Coherence theory, and networking
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Coherence theory, and networking

Moral relativism is a failed social experiment. So is moral fundamentalism. I blame modern psychotherapy–partly–for the degradation of a culture that can not tolerate accountability and discernment. It’s why so many TV shows and movies are about serial killers: we can not conceive of a bad guy anymore. The only “bad guy” we can all agree on is a mass murderer. Even that is in danger of being OKified by the shrinked up zeitgeist: ergo Dexter, the lovable serial killer who kills serial killers. We want to rehabilitate everyone in this sophomoric, brainless insistence that there is no evil.

But somewhere between the rocks and the hard place of relativism and fundamentalism is a unitive philosophy that embraces what Teilhard de Chardin called humanism, but still leaves room for shame and discernment. Yes, shame has an important place in social interaction. So does spirituality. I am playing around with the middle way in my head, and I call it coherence theory.

I got to hear some comments about Teilhard de Chardin at a dinner last night that honors classicism. The art critic Donald Kuspit received an award for excellence in the arts, and he spoke about the failure of the avant-guard, which has turned into an empty “frantic trendiness.” It was a great relief to hear someone state outright that the emperor has no clothes. My husband Sabin Howard, being a sculptor, drags me to a lot of art shows, and I have seen a lot of twelfth rate crap. In fact, as soon as anyone says they are an “abstract expressionist,” I know they suck.

Speaking of art that sucks: I was seated at dinner next to some stuffed shirts who run an arts club, and on hearing I was a novelist, they told me with much self-importance that they were honoring Chinua Achebe. I groaned. “For what? His novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is so badly written! It’s boring and unreadable! He gets attention just because he’s the only one out of Nigeria.”

Immediately, the stuffed shirts wanted to prove that I was rascist and asked me if Obama was just getting votes because he was black.

“That’s not why I voted for him,” I answered. “I voted for him because he’s smart and inspiring, I think he can truly bring change, and I want change!” That shut them up long enough for me to carry on for a while about what a piece of cockroach manure “Things Fall Apart” is. The stuffed shirts managed to save themselves by turning away to talk to other people, and I seized the opportunity to make vomiting motions in their direction. It got a laugh out of my husband but probably didn’t endear me to the artsy fartsy shirts.

Later, in the cab ride home, the great Burt Silverman, a realist portrait painter who actually has a foundation in craftsmanship and tradition, twitted me about my oration on the indignity of art. “You were networking?” he asked wryly. Probably not.

Update from a few years later: The stuffed shirt who insulted me embezzled money from the arts club–a LOT of money. Sometimes my instincts hit the bull’s eye.

On Transparency
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On Transparency

Ramana Maharshi advocates inquiring into the self to find communion with God. He teaches that if you keep asking “Who am I?” deeply enough, persistently enough, and intently enough, you will shatter the incarnational illusions of “i,” the separative little ego, and get to “I am all that is.” It’s a path of discipline toward liberation.
When I ask myself, “Who am I?” I just don’t get that far. I’m still on the journey, I guess. Not disciplined enough. Caught up in the murk and mire of embodiment.
But the journey is worth taking, and it’s fascinating to me to witness the answers that come up at different points in my life. “I am a mother,” is among the top two responses that arise these days. There was a time…before dinosaurs roamed the planet…that I wasn’t someone’s mom. There’s no going back to that time; having had children, I can no longer imagine my life without them. If something suddenly happened and my children were gone forever, I wouldn’t want life. Every parent knows exactly what I mean. Life is demarcated completely and irrevocably by this universal, simple act of having a child.
And so the heart is tangled into a web of love and caretaking, expectation and responsibility, hurt and joy. Does that tangle bind us more deeply into the earth plane, into the opposite of liberation? Isn’t it supposed to be one way out?
So it is with all these questions that I watch as my oldest daughter struggles with her demons, and projects many of them onto other people, as we all do from time to time. By other people, I mostly mean me, her mom, the one nearest at hand, whom she knows will always be there for her, no matter what she says or does. It’s partly her process of individuation; she’s off to college in seven months. She’s got to define herself as separate from me in order to have a distinct core in which to stand when she finds herself on her own. We both know it’s coming.
It hurts to watch her struggle. She shoots herself in the foot, accomplishes miracles, sabotages herself relentlessly, goes out and makes a concrete difference for better in the world, commits acts of extraordinary compassion and cruelty, all at the same time. All while frequently blaming me for both real and imaginary hurts, all while wanting my approval and hating herself for that want.
And how do I respond as she does her thing? At the launch party for IMMORTAL last week, I spoke openly of looking for communion with God in every moment. I then apologized for sounding hokey, because it does. I’ll have to find a less embarrassing way–for me and whoever’s listening–to phrase this sentiment. How do I reconcile my spiritual pursuits with my human responses? Isn’t that always the question?
My friend Vedic astrologer Komilla Sutton, knowing I am undergoing the dreaded transit of Saturn to my moon, called sade sati in Vedic astrology, and that my daughter has the difficult transit of Saturn to her Venus, had a puja done for us at a temple of Saturn the last time she was in India. I had sent money for only one puja so the priest lit a single candle during an ancient and lovely ritual. He commented that my daughter has a very good moon, and then something rare and wonderful happened: the wick split into two, so there were two flames off the one candle. Komilla wrote me that it was very beautiful. But perhaps, in the moment of the wick parting to make two lights, it felt a flash of pain.
Captain Jack is back

