Remember that old line . . . "They laughed when I sat down to play the piano"? Well,how about The earth shook when I went down to mail the publisher my manuscript!
Yes, indeed, folks. With exquisite timing, the earth did a dance on the day I put in motion a second edition of Innocence Abroad -- this one to be in a normal bookshelf format, and available to as many who seek it, for all the rest of my natural life (at least).
It was all so sudden a development, intensified by the rush to avoid an imminent increase in what it would cost me, that I hadn't a chance to let you know earlier. In fact, it got in the way of this issue, which was just about ready to go out in time for the Valentine tradition -- despite my full intention of continuing on the quarterly schedule initiated with the last two issues.
Much of what I had ready to go, in that Valentine issue, remains good for this one -- and, in fact, feeds/leads nicely into this new development. I will clear some space, before closing, to tell you more of what lends distinction to this upcoming 2nd edition, but the tale of how the opportunity arose actually illuminates, as well as anything could, what this time of year, and of my life, are all about -- which is the topic the earlier version opened with.
It began with a notice that I could see myself, at the moment, "...moving into a very precious several years of my life, possibly the last few energized, productive years I can count on." This reflected a combined awareness of my level of understanding of the cycle that appears to underlie my life, and its reality manifestation, expressing in an unusually strong pre-spring sense of inner vitality overcoming my typical lethargy of recent years. Almost as if a new me is emerging, along with the expectable sprouts of the season -- though I realize it is 'merely' the thrust of the septide that I'm feeling.
So I shall pick it up from there . . . and please bear in mind, as you read the next few pages, that this was all written - except for a few indicated paragraphs - before I made the connection that put me on a crash schedule, to get the book deal underway.
Let me begin by setting a kind of backdrop with what took place over the Christmas holiday, just past -- the occasion for what might loosely be called a family get-together, out on the nearby coast where my 'backwoods' nephew, Dennis, lives. I say "loosely," because it seemed like half the sparse population of that timbered country must surely have have come by, as we were there. Had I known it would be like that, I'd probably have begged off and stayed home, as it predictably meant clouds of cigarette smoke around an all-night kitchen table, along with a never-ending stream of kids, watching a never-ending stream of TV cartoons. But I bore it gracefully -- maybe because I had no transportation to enable any other option.
That, at least, was the take on it that finally settled in, after an on-again-off-again two-day discussion about such things with my northern California niece, Sharon. Ever since we were housemates in Seattle, for a brief few months before I did my European adventure, Sharon has seemed the closest to me, of all my diverse family, in my way of life. We've shared an essentially Taoist outlook: that life unfolds on its own terms, asking little more of us, as to initiative, than having sufficient alertness to grab the gift of the moment as it comes along.
So it caught me by surprise, that Sharon has taken a turn, and is now into living her life more assertively. I can see a reason for it: she is some 16 years younger than me, which puts her at the emergent end of a profoundly retreative time of life, and possibly feeling the winds of imminent change as a vitalizing energy rush.
At that time in my own life, I was about to take the strides that would see me ultimately to the northwest. And I'd be accounting for my own new assertiveness as the natural effect of changing times and circumstances. Which was true enough - but the deeper truth, I now think, is that the energy change brought on by the flow of ripening brings the fresh circumstances about, not the other way around.
But that was all irrelevant - if it even entered our discussion, that weekend - for we were arguing the merits of making one's life happen, as opposed to letting it happen, and I was kind of getting the short end of the stick, speaking for an ethic that had clearly left me . . . well, on the short end of other sticks. Like having written a book that no publisher had (in the course of my 'letting life happen'), seen fit to publish. Sharon didn't even need to remind me of that, I could see it all by myself. And it was a hard case to defend, in the limited framework of our ongoing exchange.
I have to call attention to the limits of the framework, because if nothing but up-front gains and losses are considered, Sharon had the winning position, no contest. But there is something more, which we hardly got into, and I'll get to that a little further along in this tale.
As the long holiday weekend moved into Tuesday, I was feeling ready to head for home -- which lifted the shortfall of my Taoist ways into high-profile prominence, because my getting home was entirely dependent on finding someone to drive me home. Sharon had said she would; but her world, for these days, revolved mainly around her daughter, Tracy, visiting from the midwest, and I would only be cutting that short if I tried to impose my own schedule. Besides, how could I, without giving her the whole point of her argument?
