Sansaku: Propinquity


I hadn’t seen the word in years. The artist titled the painting and I knew what he meant. All of this apocalyptic shit that’s going down together. It’s a state of being near or in close proximity, kinship. Its use has dropped since the Sixties, which is when I learned it.

Mel sat behind me in Algebra Two and I let him look over my shoulder. He played guitar and sang in a band called Propinquity. If memory serves me well, he looked every inch the part. My vision of an artist.

I wrote the original poem, Best Slowly, forty years ago this July. It’s not all that different. “It is best to become slowly, like wind sculpts rocks and water channels valleys.” But I added a few lines. “And writes her mysterious on the cobblestones and marshes.”

“Best be like a bird who spends its whole life learning its song.” What does it mean, to be perfectly one’s self?

The second stanza starts out as remembered. “For if given the choice to change your face you would mistake the beauty.” But I added, “Best slowly let its will be done unknown to you.” I don’t remember that.

“A stone is polished patiently and a wise face ages. Pray to your deeper soul’s image.” But where did this come from? “Let the sun redeem…only what’s planted bears fruit.” That wasn’t in the dream and I don’t know why it’s there.

By way of propinquity, thirty years later, I encounter my draft for the poem before it was finally published. I was hesitant to let it go, but glad when I did. I watched as it drifted down the stream of time and turned into the blog.

This is one of those poems that came from a dream fully formed.

It was still wet from the waters of the unconscious when I pulled it out. I realized it resolved the tension in the strange dream that had birthed it. It’s about the slow progressive journey we take to become ourselves or artists. The wild detours and so-called mistakes are essential to the process. It’s about practice and staying on the path.

Chyako taught me a Japanese proverb early in our relationship, isogaba maware. “When you’re in a hurry, take the long way.” Sansaku follows a similar path.

In the dream, which is the context for the poem, I’m looking at myself in a mirror and I know I can sculpt my face in any way I want. I set to work on my reflection intending to improve it, a perfect fool in search of an affirmation. I had no idea.

After smoothing out wrinkles I refashioned my face with complete abandon and impulse. When I finally stopped and stepped back, I saw what I’d done and panicked. The playfully happy dream had turned nightmare. I looked like some abstraction Picasso might have painted.

I furiously worked to undo the damage and prayed to recover my original face which I was fast forgetting. In a frantic state of mind, I only made it worse. That’s when I woke to the poem, which came with a vow in a voice not my own. I signed with my name.

The poem was published with photographs of Chyako’s beautiful clay-colored hands throwing and trimming a pot. Now there’s an image for what it looks like to pray to the deep soul. It’s the inherent symbolic process. At the heart of the art is centering.

There’s propinquity between the poem I heard in a dream and the photos on page fifteen of Arts Perspective. Best to become slowly and slowly it all comes together. That state of being near or in close proximity, kinship.










Wild Basin

Sansaku: Wild Basin


They had appropriate names. Phil loved to philosophize and his last name, Weaver, fit even better. Pat Little was small. He wanted to go on a climb I thought was too big and did my best to dissuade him from going. He persevered. He had that going for him.

I begrudgingly relented, but reminded him, “I’m a little worried about you.” He disagreed and I said, “You’ll know.”

We camped near a lake in Wild Basin. I love how that sounds. But after a beautiful sunset the weather was wet and the campers were miserable. They’d procrastinated setting up shelters. I tried to tell them and now they were mad. Whatever.

Misery loves company and they huddled together under a well-placed tarp. Mosquitoes can bug me, but these monkey-brained teenagers were flat-out funny. It didn’t rain for long except for them.

I watched Phil watching me. I picked my spot very carefully; we were sleeping under tarps. He had watched the monkeys play and heard my lecture. He asked for permission to camp close to me. We can’t help but have favorites.

I don’t remember what we talked about, but I’m sure he had some inquiries. He was blessed with a quiet mind, one that knew how to listen and deeply respond. He was one of my blessings that summer.

The next morning was crystalline clear and we climbed through high alpine meadows filled with streams and flowers. Phil wanted to know their names. I pointed and said, “Moss Campion.” He bowed down to the little pink bouquet and politely sniffed her. But the big perfume on the tundra next door was the Forget-Me-Not, sky-blue and wild.

