Monthly Archives: July 2011

Heading to the mountain.

Nothing like Mohhamed. Heading in to the crater for quick overnight camping trip. Be back tomorrow afternoon.

Seven weeks till my 49 days. It’s very exciting. Someone asked me yesterday if I was scared. I said, “All the time.”. I felt like Haley Joel Osment.

I’ll write again Monday.


A letter to Mark, the producer of TREE. Not to be taken too seriously.

So… Here we go. A return to the beginning five days later. All I mean is that the way I began this piece with intention five days ago, has me returning to the beginning of it in the interim, without surprise, doing my casual cosmology schtick for myself. You know how I stroll, neither jivin’ nor grooovin’, trying to keep still, on the edge of raising a lunatic corps like some athiest we know, a zombie army of happy athiests at his feet? I hope this gets to you well.

This is the middle of the letter.
Read it however you like, in whatever order you like. But this is the middle part. There’s some stuff written later that should come earlier but that’s in an earlier bit and I don’t expect anyone to care about my references to current real estate agent and chinchilla-pimp, Humpty Hump, formerly of Bay Area hip-hop funk-combo ‘Digital Underground’, also known as “Shock G”: “Read whatchoolike! Ooh-oo-ooh. See guys and girls dancin’! Ooh-oo-ooh.”

I’m not good at lists, Mark. Which is why I would never make a great lawyer or journalist. Lists require one to think about something more than once, sure, but that’s the easy part. It’s the wreckage that comes later when one forms an opinion or deposits a lot of energy suddenly on something that I have a hard time with. I’m more an Impressionist, letting things remain fuzzy because there’s a beautiful truth in (in the fuzziness) there, a way of seeing that remains with the viewer instead of shifting entirely to the artist.

A list is pretty sophisticated thinking, Mark. A list is a recital and could be as considerably complicated as a combine. Not every list is a recipe or a things-to-do, to get, to omit. First and foremost, a list is a set of qualities: what’s it made of? Words and tones? Ideas? People? Problems? Final solutions? After that, a list becomes a measure of things, where one is compared against the other. Is it on the list? Does it belong on the list? Thirdly – and this is in no particular order, Mark – a list is a thing outside yourself, an extension of your thoughts that you can see out in the world; it’s a summing up. It serves to nudge the immovable, like an elbow-josh about an in-joke by yourself while you eat a pastry.

Here’s a list:
1) This piece is not about either me or you, although it could be.
2) I cannot.
3) I love riffing on Hitler.

See? I’m a dullard with lists.

(this is NOT the first part of the letter)
Is it just as easy as maintaining as your bliss?
Who can do that and not look at themselves as just pulling a trick, a rabbit out of a hat, feeling inside that you were wooling their eyes? Yeah, yeah, flocked-up, whatever. I can wind myself down into that place of gleeful stillness, a lot of people can, and me… I just grin from ear to ear. I can barely go out in public without people thinking I’m an escapee for smiling. I can maintain that bliss for a few months before my friends start to worry, I’ve discovered, so I’m wondering: is it just the abilty to brave the public scorn that raises the saint above the rest? Is it the self-esteem of the unassistable that prevents a paupers’ heart from giving? Because if it were that easy, we’d all be choosing it. And you’d have to think quick about what to say about what you believe in. How goddamned brave would you have to be to just let it all hang out, shining the light, being all of you, riding a smile on the razors edge of a giggle? Life then, I think, most us can shake off after a bit and we’d relearn how to relax into a moment and be happy. An easy conversation, lit brilliantly with minds, can inspire a moment… as an example. Great, you’re alone and experiencing your bliss. You drop right into it, that feeling you know, that deeply relaxed place you can go, and you sit and you feel it, that awestruck sensation that sets your skin aglow. You know? And is that what those coots in orange are doing, those giggling zen monks who get to not talk to each other for days at a time, fed by donation, housed in a dorm? Because I think I can maintain my bliss for months in a situation like that, I think. And who couldn’t? It’s just happy. We’re genius’, most of us, at being happy. It’s the together-thing that’s tacked onto our DNA-thing that gets most of us confused. We’re all mostly good at that delicate feeling of the being in the sheer livingness of our skin as we sit, so… is it just the maintaining of it, the bliss of which we speak, while we walk around, that’s truly all that tough? I’d think bootcamp would be harder. (But, then again… That’s a type of programming that would impress God. He’d look down from up on high, turning the gift of his merciful attention onto us, and say, “That’s how to turn a brain around! Nice work, humans! Who wrote Mein Kampf?”

