Neighborhood kids play basketball on a small concrete court behind the house across the street from me. Their father plays with them, chuckling, laughing goofily at times, shouting “Airball, airball!” Tiring of basketball, the kids ask the father to pull them, turning him into a docile horse tugging their Hot Wheels chariot. A bird perched on a telephone wire sings to me: a beautiful chesty robin. Such is what I see and hear when I sit for a few moments on my front stoop on a recent misty afternoon. A worker a few hundred feet away hammers new shingles to a neighbor’s roof. While no part of this world is “owned” by me — I, too, like all of us here aboard Spaceship Earth, no more than a mere renter — ’tis a garden all the same.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I place a tab beneath my tongue, breathe deeply, and prepare for my adventure. Initial stirrings include a flutter in my stomach, warmth behind my ears. Intimations of an as-yet-unnameable source of wonder. I putter around a bit before finding my way outdoors. Autumn leaves flutter in the air as neighborhood dogs yip and woof. Squirrels gather in the trees. “My dear friend,” I whisper invitingly as one hustles toward me. It coos lovingly back and forth with a partner. Moment by moment, the beauty of this world is staggering. With each breath I take, I feel a tremendous ball of laughter welling up inside me. ‘Tis a divine joy, this flickering of sunlight on my eyelids. Slight giddiness, one’s entire nervous system aglow with energy. Amen Dunes soundtracks a restful, languorous moment with their “Ethio Song.”
Above me, flickering, fanning sensations, mushrooms welling up beneath me, offering themselves oh-so-tenderly and ceremoniously as a bed on which to rest. Sarah and I dance and touch tips, tendrils entwined. Much of the experience, in its directness and immediacy, is too glorious to squander, too lavish for words. Humming, giggling, the body does its thing, tests its sensory manifold, expands, grows outward, despite hardship and adversity — this thing is bigger, quivering, bursting, love everywhere triumphant. Let us know ourselves as this life impulse, this spirit of generativity and generosity. Time for all things — for all things there is a season. Sun and moon shed light on all, each yeasty striving, each humble beginning, budding gods and goddesses. Each and every one a universal plentiful complete cosmic plenipotentiary, spreading the good word of being. Climbing up or down from that perch, wherever one may be, allow oneself time to pause, look, take comfort. Recognize in each moment the crown and dignity of being. As we situate, as we gather and take stock, let us body forth this love toward one and all.
Sitting outside, facing the sun, listening to birds and squirrels, one is able to enter a zone, having drawn around oneself a magic circle, a sphere of being. Let us repopulate our communities with heads — multitudes of human and non-human persons, high on mushrooms, graced by receipt of the psychedelic sacrament. Walk, and one will encounter cool folks out and about. To fight a society of sadness and despair, we need to meet people, live in common with others. The struggle involves opening our hearts to the weird, the strange, the fantastic. These were qualities sold to us as children by companies like Marvel. Can we allow ourselves to find them again out there, in encounters with reality? Of course, some of these neighborhoods in late-capitalist reality discourage social interaction of any kind among strangers. Signs are posted around properties: Dogwatch, American flags, electric fences, “Private Parking,” “EXIT ONLY,” “This Property Is Protected By Video Surveillance Cameras.” That’s how fascism works. Within such environments, we must carry our spiritual notions lightly. Before long, however, I land at a local brewery — liberated territory — where I happen upon my friend, the Marxist Baptist preacher. We get into it: a wonderful, free-form conversation of several hours on topics as diverse as time, Christianity, capitalism, A.I., appropriate technology, paganism, psychedelics, and eschatology. He recommends I read Jacob Taubes.
I sit with squirrels on a November afternoon absorbing golden rays of sunlight. ‘Tis given freely. Our mutual inheritance. The squirrels jump and scurry among branches of trees. Where shall we place our attention, if not on speaking squirrels? The one above me, in its lovely ahhs, its lusty cries, its squaws, its pleas, sounds like a tearful Donald Duck. Through our stillness, we allow others space and time to be. A lawnmower supplies a buzz to compete with a leafblower’s roar. The neighborhood performs itself as would an orchestra for an audience of one. This is what I want as a communist: control enough of means of production so as to live free, our days, mine and yours, always occasions for pleasure and growth. Michael Davidson’s The Karma Machine reads like a prearranged signal, alerting those who read it of the planet’s wish to mutate-convert into a crystalline “ecstosphere” (162). How do we get there in the midst of what Erik Davis calls “reality meltdown”? Mass media’s programming of listeners and viewers to spur mass consumption gives way to the absence of shared points of reference. Today’s competing news agencies tell competing stories, thus creating competing consensus realities: a plurality of maps, all jostling for control of territory in the Desert of the Real. Against this, argues Davis, rise forces of re-enchantment. Movies of future disasters, journeys through the cosmos. Let us attend to the truth of experience, he cries, and carry stories lightly! “Doubt is a medicine! Skepticism is a medicine!” Always inquiring, always probing amid a totality filled with human and non-human persons. By way of the imagination, he suggests, we can interface with the non-human, the alien Other. “Let myriad things come forth and illuminate the self.”
