Friday, August 1, 2014


Another birthday!  Now too many to count.  Still, better to keep counting than the alternative, no?

One great gift, not intended as such perhaps, but taken as such on my birthday: a wonderful note from someone who follows my writing and took the trouble to let me know how much she appreciates it.  Deborah Barlow writes her own blog, Slow Muse, which I now look forward to visiting.  She writes, as I do, about art, and books, and the wisdom we all search for in our lives.  I hope you'll join me.

Meanwhile, you may--or may not!--be wondering about The Buddha Diaries.  I have been alternately quiet or silent recently.  I hope you might have enjoyed the quick entries of the "Coyote Poems," and plan to include more of these.

Otherwise, the reason for my lapse in attention to my blog is that I am back at that novel I was working on a while ago, "The Pilgrim's Staff."  Having spent these past six months in a (rather half-hearted) inquiry into the possibility of a commercial publication, I have decided to publish the book myself.  I'm just frankly too old--see above!--to hang around for the months and years it would take to go that route.  Besides, distribution is these days much of a fluke no matter which way you go.  Might as well just get it out and leave it in the hands of whatever capricious deities oversee these things.

As a result of this decision, I am hard at work on what I hope will be a final draft.  A couple of days ago, having worked through a third of the 350 or so pages, I opted for what I thought would be a minor change--but which turned out to be one whose ripple effects took me right back to the beginning again.  Ouch!

So if you do happen to be wondering, this is the explanation.  I'm determined to get this novel finished and out of my hair.  But today I think I'll just do my best to have a Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014



Dancing with
his shadow in
the moonlight,

he yearns
to know better how
to love.

Love says: Show me.
Shadow says: Hide!

Monday, July 28, 2014



Coyote watching people
under bright awnings
at the Saturday farmer’s
market, squeezing
a peach or avocado
for ripeness, sniffing
at the rough skin
of a cantaloupe,
weighing a rutabaga
or potato in the palm
of a hand; or judging
the freshness of
a loaf of bread. Strange,
it occurs to him, that
everyone must eat.
In his mind’s eye
he sees seven billion
human mouths at work,
seven billion human
mouths grinding,
chewing, swallowing;
seven billion human
bellies churning away
in the digestive process;
and seven billion human
rectums dumping shit.
Strange when you begin
to think about it, thinks
Coyote, ruminating.


Coyote must
confess to having
a tin ear; just
listen to his song.



Beauty, Coyote says,
riffing on Henry Bones,
a friend of old,
"is boring.  We must
not say so."  Give me
my imperfection
any day.  Give me
the stink of dirt,
and I’ll put my nose
in it.  Just spare me
the yawn of elegance,
the pretentiousness
of beauty.  Déesse
et immortelle my eye,
as Charlie Baudelaire
said, who knew a thing
or two about it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


There's a formulation I use when I ask myself why I write--or why I continue to write well past my realistic "shelf-life" as a writer: it's because this is what I am given to do.  That I continue to ask the question is an indication of a level of uncertainty about the way in which I have chosen to define who I am, to myself as well as to others.  And writing is really an odd thing to do.  I make no money at it.  My "name" is known only to those very few people who read my reviews of art and books, or who read my blog.  I receive little in the way of the response to what I write, and have at best a tiny readership--though it's nice to know that there is a handful of people throughout the world who read The Buddha Diaries.  So why do it?  Because that is what I am given to do.  It's that simple.

And yet... I hate that other formulation, "I do it for myself."  No.  I'd be a fool and a narcissist if I did it for myself.  Writing is by definition a means of communication.  Words are a way of reaching out into the world and saying something to my fellow human beings that I judge to be of value.  The other side of the creative equation is the reader, without whom my words are no more than an empty echo.  So I struggle with this conundrum.  How far do I need to go in order to be heard--in order for these words I go to so much trouble to write to have meaning?  I see it to be a part of the responsibility I incur, as the writer of those words, to see to it that they are heard, by someone.

These thoughts recurred as I read David Zweig's Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion.  I say recurred, because I have struggled with them for many years.  On the one hand, I preach the values of invisibility, as does Zweig.  I admire those who toil in anonymity--who seek nothing but the reward of appreciating the excellence of their work. Zweig's criteria for the "invisibles" he writes about are threefold: ambivalence toward recognition, meticulousness, and the savoring of responsibility.  The people he writes about--and they are a fascinating and varied bunch--are those who measure success not by celebrity or financial return, but by the quality of the work they do.  And it's a persuasive argument that they are happier, more fulfilled human beings as a result.  Fame, as Zweig demonstrates, is a hollow, fickle thing, and money is much overrated as a source of happiness.

For me, this is personal.  In the world of art and letters, I'm always delighted to discover the unknown, the solitary painter who might labor for a lifetime without recognition, and yet make work that is worthy of any museum's walls.  I sing the praises of those who devote more time to the studio than to Facebook or LinkedIn.  I published, myself, a collection of essays under the title Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce.  The oldest of these essays, written more than three decades ago, was titled "A Word for the Amateur," and it was written as a protest against the teaching of "professionalism" in art schools.  So, yes, I have been thinking about matters related to "invisibility" for much of my working life.

And, to be honest, agonizing too.  Like Zweig, I find the whole notion of "branding" to be anathema.  The "relentless self-promotion" about which he writes has had a baleful influence on our common culture.  And yet, for the artist, for the writer, there is a responsibility to the work itself, and we neglect it at our cost.  Zweig's ideas are important; he writes about them with great persuasiveness and passion, and his book is an important reminder of some of the less appetizing aspects of our culture, as well as a celebration of some extraordinary individuals.  It calls for the kind of promotion that will ensure the promulgation of its ideas--though there is a healthy distinction, to be sure, between promoting the work and promoting oneself.  His thesis notwithstanding, I wish the author every success in getting the word out.