But hadn't I, in truth, already lost it, merely having reached this discovered impasse? So I conceded by implication, and gave the moment its further grace by asking only to join Sharon and Tracy on a shopping trip to the nearest town of any size, which was 50 miles away -- from where I'd complete my journey home, by Greyhound.
I spent most of that endless busride getting into a little gem of a book by Theodore Roszak, The Gendered Atom (1999), a cleverly devious inquiry into the subtle sexual politics of science. Roszak tackles the topic from a uniquely angular approach: through his earlier investigation (for the writing of a novel) into Mary Wollston-craft's development of the Frankenstein tale. In the course of that earlier inquiry, Roszak and his wife had visited the Swiss locale where the story takes place, and he details a fascinating series of coincidences that had to happen as they did, in order for him to see the juxtaposition of science and fantasy that prompted the gender insights he was now working with.
As I read his nicely turned account of that magical layering of life and inspiration, I suddenly realized that he was writing about the very reason I choose to live as I do -- the reason that overides all the logic and sensibility of taking an assertive path through life, outside of those occasional times when a situation actually demands assertiveness.
It's because we can only see this magic at work when we're taking the journey, so to speak, 'without holding the handlebars.' Just as with riding a bicycle, life is a balancing act between what the outer mind wants and what the inner mind knows. The two are entirely separate domains, but they meet at the juncture of what is happening to us. To the extent that we are focused on what we want, we risk the invisibility of that brief awareness of what the inner mind senses in the situation at hand. And if we fail to pick it up, as is all too often the case in a culture obsessed with materialism, we eventually come to disbelieve its very existence.
As you know, I've written endlessly on the providential aspect of just letting things happen -- that is, in terms of the material and developmental rewards that it brings. But here, I want to focus on something a little different, which is the visionary aspect. A kind of providence, to be sure, but a very specialized kind that may be out at the far end of the providential spectrum.
The mystic sees things because he or she has learned to wait and watch. The gift of such sight can arrive in no other way. Those of you familiar with Herman Hesse's tale, Siddartha, will recall that his protagonist claimed for himself just three virtues: he could think, he could wait, and he could fast. Two of these are readily understood by today's average reader, but the purpose and method of just waiting is not so easily grasped.
What are we waiting for, and how do we recognize its arrival? The very questions reflect our difficulty with what waiting is all about, for it isn't often focused on any known target, it is just plain waiting . . . for some certain sense of things to arrive. For the ripening, let us say, of what is underway.
But that's hardly a sufficient answer, in today's world. How is one supposed to know when the time is ripe for something? If we leave it to the impatient spinning of our head-wheels - ever-avaricious, always fearful of delay - there is no time better than the present moment, for any impulse that pops up. Where is our guideline?
If a guidebook is sought, there is none better than the I Ching. But like the art of waiting, itself, the use of the old text requires an investment of time, to absorb its wisdom.
On the other hand, we do have a kind of shortcut, in something more readily at our disposal, which is Nature's own instructive seasonal flow. In fact, season and ripeness provide the essential grounding of the I Ching -- so it is a bit like going to the source, for what we want.
So how, then, do we transpose anything in the seasonal flow of the year to the issues encountered in what we like to call 'real life'? It's not as difficult as you might think -- at least, in terms of a frame of reference . . .
Is fresh local fruit available in mid-winter? Does anyone turn in for bedtime before noon? Do we typically send kids of twelve off to fight wars, or think them likely to fall deeply and richly in love? These are issues of ripening and maturation, which is what the seasonal flow is all about -- so in a good many areas of life, we already think in such terms. It is merely a matter of attuning the sensitivity to a deeper degree, so that all developments are seen in the light of their flow toward ripeness.
Because, though we seldom reflect on it, this sort of evolvement applies to everything that goes on in the world, private or public. Not necessarily in conformance to the year's actual seasons, but very often impacted in expectable ways by seasonal energies.
It is odd, in fact, that we don't instantly know this -- an index of how far our culture has taken us from the basic facts of nature and life. Even though, in many ways, it is subtly acknowledged in the timing that underlies all areas of cultural ritual. The time, for instance, of a Jewish bar mitzvah, at about two septides into the lifestream, or the traditional age of adulthood at the otherwise odd marker of 21.
Or again, the interesting circumstance that June is idealized as the month for marriage -- does anyone ever think to associate this with June's placement in the maturational stream? June is the first 'serious' month of summer -- after the freshness of May but before the ripening cycle reaches July's intensity. This distinction means very little, in any practical terms, in today's way of living; but there is yet a sense of the most appropriate timing for marriage, in the flow of the pattern.
