I stand on my back deck staring at fallen leaves, listening, building a sense of place, attending to sights and sounds generated by neighboring beings: birds, squirrels, planes, trees, automobiles. A small bird lands beside me and sings to me, dancing in rapid increments. It pecks, it eats, it leaps, flitting to and fro. Capitalism encloses us in its habitus, its time-discipline, its states and estates. Yet there in its borders and interstices, in its gutters and margins, fugitive life proceeds apace. Imaginary bagpipes drone betwixt dueling leafblowers. A sound blown in honor of comrades who died 40 years ago today in the Greensboro Massacre. Mysterious books call out to me, rise off shelves and land in my hands, ready to be read. By these means, I happen upon The Knee of Listening by Franklin Jones, aka Da Free John, sensing immediately in his use of language evidence of a fellow head. Jones began graduate study in English at Stanford University in 1961. He must have been part of Ken Kesey’s cohort. At the very least he volunteered as a subject in the same drug experiments as Kesey, MK-Ultra experiments run out of the Veterans Administration hospital in the early 1960s.
A Monarch explores blooms of ivy beside me, some of the latter grown up the side of a tree, with bees, too, attending to its nectars. Sarah and I received word today that we’ll have to move within months of the arrival of our child. It will be an in-town move, however — and while moves for us are difficult, not least because of my masses of books and records, our hope is that out of this will come purchase of a home, whereas before we’ve always rented. The hope, too, is that the home will be a place where we can grow a garden and assemble an herbarium. Birds come over and sing to me. The butterfly folds its wings, and in shadow, as if camouflaged, disappears in the ivy, before flapping open, the ivy leaf transfigured, hosting in its place beings of vast beauty, elegance, and intelligence. Our minds begin to play with a name, one we share with others. It’s the name of my mother’s maternal grandmother; in its history, it’s associated with patronage of animals and nature; musically, it evokes a flowering cosmos.
Sarah and I arrive to the coast and set up a portable temporary architecture, chairs and a blue umbrella. Sandpipers and seagulls play by the shore beside boogie boarders, kids tossing balls back and forth, swimmers. Beaches present life at its most joyful — life measured out in waves of guiltless play. A squad of pelicans fly past hanging low, close to the water. I imagine fields and sets of objects undergoing phased modulation and metamorphosis as in the interior of a kaleidoscope. It isn’t until after a brief swim that the objects focus into grains of sand. I think of my brother, a lifelong surfer, and begin to sound out intersections of surf culture and psychedelic philosophy. By that I mean more than just The Beach Boys. I mean Rick Griffin and Surfer magazine’s 1978 interview with Timothy Leary. Unfortunately, despite abundant prompting beforehand, I let my fear of bad dining experiences interfere with my ability to heed the recommendations of others. A sign with adjustable letters reminds me, “Fears we don’t face become our limits.” Time to face those fears, I nod. Outgrow them. As always, it means learning again to trust others. Don’t just sit around in a funk watching the sunset from the hotel balcony, I tell myself, rousing myself from circumstance.
Laid out on a futon on a screened-in porch at my sister-in-law’s house in upstate New York, I sip a Belgian-style wit brewed locally with hints of lavender, children’s voices rising up from the park across the street. Origami birds hung with wire circle and converse beside a Japanese maple. My favorite moments are ones like these when, through modest experiments with sense and awareness, I’m able to reach out and investigate my surroundings. The books I’ve been reading these past few days all seem connected in accordance with what the Three Initiates refer to as “the Principle of Correspondence.” Brian C. Short’s New People of the Flat Earth, The Kybalion, even the movie Back to the Future, which my nephews watched for the first time last night: all of these works seem to resonate when properly aligned. The same can be said of these origami birds hanging by the window, their forked tails and black-and-white plumage resembling those of the frigatebirds I noticed last night flying in the sky above my sister’s back yard. The question now is: how might I utilize this principle in service of the good?
I select my materials by responding to local happenings, spontaneous sense-impressions. I perform acts of listening, openly and receptively, with few preconceptions and little to no prejudgment. Signs when received are taken lightly, but still granted due reverence, as befits things of wonder and mystery. Let us reply our way into an economy of giving. “In mythology, medieval literature, and occultism,” say texts of yore, “the language of the birds is postulated as a mystical, perfect divine language, green language, Adamic language, Enochian, angelic language.” Listen and learn. Track down 12th century Persian poet Attar of Nishapur’s The Conference of the Birds.
A bird sings to me, other birds and I chuckling in reply. This bird is a dear friend. I admire him for his zest and energy, his cheer, his radical tenderness, his sense of humor, his positive energy, his knowledge born — well, you get the picture. This friend inspires me. Perhaps I can dedicate myself to the craft of fiction. Sarah waves the crackers toward me: “More?” “I would keep eating them,” I answer, pulled in several directions at once. I must build a problem and then use the act of writing to solve it, as if I were opening a box filled with Easter candy.
I take my seat at the table, a wooden one outdoors. Birds chirp and sing. In the distance, a neighbor mows his lawn. I picture a church with flapping wings, but with eyes reopened I spy a pair of cardinals. With these and the branches of a bush beside which I sit, I share a moment after a long day of work. Work, that is, for a system, an institution, a miserly master — so that, whether long or short, each day feels like a sentence served.