August 02, 2015
The first week of August, 2015
Hot, hot days, with no immediate relief in sight.
In all the years I’ve posted on Facebook and on my website journal page, no photo or essay or story has elicited as much response as the
picture of my new shoes that I put up last week. I was astonished, but not completely surprised because, as I wore my colorful shoes around town, time and again people stopped me to approve the shoes and ask where to get a pair. In the grocery store, at a book store, or just walking on the street in my neighborhood it was the same: “Love your shoes!”
This morning, at the Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market, I stopped to consider three young people sitting at small tables punching away at old-fashioned mechanical typewriters. In front of them was a sign:
“POEMS. YOUR TOPIC, YOUR PRICE.”
I’ve seen them before. They offer poetry on demand.
One of them looked up at me and then down at my shoes.
He stopped typing, and smiled.
“Here we go,” I thought, and “Why not?”
“Give me a ten dollar poem about my shoes,” I said.
“Give me twenty minutes and I will,” said William-the-Poet.
Here’s the result, in the format given to me:
do wear the finest
shoes to keep
the body up.
infuse the wisdom,
dispel the lonesome,
scene of desert,
in the art
which moves and shapes . . .
the carrier of
the burning son,
on the feet of the chosen one . . .
one that carries the infinite
picture of the
I went away pleased – never expecting to have a poem written about my shoes. Or, for that matter, to meet a real poet engaged in the world.
Poets tend to be contemplative souls, working in solitude.
Their writing tends to be self-referential and often obscure.
To declare to the world that you are a poet takes social courage.
And to use your calling to serve customers a dose of contemplative
insight to their request for a poem – well, that takes a special talent.
To decide you are a poet in the first place is uncommon – not an easily- taken decisions about who you are.
Your mom probably never said she hoped you’d grow up to be one.
You have to love words more than anything.
And you would have to have an affection for people to do it in the street, on demand, with a sign that says: “Poems – Your Topic – Your Price.”
Thanks for the gifts, William-the-Poet.
Write on . . .
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July 26, 2015
The last week of July, 2015
Cool weather, morning showers
AGAMA PEKEN AND MUSHIN
The religion of the people of Bali is a combination of Hinduism and Animism. That’s the statement a Western anthropologist might make –
a labeled category. The Balinese would only say that all things have spirit and the spirits must be respected every day. They don’t think about it much because it is so deeply woven into a Way of Being in the World.
When I lived in Bali, the elderly woman who was the caretaker of my house and the preparer of my meals would appear early every morning with small offerings to the spirits. Little bamboo baskets containing some rice, powdered spices, and flowers. Exquisitely beautiful works of art. She would light incense and place the offerings on stone altars in the garden, but also on the ground at the gateway to my compound. And on the path leading away from my house.
This was going on everywhere in Bali.
(see images of Balinese offerings: https://goo.gl/VFJNYD)
During the day, people would walk on the offerings, chickens and ducks and dogs would eat the offerings. And by day’s end, the offerings would be scattered, their remains littering the paths and roads.
I was appalled – how could they let the offerings be destroyed?
So much care and thought and beauty gone to waste.
A Balinese gentlemen laughed when I put my concern to him.
“Ah, you have such a Western mind,” he said.
“The finished offering is not important – it goes back into the compost of the world. What’s important is the state of mind one has while making the offering – the inner spirit that relates to the outer spirits.
You Westerners think of this as meditation or prayer. We Balinese think of this as our Way of Being in the World – a way of engaging life.”
It’s called Agama Peken.”
* * * * *
Keep that in mind while I tell you about Japanese Archery – Kyudo.
First, click on this link: (https://goo.gl/rv4lkK) so that you will have images of this art in your mind as you read on.
Japanese martial arts arise out of techniques of combat.
Judo, Kendo, Sumo, Akido, and Karate are familiar to Westerners,
but there are many other forms. Almost all have an opponent – involving a contest between two competitors.
Kyudo is an exception. The archer is shooting at a target.
Or so it would seem to Westerners.
Legendary archers include some who were blind, some who could hit the center of the target in complete darkness, and some who could split the arrow already in the target with a second arrow.
But the Japanese say that this not the essence of Kyudo.
They say that the bow takes care of the arrow and the arrow takes care of the target – the round one out there at the far end of the range.
The real target is a state of mind – Mushin – an inner focused tranquility that is the base of what the bow and arrow accomplish.
