synthetic zero


April 28, 2005

Sometimes I wish I could feel things more deeply. I feel love and affection and happiness and ecstasy and joy pretty intensely. But everything else is grey, shallow, a ghost, an echo. Perhaps that's why I like people who feel things so strongly, I feel vicarious satisfaction in their vivid and complex feelings and emotions.

April 27, 2005

It's so important to remember not to be blinded by the brilliant light of what you think you already know. Keep looking in the shadows, behind, in the cracks. The greater insights always can be found there.

April 25, 2005

I don't want to get into too much of a Catholic-versus-Buddhist sort of dichotomy here, since I know there have been many great Catholic sages who have had a complex and nuanced understanding of their religion, and there have been plenty of foolish people who have called themselves Buddhist. But I'd like to contrast this quote from Pope Boniface VIII in 1302:

We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
with this commentary from Shunryu Suzuki on this quote from the Sandokai:
The mind of the great sage of India
is intimately transmitted from west to east
While human faculties are sharp or dull,
the way has no Northern or Southern Ancestors.

...the true way has no Ancestor of North or South. The true way is one.

To practice is not to collect things and put them in your basket, but rather to find something in your sleeve. It's just that before you study hard, you don't know what you have in your sleeve. "Buddha and I have the same thing. Oh! That's amazing!" That is the spirit we must have. No matter what I say you should study hard. If you don't like what I say, you shouldn't accept it. That is okay. Eventually you may accept it. If you say, "No!" I will say, "Okay, but go ahead and try hard!" I think that is characteristic of Buddhism. Our approach is very wide, and as a Buddhist you have enormous freedom in your study. Whatever you say is okay. So there is no Ancestor of South or North.

Suzuki is saying that the crux of what they are talking about doesn't depend on blind faith. All he wants you to do is investigate it for yourself. Investigate for yourself, and find what you find --- perhaps you'll agree with him, perhaps you'll find it is somewhat different. That doesn't matter. He's not afraid of what you'll find if you think for yourself. There's a certain fear inherent in Boniface's declaration: if the teachings of the Church are true, why do you have to declare that they're true? Reality itself ought to be enough verification of any valid teaching.

April 24, 2005

Cinema as a meditative practice, an interview with Nathaniel Dorsky (I was turned on to Dorsky by Josh Weinstein).

April 23, 2005

There have been many false alarms that the world's oil production was about to peak, in the past. However, evidence is increasing that we may well really be at or near peak world oil production, finally. What's more, even if oil production remains flat or stable for some time, consumption continues to rise, and it seems increasingly unlikely that oil extraction rates will meet rising demand. Thus: we may be headed for an oil shock in the near future of a magnitude that might make the 70's oil crisis seem like a cakewalk by comparison.

For some reason, the other day, New York suddenly seemed really small to me, somehow. In a good way: a place which is actually quite manageable in size.

I have to say this story really amused me: Americans have started to pay down their credit cards. In reaction to absurdly high interest rates and the nearly criminally insane so-transparently-corrupt-it-is-laughable "reform" of the bankruptcy law passed recently by Congress and signed by Bush, Americans have decided to pay down their credit cards. Ha! What a deliciously ironic turn of events for the credit card companies! First they think they're getting this incredible windfall in the form of bankruptcy legislation hand-tailored to their specifications, but then consumers, who finally are beginning to wake up to the behavior of these companies, decide to start paying down their cards --- dramatically lowering the credit card companies' profits. It's a classic example of a very common mistake --- assuming that when you change one thing, everything else will stay the same. It might turn out that the old bankruptcy law was in fact helping the credit card companies make money by making people feel less afraid to build up debt. Ha ha!

April 22, 2005


April 21, 2005

Brianna's thought for the day:

If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult.


April 20, 2005

Another thing that stuck in my mind after seeing the Arbus show was something from a letter she wrote near the end of her life about this day she was reviewing some student work. She said at one point she hardly wanted to look at the pictures, because they were bad and she was worried she would somehow learn how to take bad pictures from them. I think I know what she means: looking at bad (pictures, films, books, etc.) isn't necessarily neutral. You can learn how not to see from them, I think.

April 18, 2005

One thing I noticed while looking at the Diane Arbus photos was how old many of the young people looked in her older photos. In Hollywood period movies they tend to make younger people look exactly like young people do today, except with different clothes; but in fact people really looked different, almost physically so; their posture, their facial expressions, even their very bodies seem to look old --- the way older people sometimes look. I realized that it's not that we really necessarily change into old people as we grow older --- perhaps most older people always looked and acted basically the way they do now, even when they were young.

The interesting thing is, however, almost none of Arbus' famous photographs are of these old-looking young people. Though the exhibit had a lot of them, I am hard pressed to find even one example on the web. That's mostly because most of those photographs were taken before the mid-60's --- but most of her famous photographs are from the mid-60's on. It's as though the biggest shift in people's appearance happened sometime in the 60's. Further, it seems as though the pictures we want to look at are of people who look the way younger people look today.