Optimism. Things are looking up. Every good saint has Optimism build right in. Saint Anthony watched over lost children, and aren’t we all lost children? Saint Anthony’s got my back. Saint Leonard, protect me from those who’ld beset me! Saint Cecelia won’t you play a happy song? Optimism. (If you accept the idea that ideas are in conflict, then you can clearly cast suspicion on Santa Monica, given her son’s stature – for every mans mother’s a saint says Caesar.) This Darwinian debater, that Dawkins fellow, he’ll sell some books while he’s alive, that’s for sure, but from afar it will still look like the two halves of a boy scout camp throwing sticks at each other, with the creepy-God types on one side and the minorities downwind from the latrine. (Every so often in history, in every major culture, there are times when the creepy-God types get uppity. In the Western part of the globe, the Christians rose like rats, eating and surviving off the decay and detritus of the destruction of Rome, but then slowly consolidated power after it emerged informed, rooted irrevocably in the humus of that great bureacracy. In the East, the peaceful fought against the warriors as the Moslem armies took southern India, raping their way North. A political religious leader rose in a stern and credulous Germany in the twentieth century, spouting a biblical mishmash of nonsense and hatred – easy to believe when the blackshirts at are the door – and decimated Europe. Just a hundred years before, a religious nation had decimated the middle east when Britain conquered much of India, Africa, and the tribal Arabys? {I think it was the Christian and the Spanish Armies that beat the Mohammedans back in the Armada days. They beat the Moslems up so bad, they couldn’t count for five hundred years.} Heroes rise and fall on both sides of war, and graves are dug and filled and the winner gets to tell the tales, still now, history is – after all? What is astronomy if not? – History. His position, Dawkins’, is that there is no God, but that things are most certainly looking up. He’d have it that we’re all matter made from the dust of stars and one day, very likely long before we make it out of our little cluster of galaxies, we’ll all die out from the growing heat of change, and that, Dawkins would lead in a manner and with a faith that seems incontrovertible, that in the process of becoming what we are we had to have once been everything else. “If that’s not an optimistic view of a universe without God” – (Even with the ridiculous one I’ve got) – “I haven’t the imagination necessary for it,” Dawkins seems to be reciting – and who could argue with him when it’s so perfectly delivered? – and although he might not have his words for it, you can hear it in his voice as he politely rails against his opponents, how his voice itself seems to suffer as he rebuts; like an ignored child will, he gives his voice a little extra boost even as it falters with lame expectations, certain of disappointment. It’s the same tone the religious use when they’re being patient.

This could be the first part, here. But don’t get caught up in it.

He wants us to feel Unity, too, Mark. And it’s the usual stuff, too, the usual suspects, the usual bastards: the usual reasons. Connection with the vast and incomprehensible. It’s the ‘From the Original Star of Creation we Came!” stuff. The stuff we feel, too when we can just go into that place and relax, and sit and just feel. We do that all the time, that deep breath that almost makes you cry from joy. Even if we didn’t follow through with the logic, we intuited the outcome, the result. A series of suns have churned out the stuff that we are comprised, inside and out of, and the only thing that the universe didn’t make is your mind. That’s yours, Dawkins is just on the edge of saying, like a rebuke, like a reminder. ‘That thing between your ears is just sweetbreads.’ And if that’s the case, Mark, then we’re all paupers if we’re not saints. We get to feel it so easily, too, that connection, when we feel compassion, and when we just relax and bliss on feeling compassion for a minute… we feel it. We can have compassion for an entire universe, as the first stars blow up within and shatter, again, what little has formed inside it, the seething furnace cooling, in its own formation. We can dig on that – and feel that bliss rise – as we sort of surf the idea that in that first bit of cooling of the universe that there wasn’t anything elemental in it. (Hydrogen and Helium, I think, were the first to emerge, to begin the cascade that leads to the emergence of consciousness.) I’m talking, Mark, about what I think about, this ability of ours to just sit down; To sit down and take a moment; To be conscious; And a breath… And another… One more to please the crowds… to experience the simple, euphoric bliss, of pure and unfettered consciousness, as we breath the miracle that we are. (Or so Dawkins would say if he weren’t so busy telling the primitive-religion-folk to stop worrying…“Yes… It’s all fine, but you have to pay attention to me so I can tell you what you need to know if ever you ever should stop, say, all at once believing in God and falling into crisis… Mom? I’m talking about the non-existence of God and how you could reconcile that with your… {over the shoulder from down the hall} I’ll be in my room reading about Darwin’s voyage to the Galapagos Islands. {From the door to his very small bedroom} His ship was the Beagle. Very interesting stuff. {at his tiny desk, fairly quietly} Someone could come sit and read with me once in awhile. I might like that quite a lot.” And that’s my Dawkins-as-a-small-but-enormously-precocious-ignored-child impression. I don’t do the voices. Writer after all. I think it’s quite fine. If you have problems with it, make me a list.)

