Monthly Archives: November 2015

A Brief Bibliography of my Spiritual Evolution: Part 1

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For about as long as I can remember (and therefore probably longer) I have always been intensely interested in Religion and Spirituality. Having been raised in a completely areligious household- not anti-religious, not hostile in any way, more like the subject just didn’t exist in the world at all- it was left to me to sort out for myself what my spirituality was. Me being me, books played a key role in this process. Here’s the first part of a list of ten that were pivotal in the development of my spiritual beliefs throughout my life.

childrensbibleThe Children’s Bible– Given the aforementioned¬† areligious household, I can’t imagine who even gave this to me. It’s possible I asked for it myself! This was a tome of shortened versions of Old and New Testament passages written for a children’s reading level. besides being beautifully illustrated, it had an admirable willingness to not sanitize adult details, like Absalom’s donkey getting him hung from a tree. I later had an obsession with biblical prophecy, took a Bible correspondence course, was in Bible studies groups in various churches in teens and twenties, have read through the whole thing several times, sometimes taking notes the whole way through, and have perused more books on the history and meaning of Judaism and Christianity than you can shake a library at. But this book retains a special place in my heart as my first foray into the area.

 

zenfleshbonesZen Flesh, Zen Bones– This collection of Zen stories, anecdotes and Koans (short riddles meant to prompt moments of enlightenment) was one of my first introductions to Buddhism. I remember at the time (I can’t place it exactly, but it would have been late teens) feeling that Buddhist philosophy intuitively felt right, and fit with my experience of the world. I went on from there to more intensive study, being parts of mediation groups at various times, and checking out Daoism and Hinduism too. And I still feel instinctively drawn to and in-sync with Buddhism to this day!

 

 

what_religion_is_in_the_words_of_swami_vivekananda_idj245What Religion Is– After teaching English in Japan following college, my future ex-wife and I went back-packing around Asia for several months. This remains one of the grander adventures of my life. On the more mundane side, travel means a lot of long distance hauls on trains and buses. One of the things that really helped pass the time in India was the cheap paperbacks available from vendors at every train station. I had previously heard of Swami Vivekananda, one of the key figures in popularizing Eastern Religions in the West, so I eagerly picked up this book, an expanded version of his remarks to the Parliament of the World’s Religions at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. His central premise, that the world’s various religions are at heart one, and are different adaptations to bring the message to different people’s at different times, has been tremendously influential for me ever since. In subsequent study of the scriptures of Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, etc., I have found that, sure enough, once you delve underneath the framework of specific historical and cultural context, the central message of what life is, how to live it, and how to treat each other has an astonishing underlying unity.

 

gatjThe Gospel According to Jesus– I have heard it said that it’s very hard to understand a box from inside the box. Nowhere is this more true than with our cultural “boxes”. What Jesus taught is so sunk in to (and so inconsistently practiced by) Western culture that it’s easy to lose sight of how revolutionary his message actually was. And is. In this slim volume, Stephen Mitchell takes advantage of the best of recent historical scholarship and comparisons with spiritual traditions from around the world to re-present the teachings of Jesus. Having started with the Bible, and then diving into Eastern Religion, reading this in my mid-20s brought Jesus back to me and gave me a renewed love for him and his message.

 

krishnaThe Book of Life– In my late 20s, I was working in Hong Kong. It was a highly charged, and in many ways, very dark period of my life. I was, selfishly and ill-advisedly, living apart from my future ex-wife, working ridiculous hours at an international trading company, and spiraling down into various addictions. This collection of daily meditations from Krishnamurti provided me with glimmers of hope during this difficult period. Krishnamurti himself is a very interesting figure- in childhood he was identified by the heads of Theosophy as the coming “World Teacher” who would unveil their message to the world. In his 20s, he had a profound spiritual experience that eventually led him to repudiate Theosophy, and his identified role, and announced: “I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path. … This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies.” Of course, it’s not that easy to get out of being a messenger once you’ve been tapped, and he did go on to become a spiritual teacher of sorts, one whose compassionate and unflinching message of radical spiritual liberation helped get me through a very dark time.

 

 

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Missed it by that much!

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Don’t get me wrong, I really like “acceptance” acceptances. But I’ve come to develop quite an appreciation for the “near miss” rejections as well. This is a species with which you may be familiar, wherein the publisher tells you that you didn’t make it, but were a semi-finalist, they were strongly impressed, etc. Often accompanied by the optional encouragement to submit again.

My latest brush with near-greatness was a few days ago, when the Editor of New Millennium Writings wrote to tell me that my short story “small disasters” was a semi-finalist for their annual fiction award.

Early on in my submission life, I sometimes found these “near misses” to be bitterly disappointing. But these days I actually find them to be tremendously encouraging. I think of them as being what the design people call a “proof of concept”- even if this particular prototype didn’t get off the ground, it’s a demonstration that you’re on the right track. Maybe the next thing I submit will make it, or this same thing, but with another publisher…

The other thing that this kind of rejection can also show you is where your trend is. As a data analyst in my non-writing life, I have a healthy respect for general trend over specific data point. That is, in general, if you’re getting a steady stream of these kinds of responses, it’s a good sign for where your trend is headed. So how’s my trend? In addition to the notice from New Millennium Writings, over the past twelve months, I have:

  • Had Big Truths let me know that my personal essay “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie” was strongly considered for their Music Anthology.
  • Heard from Synaesthesia Magazine that, while they didn’t accept my short story “Somebody would have to clean this shit up” for a themed issue, they felt it was very strong and encouraged me to submit again.
  • Been told by Sundog Lit that while they didn’t feel my story “A Weird Ending That Begins Again” was right for them, they found it to be entertaining and well-written, and would like to see more of my work.
  • Learned from Latchkey Tales that my story “The Peculiar Mental Twist Already Acquired” made their short list.
  • Received encouraging feedback from PopMatters on “Smells Like Middle-aged Reverie”, saying that while it was a little too personal for them, it worked and could be good for another publisher.

