Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back to the City

Back to the city yesterday. We have been gone for a week, Ellie and I, and it seems like a long time. It feels strange to be back. Above all, the traffic... It took me fifteen minutes, yesterday afternoon, to drive down to the grocery store at five in the afternoon. Rush hour. At another time of day, it might have taken no more than three minutes to make the trip. The clogged traffic has become emblematic of the city itself, the clogged energy, the vain expenditure of power, the toxicity, the pollution of the air we breathe. But here is where we live, at least for the working part of our lives.

It was a day of transitions, and not only the transition back to city life. The big transition was the actual work of saying goodbye to "The Bush Diaries" and hello to "The Buddha Diaries." I wrote a single entry and posted it on both sites, with some minor modifications for the former. I had hoped that Daniel, my assistant and recently my co-writer on The Bush Diaries might be interested in taking over and continuing that work. But no. I made the offer and he declined--quite sensibly, I have to say: he has his own work to do, and, as he pointed out, his voice is different from the one I had established on The Bush Diaries. So good for him, to have made that choice.

It does mean, though, that The Bush Diaries will likely die on the vine. I decided to keep it open, in case I should feel moved to return on occasion with something useful to say. But the day was spent wrapping it up, printing hardcopy of the pages that had not yet been printed, and bidding an emotional farewell to something that has been an important part of my life for the past couple of years. I have much to thank it for. It helped me refine my notion of what it means to have a writing practice, and kept my nose to the proverbial grindstone. It allowed me to publish something virtually every day, and reach out to a few readers who liked what I wrote--no small blessing for a writer. I have always thought the notion absurd, that one should write solely, even primarily, for oneself. It's an act of communication which is eventually meaningless without the other party.

So I was genuinely sad to let it go. On the other hand, a tremendous feeling of release, a lightening of the spirit, as though some serious burden had been lifted from my shoulders. There had grown to be a kind of umbilical attaching me to Bush, and it felt good to cut that cord and let him loose. I didn't even bother to listen to his big Wall Street speech on the economy this morning. Instead, I took a walk around the hill to freshen up my head and allow myself to think a bit about what "The Buddha Diaries" is about, how it in some way relates to The Bush Diaries, and how it in some ways differs.

In the first place, like The Bush Diaries, it's personal. Looking back on my history as a writer, I recognize that everything I have done is personal--whether the books of poetry, the novels, or the memoir. Even the writing about art, on which I have based what reputation I have as a writer, is a very personal take on what artists do. My writing has been a means of exploration, a way to find out what's going on in my own mind and heart. The Bush Diaries was no different, and I can be sure that The Buddha Diaries will share that quality. As a writing practice, it will be a way of examining my Buddhist practice, and the ways in which that practice helps me process what else is going on in my life.

But my intention is that it be more expansive, more inclusive that The Bush Diaries ever was. Although I managed to include references to art and movies and books along the way, it was always with Bush in mind, with an interest in what they might have to say about American culture and America's place in the world in the Bush era. I am released from that unspoken obligation now. My mind can wander where it wants, and not from any special point of view. It is free to roam the universe.

That said, The Buddha Diaries will be a regular--though not necessarily, as The Bush Diaries, daily--conversation with myself. It will be an observation post, a listening post, for what's going on in the inner world--in body, mind, and heart--in response to what's going on in the world out there.

It will also be a record of my meditation practice, which was deepened considerably in the course of Than Geoff's retreat. That's Thanissaro Bhikkhu. It represented a major breakthrough for my practice. For several months before this past weekend, even after years of daily work, I had been struggling with my ability to concentrate. I had been unable to keep my attention on the breath, and had been desperately watching it wander from distraction to distraction as I sat. I did stick with it, despite the obstacles, but with a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and self-criticism, even anger.

In part, I believe this had to do with The Bush Diaries. My mind reached a point where it was always busy preparing what I needed to say, unable to let go of the ideas and thoughts that kept popping up, absurdly presenting themselves as being of such pressing importance that they needed my immediate consideration. Even early morning was a constant battle, trying to achieve a simple focus on the breath. In short, I believe that The Bush Diaries, once the source of a great deal of joy and inspiration, had become a toxic element in my life. I know that I'm not about to abandon all interest in politics and social justice, but the priorities have radically shifted as a result of the retreat, and I'm experiencing a sense of freedom that I have been sorely missing for some time now. The Buddha Diaries, above all, must be an expression of that freedom.


Fred said...

Good luck with new blog, Peter. I fully understand wanting to cut Bush loose now to focus on healthier business. Would we could all do it.

laurie said...

It will be interesting to hear what your new priorities will bring us.

I'm looking forward to hearing about what's on your meditative mind.

I, for one, do need to try to transform the Bush fear to something else. Breathing sounds good.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for checking in, Laurie--and for your response to the new direction. I hope you stop by once in a while to see where it takes us. Best, PaL