How could I forget? The view of Mt. Alice to the west is one of those postcard perfect places. I carefully addressed and mailed it to the long-term memory. I knew at the time to remember the moment.

Straight ahead the mountain, Chief’s Head, and next to it Pagoda. Pat didn’t slow us down. We made the summit and ate lunch on the edge of a tremendous precipice. Black Lake was thousands of feet straight down. The beautiful view into the abyss of Glacier Gorge is seductive and dangerous. Pat fell.

I heard someone scream his name and had visions of Pat plunging in slow motion terror, an instantaneous brain tattoo. I wasn’t the only one. But we found him crumpled at the base of a boulder, blood oozing from eyes and ears. I promptly spilled my first aid kit, but it gave me the time to center. He opened his eyes. They were gentle.

Still not good, but he was conscious and could talk. “Is this what you meant when you said I shouldn’t come?” No, it wasn’t. I felt badly. I’d never seen anything like it, but I knew what to do. I carefully cleaned and examined, I was pleased to no end he could move.

Once I stopped the bleeding from the scalp wounds, he looked so much better. They were mostly superficial. We were lucky that day and I was in for a big surprise. The walk back to camp was glorious. Along with Phil, we slowly descended and Wild Basin treated us well. It didn’t storm that afternoon or night.

We always told stories around the campfire. I played the role of the older, more-experienced brother, but that night we talked about death on equal terms. We were haunted by the image and confessed.

We sat around the fire again in the morning and returned to the talk of the night. Phil shared a dream and the group got started. When the bus picked us up that afternoon, something had changed.


Sixty Instances

Sansaku: Sixty Instances


We raced bicycles in grade school to see who could go the slowest and not fall down. To win you came in last. We all looked ridiculous. I laughed so hard I lost.

The Zen master said there are sixty instances to a moment. Talk about slow. Time calls for a time-out. I think of dreams as moments and it helps to understand the speed of symbolic story. It’s full-bodied and round. Base sixty is used for measuring moments in time and space. The direction goes all around, forward and back.

Certain types of people have always sought solitude and it’s an odd choice from the herd’s point of view. Why would you choose to cut yourself off and be all alone? It’s not a sane thing to do. But what does it mean to be sane in an insane world? Our definition is loose.

Just listen to the leaders. Twain wondered if they were smart guys putting us on or the insane idiots they look like. The sacred clowns are following them around. I get my news from the late-night hosts.

I suppose there are sixty instances to a moment and I’m in the midst of one. I just poured some tea, took a sip, looked up and out. When I put the yunomi down on the canvas covered desk, the object comes alive. I practice animism and praise. It’s got nothing to do with belief.

We’ve been watching a comedy series that takes place in southwestern Colorado and has some big-name stars. Sam Elliot plays a rancher with two fucked-up boys and a separated wife who owns the only bar in town. It’s all about shoveling verbal shit.

Chyako acted in a similar series that lasted two seasons. The scene was a clay camp. Instead of Telluride the ranch was close to Steamboat Springs. It’s just up the road from Gary’s Pig Farm. He’s a hippie with a sense of humor. He didn’t have pigs, but he liked to piss off realtors.

Judy Blue Eyes, who owns the ranch, is also a hippie and state of the art potter chick. Her partner, Biz, is the name brand attraction. He’s a magician with clay and a trickster by heart. The pink flamingos he bought for the yard don’t belong in a swank ski town or the country, but he resembles them in a highly artistic way.

My first roommate in college lived on a sheep ranch nearby. I didn’t believe in red necks until I moved into the dorm that fall. His goal in life was to get drunk, cruise Main in his muscle truck, and pick up messed-up girls. I remember asking one the next morning, “What’s wrong with you?” She said, “You know.” I didn’t press the issue.

Since I enjoyed my solitude, I was alien to his way of life and he felt sorry for me. I let him. He didn’t get the grades he needed to stay in school and went back to the ranch. I don’t think about him often.