When I lived in Japan one summer I visited an archery range and watched while the art was being practiced.
My eye was on the target.
The Japanese watched the archer.
I was told that one great archer was able to bring down flying ducks far away in the air.
His inner being was so focused that he did not need a bow or an arrow.
* * * * *
Now, keep those Balinese and Japanese arts in mind while I tell you about what I did at art camp this summer.
In two weeks I constructed 22 small sculptures out of steel, river stones, wood, and bones.
Every morning I went “shopping” – visiting the studios at Penland.
From outside the metals studio I sorted through scrap odds and ends.
From the scrap barrels in the wood studio I took more odds and ends.
From outside the Japanese wood-fired kiln I took slabs of wood that would be burned in the next firing.
From the drainage systems around the campus I picked up rounded
stones with interesting shapes.
From the nearby Toe River I took more stones and old pieces of brick.
And from the box of animal bones I brought with me, I selected shapes
that caught my eye as sculptural.
Finally, I added pieces of fired pottery I had made two years before and buried in a flower bed to dig up when I came back to Penland.
Every morning I laid out my collection on a picnic table outside the metals studio – and from these I constructed sculptures – relying on gravity to hold the pieces together, not epoxy or superglue.
When people admired what I was doing, I gave them the sculptures –
saying only that they would have to take them apart and put them back together when they got home.
At the end of my week at art camp, I disassembled the sculptures and put all the parts back where I had found them.
As I write, all those parts of sculptures are still there in North Carolina, safely in the care of the spirits that foster art.
Some of my fellow students – and the class instructor – found my behavior strange. The test of Art for them is in the product – and whether or not it can be admired, sold, or collected.
And that’s the way the Western art world usually operates.
The Art is a tangible thing you can have, or hold, or wear or hang up.
That’s ok – just not my way.
But, for me, the art was the state of mind required to see possibilities in the odds and ends around me, to find a way to make art out of them, and to have, at the end, only the memory of the creative imagination involved and the state of mind I was in while doing Art.
I did take a few photographs, but everything in the pictures I posted on my Facebook page is now once again part of the compost of the world.
And part of the cherished memories stored in my mind.
The Balinese offering makers and the Japanese archers would understand.
Of course. Agama Peken and Mushin.
Wealth lies not in having stuff – it’s in doing simple things as well as possible having fine memories.
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July 20, 2015
The third week of July, 2015
Cool weather, morning fog
Back in Seattle after two weeks at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts in North Carolina. Willow-the-Wife acquired new technical skills and crafted lovely jewelry. And I made 22 small sculptures out of stones and steel and bones and wood. I’ll share thoughts and photos at another time, because the most seminal event of the trip was a lot less glamorous, though more memorably instructive . . .
STAYING AT HOME IN THE WORLD
It’s 5 a.m. at the Seattle airport – my travel anxiety level is rapidly falling - the flight is on time - my boarding pass is in hand - all is well.
Wife points and says: “Look! You still have on your house slippers.”
And I do.
No socks, either.
It was still dark when we loaded out from the house to the taxi.
Too late now to go back, get socks, and change shoes.
Is this a problem?
Maybe. . . .
“Sorry, sir, but you aren’t allowed through Security wearing shoes like that. Flying is serious business. Change your shoes or go home.”
“Sorry, sir, but you are not allowed to board the airplane in your house slippers. United Airlines requires dignified dress.”
Wife gives me the look that says I’m getting old and stupid.
I imagine that fellow travelers give me the looks that say I should be back in the nursing home shuffling toward breakfast.
I know that the Airport Shoe Fashion Police are noticing and will follow me – and detain me as a suspicious character.
And the rental car company in Asheville will not let me drive in house slippers and I’ll have to ride in the back seat while Willow drives.
So, what to do?
Epictetus comes to mind.
What would my Greek philosopher mentor say?
“Well, Fulghum, are you comfortable? Feet happy?”
“Look around – is your footwear any weirder than what the rest of your fellow travelers are wearing?”
“Are people moving away from you to avoid your shabbiness?”
“Does anyone else care about your house slippers except you?”
Well, maybe my wife – but she’s laughing – and that’s good.
“Is wearing your house slippers while traveling illegal or immoral?”
“Do they sell shoes where you are going?”
“Then there is no problem, not even an inconvenience, right?”
Onward . . .
At Security they gave me a red card – (I knew this would happen - busted for wearing house slippers.)
“What’s this for?”