Of course there’s the keepers of the other side of the argument to be considered and we have to be artful, careful, as noted above, which representation we look for because sometimes the religious get uppity and do strange things in the name of piety. Some religions evolve and change, a little, here and there… with the times. Others don’t. It seems like the fundamentalist Christians in this country took umbrage with the liberal elite community just over a century ago about their right, as Sons of God, to beat their women at home, just as the Moslem’s currently attend to their right of the whipping and stoning of their women in public. When you can’t add two and two, Mark, religious reform is low on your list of priorities and you can barely expect to get an education from your leaders if they’re believing their own bullshit. Poor Dawkins. He can barely find a worthy opponent, just slippery rhetoricians and sophists, who fall back on their own unreliable religious experiences (as if those carbuncles of ecstacy were absolute assurance, Lloyds of London grade proof) when most of us wouldn’t recognise our own mugger a day later through the headache. If they’d have stopped at “God is Merciful” things would have been fine, but they had to find another name for that feeling you know, that comfortable place in the heart of a sweet moment when every illusion of importance falls away, and you’re left, Mark, feeling the mercy of the infinite creation in you, wakening your skin, so tender and sensitive, so electric and alive as joy fills your heart and the only thing stopping the tears of laughter at relief is the symphony of perfection of your own clear mind. They mis-ascribed the bliss; they took it like a gift. They took it personally. It’s like handing yourself a doughnut and saying, “Hey thanks for the doughnut.” And then eating the doughnut and congratulating yourself for providing yourself with an excellent doughnut.

I wonder what will happen to me, who I’ll be, what I’ll do. This thing I’m doing is so strange and I’m so unsure that I can barely project my imagination to afterward. I barely know who I am, now. I feel faceless, even now. Speculating about the future, envisioning it, seeing myself there, even in my most vivid imaginings, I’m unrecognizable; it’s like Oliver Sacks and his face-blindness, but I’m the one I don’t know.
I used to love walking the streets of my city. I would watch myself in the pane glass display windows, check my posture, my hair, the way my jacket hung and try not to smile – I thought that well of myself or my vanity was that deep. Now, when I catch my reflection, I ask, “Really? Is that what who I am? Is this what I’m doing? Where am I going?”
Answers are plenty, but answers that aren’t just projection and wish fulfillment…. few.
I’m scared with a smile, kids. This loud little rollercoaster I’m on is a wee scary but I let go the bar and raise my hands above my head like everybody else.

It’s funny to think about physical cosmology when there seems to be so many more immediate concerns. I’m so wrapped up in attempting to conceive the formative moments of the universe that I sometimes forget other things. Like a pizza in the oven. Like eye contact. I don’t have any ego behind it, either. I’m sure that the way I imagine it to have been is wrong, just wrong. Simple as that. Yet, I think it’s important to have some thought on the matter, to give it some attention, so that when it comes up, I know what I think about it.
I have no idea what to think about TREE. It’s too big for me. 

The word I have come to despise…


Book after book, chat after chat, dogma after dogma, I run into the word – almost always, nearly without exception, although religion has a dialect all their own and uses more worshipful words to describe the mystical experience of being – and I’m tired of it.

That word doesn’t nearly describe the perfect bliss of living a moment of supreme awareness with no fear of death. “Consciousness!”. I practically have to spit it out. How derisive can I be? “Consciousness!”.

