A woman with gray hair and glasses rounds the corner of the neighborhood park and waves her fingers at a man and son blowing bubbles near the playground. Pickups and CR-Vs drive past. A helicopter descends toward a hospital. Grass stems quiver, birds chirp. Is my view of the world large enough to encompass the deeds I will do as well as their significance? How can one know in advance, unless communications could be sent and received between two or more minds in anticipation of events themselves? It’s as simple as a building blinking on in recognition of the approach of evening. Spring is here, daffodils aplenty. To my future self, I submit a note, a reminder in anticipation of summer: London is currently home to an exciting, droney, psychedelic jazz scene anchored around figures and groups like Szun Waves, Luke Abbott, James Holden, PVT, Triosk, Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross, and Shabaka Hutchings.
Self and will are learned, not imposed, when one goes with the flow. Don’t worry about how to word it. Just go. Plunge out into the neighborhood and note the signs, identify the constellations, let the world approach in new ways. Worry not of communications, even when short and cryptic. “Daphne with daffodils.” Our soul stretching upward in many guises, like the limbs of an ancient oak. What is this inner spirit that expresses itself as a cradle for ever more diverse gradations of being? A river of cars, a barking poodle. Sometimes something like will or desire manifests, as when I note to myself: “2370, at the corner of Lyndhurst and Coventry, is a beauty.” Or afterwards, at a counter over an order of French fries: “Is there significance attached to the number 8 appearing thrice? Or a dog that self-identifies as a deer?” Perhaps this is my way of announcing my goal as an initiate. “Eight is Infinity — Paradise regained.” Voices speak of bounty and prosperity, movement toward realization of purpose. Let this be the promise of March: the joy in my heart.
Conversations keep gesturing ambivalently toward abstractions like East and West, if only because these categories occupy the thoughts of so many mid-century hippie modernists — particularly the Beats and the Black Mountain Poets, along with fellow-traveling first-generation psychedelic elders like Aldous Huxley. The class needs to move outdoors. Perhaps we could go for a walk. Educate the whole person, body integrated with mind. Today in particular would have been lovely. Sunny, mid-70s, birds singing, trees budding, squirrels squealing with delight. Instead we listened to Charles Olson reading “The Kingfishers,” a recording archived on PennSound. I wish I had also assigned “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27.”
No question of the linking of the zones, the various scales of being. Olson faces no impediments other than the geography, to which the poem always returns, even at its beginning. By going back, we also go forward. And we hear in all of Olson’s poems a lamentation about the effects of global economy on a locality, as Greekness moves West. How do we get from the Word to the Dance? Perhaps I should introduce into the discourse mention of Marshall McLuhan. He too foresaw a retribalization and remediation of society into a post-Gutenberg global village. Is that what this was about, both then and now? Are we struggling to adjust ourselves to a new sensory environment made mandatory by automation and digitization? “The artist,” according to McLuhan, “is the only person who does not shrink from this challenge. He exults in the novelties of perception afforded by innovation. The pain that the ordinary person feels in perceiving the confusion is charged with thrills for the artist in the discovery of new boundaries and territories for the human spirit” (War and Peace in the Global Village, p. 12). What I hear McLuhan and Olson saying, in other words, is: Wake to other senses, supersede visual space, step free of the West.
I love when neighborhood cats approach me on the sidewalk and show me love, rub against me. I tap trees, I observe grass. And when teaching, I perform a narrative to help students test — in the classroom, in lived practice — the prescriptions of the texts that serve as our objects of study. “What would it mean to live out, here and now,” I ask them, “the utopian teachings of our authors?” The classroom as “safe space,” the classroom as “floating zendo.” Wish well all things. Intuit a way toward collective emancipation and equality — Person and Nature balanced and centered. Through discussion and interpretation, we arrive at a shared, contemplative way of being. Hippie modernist literature guides readers toward precisely this end: “seeing the systems we live by,” and then centering. Beginning with self-study so as to set things right in the fullness of each of our collective spheres of influence. By studying this literature, we bring a child’s innocence and trust and enthusiasm. We birth a child: a new person, a new society! In so doing, we “lay the ground,” as M.C. Richards says, “for the ordeals of self-examination and transformation that lie ahead” (Centering, p. 124).
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.
Blue jays, sparrows, robins, squirrels: beings with whom I cohabit a rented plot of land, among similar plots of land, in a residential grid laid atop the hills of a small urban settlement. Behavior-control within these settlements benefits from a traitorous science, instrumental reason turned back upon consciousness, nature Elon-Muskified so that even the buzz of one’s cellphone has been market-tested, designed by corporate-governed Others to rattle nerves and redirect awareness. Time for a cleanse. Healthy living. Grapes grow over a neighbor’s fence, near-ripe as Sarah and I case the usual several-block radius around our house on a gummy, ninety degree evening. My thoughts cycle back to the horrors of our time: armed fascists, detention camps, trade wars, corporate control of most facets of life, entrapment via student debt. Big Data capitalism’s deliberate negation, in other words, of nearly all utopian possibility. With effort, though, I can steer my concentration back to my breath and the beauty of my immediate surroundings. This redirection of thought through interaction of set and setting with volition reminds me of the virtues of form.
After landing and grabbing a quick lunch at an In-N-Out Burger near LAX, we drop off our bags at our Airbnb, a pretty little poolside cottage a short walk from the Huntington, and begin to tour the city. Everything near and far looks amazing here in Pasadena: the trees, the hills, the restaurants, the architecture. We spend our first evening admiring the flora while walking the grounds beside the Griffith Park Observatory, and peeking in at Skylight Books, where my eye lands upon a new book in the 33 1/3 series on Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker and Rob Chapman’s Psychedelia and Other Colours. Most of this West Coast ground of being hasn’t yet been “languaged” for me, so it’s a bit like “seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation” (as Huxley says of his experience with mescaline). On the morning of day two, we drive to Santa Monica, landing for brunch at a somewhat mediocre, overpriced crêperie. After just a few short hours here, one detects firsthand the city’s monstrous antinomies, ones Mike Davis evoked so powerfully more than a quarter of a century ago in his book City of Quartz. Walking through Tongva Park, for instance, I observe homeless men and women sleeping on benches beside lush beds of what I soon learn to identify thanks to an app on my cellphone as Lindheimer’s Beeblossom, American Century Plant, Birds-of-Paradise, Tree Aeonium. Out along the Santa Monica Pier, a middle-aged topless man with glistening skin performs a rendition of “People Are Strange” while photographing himself with a selfie stick. Upon our return to Pasadena, we allow ourselves time to swim in a pool and lay in the sun. The day concludes with a dusky stroll through Bungalow Heaven, our wandering met by twin cosmic giggles: an ostentation of peafowl and an outdoor performance by Top 40 rapper Bryce Vine.