“It means you don’t have to take off your shoes.”
“It’s in recognition of your being a senior citizen.”
“Oh, well, then . . .”
Now, I don’t think of myself as a senior citizen, but if my slippers give me a privileged status at the security check, then I’m in.
Besides, I know the red card is really because they don’t want house slippers in the trays – they probably make the x-rays go wonky – setting off alarms and mandating personal inspections.
But it’s a done deal – either wear the slippers or go barefoot.
Wearing my house slippers changed my traveler’s attitude.
I stayed in a comfy mode – stress-free - like early morning in my own house – padding around in the airport at ease.
Next time I’ll wear my pajamas and bathrobe.
And so . . .
I wore my house slippers around for two weeks at art camp, and all the way back to Seattle.
Nobody noticed except me.
I’m wearing my house slippers as I write.
Shortly I will go to the bakery for fresh bread for lunch.
Wearing my house slippers.
At home out in the wide world.
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July 10, 2015
Penland, North Carolina
The first week of July, 2015
Cool weather, with thunderstorms and showers
As you are reading this, I am at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. My wife and I are taking a two week course focused on small sculpture and jewelry techniques. I’m here because I’ve lost interest in doing tourist traveling – I want to go places to learn something. Going to Penland is a kind of pilgrimage on my Way of Creativity.
Pilgrimage is on my mind because my son is currently walking the pilgrim’s way of San Juan de Compostela in Spain – repeating the journey taken long ago by some of our ancestors.
With that theme in mind, I left behind with my assistant a chapter out of my novel, Third Wish to post while I’m away. The two main characters, Alex and Alice, have paused on a canal boat trip to see an ancient labyrinth carved into the turf of the English countryside.
This is part of the thoughtful conversation that happens while they sit and consider the labyrinth and the ways of fortune.
PILGRIMAGES, FORTUNES, AND SILENCE
“I’ve been thinking of going on a pilgrimage,” mused Alice. “I don’t know why the idea appeals to me. In Japan I considered the temple route around the island of Shikoku established by Kobo Bashi. Last Easter I followed along for several blocks behind some pilgrims I saw on the Rue St. Jacques. They were walking from Paris to San Juan de Compostela in Spain.
I felt a yearning to go with them.”
“A labyrinth is a pilgrimage on a smaller scale, isn’t it? I suppose it’s not how far you go or how long it takes, but what goes on inside you. The Japanese say it’s not finishing a pilgrimage that’s important, but starting it. And they say a pilgrimage starts in your mind – when you decide to begin.
I think I have decided to begin, but I don’t know when or where.
It’s like having a boarding pass for a flight to an unknown destination.
I don’t even know which plane is mine.”
“On the other hand, I don’t really want to walk the path somebody else laid out. But I could establish a pilgrim route anywhere – one that would take as little as an hour to walk. Maybe that’s what joggers do without consciously realizing it. The Buddhists say that you don’t have to go far away to find enlightenment – it may be found where you already are.”
“Or else maybe I just want to yearn for someplace – like Kyoto for example. Perhaps I would rather have the nostalgia of wanting to be there than to actually be there. I would yearn for it even if I were there. Basho, the Japanese poet, wrote a famous haiku expressing that.”
Alex smiled and changed the subject – he agreed with Alice about pilgrimages and could not add anything to her thinking.
“Did I tell you about the bunny in the Egyptian market in Istanbul?” asked Alex. “No, I am sure I did not. Well, then. This was years ago.
You like Gypsies and this is a Gypsy story.”
“Go on,” said Alice.
“There was a Gypsy fortune-teller walking around with a tray hung from his neck by a strap. On the tray were five small boxes and one bigger box with a little door in it. While I do not believe in prophecy, I like those who are creative enough to make a living off the irrational needs of the public, especially when it is well and cleverly done.
“I watched while a woman gave the fortune-teller some coins.
And suddenly, a little rabbit pops out of his box on the tray, looks at the lady, and hops over to one of the small boxes.
The lady opens the box, takes out a slip of paper, and reads it with obvious pleasure. Good news. She gives the fortune-teller another coin and he gives her a piece of carrot for the bunny.
“Then what happened?”
“The bunny takes the carrot, bites the lady on the finger, and dodges back into his box. The lady shrieked, and berated the Gypsy and his biting bunny. She missed the point, I think. I doubt she understood it, but the lady had clearly been reminded that if one takes the sweet, one must also accept the bitter.
