The Artist’s Way

It took me a long while to get to it. I first looked at a friend’s copy years ago. He recommended it highly, though he hadn’t done the program, just dabbled in it. Same as a lot of other people i talked to over the next few years — people who owned the book, intended (some day) to follow through its 12 weeks, but hadn’t — yet.

I’ve been a blocked, underproducing artist for some years now, sinking slowly into frustration, bitterness and a general rut. My artistic life consisted of mostly attempts to finish up things begun months or years ago, a backlog of seemingly good ideas that i couldn’t let go of and really should finish up so i could move on to the new stuff. It wasn’t crippling — i have managed to throw together a quite a few good poems and pieces — but there’s no doubt the energy and the fun was draining out of my writing, and out of life too. Continue reading

Req. rdg. for the depressed

Ostensibly about boats and cruising, this wonderful article by Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) offers a perhaps even fresher perspective on the most pervasive plague of modern life than when it was originally published in Esquire, May 1977.

Cruising Blues and Their Cure

by Robert Pirsig

Their case was typical. After four years of hard labor their ocean-size trimaran was launched in Minneapolis at the head of Mississippi navigation. Six and one half months later they had brought it down the river and across the gulf to Florida to finish up final details. Then at last they were off to sail the Bahamas, the Lesser Antilles and South America.

Only it didn’t work out that way. Within six weeks they were through. The boat was back in Florida up for sale. Continue reading

Dead on

Thursday’s D.I.Y. Dharma class in Vancouver touched on contemplating your own death, a well known Buddhist object of meditation. Coincidentally, so did the previous Sunday’s meditation session with Zen monk Wayne Codling (Sojun Enso) in Victoria.

All of which reminded me of the following passage early on in David Darling‘s provocatively titled 1996 book Zen Physics — the Science of Death, the Logic of Reincarnation. As walking “meat-based time machines” (per Vic slam poet Skawt Chonzz) with built-in expiry dates, this is uncomfortable information we should have.

As soon as a person’s heart stops beating, gravity takes hold. Within minutes a purple-red stain starts to appear on the lowermost parts of the body, where blood quickly settles. The skin and muscles sag, the body cools, and within two to six hours rigor mortis sets in. Beginning with a stiffening of the eyelids, the rigidity extends inexorably to all parts of the body and may last for between one and four days before the muscles finally relax.

Two or three days after death, a greenish discoloration of the skin on the right side of the lower abdomen above the cecum (the part of the large intestine nearest the surface) provides the first visible sign of decay. This gradually spreads over the whole abdomen and then onto the chest and upper thighs, the color being simply a result of sulfur-containing gases from the intestines reacting with hemoglobin liberated from the blood in the vessels of the abdominal wall. By the end of the first week, most of the body is tinged green, a green that steadily darkens and changes to purple and finally to black. Blood-colored blisters, two to three inches across, develop on the skin, the merest touch being sufficient to cause their top layer to slide off.

By the end of the second week the abdomen is bloated. The lungs rupture because of bacterial attack in the air passages, and the resulting release of gas pressure from within the body forces a blood-stained fluid from the nose and mouth — a startling effect that helped to spawn many a vampire legend among peasants who had witnessed exhumations in medieval Europe. The eyes bulge and the tongue swells to fill the mouth and protrude beyond the teeth. After three to four weeks, the hair, nails, and teeth loosen, and the internal organs disintegrate before turning to liquid.

On average, it takes ten to twelve years for an unembalmed adult body buried six feet deep in ordinary soil without a coffin to be completely reduced to a skeleton. This period may shrink drastically to between a few months and a year if the grave is shallow, since the body is then more accessible to maggots and worms. However, soil chemistry, humidity, and other ambient factors have a powerful effect on the rate of decomposition….

The rise of consciousness

Here’s a “lost post” from last fall, when i was reading about evolution: Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall, interviewed by Amy Otchet, UNESCO Courier journalist:

Ian: One thing truly sets us apart from every other species: consciousness. Human consciousness has been described as a kind of inner eye, which allows the brain to observe itself at work and therefore permits us to have the complex interpersonal relationships that far exceed those of any other animal. Modern human anatomy goes back over 100,000 years but it wasn’t until maybe 40,000 years ago that modern cognition suddenly burst on the scene, as evidenced by the cave art of the Cro-Magnon, for example, in Europe. What triggered this cognitive explosion?

It is impossible to be sure what this innovation might have been, but the best current bet is that it was the invention of language. For language is not simply the medium by which we express our ideas and experiences to each other. Rather it is fundamental to the thought process itself. It involves categorizing and naming objects and sensations in the outer and inner worlds and making associations between resulting mental symbols. It is impossible for us to conceive of thought (as we know it) in the absence of language, and it is the ability to form mental symbols that is the fount of our creativity, for only once we create such symbols can we recombine them and ask questions like “What if…?”

Amy: Human evolution has come to a standstill, you say. We haven’t really changed since acquiring cognition and we cannot expect any major innovations in the future. What is holding us back?

Ian: You’ve got to have small populations in order to get meaningful genetic innovations. The [human] population is getting larger all the time, individuals are infinitely more mobile now and the prospect of isolation of populations is lower than it ever has been. We can imagine some sci-fi scenarios of isolated space colonies but they would inevitably be sustained by a lifeline from Earth. Or we can imagine genetic engineering. However, artificially produced genotypes could only be sustained by sequestering “engineered” individuals which I doubt and hope would never be deemed permissible. But if it was, these genetic innovations would remain only among these small “laboratory” populations.

So to hope that a bit more evolutionary fine-tuning will solve our problems is foolish optimism. We have to cope with ourselves as we currently cope with the world and the problems that we cause in it. We have reached a pinnacle in the sense that Homo sapiens is truly something unique. Whether you think it is superior or not is up to you. I suspect that if other species were capable of contemplating this question, they would not conclude that we represent a pinnacle.


The whole interview is very good, if you’re at all interested in this sort of thing. Methinks that evolution may have a few more tricks up its sleeve than Tattersall allows in this interview. Things like maybe killing off enormous numbers of any species that can’t or won’t control its own population. That could well result in small, isolated populations.