At a deeper level, however, the pattern format may mean a great deal. For the inner progress of a development - and often its outer progress - is conditioned by the energy of the moment in which it takes place. We sleep easily at night - and all night - as opposed to mid-day, because it is the 'winter' portion of the day's cycle, and has that influence on us. We call it "being tired" (which is etymologically linked to re-tired, which takes place at a similar time along the lifespan). The entire mind/body system knows perfectly well when it is appropriate to be active, and when it is not.
And life happens to us, accordingly . . . yes, it just comes to us, when we are open for that. This is the most incredible - and not rationally acceptable! - aspect of the whole situation. The fresh input in our world comes along in the day-light hours, not the middle of the night; and if you think it's only because people are generally asleep at night, you won't find fresh input or new starts arriving in mid-winter, either. Even our 'civilized' digital culture, which has entirely deposed the cyclical way of life that once held sway, still honors the inner urge for hibernation until the opening of a new cycle arrives.
[This portion between asterisks added in March rewrite, for the sake of clarity.]
Much of this understanding has been in place, in me, for a long time, as you should know by now. Including the parallels that exist, between our three major cycles: the day, the year, and our personal lifetime. But the element that has come lately to the fore is that rather vague and half-hidden instance of the cycle that I call a septide - a 7-year stretch.
This is partly intuitive, in me, and partly based on the reality of its appearance in my life, going back in time well before I had any awareness of these things (as in the 7-year stretch of my programming career). But while the day, the year, and the lifetime have boundaries and recognizable stages easy to compare, it is not so for the septide. I have to rely on personal experience entirely, which is not so easy to corner and correlate.
It has recently occurred to me that part of the bafflement is due to the way that I have already set my past experience into some other framework of understanding, which tends to rigidify over time. A good example was my long-time habit of regarding the year I dropped out as the 'high summer crisis' of my life -- realizing, only many years later, that my true lifetime crisis took place several years on, when my bowel burst, bringing on a colostomy. It was an offset of only a few years, but on a septide scale it meant a full half-cycle of dislocation.
As a result of this and other new approaches to the correct delineation of the septide, I am finally at the point of being able to lay it, as a template, over my entire life, and use this as a further tool of understanding. When arranged as a sequence of septides, in this fashion, the picture emerges of septides that are different in their nature -- each being comparable, in effect and feeling, to a different 'month' in the overall calendric stream of the lifetime cycle.
Thus, I have no reason to expect, of my present 'December' septide, the sort of things that the 'October' septide brought, 14 years ago; but I can expect a 'springtime' effect at the appropriate portion of it, which I estimate as its second year . . . and I can assume that several good years will follow, as we move into the 'summer' of the septide. And this, you see, is what is now happening!
[Back to what I wrote during February]
In my sense of the septide, I'm somewhere in the early spring stage of one, probably going into its second year. Looking back at earlier such moments, this feels strongly resonant with the February of 1987, when I was poised to begin my return to school, following a year of much rather pointless busy-work -- though it seemed significant at the time. It had seen me through a depressive stretch, just as last year did. At that moment, 14 years ago, I couldn't begin to see where it would all lead. The U.W. was nowhere in sight, nor the financing around it, or - hardly necessary to say - the European adventure that eventuated. But I very vividly recall the marvelous and even magical sense, that I was about to emerge into the sunlight of great potential, as soon as the spring quarter of the community college opened.
I'm feeling pretty much the same, now, though it's muted by the fact that this is my December septide, while that was October's (which I didn't yet realize) -- easily the brightest septide in life's latter portion. But I'm not complaining. Just to be in the opening stage of a septide, once again, is a bright enough promise for anyone at this time of life.
So I am feeling this rising tide of internal energy that is both a function of the year's early advance on spring, and of the septide spring probably already underway. It's not quite our usual definition of energy, but more a sense of vitality -- like, there are things I want to start doing, but still almost wholly in a state of potential, rather than actuality. To fully appreciate the newness I'm talking about, however, you'd have to know the kind of ground-down weariness that has been my mode for most of the past year. This is a quantum change, believe me! I feel it most strongly when I'm out and about, in the way I react to people - ordinary strangers - around me. There is a new "I know who I am" sureness, in whatever my response, not that uncertain old guy who had been out there, before. The difference between night and day, to use an appropriate metaphor.