Judy Blue Eyes called the clay center Wolf in the Woods. My red neck roommate was a sheep rancher who hated wolves almost as much as hippies. He got the idea one night to shear my long hair and corralled a few cowboys to help. Good thing they’d been drinking. Besides, I’m a wolf not a sheep.

Base sixty lacks the concept of zero but assumes there’s a center to the circle and that’s where it begins and returns. It’s the here and now with respect to both time and space. It can travel in any direction.

For the moment, I’m back at the ranch. It’s a made for TV drama. Besides the properly insane Biz and Judy Blue Eyes, the cast included Chyako and the interns. I was instantly connected. Two of Biz’s kids had gone to college in Durango. He asked if I knew Liati. I said, “Love is all there is.” Some moments have three hundred and sixty instances.










The Derivative

Sansaku: The Derivative


The poet who wrote “follow the moon,” was the artist Gauguin. He thought the idea of a book just too big for him. Annie Lamont calls the process bird by bird. The Tao says the journey begins with a step.

It’s an everyday practice to pay attention to something like the sunrise and praise it with a ritual. I don’t dance in the morning, but I do write poems. I tie them onto pieces of paper that fly in the air and float on water. Most of mine aren’t folded with Japanese skill. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Mastery means practice and staying on the path.

Most of the sage advice I’ve been given didn’t come with words. It’s why I was grateful when it did, “You don’t have to be perfect to teach. They don’t even like it.” It was my time to unearth imperfection.

The first derivative calculates the change in the rate of change and we’ve gone too far, too fast. I’m trying to slow it down. I don’t leave Durango and I’m perfectly happy at home. If relationships can’t handle rapid change, neither can I. But I’ve had my share.

Before I crossed the border and back into the land of my life, I had to fight a battle and undergo the purge. I jumped into the ocean in Guaymas, still wearing my clothes and shoes. My friend knew I was far from sane. I told him, “You don’t understand.”  Diarrhea isn’t graceful, but it’s a better excuse than crazy.

The hero’s journey takes place in base sixty, which means both long and short cycles. I was reading Joseph Campbell’s book on the subject and not feeling like one. I copied pages and pages in a notebook. Since I couldn’t travel, we stayed three days that felt like a week. I lived in the bathroom. There’s not much glory in the place, but I was beginning to feel the deliverance.

Psychological labor is hard and messy. The crisis was intense. I had incredible contractions and didn’t have to push. I’m grateful for the craziness, I can think in metaphor. Something was being birthed.

On the morning of the third day, I didn’t rise from the dead, but I felt new life. I went walking on the beach, barefoot and not wearing glasses. I didn’t care who saw the fool. I was chanting, “Fuck the Via Negativa. I’ve coded so much into those words.

John Lennon said that our leaders and their objectives were insane, but he was called insane for saying this. Just imagine. “You may say that I’m a dreamer…” It’s why we need the eggs.

One of the saddest suicide notes I ever read was left behind by a poet. She wrote, “You can’t be afraid of being a fool and if you can’t let yourself be a fool, get out of this business.” Take foolishness to heart, it’s a protective factor.

There’s an enlightenment poem written by a Zen nun that hooks me every time. It’s in a sansaku I wrote two years ago tomorrow. The moon looms large in the Japanese psyche and they have words we don’t. Imagine a language with an aesthetic base.

She described the moment, “I go outside. The full moon. Nothing is missing.” Another Zen nun was looking at the reflection of the moon in a bucket when the bottom fell out. Her enlightenment was more than good enough.   “Nothing is missing.”   Everything is best.

One of the goals of therapy is to improve our relationship with reality. We can work or play, be serious or foolish. A year ago, I wrote another derivative sansaku about the best. It ended with a crazy image, I’d seen it on the news. A noble tiger waded into a pond and began to play like a kitten, splashing water. Buddha said the wonder of wonders is that all living beings are Buddha. We have trouble with our thinking.









We Need the Eggs

Sansaku: We Need the Eggs


The poet said not to worry about writing, just follow the moon. Kafka wrote we don’t need to leave the room, just sit down and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait in solitude and silence. The world will freely offer itself and roll at your feet in ecstasy. Are you sure it’s Kafka?

