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
Only three of these weekly entries and the pilgrimage from one Woolly year to the next will finish. Now, in a sense, thatís not true, since our retreat this year comes on the first weekend in February, but I feel the arc of this effort ends on Week 52, the completion of a Woolly year, the ancient trail laid out along segments of seven days, progress marked by regular postings, first through e-mail, then through Woolly webmaster and webmaestro, Herr William Schmidt, of the order of the Teutonic Knights of Sturgeon Bay, Green Bay Packer Nation.
This entry comes on December 31st, the last day of 2004, one of those quaint years our grandchildrenís children will look at with wonder.
Ď04 How could they live with stand alone computers? No built in communications? To think they couldnít get away from internal combustion. Imagine. Well, it was, after all, so long ago.
Yet, for us, itís the now and the only now weíve got; as, paradoxically, when they look back at us, it will still be now, and the only now theyíll ever have.
Since I have kept journals for years, the experience of self-reflection is usual to me, but this style, a journal kept in front of the eyes of others, has real differences. It has its inhibitions, not many, but some. And, Iíve violated those inhibitions at times and paid the price. The material about my sister back in July being a for-instance.
Even so, I have no regrets, at least not so far, not about these Diaries. Oh, about college and those years after...too many regrets to count. But, Iíve gotten cleaner, leaner, more in line with the urgings of my Self, and, as I have, Iíve grown less and less afraid, less and less self-recriminating. Every once a while, though...
ďLook Back in AngerĒ was a 1956 play by John Osborne. 2004...Look Back in Gladness. Not as gritty as Osborne, but closer to the bone.
Pilgrimage as a theme has produced an exceptionally rich year of Woolly meetings and reflections, not to mention the Woolly outing to South Dakota. Kate has grown in solidarity with relief work; she wants to devote as much time as possible to it, now and in the future. Mark has had...so far as I know...successive good news on his PSA readings. Both Mark and Elizabeth and Tom and Roxann celebrated their first anniversaries. Kate had her 60th; Joseph his 23rd birthday. Joseph survived a bad heartbreak and came out, at least to me, a fully mature young adult. He has also developed into a self-directed person, one interested in astrobiology and space flight, the hands-on aspects of both.
Charlie Haislet moved into his new digs; nice place, Charlie. Iíve enjoyed the frisson with him, his conservative edginess mirrors back to me my lefty edginess, the differences not so much of content or manner as of perception.
Stefan has grappled, as Stefan does; this year a lot with James and the peculiarities of the brain, its wiring, its attempts to make the world fit its reality.
Paul has gone on a significant pilgrimage of the heart, occasioned, not by the loss of his job, but by the character of his soul. Heís been to Syria, South Africa, and now launches himself in to the world of the non-prophets. Bless your heart, Paul. Itís a tough world, tougher than you may now imagine.
Frankís heart, always open and warm, has revealed some flawsóa nasty constriction near the pump, yet heís managed to get to Ireland, out to the Sundance, and off to how many visiting nurses trips I donít know. And even Frank, with his treasonous blood vessels, has only the now in which to live. Just like you and me.
Warren has given himself to family and to work on himself and his relationship. His honesty, integrity, and clean writing part the waters before him.
Who knows how much chicken soup Scott has made for his soul and the soulís of others? Heís been into alternative currency, out to the Rockies, over to LA and the Getty, worked on hard stuff with his sisterís death and his daughterís dependency, not to mention taking on a new work partner from within the family.
Tom has continued his generous ways, served as chauffeur and cook to the whole tribe, and offered his honest take on things. And how much did he blow up this year? I know, but wonít tell.
William has added website maven to his computer skills. He and Regina continue a long pilgrimage from a fenced table to the fence as the table. ďNuclearĒ Bill...thanks for putting us on the World Wide Web.
Jimmy. Standing in his western suit, bolo tie, and hat beside the corn palace, his red cadillac from Lust parked nearby. Wildness within? Hmm...seems pretty out there to me.
Mark moved on past the surgery, through the wedding, and into Real Estate Land. His art provides the gateway to Woolly World. He continues to live Markís life...a beacon to any of us who might stray from the pilgrim path.
I planted a purple garden, celebrated Kateís sixtieth, loved my boy though his pain, went to Southeast Asia, broke my hand, my head, and ruptured my achilles tendon. Learned about melancholy. Wrote a lot, got clear about the now. And what I want to do in it. Plenty for one year.
I suppose each year has its pilgrimages, but this one felt special to me, sweeter. More vital. Seems to have something to do with aging. Feeling the whisper of the scythe, hearing the rapids of the Styx...no, not near, but nowóinevitable. No longer something for everyone else. Down where the woodbine twineth will go you and me.
This clarity makes it all more. Better. Richer.
Just finished making my first complete Thai meal: Prawn Pad Thai, Green Papaya Salad, and Sweet Anise Custard. It tasted right...at least to this non-Thai guy, but one trained, at least briefly on the streets of Chinatown.
