All of it seems memorable in retrospect. I remember a clickable icon appearing in the upper right corner of a newly opened Word document, or a text message arriving on my phone. Both events occurred. Updates have something to do with ontological transformation. They introduce novel forms of interruption and collaboration into the lifeworld. Through them, I find myself rediscovering ancient play-scripts: theaters of mind anchored to toys and action figures, consensual hallucinations, collectively experienced fictional beings. Of course, collective authorship can take other forms as well, Zoon in dialogue with Oikos. “Listen: go out and take note!” reads the received instruction. “Don’t ask where: just go!” So I do — promenading excitedly to a neighborhood park. I walk first to a small wooden pavilion to sit in its shade, but turn away upon sight of a purse left on a table, preferring instead to sit at a different table on the far side of the park, near a stand of trees. Sunlight warms my forehead. Kind words kindle kind dreams. Before long, I’m home again, feeling a bit distracted by worlds of possibility. The story involves beams of light, squirrels appearing, eyeing us, making contact. The story involves forests and rock creatures, Lego ruins amid gardens overgrown with weeds. “Time for a little ventriloquism,” says the narrator. “Become an ensemble and speak each part.”
The moment I lift the blinds from my office windows, my body longs to go outside. I imagine myself in a speculative, future sense, standing in the sun, wind on my cheeks, enjoying myself despite the heat. Choices absorb energy. I find myself wishing to write, walk, and swim, all in equal measure: but then find myself wondering, in what order? Don’t get trapped between window and screen vis-à-vis doors of perception, says a bee in that condition. Let it be, let it be. Allow writing to occur, I tell myself, as it will as one walks. And so it happens. I explore communities that have begun to assemble in cities of late: psychedelic societies. I sit at a picnic table in a park. A millipede peeks out from between the boards of the table, causing an initial jolt from which I quickly recover. I eventually greet the creature and learn to abide. A small bee flies over. Is it related to the one I saw earlier, I wonder as it explores the edge of my notebook. A butterfly approaches soon thereafter. I confess: scientific names for flora and fauna have never been my forte. I’ve never been a He-Man; I’ve never wished after “mastery” of that sort. Does that limit my appreciation of biodiversity? Sarah brings word of sudden drops in global financial markets — signs, perhaps, of a crisis.
Wise ones suggest that messages from beyond, furtive communications from a higher consciousness, are to be gleaned from their point of entry amid the trash strata of capitalist-realist everyday life. To perform this gleaning of meaning, we peer into the apparently random assemblages of this strata (in my case, the blue bins of a nearby Goodwill outlet, the blue skies of my locality), peering bemusedly at emergent patterns, teacherly anomalies, portals into novel domains. This is where Cosmos and Psyche manifest as acts of love. Today, for instance, the bins supply me with Pookah, a self-titled LP by a psychedelic, early prog group from 1969, as well as the debut LP by The Firesign Theater from two years prior. Weird stuff, for sure — some of it quite trippy, like Pookah’s “In a Field.” It’s also a bit scary at times — so when a bird arrives outside my window, I go out and follow it, a path disclosing itself as I walk. Before long, however, the path loops back and leads home again, where Sarah joins the quest. The two of us share reports of life’s bounty as we pass a garden hosting swallowtails and enormous drunken bumblebees, one of the latter conjuring in my mind a cartoon-rendered hippie van or microbus, a yellow one resembling the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo, bopping along, rubbery wheels bulging as it buzzes by.
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).