Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 51 Oct 11, 14, 2005

by Norman Fischer | October 11, 2005 at 7:32 PM

From Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 51 Oct 11, 14, 2005 Charlotte's Way, Muir Beach

Oct 11, 2005. Hours and days fly by. For instance this — foggy — morning a little reading (Oppen and Pessoa), make some soup, a bit of email, and already the morning's gone and it's nearly lunchtime. Some days it seems I'm battling with time, and losing. But then I ask, "Why worry if time's slipping by? After all, what have I got to do of any importance other than to see this life through till the end?" And I answer, "Well, absolutely nothing." So there's nothing to worry about. (It's the same nothing, in both cases).

Yesterday after doing not much of anything went to Denise Newman's poetry class at California College of Art. She's been teaching "Blown." So I read some poems from it and chatted on for a long time about poetry, practice, and various details about my writing process that the students seemed interested in. Denise introduced me lovingly and dearly as her spiritual teacher, fumbling to find words, which made what she said all the more precious. Afterwards we had dinner together and commiserated about the writing life, its deep joys and profound alienations.

Putting away some books this morning — so many books! I've lived a whole life inside books. Yet it seems I spend and have spent very little time reading.

Oppen: interesting that the "objectivist" view doesn't show objects as much as pieces, fragments, of things and ideas, especially shows the wider space in which they exist, the silences between things. (The "objective" part mostly has to do with seeing the poem as an object rather than a personal utterance). A lot of surprises line by line, elliptical stuff you sort of know what it is but also wonder "where did that come from?" As in Phil's work, a fearless sense of collage. 

Pessoa: reading the Alberto Caeiro poems. The "sensationalist" is always talking about sensations, which makes the poetry pretty talky and abstract, compared, say, to Gary (Snyder), who actually feels the heft of the natural world. Pessoa/Caeiro thinks about not thinking about the world and writes about that.

October 14, 2005. Spending time today reading Oppen. A luxury. I realize I don't allow myself this pleasure — necessary pleasure — of just reading, rummaging, playing around in the mind. Too much productive time I spend, and get onto a treadmill of that, thinking of all the things there are to do. But there's nothing to do:

"The power of the mind, the Power and weight Of the mind which Is not enough, it is nothing And does nothing —"

Oppen p 167. "Of Being Numerous"

Anyhow, nothing of importance. People live and die — one's self as well — and how important is it? Oct 10 Sybil Cooper died in San Francisco. Sadly I did not see her one more time.

Yom Kippur was yesterday. Since now we're in Friedman Center (instead of Main Sanctuary where in the past I'd always attended services) we began at 9 am instead of in the afternoon, which makes for a long day: 9 — 2:30, services; 2:30-4:30 meditation at Makor Or; 4:30 — 7:30, final services at Beth Shalom all together in the main sanctuary. I had a pretty bad cold, that plus the fasting plus the bad reaction to my niacin medicine made me feel a bit worse than usual. Rabbi Nathan gave the sermon which was a bit intricate. It involved the "winged creature" with the flaming sword who kept Adam and Eve out of the garden after the Fall, and the golden calf, and the "winged creature" depicted in gold atop the ark of the covenant in the Temple. These faced one another, and God's presence was said to appear in the space between their faces. I didn't quite catch it but somewhere there was also a depiction of two winged creatures intertwined. Anyway, the point was loneliness and intimacy: that God's loneliness resulted in the creation of the world and that the intimacy possible between creatures in this world is also the intimacy between God and us, and that that intimacy is often breached. Usually is. Throughout the prayers I wondered, what do all these people imagine they are doing, praying and fasting like this, intelligent, modern people? Is there more to it than the weight of habit, family ties, and inertia? Somehow I feel there is, that people do have a sense of the presence of God in their lives, however inchoate and unexamined it might be, and that the words of the prayers, from time to time, have real meaning for them. The new rabbi doesn't have as much a sense of drama as Alan (Rabbi Lew- former rabbi of Beth Shalom) does, so the Neilah service was not so dramatic, the closing of the gates not so heavy and ponderous, and the ending of the day not so consequential. It just ended, as things do. Earlier, hearing people read the accounts of various Jewish martyrs at Yiskor service, from Akiva to Daniel Perl, made me cry. Very sad all these sacrifices, not only the Jewish ones, all of them. The prayers for my parents also sad. Rabbi Nathan asked us to visualize all the people in our lives who are gone now. So many — gone, gone, too many gone. I had not thought death would undo so many but it has, all undone. 


Norman Fischer