I had this quote written on a piece of paper and taped to my closet door through college, through two dorm rooms and a wonderful apartment on Court Street in Athens, Ohio: “The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.”
It’s from Yasutani Roshi, Japanese Zen master and the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan.
As time buzzes onward, I think about this idea more often.
“Maybe it was all about delusions of integrity. In his own twenties he had thought overmuch about not compromising when no one was asking him to compromise. At that age a specific rigidity seemed necessary to isolate yourself from your own confusion and to invent the person you were to become.”
Jim Harrison, The Land of Unlikeness
It’s one of two novellas in Harrison’s The River Swimmer (the other novella being the title track). I first read it probably four years ago, shortly after it was published, I think? A lot of things were different then.
At the end of the year, I like to reread books. Revisit things. Revisit perceptions. It’s a good way to keep up my reading habit while also tending to the calendric spiral of December.
I reread Don DeLillo’s White Noise recently. It’s incredible.
But the Harrison novella—and I’m only 20 pages in or so—is fascinating already in how different I feel about it. The protagonist is 60, weighed down by failed dreams and abandoned bonds, and he’s returning home to the rural stretches of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Now, I don’t feel the haunting specter so much these days, but, having emerged from a hazy decade of glimmer and grim, I carry a renewed zeal for things like dreams and bonds. I see it all from a new vantage point. I see the fragility of the gambit, the assertion, the leap of actual and unspoken integrity.
It’s a very important thing, and I lose sight often enough. Reading refocuses the lens. Frames the picture once again.
What a weird decade that was! What a blob of triumph and error! I drank cocktails at a westside bar the other night with my dad, and he pointed out: Whatever happened, it got me to the present moment. It brought me to my fiancée. It brought me to a rising line of self-actualization. Everything that rises must converge.
“Delusions of integrity.” Sure!
This is the only piece of Scripture I’ve bothered to memorize. I’m not sure if there will be another, though I’ve toyed with the idea of reading the Bible in 2019 (a year I’m setting aside for “bigger” works of fiction).
Anyway. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
You are your thoughts, your words, your exchanges, your glances, your mirrored idiosyncrasies, your haphazard lollygagging, your mindless tyrannies, your aching heart, your brutish nostalgias, your seasick futures; you are me, and I am you. The point of all of this isn’t to be seen, it is simply to practice quietly and, perhaps most importantly, to listen to everything that feeds your head. Then let it be.
“If they didn’t understand the Beatles and the Sixties then, what the fuck could we do for them now? Do we have to divide the fish and the loaves for the multitudes again? Do we have to get crucified again? Do we have to do the walking on water again because a whole pile of dummies didn’t see it the first time, or didn’t believe it when they saw it? You know, that’s what they’re asking: ‘Get off the cross. I didn’t understand the first bit yet. Can you do that again?’ No way. You can never go home. It doesn’t exist.”
John Lennon, Playboy interview, September 1980
The new White Album mixes are fucking outstanding, and it’s a real pleasure to hear again and again the vivid creativity in tunes like “Dear Prudence,” tunes that I can trace back to the very earliest days of my fleeting life. Everything was green. Teeming. Everything was photosynthetic and colliding, building itself anew in morning light. I’m thankful for all of it.
Music is my savior. The gratitude is heard in every note, every echo. It’s beautiful, and so are you.
I’ve been following the HappyDay Farms CSA newsletter all year, since I first interviewed Casey in early spring. It’s an evocative rumination on the passage of time and on the underlying connections between us animals and the earth, the soil, the sun. (HappyDay Farms is located in northern Mendocino County, California.) It is like a return to breath. Zazen observation.
The writing here is also one of the more helpful reminders I’ve found with respect to gratitude. Mindfulness. The idea of spending time on a set of words and ideas: reading other people’s thoughts and converting them, like chemical constituents, into action and grace. This is as good as ever to practice some sort of gratitude. Call attention to what you like, to what makes you whole, to what is happening within you, without you.
Outside, in Valley View, Ohio, Canal Road traffic flows like water. It is mid-morning. Hazy light.
Three things I never leave home without: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, my Rand McNally pocket atlas and a sample ballot for the next election printed on recycled card stock. These things matter greatly.
Listen, I don’t always vote for winners. But I’ll never vote for a chump.
I vote for dogs and puppies locked up in cages in Holmes County. I vote for farmers. I vote for the homeless, the wrongfully incarcerated, the disenfranchised pot dealers, the artists, the LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the kids, the Jewish families in Squirrel Hill and beyond, the disabled, the opioid addicts, the lonely, the forlorn, the lovesick, the crestfallen, the poor and hungry. I vote for clean air and public lands. I vote for the trees.
Shit, I rarely vote for the winners. But this county loves its chump business executives, huh? The ones standing behind the chump politico bastards they see on TV? They adore ’em. It’s a lascivious religion. What’s the use, though? What’s the point?
Seems to me that’s the central question this week. Not so much “Who’s side are you on?” But rather: “Who are you helping?”