We’re looking at one of the oldest objects in the known universe, a Quasar, a star that formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang, that period before time, when all the energy in the universe today crackled into existence, enought to fill our universe with 300 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars.

According to the literature, Buddha saw that Quasar first. According to the literature, Buddha saw the sizzling of atoms precipitating into existence, filling the void of space with hydrogen and helium, fuel for the first stars.

I lost track of what I was thinking about when I began this thing, the punchline I was going to connect the rant to, but who cares… Not me.


Just a few thoughts…

I think everyone, deep down in their hearts, wants to be good.   I think the idea of giving up everything in order to help others is scary.  I think the people who cheerfully overcome that fear are called “saints’.

Writers write. That damned muffin, trotted out (you hope) for a purpose, some instruction, a demonstration, and – yes – this will help. Writers write. But what if I don’t want to? Did you hear the whining (or whingeing if you’re one of those) in the phrase? White was writer who did impressions and I bring him up only because he wrote the book about writing. (In ‘Charlotte’s Web’ we could, with our inner ear, hear John Arable’s drawl as he discussed with the missus what to do with that pig. I, for one, would have instead been stupified at the spider who could spell.) He could put the hint of an accent in your ear and never apostrophize, or contract, or even italicize for emphasis. The right word. In the right order. That’s style. He wrote the book.
In the meantime… I don’t want to. Writing involves thinking. This is about how I think and feel about TREE, but sometimes… I don’t want to think about TREE at all. Thinking about TREE can make my breath catch, a quick and fearful gasp, the one that accompanies the realization of being overwhelmed, of wondering bedazzledly how you got this far. (I have to feel that feeling to write that feeling, which is the why behind why this writer writes.) Today, I’m going to sublimate the fear, distract us (you and me both) from the eventual, and rollick in the meanwhile.
Last night was incredible. Mark Matthews organized a fundraiser for TREE and it was a triumph. The people who donated their time, energy, willful effort, all came together with enthusiasm and love to support our little film, bringing their friends and family out for the night.

The friendly interrogations began shortly after the first introduction and they didn’t stop until the end of the night: “You’re Neil,” they’d say, sometimes covering their mouths, leaning back after to silently assess me. “I love what you’re doing.” That’s the quote. Word for word. I have it memorized because I heard it so many times last night. And then, although phrased quite differently, they asked me the same questions:

“Why are you doing this?”
“What do you think you’ll get from this?”
“What do you believe?”
“What did you believe when you were young?”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Does the forty-nine days have any significance?”
I think it was Jessica who cried and I’m pretty sure it was Joe who came over to shake my hand at the end of the night, just to tell me how brave and cool he thought I was. Wow.
Why am I doing this? That’s simple and complex. I’m human and that means I’m complicated. I have guilt and shame issues, regrets, the usual suspects, but we all have those. I’d like TREE to help me out there, a little, sure,, get rid of some vanity, some self-consciousness, but it’s the paradigm of believing in something that I’m really looking for. I’ve been studying creation, wrapping my head around the spans of time wherein stars are born and die and are born anew from the ash and fumes of novae, trying to understand how and why sentience might be winking in and out of existence across space-time. And it’s all Frankl’s search for meaning and it’s all the dark night of the soul, and (for me) it’s TREE. This is my way to confront, as directly as possible, an apparent meaninglessness.
Why? Why forty-nine days? Jesus did forty days. Mohammed did forty-eight. I think I chose forty-nine because it’s one more than mohammed and, despite never having stepped in a synogogue, I self-identify with Judaism and it’s kind of a way to bring the trophy back home. Take that, Mohammed. I kid. A little.
Forty-nine days is, according to the Tibetans, the period between death and rebirth. As metaphors go, I think that one is perfect for TREE.

All I have is about twenty minutes. twenty minutes before I scoot off to over there, twenty minutes before I have to leave here.

It’s actually been the most satisfying thing about getting ready for TREE, this very useful cultivated feeling of leisure, this delightful lack of urgency. My mother’s voice is, of course, the one I choose to hear: quit squirming. Sit still. It’s a bit of a rebuke, a command, a criticism, but if there’s a piece of motherly advice I’m going to need to give attention to while I’m under the tree, that’s it. Sit still.

