Sunday, June 24, 2012

Eulogy for Robert George/ Part 2

By Brian George

At the beginning of the second stage, I had been out of touch with my father for 11 years, while he was trying to build a new life for himself and his second family on Avenida de los Insurgentes, in Mexico City, Mexico, in a 24-room mansion. As we were walking from the train I pointed out a car, a silver Mercedes, which I saw as a model of good design and style. It turned out to be the exact type of car that he owned. We also shared a taste for butcher block furniture, for shells and other objects from the ocean. We both preferred small instrumental groups over symphonies.

This was, however, a period of some conflict. We inhabited different worlds. He was devoted to business. I wanted to practice yoga and develop my creative powers, at that time in poetry. At one point he mentioned that he had shown samples of my writing to his most educated friends, all of whom thought it was terrible. One of them even described it as “a form of grandiose masturbation.” Perhaps I would like some money to go back to school to study business? No. He believed that I should “take my place in the world as a man among men”— his phrasing. He approached my conversion from poetry with the intensity of a locomotive. In 1984, after a particularly big blowout, I broke off any contact for perhaps a year and a half. In 1989, I began doing some visual work again. We were both surprised, if not shocked, to find that he liked the art as much as he hated the poetry. Perhaps I was not wasting my time, and might have some idea of what I was doing after all.

But the conflicts of this period were not so much resolved as put aside. We came to realize how much we both looked forward to our visits, how much we simply enjoyed spending time together. We had been divided by our similar, and very willful, natures. For far too many years, each would not give the other permission to be who and what he was, and then, more or less suddenly, a truce had been declared. I should also mention that, during psychodrama of this period, Judith was a key humanizing influence, moderating between us, and helping to establish the calm breathing space into which we would later move.
In describing the first stage I would like to share a few memories from childhood.

I remember driving up winding roads, at 80 miles an hour, on a rainy day to Tanglewood. My father had borrowed a 1950s Triumph sports car from a friend. My seat was tilted back, and I was very much aware that I was sitting no more than six inches over the road. Let me put it a different way: the road was speeding by about six inches underneath me. The fog was dense. Rabbits, deer, foxes, and pheasants would pop up, only to disappear a split-second before we hit them. With its smudges of green and gray, the landscape was as insubstantial as the fog. It was only there, perhaps, because we had both agreed to see it. On certain hairpin turns, I decided to perform a test: there was nothing beyond us when I closed my eyes. Still, I knew that one wrong move could result in our spinning off the road, flipping over, or hurtling into a tree. I was scared, yes, but my father was driving. The car hugged the road, and I knew that we would get to Tanglewood soon.

Tanglewood, an out-door music center in the Berkshires, was the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My father was proud to have such a highly cultured son, for I insisted on going to Tanglewood at every available opportunity. He assumed that this was due to a love of classical music. Not quite, or, at least, not yet. I liked the smell of pine trees and being far away from the city. But, in fact, my secret reason was that I loved the box lunches that they sold there. The sandwiches were great. The cardboard boxes that they came in were beautifully constructed. Even then, I liked to make things, and boxes were one of my favorite things to make. That year, for my birthday, my father sent me a recording of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony. The symphony, which premiered, in 1952, as part of a radio programme for a Soviet youth orchestra, is supposedly in Prokofiev’s “simplest” style, although, oddly, it is also in C sharp minor, one of the bleakest of all keys. It may have been written for a youth orchestra, but only an adult would think of it as a child-friendly piece. I played the record once. I didn’t listen to it again for eight years—when the seed that my father had planted came, at long last, to fruition.

On a trip, we stayed in a white motel by the ocean. We woke up at dawn to go fishing. The smell was a complex one: salt air, disinfectant from the motel, frying eggs and bacon, gasoline from the boat motors, weathered wood, dead fish. You could hear the cables creaking, and the foghorns from the tugboats. When we left the motel, already, the fog had started to thin out; it would soon be no more than a thin film on the water. The sun was red, but the overnight temperature had not yet risen much. Bouncing up and down on our toes, we zipped up our spring jackets.