“Did you get a fortune?”
“Yes. I offer coins. The bunny picks the box. I open it for my fortune, which was written in Turkish. I show it to the Gypsy, who smiles and nods, indicating the fortune is good. I imagine all the fortunes were good, actually. Nobody wants bad luck. And the Gypsy had to stay in business.
“When he held out his hand for another coin to pay for the bunny’s piece of carrot, I gave him the coin, took the carrot but did not offer it to the bunny.
I did not wish to be bit. I ate the carrot myself, much to the surprise of the Gypsy, and the obvious disappointment of the bunny.
I walked away. The Gypsy laughed.
“Do you know what the fortune was?”
“Yes. I kept it, and years latter a Turkish friend translated it for me:
‘Never trust the wisdom of a rabbit.’
I still have the fortune.”
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June 30, 2015
The last week of June, 2015
Cool weather, clear skies - with a light breeze off Elliot Bay
Back in Seattle – and glad to be – 72 degrees here today, while it’s 104 degrees in southeastern Utah, with an abundance of bugs that bite.
Though writing has been going on in my head for the last two weeks, it has not been going on in my computer. The genie in the machine apparently suffered cardiac arrest in transit.
An inconvenience, not a problem. It’s actually not such a bad thing to be unable to connect to the internet for a time – a forced vacation from the web is welcome.
But – the electronic cardiologist made a house call – did his voodoo – and I’m back in business.
Whenever I make a long drive across the West, my companion, Louise, the stuffed orangutan, rides along in the front passenger seat. When I was pulled over by a Washington State Patrol cruiser for speeding (only 70 in a 60 zone), the young trooper approached from the passenger side of my car and addressed me over the head of Louise - as if she was not there staring up at him.
Finally, he began to smile, then laughed, and said, “OK, sir, tell me about the monkey,.” And I did.
He still gave me a ticket - but he was very friendly about it.
Not only was I traveling with Louise, but also with a Stoic philosopher, who was luckily invisible to the patrol officer’s eye so I didn’t have to try to explain to him.
But I will explain to you:
ON THE WAY WITH EPICTETUS . . . . .
Though I’ve referred to Epictetus before in my writing, here’s a biographical summary as background to the part he played in my recent travels:
Epictetus (Epik-teet-us) was born an ethnic Greek slave in about A.D. 55 in Phrigia (now Turkey) on the far edge of the Roman Empire. His master, Epaphroditus, went to Rome to serve as the administrative Secretary to the Emperor Nero.
Epicteus’ intellectual ability was recognized early on, and he was encouraged to study with the most famous Stoic philosophers.
He was freed from slavery and taught in Rome until A.D. 94, when many philosophers were banished by the emperor Domitian for encouraging thinking.
Epictetus lived out his days in exile in Nicipolis on the northwest coast of Greece. There he established a school of philosophy.
Though he was crippled and never traveled, students from all over the Roman Empire came to him, including Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, future ruler of all the Romans and author of a famous book of Meditations.
Epictetus never married, though he raised an orphan child in his old age. He died at age 80 in A.D. 135. He never wrote a book, but his teachings were recorded by his students into a collection now usually called The Art of Living.
I often seek Epictetus’s companionship by reading that book - because his way of thinking remains fresh and relevant almost 2,000 years after he first expressed it.
He thought the task of philosophy was to help ordinary people meet the challenges of daily life. Epictetus insisted that philosophy should be a way of life, not just a theoretical discipline. He offered only a Way of looking at one’s experience – one that reinforces my own Way.
When I set out to drive to Seattle, I decided to imagine that Epictetus was traveling along with me, inspired by his admonition that:
There is a big difference between saying valuable things and doing valuable things.
I wanted to go beyond just reading his writing, and try to see my traveling through his eyes and his mind. “What would Epictetus do?” was the guiding question.
Here are six excerpts from my journey with Epictetus in the back seat of my car – playing the role of co-pilot as I drove.
Fulghum: Epictetus, I think it’s a good idea to plan ahead when traveling – to consult a map – to consider mileage and driving time – to have reservations for lodging – and expectations for arrival in time and place.
I’m good at advance planning.
For example, it’s 224 miles to Salt Lake from Pack Creek Ranch – 5 hour’s drive – one stop for gas and a restroom break – and I have hotel reservations.
And it’s 1,072 miles from my front door in Utah to my home in Seattle.