There are exceptions, however --- in the few pictures we see of Arbus herself, she looks thoroughly modern. Perhaps artists have always had a more timeless style, or perhaps they merely lead the general public by a few decades.

April 16, 2005

I was planning to go away to meditate this weekend, but I had too much work to do, so I decided to stay home and work. However, in the evening I went to see the Diane Arbus show at the Met. I had only seen Arbus' photos here and there, over the years, and had no idea what the sweep of her work was like --- very impressive. But more striking still was how much the exhibit revealed of the photographer herself through her writings, interviews, notes, and journal entries; what a remarkable woman. I would want to marry her if she weren't dead. She was a perceptive, vivid, and evocative writer with a great facility with words. One quote of hers struck me so much I spoke it into my voice recorder for later reference:

One of the things I felt I suffered from as a kid was I never felt adversity. I was confirmed in a sense of unreality which I could only feel as unreality, and the sense of being immune was, ludicrous as it seems, a painful one. It was as if I didn't inherit my own kingdom for a long time.
I feel exactly the same way.

April 15, 2005

It seems to me that the reason the Democrats are starting to lose on the national level is that we no longer consistently appeal to the working class. Traditionally, Democrats have appealed to both the highly educated (winning among people with graduate degrees) and the lowest income, a combination that worked well for decades. Now, however, the Republicans have found a strategy of appealing to the wealthy and upper-middle class as well as white working class people by emphasizing policies which benefit the rich and appeal to social conservatism. Democrats have been so afraid to resort to "class warfare" that we've lost our working class base, and with it, elections. Interestingly, billionares (not millionaires) are now voting Democratic, which means the Democrats can now accurately claim to represent the top echelons both in education and income. Democrats need to also appeal to the working class, again, to succeed nationally.

April 14, 2005

Jenny Doussan recommended the following book to me: The Theater and its Double by Antonin Artaud.

April 13, 2005

The Discipline of DE by William Burroughs, from Exterminator, as posted on Wikilicious.

April 12, 2005

From another email I just wrote:

...By "the sorts of insights [you have been having]" I mean seeing that the constructed consensus reality that people ordinarily latch onto isn't the whole story, that there are many other ways of seeing the world, that there is no single privileged way, there's no absolute meaning, etc.  These insights are, I believe, completely correct, and at first I agree frightening and even destabilizing.  I remember the first time I was meditating and encountered emptiness in a visceral way --- it felt like everything I knew and cared about was being reduced to meaninglessness.  But there is "the other side." The initial shock of the deconstruction of ordinary meaning is a feeling of loss, but on the other side there's something else, a freedom.  Because ordinary meaning is actually a prison of sorts, one that we construct for ourselves, we're own own gatekeepers and guards.  What lies beyond is where we already are and it's actually far more vast and full and real than the things we think we're losing when we shatter the illusion of the solidity of constructs.  It's like tearing up a cartoon map of the world and first feeling scared and disoriented but then seeing the beautiful vista of nature and reality spread out before you.  It's breathtaking and very satisfying.

Regarding Buddhism I would say that though I study and practice Buddhism I don't think of myself as a "Buddhist".  To me that term is limiting and unnecessary.  I think insights are available to anyone and various things have been seen by lots of people from diverse cultures (for example we were talking about Bataille, but there are many examples).  Buddhism as a cultural tradition took some insights further into the realm of practice, daily life, body/energy, etc. in the West there has been more of a focus on philosophy and theory, though what you said about Artaud brings it more into a practical realm of practice via theater.  Further, "Buddhism" is a very large term that applies to a lot of teachings and sects and practices of varying levels of profundity and insight, some of which are contradictory, etc.  I tend to lean more towards the Zen/Chan and Dzogchen teachings, which are closest to postmodern in their flavor (though they differ slightly, it's very subtle, we could chat about that someday).


April 9, 2005

Part of an email I wrote today:

Rain in Los Angeles is often dramatic and powerful; I remember one terrific storm when I was in high school with clouds mounting up above the city, lit by the downtown lights, it looked like a gigantic cathedral, frightening and vast.  When the clouds let forth it was literally sheets of water crashing down --- it didn't even look like drops of rain.  It's a desert climate in some ways, warm during the day and cool at night, with rain infrequent but often intense.

New York rain seems more dreary somehow, though Portland rain always seemed different to me --- because it is frequent but often broken by sunlight popping in, it felt more clarifying than dreary, most of the time.  You could almost feel the plants drinking in the water.  There were often days with rain and sun at the same time --- rain falling through sunlight is really beautiful.  Olympia and Seattle were a bit more grey, but Portland has a mixture of rain and sun that really is nice.


April 8, 2005

I saw the Greater New York show at PS 1 today. Mostly, it sucked. I was kind of surprised at how mediocre to bad it was --- is this really the best that New York has to offer? There were only a few pieces here and there that I thought stood out; and I thought the films and video were okay, but not stellar. Is this a failure of New York artists or a failure of curating?

