Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
Got the Band on the computer now. A sequilae of the party. Joseph loaded jazz and then taught me how. Itís very, very simple. No wonder the music folks are in a snit.
Music playing is ďUp on Cripple CreekĒ. The Band played some of its best music in the Rocky Mountains; Cripple Creek was the site of a famous strike led by the Wobblys.
1893-1894, the Gilded Age was in full swing. The Robber Barons ruled the economy and industry did what it wanted, hiring the Pinkertons as their own private armies in the war of wealth against worker.
The minerís unions in the west were strong and nowhere more so than in the silver, gold, and lead mines of the Colorado Rockies. The struggles were brutal and violent. In the end the Wobblys got crushed under the harsh wheel of history, powered in those days by a combination of east coast financiers, rail road and mine owners, and state and federal government intervention on their behalf.
If you havenít seen it, ďThe Last WaltzĒ, a Martin Scorcese film documenting the Bandís last performance, is a masterpiece, filled with rock and rollers of the late sixties, early seventies era like Clapton and Dylan.
The change of weather from summer to fall and the beginning of the school year both give me energy and Iím getting it full power right now.
As the Great Wheel moves on its circular, or rather, spiral path, my life begins to move underground, go chthonic. This is not melancholy, neither is it retreat; it is the movement characterized by a quote I learned long ago from Tom Crane, ďMichaelmas (Sept. 29th) is the springtime of the soul.Ē
In the Roman Catholic Church, it is the Feast of SS. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels; in the Anglican Church, its proper name is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels... Because of St. Michael's traditional position as leader of the heavenly armies, veneration of all angels was eventually incorporated into his cult.
Because of St. Michael's traditional position as leader of the heavenly armies, veneration of all angels was eventually incorporated into his cult. Link to website.
In our inner pilgrimage we must enter the depths in order to move forward, but it is dangerous to go without a guide or protector. Since it was Michael, at least according to early Christian legend, who fought Lucifer, the Morningstar during heavenís rebellion, and who, further, cast him out of heaven and down to hell (see the wonderful Ikon above), it makes sense to take Michael along as a guardian spirit on a journey into the world below consciousness.
It was customary throughout Europe and Great Britain to place chapels or cathedrals dedicated to St. Michael at sites of former pagan religious power. The Catholic church saw its struggle against paganism as very closely related to its struggle against the devil. The archangel and general of heavenís army was strong enough to countermand the enemy even where it was strong.
An odd vision grows as an education in philosophy and religion deepens. Itís not x-ray vision, though itís similar; letís call it xíed-out vision.
Hereís an example: If you see an injunction, or a list of injunctions, like, say, the ten commandments what you first see is what they say: Thou shalt not kill. Thatís easy; donít kill, and weíre ok.
Xíed out vision sees through the injunction to the circumstances necessary for its creation. If everyone lived in peace, loved each other, and violence was no problem, then there would be no need for an injunction like, Thou shalt not kill. So, if you have one, then itís reasonable to assume a sociological/historical situation in which killing, for whatever reason, had become problematic.
Another example. On the way into the Columbia Heights neighborhood there is a sign welcoming visitors and expressing the values of the neighborhood: nonviolence, respect, trust so on. Xíed out vision sees a neighborhood where violence, distrust and disrespect are common enough to warrant sanction.
In the same light consider the Bill of Rights, laws on the books of any state, especially criminal statutes.
The same type of xíed out vision goes to work when confronted with dogma or orthodoxy of any kind. There is no need for orthodoxy unless first there is at least heterodox thought, perhaps even heresy.
So. One way to look at law and morality is as an attempt by a particular perspective to proscribe certain frequent or disturbing acts. This means that law and morality are commonly demonstrations not of equity or religious insight, but in fact are exercises in naked power.
The garden is an example of the same thing. Certain plants have a desirable valence for whatever reason. They have beautiful flowers, donít spread unstoppably, have a pleasing fragrance, or provide interesting foliage.