Captain Jack is back

I love the writers strike. I’ll say up front, I hope the greedy executives play fair with the creative genius writers who make TV and movies possible. That said, any greedy executive who wants to pay me a little less than WGA members make to “consult on scripts”–send an email and I’ll give you my agent’s number.
But with series TV spluttering into oblivion via repeats and repeats of repeats, I’ve discovered new diversions. Like conversation with my husband and daughters. Well, okay, that’s a stretch, my kids have homework and intensely active IM social lives. But I have discovered BBC-A, and several excellent shows.
Most notable is Torchwood. It’s cool and hokey, odd and exciting, racy and decidedly un-Hollywood and compulsively watchable all at the same time. Take Captain Jack. Is he gay, or bi? Who cares, he’s gorgeous. What’s the deal with him and Gwen, and him and office boy? And what about his murky past, anyway; how is it he can’t be killed?
I’ll keep showing up, week after week, to find out the answers to these questions. Even if the strike ever ends and there are new episodes on regular TV. Few American shows can beat British shows for plot and character development, anyway.
The Launch, and Portrait of the Husband as an Artist

The Launch, and Portrait of the Husband as an Artist

book launch

No creative work is born into the world without a team of midwives, doctors, and assorted helpers. Even when one person carries out the labor of love, the final product–if it’s any good–is the result of a collaborative process.
My novel IMMORTAL is no exception. I was pregnant when I started out, so I can give some credit to my now 3 year old daughter, who was kicking so hard I couldn’t sleep at 4:00 am. I wrote two chapters during the wakeful pre-dawn dusk which I gave to my oldest daughter. She raved about them. A few days later she came home from school and said, “I can’t stop thinking about your story. Write the rest, mom. I have to know what happens to Luca!” And that was the pivotal moment, when I knew I had something worth persevering with.
My editor at Bantam read the novel with exquisite attention and intelligence many times. She asked for five revisions, and her perceptions and insights were wonderful each time. I chafed at the slowness of the process, but I’m glad I did the revisions, and really glad she paid such careful attention, because this book is infinitely better than it would have been otherwise.
Various friends read drafts, lent research materials, and offered encouragement. My middle daughter, step-daughter, and mother were always ready to listen and offer loving support.
But no one has been more instrumental to IMMORTAL than my husband Sabin Howard. He read every word of every draft. And from the moment I met him, he has embodied ruthless, relentless artistic integrity. Whatever needs be done in the service of the art: that’s what a true artist does. For him, as a sculptor, if that means using a power saw to chop off an arm, then reweld the armature, then redo six months of work because the gesture and pose of his piece aren’t right–that’s what he’ll do. He doesn’t care how badly it makes him feel. He’s true to the sculpture.
With that kind of uncompromising integrity being modeled for me, I had a lot to live up to. I’ve been occasionally intimidated, but mostly inspired. And very grateful. To my family and friends, to my editor, and most of all, to Sabin.
Tuesday night we held a joint book launch/sculpture show at the Salmagundi Club, an old arts club in the village that is simultaneously vibrant and venerable. First we had a dinner, and I got to thank a lot of people in my life who have supported me along the way. I got to say “Thank you!” and “I love you!”, not to everyone who deserves it, but to many wonderful folks. How many opportunities in life do you get to do that? To speak your gratitude in public?
Then came the reading. I was surrounded by 9 of Sabin’s classical figures, and practically embraced by his gorgeous Aphrodite. The parlor was jammed with 75 to 80 people, and we ran out of books, which were being sold to benefit the Library Fund at the Salmagundi Club. People listened intently and asked terrific questions. It was an amazing experience.
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Today is the day: IMMORTAL is being released. It’s out on shelves in bookstores and available for shipping from Amazon and B&N and wherever else books are sold. Actually, a friend bought it a few weeks ago at a sly and impatient B&N downtown. Which is all good.