Submission can be a long, grueling, lonely trek through a low-feedback wilderness. These kinds of notices really help provide fuel for the journey. So thank you to all the publishers mentioned above, and much love and encouragement to my fellow writers to keep going!

What are you working on?

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I try to hold a few blocks in my weekly schedule sacrosanct for writing. Between work, home life, and Mud Season Review editorial duties, it can be tough. Sometimes it ends up less sacro and more sanct. But it gives me some regularity, and a steadyish stream of writing throughput. So what am I working on with this time?

  • Blogging– My target is to post something once a week, and keep it to 500 words or so. I try to set aside Monday lunches for this, though, practically speaking, it can slip to some other weekday lunch as scheduling requires. This is going out on a Wednesday, for example. In any case, it’s going pretty well. You’re reading it now, aren’t you?
  • Poetry– Pervasively, there is something poetry-related I can be working on at any given time, so I reserve one lunch hour a week for this. At this given time, I have a handful of new poems from the last year that I’m working on revising, and a new poem that I accidentally wrote last week which I have to transcribe from my journal to a typed version. Most of my poetry is kind of accidental bolt-from-the-blue initially, and usually comes out longhand in first draft.
  • ¬†Full-length Screenplay– The damned thing is untitled. I’ve been working on the damned thing for years. I currently have a block of a few evening hours a week I set aside for it. The good news is, there’s light at the end of the tunnel- I’m probably not going to make my target of getting to final draft by end of year, but early next is eminently achievable. I really love the damned thing, but it will be good to have it done. Then it can start going out to make its way in the world, and I can work on an unfinished novel and a short story idea or two that is rattling around.
  • The Unknown– These are my current projects. I have half-baked glimmers of inspiration on an ongoing basis, though. Most don’t pass the threshold to “I actually want to work on that.” But sometimes, without warning, something- an idea for a personal essay idea, a sestina, a short story, etc. will appear and say “You WILL work on me NOW!” I plead in vain about all the regularly-scheduled projects and the time they require, but there’s no reasoning with my Muse when she’s in that mood. So you never know what could be on the list next week…

How about you, fellow writers? I’d love to hear what you’re working on!

Four things I’ve avoided by not writing about the 2016 election until now

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I’m going to be breaking from my usual themes occasionally over the next year to talk about the presidential election. I really can’t help it, I’ve been a political junkie for actually longer than I can remember- my mom tells me as a three year old, I was fascinated with watching “the Watergate” on TV. My promise in my coverage: I have my leanings (solidly Democratic). But my analysis will be fact-based, to the chagrin of both leftie friends and rightie friends. You can look back at my postings from 2012 to get an idea of what that will look like.

However, to keep it in synch with my more usual blog themes, this first entry will be in the form of a list. The thing about Presidential politics is, there’s a lot of noise in media coverage that tends to drown out the signal. Before Nov. 1 of the year before the election, it isn’t even worth paying attention to, really, because the early speculation is based on so little, empirically, and early numbers aren’t indicative of much of anything. Here’s a few things I’ve been able to avoid talking about by not writing about it until now:

1. 4 whole candidates! First, and in an originally 22-candidate field, the value of this is not to be overlooked, by waiting I’ve avoided having to talk about Chaffe, Perry, Walker and Webb at all! Especially relieving, because I would have thought Walker had a decent chance at the Republican nomination, so it’s nice not to have to endure the daymare that would have been.

2. Joe Biden. I love Uncle Joe! Always have. He was actually one of my two preferred candidates at the start of 2008 (the other was Bill Richardson, which goes to show you what I know). But it would have been a long shot for him, and explaining that to people imbibing the latest media narrative would have grown tiresome. Now I don’t have to!

3. Arguing about Bernie Sanders. I actually can’t win with Bernie. My small cadre of rightie friends starts in on the whole tired socialist trip whenever I talk about Bernie. And my Progressive friends call me a cynic when I try to talk realistically about his chances (which have been, and remain, low according to every reliable indicator). Then I have my mainline Democratic friends who try to convince me that Bernie is worthless or even dangerous and Hillary is golden. By not writing about the election until now, I’ve at least had some break from this argument.

4. Dismissing Trump. My early take was that he would be gone before voting started, and certainly would not be in the top three by Super Tuesday. I’m glad I didn’t have a chance to write more about this, because I’m starting to question my premise. Nate Silver at 538.com, who I put a lot of stock in, still thinks Trump is ultimately doomed, because he’s so unpalatable to the party power brokers, and they have numerous opportunities in the process to derail him one way or another. It’s a solid argument. But, now that he’s been in the lead for three and a half months straight, is polling first or second in the three first primaries, and actual voting starts in 90 days, I’m a little less sure. I still don’t expect him to be the nominee (my current best guess is Rubio), but he’s actually in this thing for real.

More to follow!