Other plants have ugly flowers, spread rapidly, have unpleasant fragrance, give the gardener a rash or a painful itch (nettles, thistles). These plants we call weeds.
Once designated as weeds, plants with unacceptable behaviors of one kind or another, anything can be done to them. Even, should be done to them. Hoe them. Pluck them out at the root. Spray them with herbicide. Put down chemicals designed to prevent them from emerging in the first place.
Xíed out vision does not take 'Thou shalt not kill' as it is; instead, it looks for the situation behind the injunction and examines power relationships necessary for the imposition of particular perspectives, the power, in other words, to x-out certain behaviorsóor plants.
This may seem nihilistic. Itís not; itís realistic.
Often we share values with the powerful blocks who set the rules; but, many do not. Letís say youíre a Native American, a gay or lesbian, an African-American, or an Arab-American in the United States. If you are, you have xíed-out vision as a cultural birthright. You see restrictions on treaty rights, marriages, job availability or immigration for what they are: the naked exercise of power by a group which does not have to be held accountable to you.
This is realistic; it is not nihilistic because there is no other way for cultures to sanction behavior. Whatís important, especially for those with the collective power in any situation, is to realize the bias and prejudice inherent in the setting of moral standards.
In education this same notion, with a slight modification, defines a shadow curriculum. A shadow curriculum develops as a particular national, ethnic, or religious bias simply blocks certain information from inclusion in a schoolís curriculum.
Native American and African-American perspectives, as well as those of women and laboring-class persons got little attention in most US history books for example. The US Government complains of the bias against the US evident in many Muslim world histories used in Middle Eastern schools. Stalinists really got into this: they vetted science as well as history, insisting, for example on the Lamarckian evolutionary theory rather than Darwinian. Lamarck was the one who proposed that adaptations could be inherited; the classic example being the giraffe, who according to Lamarck, gradually adapted to trees with food higher off the ground by stretching their necks, then, this elongated neck passed on to the next generation.
I thought about editing this out, but decided against it. Itís part of the process. I will edit it out, probably in the first revision. Iíll transfer it to another file for later use.
Sauk Centre, Minnesota is an odd spot for a pilgrimage, but, only two hours from the edge of the Twin Cities, it qualifies. Sinclair Lewis, or Harry as his high school diploma reads, was born there. His father, Dr. E. J. Lewis, was an early physician in the community which became Gopher Prairie in Main Street and Babbit.
The Sauk Centre Chamber of Commerce maintains a building that houses the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center. Though the content seems well researched the displays needed attention years ago. Paper peels from its backing; photographs bend away from their mounting; and, the displays betray a lack of care in design.
Not an auspicious site for meditation, still, it provides a contemporary example of Babbit-mind. ďHey!Ē you can hear him say, ďComí Ďere. We got a famous guy born in this town. Come on in! Stop to shop.Ē
The town is midwestern, familiar to anyone raised between Indiana and the Front Range of the Rockies. Brick storefronts, a water tower, road construction on Sinclair Lewis Avenue, right where it intersects The Original Main Street (emphasis theirs).
Yet. There is inspiration here. It comes, of all places, in the dilapidated Interpretive Center. There, pages of Lewisís notebooks reveal his methods of working, his list making and outlining, from rough draft to detailed. Little things.
Typed sheets with hand written scrawl. Galley proofs with his marginalia. The footprints of the wily creative process.
To see them. A reminder of writing and of the joy of writing. A rush of the capacity to see. To see the unseen, the never before seen, and, with language, syntax and words, bring your vision to another. Magic. Wonder.
The spirit rushes in through the daring of this long dead heart, reaching out from the grave (his silver cremation urn just around the corner) with a message: the Self sees. Trust it. Listen. Follow its lead.
A clear day with sun and high white clouds. Corn fields and soy beans. Silos and farm houses. Undulation in the earth. Country roads and the heart of a cranky genius, a spirited encounter.