I am happy to have it out, after the years of writing, revising, and slogging through the publishing process, which moves at the speed of continental drift.

I hope readers enjoy the book, that they take pleasure and fun and perhaps a piquant idea from it. Let me know.

Species of real & unreal

Species of real & unreal

Here’s the thing about being a healer: we have a different geometry of reality than many people do. It’s partly a siddhi thing, as described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras; if you start meditating regularly, trying to “cease the fluctuations of the mind,” you automatically begin to experience paradigm-busting phenomena. Sooner or later, you just do. It just happens. Some meditators see stuff, blobs of light, or colorful radiance around folks, or forms of energy-consciousness that used to be living people–or not. Meditators who aren’t particularly visual hear things, or sense things, or simply have wordless understandings that things are other than they seem.
Patanjali cautions against the siddhis, but I think they’re useful. What we experience for ourselves has a deeper impact than what we take on faith. But Patanjali has a a point, and caution is imperative. If you’re not grounded, extraordinary perception can quickly morph into delusion. Think Heaven’s Gate and Jim Jones and all those prophets who wafted astray, and sadly carried others with them.
Over the last several months I’ve become acquainted with noted UFOlogist Budd Hopkins, who is a celebrated artist as well as a researcher into something that a lot of people want to put down to fantasy and mass hysteria, swamp gas and reflection, urban myth and attention-seeking. One or two of his paintings hang in the MOMA. His UFO books are carefully, thoughtfully written and researched. He believes extraterrestrials are here, observing and abducting and experimenting. I’ve told him that I know they’re here in the astral plane, which is as real as the physical plane. But I haven’t verified for myself that ET’s are here in 3-d flesh, if flesh is what they have.
But the astral plane is a reality. Specifically, it’s a resonance of love and spirit, of relationship and dreams. And it’s a wide spectrum resonance. It drops into demonic curses and rises up into the blissful, transcendent songs of angels. It isn’t as dense and concrete as physical reality, but it affects people in the physical plane. It affects bodies and minds and emotions. Medical journals have published studies about the efficacy of prayer, the very stuff of astral beingness, on long distance subjects. The astral plane is palpable. It’s perceptible.
Which brings up another kind of reality I’ve experienced a lot of recently: teenage reality. It’s its own universe of perception and axiom, based on teenagers’ absolute certainty of their own invulnerability, infallible wisdom, and rectitude. They know everything. Based on 13 or 17 years on the planet, and what their friends tell them is so. Negotiating this fanaticism is treacherous, heart-aching, often simply impossible. Reason, decades of experience, logic, concern, love, etc. don’t make a dent in the monolithic dogmatism. A friend of mine said she’d read that the unhappiest people are those with teenage children. It’s at this point that I’m glad that the astral plane is real. The prayers that I constantly utter for my daughters have a chance of reaching them, of helping and protecting them.