Although I still don’t know how to meditate, as such, I’ve read about it. Despite that being among the funniest things to say about meditation, what I’ve read about it tells me that my mother was, once again, tiresomely right. Start by being still. Another funny thing to say about meditation: I learned a lot about meditation from watching the Star Wars movies. Luke spends time meditating. Obi Wan meditates waiting for battle. Yoda’s one of those levitators. These guys meditate everywhere. And that takes us to the big lesson: You won’t find stillness over there. Not anywhere over there unless you bring it with you. And that’s a fact.


My diet

Let’s talk about weight loss.
I expect to lose between thirty and forty-five pounds under the tree.  Up to a pound a day for the first three weeks and about half-a-pound a day for the last four weeks. 
I’m five foot and eight.  I’m slender.  I weigh one-sixty-two (as of this writing) and we’re aiming for one-seventy by September 1st.

I despise these things.  All summer long I’ve been drinking these protein/calorie shakes, awfulness made of sugar and whey made in Utah, where they can make any claim they like about anything..  All the sugar has brought on candiasis which has made my breath sour and has wreaked havoc with my urinary tract.  Weird bladder infections and phantom urges have made me neurotic, casting doubt on things clad in certainty, like bathroom visits.  At least I’m not my friend, Josh.  He’s thirty-one with kidney-stones.  That’s a betrayal, by comparison.  Fasting is a cure for Candida, thank mercy.   I have no idea what folks do for kidney stones. 

As for my regular diet, I’ve been eating pasta and ice cream and pasta and eggs and chicken and McDonalds and pasta and eggs and these damned shakes (fifteen-hundred calories when mixed with two cups of whole milk) and steak and rice and I eat sugared muffins and chocolate bars and double portions.  This has been ridiculous.  My friend Matt says that the gut I’m developing is ‘cute’. 

I’m not sure how I’m going to keep weight on in September.  Moving from solid food to juices doesn’t offer a lot of options, calorie-wise.  How many spinach/kale/avocado/mint smoothies can you drink in a day?  For how many days in a row?  Thankfully, that’s just the last three weeks.  In the meantime, this chocolate thing is almost all choked down.  In a minute the bloating will start and my body will start reacting to the sudden influx of carbohydrates; a flushing pervasive heat that nearly induces nausea, makes my upper lip shine with sweat, and provides a haunting feeling of having to poop.

Ugh.  There’s that awful pressure.  

Every day sunshine.



60 days and ….

That countdown clock. I love it and worse: I fear it. I fear it for lots of reasons, the biggest and most trenchantly terrifying reason is that I see it as a menu with items falling away from it, off of it, into my lap like soup. One day soon, there will be nothing at all coming from the kitchen, and I, like the guy who gets spilled on, will have all the attention.

I can practically read your thoughts, the way you were so relieved I avoided the hobo metaphor, the one in the restaurant – “How did he get past the hostess?” – who makes you feel slightly awful about your nice evening out. Even the soup thing is awkward. Shlemiel, shlamazl, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, but what can I do? TREE has turned into a HAPPENING. A thing beyond control.

My friend Mark (a world-class shlemiel) has come to look like that aforementioned hobo, minus the winter coat and some very tough years. He’s been working so hard setting us all up for success. He’s got a list, a remarkable and strange list working. Names and dates of people with esoteric and strange skill-sets are only a small constituance of the constitution of his list; people who are already craning their necks to look at the fellow with soup in his lap; places to be, things to acquire, to do, to remember. He stays up nights, forgets to shave mornings, and has lost what little baby-weight he had left (he looks younger than he is and I’m careful to forget his age so it always sounds sincere when I tease him for being young); he looks derelict. He’s the producer and I think he wants to turn me into a Neitzchean Superman.

The costume looks like someone spilled something down the front. Thanks, Mark.

Anyway… We’re all excited and a little ashamed to be doing something this fun. I’m scared but that’s not unusual. I get scared a lot. 60 days and counting. That’s some hot soup.

When I was a child, my mother used to have my siblings and I talk about our fears. Not so that she could talk us out if them because, I guess she knew this way back then, just telling someone that you’re afraid can give you courage.

So for the sake of becoming less afraid, I’d like to talk to you about it. If you have any questions then consider this an invitation to become a part of my family. Ask me anything. Be a part of this. You have no idea how grateful I would be.