Worth the drive.
As the sun changes it angle of declination and moves toward the south, just over the stand of tall cottonwoods here at Seven Oaks, sunlight takes on a cooler cast, it strikes at a slant, rather than the perpendicular column of mid-summer. As a result, average temperatures begin to decline.
The sociological end of summer precedes the climatological by a good twenty days or so, though this year the difference is only two weeks. Summer has an air of relaxation. Work seems not as important, getting outside and just being gains. We release our tight grip on the throttle and coast.
Labor Day is well named. It marks the divide between the lazy, hazy days and the work like crazy days of fall and early winter. This pattern is the reverse of the culture which spawned it. The long school holiday between Memorial Day and Labor Day began in the need for agricultural families to have the kids home for the intensive labor of the growing season.
In 1907 Theodore Roosevelt released a census report that revealed a remarkable change in American society. More people lived in communities of 2,500 and up than lived on farms or in rural towns (defined as less than 2,500 persons). Many historians take this report as the line of demarcation between the old, rural America and its urbanized descendant, the America of today.
The transition, still underway, toward a more and more urbanized population is a global phenomena, but here in the US and especially in the midwest, the influence of agriculture remains strong. Thus, though there have been calls to make the school year twelve months long, as it is already in many developed countries, the long summer break remains.
Yet, the number of persons working on farms has greatly diminished over the last 100 years thanks to mechanization and corporatization of agriculture, both of which have driven larger acreage and more mechanical assistance at every phase of food production.
As a result, we retain the summer holiday, but fewer and fewer, in urban areas none, return to the farm for long days of baling hay, milking the cows, or cultivating.
So, a long break formerly devoted to hard manual labor has become a long break which has taken on the opposite connotation: vacation for school children, and a time of refreshment for adults.
This halcyon condition obtains up to, but not past Labor Day. After Labor Day we, well, labor. The children return to school where their lives will move by the bell and attendance disciplines of the 19th century factory floor. College students flock back to campuses. Adults come in to work on the day after Labor Day, pull open their file cabinets and sigh. Then, they put their heads down and get to it.
As this change happens in the world, so it also happens for many of us who work alone. After Labor Day I return to the desk, the garden takes on a lower priority and soon I will begin writing in the mornings again, not only in the evenings as I do these entries.
Hereís hoping your labor day weekend relaxes you. Thereís always Thanksgiving.
Had lunch with Frank today. Always a pleasure. We ate at Paneraís at Hennepin and University. What a different crowd than we get at the Panera up here in Riverdale.
The intersection there is alive these days. I can remember well a time when the big action there in the afternoon was folks dropping by Kramarchecks for sausage and bread. Later in the day other folks would drop into Nyeís Polonaise for a brew andósome sausage, washed down with a little Chopin.
Now...Bibelot. Coffee shops. Fine dining. An Irish Bar. Surdyks. Hot young people showing off their designer bodies. (I liked this part.) Older folks displaying expensive suits and designer jewelry. (all you have left after the designer body hits the sags.) Lots of energy. Really pumped me up.
But, as I told Frank, Iíve made my peace with Andover and the exurbs. Now I enjoy the drive home, the decline in intensity level, the quiet of home and the garden here.
Iím an exurban guy now, though there is still a city boy lurking, ready to hang out, to find out whatís goiní on. I guess you could call me bi-demographic, part exurban hermit, part urban radical. Even so, I no longer want a demographic change; Iím happy as a transurbanite.
In fact, Iíd say, right now the sadness has gone back into the valley from whence it came. Iím glad.
On the long road ahead of us we often look for signs and portents, engage in our own mantic acts from rune throwing to tarot to astrology. We seek direction. If we had a true map for our future, would we follow it or use it as a means for creating detours around bumpy or swampy bits?