Before arriving to the thing itself, I instruct myself to regard the 9-acre suite of Japanese gardens on the grounds of the Huntington not only in cynical terms, as a tourist site and a marker of social status, but also in more hopeful terms, as a site for encounter and self-actualization: manifestations, in other words, of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise, enabling rebirth on a path toward enlightenment. Our observations, these gardens teach us, are always contingent, based on changing points of view. In the library itself, I request access to the “Aldous Huxley Oral History Papers, 1985-1990” and several rare books by Huxley’s friend and fellow mystic Gerald Heard. I also browse old issues of a journal called Aldous Huxley Annual. Consciousness airdrops into an altogether different Earth, however, some postindustrial world, an Earth of a different geological period, once the Subject exits the library and actually enters, sets foot into, the desert garden. Curvilinear profusion, flesh of the Earth thorny, prickly, and hairy. Morning doves and amber-bellied fox squirrels in the trees, lizards scurrying up the torsos of cacti. This is my Utopia, my garden at the end of time: this hot, wet, earthy, noisy, citrusy, fruit-bearing, sun-absorbing, multi-scented surround. I’m swept with the conviction in this moment that, whatever the details of this Utopia (apart from “full communism now”), our presence in it should be airy, minimal — an attentiveness to life’s formal richness that nonetheless remains light in its imprint. Let us be great lovers, tending only to our role as gardeners, nurturers, machines of loving grace, I’s who preside over the self-presentation of being. In these gardens and their surrounding bungalow heavens, this gift, this experience my love has given to me, LA prefigures its nickname “City of Angels.”
One day ends and another begins, but the voice that dictates does not skip a beat. If on Sunday I ended by noting, “Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land,” so today I begin by happening upon a proverb that reads, “He that hath lands hath quarrels.” Kenneth Burke mentions it in his essay “Literature as Equipment for Living.” Tree sparking at crème de la crème time of day, I embark on a journey, the nearby quarry park my destination. Sarah and I walk along a barren hill, exposed to the wind, soaking in vitamin D. Along our walk we pocket bits of plant debris. Sarah collects pine cones and tears me off a strip of Lamb’s Ear, which I rub gently between my thumb and forefinger. I also gather a trio of seed-balls dropped by a Sycamore. It feels as if there is magic involved. It feels as if we are performing a rite, preparing the world for a sun-god. Great powers are brewing in the universe within. My inner voice is a thing that echoes through vast corridors, the latter both heard and seen. We bear witness to one another, voice acting as conduit between form-matter and consciousness. I love me some sunlight. I imagine myself as a Pawnee parent, wrapping a baby in bobcat furs to bring it celestial blessings. I look up at E.T. and ask it to grant me special powers, license to make contact with higher orders of consciousness. The media cosmos beams back as a kind of reply, “Keep reading.” The world speaks to me via mogwais and E.T.’s evil twin, skull island. Loki, the god of mischief. The unseeing alien monster from Attack the Block. To protect us from these, says a voice I haven’t yet learned to trust, “Mother Nature has drawn a line.” Headspace becomes meaner as weekends give way to weeks. I can no longer tell whether I’m champion of the world or inheritor of a history of defeat. With Thanksgiving Break beginning, though, I decide the former. My sentiments are in this respect like Dylan’s: “It’s my work, I do it for pay. / And when it’s all over, / I’d just as soon be on my way.”
I have trouble imagining, both at present and in hindsight, the views of me held by others. Friends, students, coworkers. My students seem quite impressed, though, when I confess to them my involvement in Occupy. I’m like a metal dreadnought. Either that, or I’m a figure aboard one, ready to mutiny ship and go pirate. I think they respect that. Teachers must also be persons of action. Persons who rediscover a center for themselves in their bodies by listening to Charles Lloyd’s Nirvana.
Of course, work can also be an enjoyable lot, as when I sweep pale autumn leaves from a back deck on a windy weekend afternoon. Nature writers are great ponderers of the seasons. Their journeys inward keep kin with Thoreau. My utopia is like their utopia, except mine includes machines in its gardens. The computer-mind amidst earth and sky, enjoying colors, lights, and sounds. I prefer a nature that remains simple in its speech. After all, who needs countrymen when so many are mere appendages of the State? AI-controlled NPCs. “A man is rich,” wrote Thoreau, “in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” The books I assign students ought to be imagined as gifts. “Congratulations, students. Today I give unto you Walden. Thou shalt remember it as a momentous occasion. This book will become part of the vocabulary by which you think.” Is it proper to draw a distinction between animal-persons and spirit-persons? The dachshund on its leash and its master? I think not. I think there are insides to the reality of both. Yet I sometimes think the same of all things. Leaves blow up and down the street as if Nature were setting them into position for a new drama. I listen for voices, eyelids weighed down. The scene before me so peaceful, you would think it a picture. A tree of paradise, hung on the line of a high-tech hippie commune. When I try to pin my bow to a location in reality on which to unfold this dream, however, my lack of real estate sinks my ship. Landscapes have to be believed in order to be seen. Politics begins the moment there are disputes over land.