one of the greatest moments of my life, not exaggerating, was watching the landing of Perseverance on Mars this week. Just hearing the narration was the catalyst that pushed me into realizing I had to devote the next book to Science Fiction, with as much fact as I possibly can, while still maintaning a good deal of Magic. This process will be so much different that Light Fields, which is essentially a stream of consciousness piece I wrote during afternoon reveries. I still plan to dream heavily, and explore the imagination, but I’ll be doing research the entire time. I can’t wait for this. It might take me a few months at least, but I’ll do my absolute best. Light Fields will shortly be in the hands of agents and publishers, and it’s time to turn my attention to this project, which I am so grateful I have the ability to do. I’m starting Monday. NASA forever.