Bob Schwartz

Month: June, 2019

Marianne Williamson may not belong in the field of Democratic candidates, but she has a message and a point (Sowing the Seeds of Love edition)

Of the two dozen people running for the Democratic presidential nomination, a number have no prospect of being on the ticket, as president or vice-president. They are presumably running to advance their careers, to influence the direction of the party and/or to send a message.

Marianne Williamson is one who has no prospect, but does have a few messages. She voiced those messages in the debate—messages that were variously mocked or treated kindly, sometimes both.

In her closing statement, she said this:

This man [Trump] has reached into the psyche of the American people and he has harnessed fear for political purposes. So, Mr. President — if you’re listening — I want you to hear me please: You have harnessed fear for political purposes and only love can cast that out. So I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and sir, love will win.

She is absolutely right, at least about the lack of and need for love in our politics. It may sound wholly New Age and non-pragmatic, but America is indeed suffering from spiritual dis-ease. How we contracted it is an interesting question for a later time, but right now it is clear that unless and until we start treating it, versions of the last two years are going to keep repeating themselves.

I presume that when Marianne Williamson talks about love, it is an umbrella expression for all the beneficent qualities featured in all of our religious traditions—compassion, empathy, selflessness, courage, care, etc. All the things that we now discover are missing from some high-level public leaders and from some members of the body politic.

So we owe Marianne Williamson a bit of thanks. And a song:

Trump Couldn’t Get Hired to Manage a McDonald’s (Though He’d Love It)

For so many reasons, starting but not ending with incompetence, and including his reputation as a sex offender, Trump could not get hired to manage any public or private enterprise of any size. This includes managing a McDonald’s, which is in many ways his dream job (he doesn’t realize that managers don’t get free food).

And yet he is nominally Chief Executive Officer of the United States, the biggest enterprise in the world.

Leaders everywhere, the “beautiful” dictators who should be our enemies and the less “beautiful” allies who should be our friends, all know this. Aliens from other planets, if they are watching, know this. More than half of all Americans know this.

Years from now, in the unsettled and uncertain future, Trump’s “management” of America will be the stuff of hundreds of business school case studies. Even at Wharton, which he claims without proof as his alma mater, MBA students will have to read the story and be asked by their management professors, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

The right answer is: everything.

The Eight Awarenesses: A List for Enlightenment

Handy lists of ways to think and behave are found in every tradition. Buddhism has plenty, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

The Eight Awarenesses, also known as the Eight Realizations or Eight Awakenings, comprise an effective and easy to understand list. The list is notable for being part of the Buddha’s final teaching in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, spoken before his death. It was also the subject of the final writing by Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen tradition, before his death.

The Eight Awarenesses

1. Having few desires

2. Knowing how to be satisfied

3. Enjoying serenity and tranquility

4. Exerting meticulous effort

5. Not forgetting right thought

6. Practicing samadhi [one-pointed attention]

7. Cultivating wisdom

8. Avoiding idle talk

“The Awarenesses are indeed the awarenesses of the enlightened person. A buddha, finding no separation between herself and other beings, very naturally acts in this way. Feeling no separation from others, a buddha naturally has few desires. Feeling no separation from others, from our surroundings, from what is happening right now, of course we can’t help but be satisfied, enjoying the serenity of life as it is. When we know the oneness of ourselves and others, effort becomes right effort, our activity becomes the embodiment of wisdom, and no talk is idle talk.”
Taizan Maezumi Roshi, The Hazy Moon of Enlightenment

I pay particular attention to avoiding idle talk (more successfully sometimes than others), given how much I talk and write, and given how much of it is easily categorized as idle.

In the Qu’ran, this is one of the descriptions of paradise:

They shall hear no idle talk therein, but only “Peace!” (19:62)

 

Scenes from a Wedding

Note: Some of this happened, some of it only seems to have happened. Initials are used for the cast of characters. Some characters share the same initial (so many Ks!) that it will be impossible to tell who is who and which is which.

1. The wedding ceremony between T and B is perfect. The summer wind and birds play and sing along in approval.

2. The reception is perfect. Many, many happy people, including especially T and B.

3. Late in the reception, C and K suggest that B join them at the fire pit outside. But in the confusion of a wave of guests leaving, C and K disappear. B unsuccessfully searches for them.

4. The wave of guests is heading for a bar at a local resort. But when B and K arrive at the resort, they find dozens of guests not at a bar but gathered outside the front entrance, like children with noses pressed against a toy store window. Someone has brought two portable coolers filled with beer and a canned drink containing sparkling water, fruit flavoring and some kind of alcohol.