“No artist is pleased,” said Martha Graham, “but there is a divine dissatisfaction and blessed unrest that keeps you moving on. It’s not your business to determine how good or compare. The goal is twofold, not to block the channel and to keep the flow yours. This is our vitality and life force, the quickening.”

I’ve been told to keep the mind busy by giving it something useful to do. It might leave you alone this way. I ask mine to mind the pen and channel what I’m thinking.

Life is a zero-sum game. That means you don’t get more by doing more or going faster.   It’s the quality of the experience. Slow down and do less. Understand what is meant by the quickening.

When I started teaching at Timberline, I was given sage advice. I’ve tried to pass it on. “The students don’t expect you to be perfect. They don’t even like it.” I found I could lead the class just by doing the homework, but I preferred to learn at a zero-sum speed where the first goes as fast as the last, we traveled together through the wilds.

I had taught for two years before at the university and had no idea. I lectured in a style that showed up in dreams as wearing clothes too large to fit. I wrote twenty-page lectures and read from my notes.   I tried to impress myself and professors. The students didn’t care, but they played the game and acted like they did.

I was studying economic thought and history. I know more now, even if I’ve forgotten the scholarly details. We tracked resource allocation, what gets made, and also distribution, who gets what. These are tricky wisdom questions and economists can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

We’re using our resources to build an energy-sucking beast that’s causing future shock. It’s an end of permanence. Hyperactive and speeding up. A generation is raised on constant change and movement. Set free from connection and belonging, people and things are disposable and not supposed to last. This is Toffler’s diagnosis.

Relationships can’t handle rapid change. I’ve been there.

Twice I’ve entered a place of death and separation. When I crossed the border, I knew I wouldn’t return. My friend was an untrained midwife and delivered me into the life of not-living. It’s a world apart.

Outside Ensenada I stood on a cliff and looked out to sea. The beauty stunned me. But I took no delight or pleasure; beauty caused pain.

This was my own particular journey into the heart of darkness and I can understand the horror. When I re-emerged on the other side, I wasn’t the same. Nothing made sense and I needed to learn anew. I had forgotten the simplest of things. I’m amazed I could work and should have been fired.

I’m reminded of a joke Woody Allen tells about a man who goes to a psychiatrist. “My brother thinks he’s a chicken.” The shrink suggests they institutionalize the poor delusional. “We would,” the man says, “but we need the eggs.”






Et Al

Sansaku: Et Al


It’s a carnival atmosphere. We do the farmer’s market once a month. Durango becomes a small town and people shop and sell like humans have for ages. It’s face-to-face and personal, not plastic.

I don’t care if the pottery doesn’t sell, although it usually does. I whisper to those who choose how I feel. I know her forms and glazes. I have favorites and confess.

I talked to a hundred villagers and know most of them by name, some I just learned and some I knew through story. I live in group these days. If not in fact, within. It’s the process and the way.

Just a few days before, on a walk with a friend, she said her son had recently cut his hair and started to wear a fedora. He’s at that in-between age and described how he gets in her face by getting in mine.

When I saw them coming I said, “Gus, nice hat.” He nodded with style. I often tell kids like him, right in front of their parents, “You have permission to be obnoxious.” I love to watch the response. He started to poke his mother and got right-up in her face. She said, “I told you.”

The closing of one door is the opening of another. I recognized the smile before I saw the face. I’d never met her husband, but I called him by name. He knew mine. I’ll be taking a walk with his bride this week. She’s an amazon-scholar finishing her dissertation in Jungian psychology. She knows the same language.

I’d been talking to a grad student doing environmental research in Mancos. Of course, she went to the U in Missoula. I say, “You might know my brother, he’s a wizard.” She wanted to buy a yunomi and I’m well qualified to sell. I’ve had mine for almost twenty years.

My cup has four corners and the circle is squared. I know each side by heart, but like to drink from the corners. I know them, eyes closed. This Chyako-made cup is my favorite possession and the one most easily replaced. I was admiring the ones we brought to the market.