18 hours of driving, which I will break up into 3 sections in order to get gas, use the restroom, and visit friends in Salt Lake, Boise, and Walla Walla – we will have dinner together.
What do you think of my travel planning?
Epictetus: Interesting – but what about planning for the unexpected.
Fulghum: Of course. I carry a box of equipment and tools for emergencies – I’m a lifetime member of AAA in case of car emergencies – I check weather and highway conditions before I set out – and I have medical insurance.
I carry food to eat in the car so I don’t have to stop or in case my car has a breakdown and I’m stranded.
Epictetus: That’s good - you’re prepared for emergencies when things go wrong. But are you prepared for when things go right?
I’m referring to surprise and delight – to allow time and opportunity to stop and engage with the scenery – or get off the freeway onto a side road just to see what’s there. You don’t have to go far and stay long – but if you don’t pack your sense of curiosity with you, you’ll miss the good stuff. I’m amazed that you will travel more than 1,000 miles and not expect to meet any new people along the way.
Speed does not increase the quality of life.
As I’ve often said, in all events there is nothing to prevent us from searching for hidden opportunities. It is a failure of imagination not to do so.
* * * *
F: Well, damn, there’s road construction ahead – with a detour.
E: Wonderful! Detours offer surprise. Now you will have to slow down and take an unknown route – perhaps see new things you would never see if you stick to the freeway. Keep your mind and your eyes open.
* * * *
F: Well, damn, there’s a big flashing sign that says “EXPECT DELAYS.”
E: Excellent! That’s a very powerful piece of advice for all of your life.
Expect Delays. Everything happens in time, but things rarely happen on time.
Much sorrow comes from expecting to get what you want when you want it.
Going to the doctor? Expect Delays. Having dinner guests? Expect Delays.
Waiting for a delivery or a maintenance man? Expect Delays. Looking for a check in the mail? Expect Delays. Hoping for love? Expect Delays. Yearning for happiness? Expect Delays.
And if you do, then when things actually occur on time or early, you will be surprised and pleased. The flashing sign ahead is a profound message from the universe for your peace of mind: Expect Delays.
F: OK, but what do you do while you are waiting? I just fuss and fret.
E: Practice patience – remind yourself that anguish about things over which you have no control is the also a source of sorrow. Use the time to think – carry a notebook and a pencil – always have a small book with you to read. See the time waiting as a gift to be used, not an impediment to be endured.
* * * *
This exchange happened in a super market in Walla Walla, Washington.
I paid for my groceries with cash – coins were returned by machine into a small metal cup, marked “Please Accept Your Change.”
E: Look! There’s another piece of wisdom for your life. Please accept your change. Don’t forget you are always in process – always changing, hopefully growing in understanding and insight. Be aware of that and let it happen. The flourishing life involves evolution. Please Accept Your Change.
* * * *
While crossing a busy street in Boise, Idaho, a sign warned us to “Look Both Ways Before Crossing” – with arrows pointing left and right.
E: Now that’s good advice for safety, but the sign is inadequate as life advice.
If I was in charge of traffic signs I would add “Look All Ways – Look Up – Look Down – Look Around – Look Out - Look Away.” Or maybe just replace all those signs with one word: “Look.”
F: Nobody would ever get across the street if they paid attention to your sign.
E: Or they might change their mind about whether or not the other side of the street was a better place to be than where they were.
* * * *
F: Oh no, another flashing sign: “BE PREPARED TO STOP.”
E: Wonderful! Another wise reminder for your life. Be prepared to stop. In Latin we said “Momento Mori.”Remember your life will end – you will die. Prepare yourself for that, and live well as long as you can. Be prepared to stop.
* * * *
F: Any other wise words while we travel?
E: I often said to my students – many times in many ways:
We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we
respond to them.
When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it.
Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations.
Events happen as they do.
People behave as they are.
Embrace what you actually get.
F: Look, there’s a herd of antelope out in the desert – shall we stop and look?
E: Of course. I’ve never seen an antelope. I’m curious – we did not have them in Greece. And speaking of unusual animals, I’m curious about the stuffed orangutan riding in the front seat. Her amused silence is very Stoic.
* * * *
For more on Epictetus: The Internet Encylcopedia of Philosophy http://www.iep.utm.edu/epictetu/
Best Short summary of the thoughts of Epictetus:
link to this story
“The Art of Living” by Sharon Lebell – see Amazon books. http://goo.gl/8xllsC