5. An official from the resort comes by to say that the people and drinking are fine, but that the coolers must leave the public space and go to a room.

6. K picks up a cooler and takes it inside. K eventually returns and announces that the situation is greased. It turns out that K has set the cooler down in the back of the lobby, next to an ATM.

7. K, C and B overhear a complicated and hard to-follow-conversation between J and N. They are discussing how best to whiten a christening gown. Looking back, it appears this may have been a theological debate, though it didn’t seem so at the time. The final word is that Oxi-Clean is better than bleach.

8. B suggests to C that they steal the guest cart parked next to them at the front entrance. Despite many opportunities, this scheme fails to materialize.

9. K, C and B explore the parking lot. B tells a subtle and philosophical joke about a farmer and a pig (punchline: “What’s time to a pig?”). After they are finished laughing, K and C abandon B, who returns to the resort entrance. No one is left there, however, because the remainder of the guests are inside at the actual bar.

10. B and K drive back to their hotel. K is hungry and wants to eat a Filet-O-Fish sandwich at the McDonald’s next door to the hotel. They walk over to it, where the inside counter is closed but drive-thru is open. They determine that walking through the drive-thru is impractical, so they walk back to get the car. They want to stop by their room first, but discover they have both forgotten their keys. They must first go to the front desk for replacements, and then drive to McDonald’s. K drives the wrong way into the drive thru, but eventually turns around and lands in front of the display menu. K and B study the menu for five minutes, but discover no Filet-O-Fish sandwich. They drive back to their hotel, disappointed.

Dream in Love

Dream in Love

Years and days
Drain the sense of love
An embrace even in a dream
Brings it flooding back
It is still you and me

©

Note: If you have loved for a moment, or been loved for a moment, or for years, or not yet, you may forget exhilaration, but it never disappears. You will dream it.

The Weight

Everyone carries a weight, some lighter, some heavier. The question raised is how best to bear it. Some say it depends solely on you, some say it depends solely on an Other. Whatever works is one approach. The best approach may be that carrying the weight depends on you and on an Other. Anyone trying to carry a long piece of lumber knows this.

Everyone who is not you carries a weight, some lighter, some heavier. The question raised is whether you have any responsibility to help, especially since you are already carrying your own weight. Some say you have no responsibility, some say you have absolute responsibility. Some say an Other will come along to help, some say that the Other is you.

Neighbor

Neighbor

the next door neighbor
never visited
will live forever
but not you

©

Note: It is literally true that we might live next door to someone we never meet or talk to. It is a missed opportunity, the extent of which we will never know.

But the mention of a neighbor who lives forever takes this out of the literal. Matters we are familiar with—spiritual matters for example—might have a close neighboring tradition or school that we learn late about, if ever. That too can be a missed opportunity, or if we knock and walk in, a new and enlightening discovery. Just one door away.

Don’t Read Poetry

I am here to say that anyone who tells you that they know how to read poetry, or what poetry really is, or what it is good for, or why you should read it, in general, is already getting it wrong.
Stephanie Burt, Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems  

Some people reading this read poetry. Some people reading this write poetry. I read and write poetry, as people reading this may be aware. Poetry sits at a special place near the top of our experience as individuals and cultures.

Everyone is entitled to write poetry, while others may say it is good poetry, it is bad poetry, or it is not poetry at all, whatever any of that means. Everyone is entitled to read whatever poetry speaks to them, whatever others may say.

If you write poetry, poetry belongs to you. If you read poetry, poetry belongs to you.

In her new book Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems, Stephanie Burt takes on these and many other matters concerning the reading of poetry. A brief excerpt follows.


From Don’t Read Poetry: A Book About How to Read Poems by Stephanie Burt:

READING POEMS

Of all the kinds of art that people make, poems are, or should be, the easiest to share, maybe even the easiest to find. They need not be read live, or on stage, or by their authors, or even aloud (though it helps); they require no musical instruments or playback devices. Some can be memorized; most can be collected, reprinted, copied out by hand, or shared via email; and most of them don’t take very long to read.

So why don’t more of us read more poems? Why do some people care so much about poems that baffle the rest of us? Why do the same people often loathe poems others like? Are poems from five hundred years ago really the same things—can they work on us in the same ways—as poems by living authors now? Do all sorts of poems work the same way? Have they always? How can the poems that are out there all deserve the label “poetry” when they seem so far apart?