There were seagulls everywhere. They perched on roofs, and on telephone wires, and on most of the posts of the wharf. They had sharp beaks, and we watched as they competed to rip apart a pigeon, which was almost, but not 100 percent, dead. The frozen fish packing plant was their base of operations. We asked, “Do they call it a base or a town hall or a church?” We speculated that they had grouped there to perform their civic duties. My father said something like, “They are probably voting on how much fish to eat!” In retrospect, I can only wonder if their purpose was more serious: They were voting on the number of sailors that they should escort to the other world. There was no part of the beach that they did not patrol, and, even miles out from the shore, you could see them circling the commercial fishing boats, as they set off for the day or returned after a week-long voyage with their catch. 

On the dock, we stepped into a shop with weathered planks, where we rented a small motor boat. We spent a half hour looking at the deep-sea fishing lures, with their colorful jointed bodies, staring eyes, naturalistic details, and three-pronged, razor-sharp hooks. I was hoping that we would go with a few of these. But no; instead, we bought two cans of worms. No fan of worms to begin with, I was horrified by the type of multi-legged sea worms that we bought, which kept biting and writhing and wrapping themselves around us. We never did catch any fish, but I will never forget how fearlessly my father handled the sea worms, as he leaned down to unwrap them from my fingers.

And, finally, let me turn to one of the earliest of my memories: It was another overcast day. We traveled in a Jaguar with cracked leather seats to a museum that was located somewhere in Rhode Island. It was old, and had ivy climbing up the walls. I think that this was probably the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, built in 1866, and featuring, or so it is said, over “12 million specimens and objects from Anthropology to Entomology to Zoology to Paleontology”—although, to be honest, I don’t quite remember the name. In any event, we went there, and we stayed for the whole day. The museum was cavernous, and it echoed. Ring after ring of balconies surrounded the central atrium, within which were arranged the reconstructed skeletons of some of the biggest dinosaurs. These were held together with wire, glue, and metal braces. To me, the braces did not look very strong at all, whereas the dinosaurs still did. Almost certainly, they could free themselves, and it seemed as if they were getting ready to step towards us at any moment.

So fascinated were we by the ancient bones, and so influenced by the spell they cast, that we somehow lost all track of time, and managed to get locked in at closing. At some point, we noticed that the lights had been shut off. We had heard the clank of the switches being thrown, but we were still talking about the head of the Tyranosaurus Rex, whose jaws gaped open a few feet from where we stood. The doors at the bottom of all of the stairwells had been locked. One after the other, we went down each of them, only to have to climb back up again. Only a few bulbs were still lit. It was so quite that you could hear the footsteps of a mouse—yet the space was not actually that quiet: it was as resonant as the inside of a shell. My father could turn even a small misfortune into the biggest of adventures. As we wandered around a balcony, we decided that we liked the skeleton of the brontosaurus best. He was, perhaps, an ambassador, who had been chosen to travel from the Mesozoic Era to our own. I was very much content to be there for the night, and did not especially want the guard to let us out.

At this point, I have reached a temporary limit of my ability to regress. Let me close with a few lines from the 13th Century Turkish poet Jelaluddin Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervishes of Konya, and one of the most articulate of visionaries. The excerpt reads:

Noise and action on every side,
fires and torches, tonight
this pregnant world gives birth to eternity.

I have no stone in my hand,
no quarrel with anyone.
I rebuke no man, but possess
the sweetness of the rose garden.

My eye is from that Source,
from another universe.
One world on this side, another on that
as I sit on the threshold.
On the threshold are they alone
whose language is silence.

Enough has been uttered; say no more; hold back the tongue.

(Illustration: Giorgio de Chirico, The Child's Brain)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eulogy for Robert George/ Part 1

By Brian George

Several weeks had gone by since the visit of my father and (his third wife) Judith in October. On a complex pattern of back roads, we had travelled to many of the places that my father remembered from the 1950s, when he has just out of Boston University and stationed at Fort Devens. Then, it was off to the airport, where we hugged goodbye, and, in three or four hours, they were back in Denver.

In hindsight, I would say that this last trip was more bittersweet than we knew, or at least than we were willing to acknowledge, and had taken place more in memory than in the landscape of New England.