But I need to emphasize again, it's very largely internal. All I have to do is try and run for a bus, to realize this. In my 'October' septide, I could still do one of those loping loose runs that are so sweet to remember. All my legs and lungs can do, for now, is a kind of clump... clump...clump, and I'm totally out of breath before I get there. Still, this internal vigor is such a precious thing to have again. And to know I'll have it, to some extent, for the next few years. Veritably, a modest rebirth!
The question now at the top of my list is: What will I be doing with it? Or to put it more in the frame of this report: What has been sprouting for me? And thereby we come to the most fascinating part of my moment's tale.
One way to pick and choose, to know which sprout can be counted on as having real meaning in your life, and a likely stream of energy packed in with it, is to look for the pedigree -- the sprout with a 'lineage trail' behind it, the longer the better. There is one that I can trace back almost two full septides, linking it to the earliest of my present run of years in Seattle.
I made a new friend, way back then, at a workshop in March of 1986. This is not so much the excellence of my memory, coming up with the date, as the recall of why I happened to be at that workshop: it was for folks making a fresh start in life. And coming right on the cusp of spring, it seemed seasonally right for me.
It was, as far as meeting Dee goes, for she is still a good friend. Nothing ever of a romantic nature between us, but we somehow went to see an erotic movie together, within that first year of our meeting -- not something we ever did before or since, and I don't even recall what prompted it or at whose suggestion. It was a German film with English subtitles, a fact I swiftly forgot -- in fact, I even soon forgot its name. But the impression it made on me was not forgotten. It was sensitively handled, and far better in quality than any such film I've ever seen . . . to the point of being a classic.
Flash forward now, to June of last year when, in the course of looking through old journals, I ran across a mention of having gone with Dee to see that film "last Friday." Great! I remembered which theater, and now I had a date -- so it didn't take long, in a brief buzz through the microfilm newspaper files at the U.W., to find the name. It was called Catch Your Dreams...
With that info, a quick web search gave me the production data -- told me it was a German film, and I knew pretty quickly I'd never likely see it again, the hope of which had prompted the search. But the site that gave me the info (the Internet Movie Database) is one that posts visitors' reviews, and since there were no reviews up for this film, I decided to leave one, myself. It was a zinger, of course -- I gave it my highest praise. And then promptly forgot about it.
Early this year - on January 9th, to be precise, which is really too early for an annual sprout - I had a thank-you email from Moritz Boerner, the film's Director! A friend of his had informed him of my review, and he wanted to know if he could use it for publicity purposes on his own site. It was a great opportunity for me to learn a little more about the film . . . maybe even to get myself a video copy.
Well, that didn't pan out, but in the course of exchanging a few emails, Moritz and I found we had a fair amount in common. He is much more than a film director - he isn't even doing that any longer; he's now writing, and doing therapy workshops around the work of Byron Katie, a California woman who seems to be the latest thing on the consciousness-raising circuit, and it surprised me that I hadn't heard of her.
Back to the web, then, to learn what I could. Between that and what Moritz told me, I was fairly impressed, and did a web search to see if I could turn up a second-hand copy of one of the few books out, about her work.
Somehow, on this latter search trail, I happened across a site called Xlibris, which had only an incidental connection to the Byron Katie thing, but which held me like a magnet for what it was all about: an avenue that might really work, for the re-publishing of my Innocence Abroad, and the publishing of anything else, book length, that I may yet write! If I understand their approach and their terms correctly, it looks like the sweetest thing since maple syrup, for a writer with my reservations about publishing.
It crosses my horizon at a time when I am thinking about something more assertive with Innocence Abroad - thanks, in part, to Sharon's effect on me - and when the very prospect of this septide drive, already beginning to move in me, has stirred thoughts of other writing long put aside. Those factors, alone, were enough to ring bells, for me, when I came across Xlibris.
As often happens - seemingly to confirm the occasion when the right thing comes along - a related 'secondary sprout' even appeared, in an out-of-the-blue inquiry from some entirely other 'ebook scout', apparently generated from a seed planted last October at the Seattle Bookfair, where I had spoken with a number of publisher reps to see if I could stir up any interest in the book. Nothing further on that particular one, but it is still 'sprout time' as I write this, and I am giving you what amounts to raw data, with no pause for caution. I am that confident as to the time's effect, and that sure of the cyclic wave now rising for me.