My Jungian friend was interested in an elegant white teapot. I like to rap about pottery and the symbolism of a teapot is full of emptiness. The psychological work takes place inside one.

Ava touched and held each cup and bowl. She looked at the four and sixty sides. She looked in and around by touching. We talked like good friends and I trusted her smile. I hadn’t asked her name.

She’d been there a good fifteen minutes before her mother and little brother arrived. Chyako greeted Shannon. We know her parents and have stayed at their cabin near Telluride.   Of course.

I have to remember I enjoy the work. It’s just too early and this messes with my writing practice. It’s like missing breakfast and lunch. “No time for tea? Are you serious?” I got up at five, to be sure there was time to sip and read the old journals, best slowly.

I liked the way Sophia studied the cup. I can’t judge ages well. Maybe she was seven or twelve. She decided on a speckled eggshell glaze and went to fetch her mother. She only had a hundred-dollar bill and I couldn’t break it. I was thinking of the change. Three ones and a five, one ten and three twenties. I suppose I was testing her.

She asked me to hold the cup and went running. She soon came back with a fifty. No problem now. She cradled her own yunomi and flashed a lovely smile. My Jungian friend had just arrived. I said, “Do you know the meaning of Sophia?” Of course. Her name means wisdom and the feminine soul of the world. “Would you like to meet her?”

The marketplace has become a temple with the goddess, et al.








Take a Sniff

Sansaku: Take a Sniff


I’ll code and call him Charles, we were walking past the barn in search of my old Ford van. His Texan wife had come along. September is parked in a pasture next to where the llamas stand and stare. The scene could only be described as idyllic. Cars would be jealous could they see her. It was raining; we didn’t mind getting wet.

“You know,” he said, “I lived with my girlfriend.” We all remember Lady Di, she was one of the lusty models in the valley girl issue of Playboy. Copies were all over campus. Charles said, “You can’t do what we did.” His wife nodded knowingly and I could see she understood and agreed. It’s a remarkable statement.

Timberline confuses people. When I describe what we did back then, they’d tell me it couldn’t happen. This was strange because it had. No way could I forget. I thought I’d heard the stories, Charles reminded me, “Not all of them.”

The students loved to moon and mess with the train. The tracks were just above the school and it’s the steepest grade on the climb up to Silverton. This is why the fires often start there. It’s the full-throttle push and throws embers. I don’t think Charles would mind.

He’s a retired corporate executive who did better than well. He showed me photos of his newest plane and said the hangar was next to their garage. The runway was just out the door. Any questions?

His son also graduated from Timberline, just a few years ago. I didn’t know him, but Charles said Harry got in trouble. He was caught sleeping with his girlfriend and both were suspended. Charles called Dan, “Are you serious?” I’m finding it very funny. You can’t pay to have moments like this.

We’re still looking at the llamas and September. He’s the kind who could restore the vintage van. “I gave her to Dan, but he might give her to you.” During my gypsy years I lived in her. Charles had fond memories of the itinerant teacher who wandered in from the road and taught dream classes like groups.

He’s in his fifties now and has well-groomed grey hair. The twinkle in his eyes hasn’t changed. He talked about the night he coated the tracks with wheel-bearing grease. “I’d be caught today. Who buys a barrel? Computers weren’t around to track us.”

The next day they waited, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was filmed very close to the spot. The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang already laughing.   Charles made the sound of wheels spinning out, then catching and spinning again. “It backed down towards Hermosa and spread the grease as it went. The train was six hours late to Silverton.” His wife was proud of her man.

When Marlow returned to London after his journey into the heart of darkness he found himself “back in the sepulchral city, resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other… and to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.   They trespassed upon my thoughts.” It wasn’t like that for me.

It’s not a place of spiritual emergence, it goes the other way. It’s an emergence into life. I’m reminded of the magic mirror that’s often found in fairy tales. When I walked into the lodge at night, everyone was looking; I could see my reflection in their eyes.

If I’d been wild the night before and was slightly hung-over or reeking from romance, they let me know. “We smell and see you.” The feedback was constant. Charles and I headed back. We walked past old friends and they saw us. I’m sure they took a sniff.