So: several weeks had gone by. Already, the brilliance of the red and gold leaves had begun to fade, and there were more of them on the ground than in the trees. In their V-formations, turning on a dime, the last military jets had disappeared to the South, leaving only a few contrails. We would miss their sonic booms. We would wake to find that frost had spider-webbed the windows. How wonderful! We could smell the wood-smoke from our neighbor’s cast iron stove, which, even indoors, seemed to follow us around. Cold had driven a few field-mice to take refuge in our basement. Our cat would not kill them quickly. He liked to play with them for several hours first. Most bees had short-circuited. Their radar was gone, and they flew at odd angles, banging into things. The wind from the next season had arrived ahead of schedule. It stung fingers, and got underneath our clothes, making us, quite suddenly, aware of how inadequate they were.

One day, as I was browsing through the shelves at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore, a book by the Polish writer Zbigniew Herbert seemed to jump into my hands. I turned randomly to a page, and in front of me was a poem that Herbert had written about his father’s death. I would like to read it now.

Remembering My Father

His face severe in clouds above the waters of childhood
so rarely did he hold my warm head in his hands
given to belief not forgiving faults
because he cleared out woods and straightened paths
he carried the lantern high when we entered the night

I thought I would sit at his right hand
and we would separate light from darkness
and judge those of us who live
—it happened otherwise

a junk-deafer carried his throne on a hand-cart
and the deed of ownership—the map of our kingdom

he was born for a second time slight very fragile
with transparent skin hardly perceptible cartilage
he diminished his body so I might receive it

in an unimportant place there is shadow under a stone
he himself grows in me we eat our defeats
we burst out laughing
when they say how little is needed
to be reconciled

In this piece Herbert touches on what I think of as the three stages of interaction between parents and children, and on a final—more mysterious—stage that occurs after death.

In the first stage, our parents are giants. They have great control over the world and great authority. They exist in a mythic dimension. They cast enormous shadows as they move. The child who plays hide and seek loves to suddenly jump out. We put on an incarnation to take it off. The CEO of an international conglomerate, in the presence of a parent, can revert to being five years old. It is hard to do without our magical intermediaries, the big birds who intercede with clouds on our behalf. It is wonderful to be held in the strong arms of the ruler of the world.

We learn to take charge. We are never fully grown. When a parent dies, should he or she apologize for leaving us unprotected? The work of becoming conscious can vanish like a sand castle, as, inch by inch, the tide advances up the turrets.

In the second stage, as we grow our parents shrink to a more human scale. We see them eye to eye, as human beings like ourselves, and begin to understand their limitations. Since we know all too well our own limitations, we begin—perhaps grudgingly—to accept the limitations of our parents. It would be good if this process were as automatic as the change of the seasons or the growth of a tree. The situation is complicated by our having not one but two sets of parents. The mythic parents never do quite disappear, but go underground to live inside of us. We are confronted outside by the human ones. There are children who, for years after a parent’s death, will not forgive the one for not being the other.

False innocence can freeze the heart. It can be stunting to expect a golden childhood for ourselves. I would here pause, to direct a look at Jeff and Robbie, if my half-brothers could have put aside their disappointments to be here with us today. The soul matures by growing downwards into the darkness of the earth.

In the third stage, depending upon how long each person lives, the children might take on some part of the protective role of the parents. Bit by bit, we come to see that time’s arrow is not purely theoretical. No, all things will change. The classic, three-dimensional images that have followed us from childhood can then come to seem like badly scratched projections, and we cannot help but wonder if we have made our parents up. We come to see our parents as not only limited but also as quite vulnerable and frail. As what should be their wisdom expands, the strength of their intellect might simultaneously contract, and as the wealth of their experience grows, they might begin to develop a whole range of physical problems. At some point, they might float into the twilit mist of a kind of semi-incarnate state—a state not quite in this world, but not quite in the next.