Back, again (or forward again) to March, to bring my tale up to date and finish this issue . . .
Within a day or so of when all that was written, I made a telephone connection (after trying for a week or more) with someone at Xlibris who answered my questions, and also told me that the price for what they do was going up, by 50%, after the end of February, which is what catalyzed my decision to move on it, and pretty well cancelled out all else that I had scheduled for the month -- including, of course, the Ripening Seasons Valentine issue.
So it has been a very interesting course of events, and what you have here is a kind of rolling snapshot of cycle awareness in action. I was writing at the perfect moment to capture the development through its evolving stages.
From my present perspective, however, it is only the visible tip of an exceedingly potent and somewhat complex time opening up for me. Other things are going on, much of it still internal, that hint at wide-open possibilities of activity for me. For one thing, I'm now seeing the oft-envisioned season-cycle book as a workbook sort of thing, that would lend itself to use with groups and classes -- and I may be up for that, on this septide's energy! There is also a possibility of bookstore readings, with this newly available format of Innocence Abroad.
In fact, if Xlibris proves out, as a viable publisher, there will be other material I can put out there, much of which is already written and can be anthologized in one way or another. But I'd better not get too ambitious, as this thrust is not going to carry me for more than a few years -- with annual winter gaps that may not very well support it.
Other sprouts are coming in, too. Way back in '95, I got into a wonderful penpalship with a young Chinese grad student doing her thesis on T.S. Eliot at Georgetown. It went on for about a year, with occasional exchanges since. And then last year - at the proper seedtime - she surprised me with an inquiry as to whether I'd be into providing language help for students in China! (You know, of course, that I use the term 'proper' in this context to indicate the appropriate cyclic seasonal timing.)
I expressed a modest interest, and things properly went into their wintertime nurturing mode. With ripening expectability, I heard from Hui Li again, a few days ago, and shortly after the middle of March I'll be part of a 13-week online tutoring program, interacting with three Chinese students in Chengdu.
That's the upbeat side of the year's seasonal equation. On the downbeat side, word finally arrived, last month, after a long winter of nurturing silence, that the car rental outfit wants $7,581 from me for the momentary lapse of consciousness that totaled-out their automobile, as it left me more alive than ever. So a year's worth of negotiation begins, to discover how I can dance my way through that!
And then there is the adventure frontier of travel, for which this will almost certainly be my last viable septide. I am thinking about one or two freighter voyages, before my time runs out . . . like that lifelong fantasy of going down to South America . . . (oh, what a wonderful way to escape the Big Bad Debt!)
(I'm only kidding, of course.)
This is sort of like the old game I've sometimes played with myself: What would you choose to do, if you knew you had only (but all of) one year more to live? Not that stringent, of course -- but in a certain sense, more realistic and true-to-life. For there isn't any fooling around, about the steady, gradual deterioration of aging. I know, from the past couple years, exactly what it will do to me once this septide surge is fully done with. But the kind of foreknowledge I now have - both, as to the pitfalls and the promise - is truly the gift of the gods!
Everything now begins its finality of falling into place. For the spring and summer, even the fall, of the next few years, I'll have the septide wind at my back to compensate for the gradient of aging. What a windfall, to know this!
The study of ripening, with all of its intricacies, has been well worth the attention I've given it. I am finally content that I have a reasonably accurate sense of it, as a generally overlooked slice of science, and satisfied that I'll be leaving something for others who can grasp it, to build from.
Even if, in the end, it is largely buried in these appropriately-named newsletters I share with you, they'll be up on the web, thanks to Afterlife, and pointers will be 'out there' to direct folks to them, in site references included with Innocence Abroad, and anything else I get published, from now on.
There is just one more rather unusual sprout that I have to tell you about, before closing this Spring Equinox report. I'm not even sure quite what to make of it - but it arrived at the proper time and, notwithstanding the absurdity of it, has got to have some sort of meaning. It was a great head-bender, I'll tell you!
I'm reproducing the letter on the back of the yellow, so you can see for yourself. I could use it as a book promo, maybe? [Ed. note:What was reproduced on the yellow backing of the print edition was a bona fide letter received from the A.N, Marquis Co. requesting me to submit a biography for evaluation for a listing in the upcoming edition of Who's Who in America.]
"2001 Who's Who nominee!" After all, isn't that how they do it with the Academy Awards?
The congratulations line forms to the left.
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