This book tries to answer those questions. It gives not just ways to read poems but reasons to read them, and ways to connect the poets and poems of the past, from Sappho and Li Bai to Wordsworth to some poems being written right now. And it starts from the idea—which took me a while to realize was not obvious, or universal, or widely recognized in schools—that poems are like pieces of music: by definition they all have something in common, but they vary widely in how they work, where they come from, and what they try to do. Various readers like various poems for various reasons, just as various listeners like various genres of music, various artists, and various songs. And the same listener (you, for example) can care about different songs for different reasons, at different times in your life or even at different times of day….

Until about two hundred years ago the word could mean “imaginative literature,” anything made up, or not real, or not true in prose or verse. Now it means verse, or prose that feels like verse, or (sometimes) anything that feels elegant, moving, sublime, above-and-beyond, not quite of this world: athletes’ shots and politicians’ speeches and dance moves are said to be pure poetry, meaning that we admire their beauty or their sublimity but wonder if they have any practical use. Much-noticed and much-debated essays, going back at least two hundred years, with titles like “Can Poetry Matter?” and “The Four Ages of Poetry” (gold, silver, bronze, and iron), have argued that poetry is in decline, has long been in decline, because fewer people love Shakespeare or Dickinson or Homer or Robert Frost. Other essays, some with surveys to back them up, show that poetry is coming back, or never left: after all, look how many people now write it!

Look, too, at the communities that have formed, some within universities, some far outside them, around particular poems and ways to read poetry, from classrooms where kids love The Odyssey in new translations, to self-conscious avant-gardes in urban centers, to immigrant communities refreshing a heritage language and its verse forms. These readers and writers are not all reading the same poems, or reading in the same way, or for the same reasons. They’re not all reading the same kinds of poems, and they may not agree on what counts as poetry, much less on what counts as good poetry.

And yet some of them—some of us, many of us; not just we readers of poems but we Americans (since I’m American), we readers of English, of anything at all—are caught in a myth about what counts as poetry and how we might learn to enjoy and to read it. The myth says that poetry is one thing and that poetry matters to us, or should matter, for one big reason. Maybe it introduces us to other people and other cultures, opening up our minds. Maybe it makes us more authentic and opens us up to ourselves. Maybe it brings us together as a country or as a community; maybe it used to do that, but it doesn’t now, so poets had better change how we write poems….

I am here to say that anyone who tells you that they know how to read poetry, or what poetry really is, or what it is good for, or why you should read it, in general, is already getting it wrong. Poetry, the word, has many overlapping meanings, most of them about composition in verse; there are many such compositions, and many ways to write them, and many reasons to read them, and if you want to find or like or love or write more of them, the first thing to do is to start to tell them apart. Many people read poems for many reasons, and yours may not be your uncle’s, or your best friend’s, or your daughter’s, or your professor’s.

I started to write this book because I got frustrated with books that told their readers, and teachers who told their students, that poetry was one thing. Sometimes the readers and the students learned to love that thing; sometimes they tried it and decided that this one thing—this major poet (say, Robert Frost), this reason to read (say, mystery and the sacred), or this style of poetry (say, modern conversational free verse)—wasn’t for them. That’s like hearing Beethoven, or hearing Kendrick Lamar, and not getting into it and then deciding you don’t like music. There are other kinds of music and other ways to listen to music out there, and if you look and listen and ask the right people, you can probably find one that works for you.

So: don’t read poetry. Don’t assume poetry ever means only one thing, other than maybe a set of tools for making things with words, as music means a set of tools (beats, rhythms, harmonies, textures, instruments) for making things with sounds. Instead, find ways to encounter kinds of poems and learn different reasons to read poems, realized in various ways by various poems. In this way, if in no other, poetry is like the New York City subway (albeit in slightly better repair). The subway system is always running and can take you almost anywhere in New York, but not all trains run at all times, and each train goes only to certain destinations. In the same way, lines of poetry can take you to many emotional places and to many parts of history and of the world today, but each line of poetry goes only to certain places, and what line you take depends on where you want to go.

Path

Path

some paths paved
others worn by travelers
this one obscured and obstructed
by trees and brush
the obvious way here

©

Walt Whitman

Who wishes to walk with me?

May 31 was the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman (1819–1892).

You cannot love America if you don’t love Walt Whitman. You cannot love poetry if you don’t. You cannot love American poetry if you don’t.

If you find people among America’s most benighted leaders and talkers who don’t love him, maybe because of his unbridled exuberance for people and sexuality and life and freedom and America and Americans, and all the inherent unresolved contradictions and challenges, question their understanding and love of America (which you might already).

We would still be America without Walt Whitman. But we would be missing our most perfect and poetic narrator.


From Song of Myself (1892 version)

1

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

16

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.

(The moth and the fish-eggs are in their place,
The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place,
The palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place.)

51

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?