Also just finished watching ďEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.Ē What a sad, wonderful, hopeful, dangerous, scary movie. If thereís an Eternal Savings and Clone creating cats, can Lacuna be far behind? I think I knew the answer to this question. Once.
This night has a special feel, the last look Janus will take forward in 2004, from tonight on one face turns and looks into the past at this year , and his other face will look into 2005. Even though itís arbitrary I find the years interesting markers...of whatever they are.
Let me say to each of you who read this Happy New Year...
The first sentence from a 2005 only 37 minutes old here in Andover, Minnesota, gateway to East Bethel and St. Francis. Iím a little sleepy, but I managed, again, to get to the New Year mark. Why do I like to do it? I have no idea, save it has ritual roots going way back for me, as it probably does for many of you, too.
This morning Iíll move a little slower, reflect on the year past and on hopes for the next. I look forward to seeing each of you in the New Year at some point.
10 AM January 1, 2005
Got to get some gas for the snowblower. Seems like the weather machineís gonna give us winter at last. I wrote Jon in Denver and told him next time he could hang on to the freezing rain part and just send snow.
A little groggy this morning, along with millions, maybe billions? The day looks the same, but not the same. An invisible band of energy pulsed through here at midnight and changed the years. Gives the landscape a different feel.
OK meteorologists. I donít know what this stuff is thatís falling outside my house. It looks like tiny ice sprinkles for a soft ice cream cone. The sound it made when it hit the house was like rain, but the reality of it was separate, small elongated pieces of ice...not sleet, not rain, not freezing drizzleófrozen dizzles? I donít know, but now it looks like snow.
Santa brought me a Davisnet Vantagepro2 weather system, although Santa ordered it the day of Christmas, so I donít have it yet to help me analyze this. Iím looking forward to running lots of different data streams through my computer from the sensor I plan to put in our park. The data will also show up on the console provided for instant obsession relief.
Status anxiety. We had a bit on this earlier. Today, on the Arts section, a picture of Mary Logue and Pete Hautman, Sequel Partners. This article details the success of this couple, especially Pete, over the last 15 years.
Can you say schadenfreude (for yourself)? Stefan, Howard Vogel and I hired Mary a bit over 15 years ago to act as our writing coach. This was when Iíd just begun my writing full-time. Mary is an excellent teacher and helped each of us a lot, in different ways.
Over time this group petered out and I tried a couple of other groups with bad results. Then, Mary invited me to join her writing group. Pete was in it, though not yet her partner. Four members of that group have gone on to publish, some with modest success. Pete had not yet published at that time, though Mary had two or three, maybe four publications. Books.
I donít recall what happened with that group for me. I think I dropped out, though I remained friends with everybody. It may have been around then that I took my brief regression back into the ministry and got my UU credentials.
Anyhow, Iím the odd one out, still at the computer, still writing, with no publications to show for over 15 years of work. My heart sinks, and my chest constricts. This still gives me pain. Damn it.
Iíve gotta go preach, but Iím gonna work on this here. Write it out. Can you say irony?
OK. Here are two antidotes to this feeling.
A. Talk to wife. Kate reminded me Iíve written volumes. Many novels, short stories, presentations, Pilgrimage to Understanding, Great Wheel pieces.
I have not...sheís right here...marketed my work with any vigor. Almost any vigor at all, actually.
I have written, then moved on, not going back for the second, third, fourth edits and polishes really necessary to bring my work to the next level.
B. Preach to a congregation of good listeners, then engage them in discussion following. See your words hit the mark, watch folks reassess themselves right in front of you.
Both worked, today. Amen and hallelujah. Iím settling into another round of regular work, mornings devoted only to writing (and the Art Institute.) No calls. Just research, editing, writing in the mornings, and, now, Iím adding at least two hours in the evening. I need this discipline to feel myself dig into the soil of my creativity, to sustain a thought over weeks, months takes a peculiar balancing act in the mind, and in the heart.
Anyhow, Mary and Pete...Congrats. Keep those chewy words and supple sentences coming. Iím proud to have learned from both of you.
Sick. When Iím sick I donít feel like writing much. So not as much here. On the road illness comes, and it goes. It allows time for reflection, bundling up. Watching movies. Sleeping. Thatís what Iím doing now. See you later.
Started using Firefox 1.0, the Mozilla open source browser and Thunderbird, its e-mail application. Such a move always takes a few bumps and grinds, but Iím getting the hang of them, learning how to use them. I like the fact that theyíre open source, not Microsoft, much less buggy, and a good bit more secure. Has a real pioneer feel, venturing out beyond the Microsoft playpen, though Linux users, Unix users and real geeks have done it for years.
This technology has given me a new life. It allows me to link up with folks from out here in Andover, up here in Minnesota, and over here in the United States, and just to continue, since I also run SETI, down here on the third rock from the sun.
Thanks to e-mail and Bill Schmidt it has given me an opportunity to write regular contributions on various topics and to garner an audience, no matter how small. The discipline has helped me a lot.