My father, an open-minded man in many respects, just not in regard to my political views, believed in clairvoyance. He found Edgar Cayce a source of wisdom and kept one or two of Cayceís books by his bedside. Of course, he also kept the Readerís Digest there, too, but it was the fifties after all.
His clairvoyance appeared in his newspaper column, Smalltown USA, but not often. I remember one particular instance in which Dad had an apocalyptic vision, a final showdown with Communism, one in which the sky was red. He reported this vision as it happened to him. Scary, out of the ordinary, disorienting.
This may make him seem like a kook, but he was far from that. He had a fine, logical thought process and a good education. He wrote daily for the paper, reporting on things from the city council and school board to tornadoes and public works. He also produced his weekly column where he gave his opinion about things that mattered to Alexandria: candidates for School Superintendent, teachers, the bias toward sports in school funding, candidates for local and national offices. Smalltown USA also included travel writing from his trips with Rosemary (stepmother) to various sites in the state.
He reported his vision of a bloody sky because he felt it was an important piece of information to share with the town. He didnít claim it was predictive, he reported it had happened. I admired him for that. He didnít shrink from unpopular positions or content open to misinterpretation, like this vision.
Could it be that my melancholy takes the valley of sadness experience, a time in the past, and projects it onto my future; as if the past, as Santayana said, is doomed to repeat itself, if we donít remember it? [William L. Shirer made these words the epigraph for his Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959).]
I look at my father now and I see a man who probably suffered from depression much of his life. Perhaps forgetting the past, and therefore empowering it, lies in the genes, or, if not in the genes, then in his legacy to me, what Jung calls the father complex.
At any rate, I know Iím not done with this melancholy though it seems to have subsided for now. Is it baggage on my pilgrimage? Or, is it a pilgrimage in itself? I canít tell. At least not yet.
The latest Scientific American is a special issue devoted to Einstein and physics since his death. Several pieces interested me, but the one I want to call attention to here is the one trying once again to make string theory understandable to folks like me. Here's a link to the String Theory article.
I havenít finished the article, though I have high hopes that it will be the one that penetrates the cloud of unknowing in my brain and lets string theory make sense to me.
Early on it makes an analogy, or, rather, posits a glimpse of reality so strange it seems more like an analogy than reality. Reality is a series of heights and valleys. The valleys are individual universes where all the scientific laws are consistent.
The number of total valleys staggers the imagination and hereís the real kicker: the universe as we know it is just one valley! I admit I donít get itóI mean I donít understand how strings as the constitutive stuff create a hilly, lumpy metaverse (my word) with our really, really big universe just one among thousands. But there you are.
However. If true, it opens an intriguing line of thoughtóthe multiverse, where there are, perhaps, an infinite number of universes, a new one created for each fork in the current space-time continuum.
Now. What about the veil growing thin at Samain? The otherworld and faery coming closer? Transit between the worlds growing easier?
Or, my favorite Mark Twain short story: You can read it at this link.
In this story Captain Stormfield gets off course when racing a brimstone carrier and ends up in some other planetís heaven. Well, why not? Iíve often wondered if we might get the afterlife we imagine: none if we have an humanist or atheist turn of mind, wings, harps, and clouds if we have a Victorian afterlife, transmigration of souls if weíre more Druidic or Pythagorean or Buddhist, the ferocious and unhappy place Frank talks about from Carlos Castaneda.
Seems to me the whole metaverse, multiverse notion might be the scientific rationale for a multitude of afterlives. Said another way, it makes sense to me that consciousness taps into the reality of multiple planes of existence as a characteristic of its nature. It also makes sense to me that this characteristicís information to us is so confounded by our understandable commitment to the four dimensions we know easily, that it seems contradictory. Thus, the long standing debate about the nature of religious insight, folk wisdom, clairvoyance, and magic.
While this seems obvious to me, it also seems so obvious that it must not be true. Or, if true, pretty damn ironic.
Closing out for this week, still on the trail, and smiling.