April 7, 2005

When it comes to romantic feelings, I think I am motivated primarily by a thought (perhaps it is more like a fantasy) that the woman involved is, or could be, or "should" be --- interested in me. Sure, she might not be saying it or exhibiting it, but I still need to think or feel that, deep down, she is or could be interested in me. If, for whatever reason, I find out that this is not in fact the case, I find my romantic thoughts and feelings disappear. I find it difficult to even remember, at that point, what those feelings were like any longer. It's sad, in a way, to lose that feeling of romantic interest in someone, even if nothing was ever going to come of it (for example, because of marriage, etc.) I miss it. But once the thought that, perhaps in some alternate universe in which we were both available, we might get together, once that thought is gone, then the desire disappears as well, for me.

Most women, on the other hand, seem to operate on a different principle: if the mystery about whether a man is interested in them is resolved too quickly (for example, by the man declaring his interest too early on), that's when women lose interest. It's certainty that kills romance in both cases, but in one case it's certainty there's no interest, and in the other, certainty that there is interest.

April 6, 2005

It's very late and I haven't posted (again) --- and as I lie here on the floor with my laptop, trying to think of what to write to "catch up" with my posting, I see ... my washing machine. A washing machine which I really love. It's an Equator 3612, which we've had in the loft here for almost two years now, and it works beautifully. Great things about it: it's a combined washer and dryer in one, it's got an evaporative dryer that doesn't require an outside vent (the moisture just comes out a tube and goes down the drain), it hooks to an ordinary faucet (our bathroom sink in this case), and it runs on 110 volt power. The only downside is the first one we had broke after about six months --- but it always ran kind of loud. The replacement they sent us was always a lot quieter and has run fine since we got it. The high-speed spin cycle does vibrate a bit but it only goes for five minutes or so like that at a time, and otherwise the machine runs very quietly. It does take a while to do a load (about 2.5-3 hours), but it washes and dries at once so you don't really have to think about it much. It's also very energy- and water-efficient. It's fantastic for New York.

April 4, 2005

Arrington de Dionyso at the Knitting Factory this Wednesday. Arrington is from that Olympia crowd which includes the mysterious and prolific Kenneth Mroczek, McCloud Zicmuse (who stayed with me a few nights ago and just performed here in New York --- that was fun, I got to hold some of his pictures up and light them up with a flashlight while he was playing, on the spur of the moment), the lovely and very talented Khaela Maricich, Sarah Brown (who has no website at the moment but who is a brilliant and wonderful artist, writer, political lobbyist, and all-around philanthropy woman now), Miranda July (well, she used to hang out there a lot in the old days, though now she's grown to be about 1000 feet tall ... at least when seen from a distance), Anna Oxygen, and lots of other interesting people.

April 3, 2005

Whups, I'm starting to slack off on my pledge to post once a day.

I was thinking about first impressions and judging character --- even telling if someone is telling a lie. I remember at least two occasions when I had an overwhelming first impression of someone which turned out to be precisely accurate. The first was when I met the CEO of a company that friends of friends of mine had started. The moment I met him I had this huge, immediate reaction: slimeball. Who knows why? Well, he then proceeded, through a variety of shady maneuvers, to attempt to steal the company from the founders (thankfully he was stopped), and then he fled the country. Later, these same friends of friends decided that I was responsible for some problems with a project we had been working on, and they decided to try to hire one of the people I had hired to do some of the work over my head, so to speak, because for some reason they thought he had done all the work. I tried to warn them, however, that this guy (though I liked him a lot) was not really the sort of person who could get work done without a very careful approach to managing him --- yet they attempted to make him the lead on the project --- even though he wasn't, as these friends of friends of mine evidently had concluded, primarily responsible for the work on our earlier projects which had gone well. As it turned out, they ignored my advice and he quit after about a month. On another occasion --- I saw this guy standing and talking on the other side of a large room, and immediately I thought "this is a very angry person" --- I had no idea why. Well, we discovered it was exactly true --- for example, he got so mad once while playing a video game that he literally broke the chair he was sitting in after losing a round. Thankfully he recognized his problem and tried to deal with it, later.

A couple things strike me as odd about this: first, how did I know that one guy was a total slimeball, and another very angry? Was it their body language? Some sort of psychic aura? Smell? Why did these friends of friends, on the other hand, while being very intelligent people, have such terrible judgement when it came to people, at least in these instances? What makes for good or bad judgement when it comes to trusting people?

April 1, 2005

I'm not doing an April Fool's entry. Sorry. Too tired for jokes.

How about: things we wish had been April Fool's jokes?

Wolfowitz tapped for World Bank.

Report: Iraq intelligence 'dead wrong'.

Bush nominates Bolton as UN ambassador.

Bush Launches Preemptive Attack on Social Security.