Next Iím going to try blogs. The current plan is to open a website with favorite links, e-mail contact, and blogs for each of my current book projects: The Liberal Way, Course of Empire, and the Pilgrim Diaries. In addition, I plan a blog to follow my education as a Docent at the MIA, if I get selected for the class. Along the way Iíll have a general piece going, somewhat like this one, to comment on gardening, travel, books, movies, life.
Also on the website Iíll post my Great Wheel work and thoughts toward a neo-pagan theology. I want to maintain a close working relationship with the Woolly website and am glad I have the Polariod Year to offer for now.
Technology, of course, is not a way; it is a vehicle, like Garuda, one that keeps us moving while down here on earth, our feet not having to touch the ground. Still, like the automobile, it is possible to become obsessed with the year, make, model, engine, horsepower, and transmission and forget the darned things really for transportation. Iíve not reached the get my head under the hood, change the oil, replace the valve gasket stage; but, in other ways I admit, I find the technology interesting, per se.
Illness is a drag. This pilgrim slows down; the journey becomes turgid, and even thought has too thick a lubricant, the gears grind and grind, but little work gets done.
Illness is the bodyís melancholy; a time when it can, if forced too long to suffer, take the heart along for the ride, as I feel this morning, a certain lowness to my eyes, as if about to sleep or turned down in shame or grief. My head and limbs feel heavy, as if sudden movement would
Pauses as I write. No flow. The essence of a stream is to flow. Sign in the Shedd Aquarium. The essence of writing is to flow. Experience of mine. When the flow stops, the stream backs up on itself, creates pools and eddies. The water gets muddy, murky. How I feel right now. So, good-bye. The pilgrim has to head off to the Inn. More walking tomorrow, maybe.
Stuffy head, pauses. A time of endings: mail from the attorney for Dadís estate. Itís all wrapped up now, executed by Ron, a son-in-law, not by me. I have only positive feelings for Ronóexcept for his flirtations with self-righteousness which are understandable, given the circumstances. Dadís death, too, has left me with positive feelings; I feel closer to him now than at any time in recent memory.
Joseph begins his last semester of undergraduate work. Heís got himself into a money bind, but, hey, I taught him everything he knows. Another teachable moment.
It seems heís chosen the Air Force for his next step. Though not my choice, for him I think it makes sense. Another ending.
Two weeks and this experience wraps up. By then I hope to be on my way to bloghood, as I said earlier. So, more writing. More thinking.
Also, beginnings. Iíve begun my normal writing discipline of study and writing in the mornings, no phone calls or interruptions. Iíve added a couple of hours in the early evening, too.
The first toe in the waters of the liberal idea and its history intrigue me. Liberalism has four marks according to John Gray: individualism, universalism, egalitarianism, and meliorism.
That is: the state gains its sovereignty only as the agent of individuals, who, therefore, have priority over its needs. States only to shore up potential gaps in relationships among individuals.
The egalitarian emphasis says all persons are equal, and of equal worth. This stops slavery in its track. It also means that all persons must be equal before the law, no privileged classes.
This egalitarian principle applies to all people, everywhere in the world. There is not a continent of lesser beings out there.
Liberals believe in the possibility of progress, for all persons. Some believe the progress is inevitable, others that it will require a lot from all of us. But liberals are optimistic about right now and the future, too.
Just these ideas alone make for interesting speculation about how liberalism can adapt itself to contemporary post-modern life. In The Liberal Way the emphasis will be on the dual task of how to craft a liberal (radical) presence in political and spiritual life.
Perhaps a bit tomorrow on magic. My other research area right now.
Magic has two basic types according to C.S.J.R Thompson. Imitative and contagious. Imitative is as above so below, like unto like; this is the magic of dolls pierced with needles, hunters dancing the buffalo dance to bring the buffalo, dancing in the direction of the stars movement to encourage the seasonal changes, jumping over fires to encourage fertility, copulating in the fields for the same reason. Contagious is the magic of fingernail clippings, hair, and surprisingly weapons. It is the magic that assumes action at a distance if something connecting object and subject exists. With weapons a persistent belief wasóif you anoint the weapon that made the wound will heal, or, conversely, if you abuse the weapon, the wound will worsen and the patient die.
An interesting notion to me, too, was that the gods themselves revealed the rites, sacrifices, prayers, chants, sigils, and geometric forms used to summon and bind them. Just why they allow themselves to be bound, Iíve not yet discovered.
Whenever I study two different disciplines at the same time, I always notice crossover ideas. Hereís a curious one between liberalism and magic. In most cultures the early belief was that the gods only responded to the community (clan, tribe, village) evocation; therefore, for an individual to work a rite or sacrifice on their own, for personal benefit, was an outlaw act, punishable in severe ways since it broke the communal covenant and potentially harmed the communityís relationship with their gods.
Liberalism places the individual in pride of place, before the community; in fact, as I mentioned above, the sovereignty of the state comes through its composition of consenting individuals. This is the modern perspective over against the feudal or monarchical, and, strangely enough, a direct corollary to the role of the magician in traditional cultures. Hmmm...
Anyhow, turn to the Liberal Pilgrim for more on these topics, neo-paganism, art history, and Woolly Mammothís from my perspective.
50 down, two to go.