They might rehearse their lives backwards and forwards, telling the same stories hundreds of times over. To think, “We have heard these stories!” is to miss the point. Is this simple repetition or the start of a movement beyond life itself, the first step in a process that will take off after death, and then escalate still further, in a kind of quantum leap? At the end, the parent might not even know what century he or she is in, let alone the specific year. An accountant might not be able to add up a column of figures. A dancer might not remember how she was taught to tie her shoelaces, or that the shoes for the left and right feet are supposed to match. A patriarch might become as weightless as a scarecrow. A matriarch might not recognize her child’s face. Whether we want to or not, we, the children, are forced to think—if we haven’t done so yet—primarily in terms of what we have to give. We must help our parents to acknowledge and accept that it is they who are now the dependents, and that, strangely, each is acting out the role that the other had first performed. The key thing is to operate by stealth. We must “act without acting,” and lead by way of a posture of submission. We must do our best not to get yelled at!

In the fourth stage, finally, the parents move on to a new world. We are left behind to internalize their knowledge, to develop a new and subtler relationship with them, as well as with the more intuitive aspects of ourselves. In some subtle way, our parents might once more act as our protectors.

Signs will be sent. We will speak again in dreams. We must help them to say goodbye to us, to establish themselves in the higher worlds. From there, they might act as our inter-dimensional guides, if we could only let go of all of our dead habits, and, with new ears, learn how to listen. As, with a sigh, they had once sent us off to school—first to kindergarten, then to high school and to college—so too we must send them off to conduct their life-review. From the other side of the aperture that clicks open on the light—which each is free to interpret in his or her own way—it is possible that our parents will have access to our mirrors. They will, no doubt, have important things to do, as well as many non-local parties to attend, but, when asked, they may provide us with some necessary clue. As, earlier, our parents had gone before us to the Earth, so too they have volunteered to scout the vastness of the Beyond. If we are the systole, they are the diastole; if we are the inhalation, they are the exhalation, and vice versa. It is possible that death is just birth played in reverse, and that the figure 8 is the most perfect of all forms.

I would like to present the first three stages of interaction with my father in reverse, ending with a few memories from childhood. Beyond what I have already said, however, I will not speak here of the fourth and more mysterious stage that opens up after death; it is beyond the reach of my casual recollection, and I would quickly lapse into poetry. And so, to begin:

During the recent trip of my father and Judith to Boston, I noticed that his hair had turned from silver to white, that he no longer enjoyed long walks, and, in fact, wanted to park his car at the front door of any building that we were visiting, rather than walking the few extra steps. In other words, I saw the normal signs of aging. For the first time, my father began to seem like someone in his sixties. I thought that he might develop a few health problems. It seemed like such a short time ago that he had started law school at the age of 59, bringing to it the enthusiasm of someone 20 years younger. I felt proud to have a father so willing to start again, to begin where he was and face life head on.

Now he seemed just a bit frail and cantankerous, rather than difficult in his earlier way. But what a wonderful visit that was! Speeding at 80 miles an hour through the autumn foliage, we traveled to the Bull Run Inn outside Fort Devens, where he had been stationed in 1954, when I was born. At the Inn, he remembered the name of the moose head made of sticks and scraps for vegetarians—the Egopantis—on the wall above the fireplace. I almost cried to watch him playing with his new granddaughter Elizabeth, then nine months old. He was overjoyed during a service at Emmanuel Church to find her clapping along to Bach and Schutz.

How strange that he dragged us from a meal at his favorite restaurant to see a jazz trio he had picked from the Boston Globe, a group that he had never heard of. As we were finding our way to our seats I realized that the pianist looked familiar. Out of dozens of performances he had picked one led by a person I knew. This was a person I had met at parties thrown by Elizabeth’s godfather, Steve Provizer. Stars sparkled as we left the French Library at the end of the performance. We walked back and forth along Commonwealth Ave., unable to find the car in which we had come. It had not been stolen, vandalized or towed. It was, after a hallucinated search, just waiting there in front of us.

Connections inside connections. There was a sense that we were moving deeper into memory, and then even deeper still, inhabiting a stage set made of dreams and hopes revisited. We coasted without a driver over unpaved roads.

That October trip was full of quiet joy. It was as calm as light on the surface of a lake, under which move currents that grab hold of the ankles and pull, swirling swimmers to an unknown beach. We intuited an emotion moving towards us from the future, a valedictory nostalgia. I had bought a number of ties as Christmas presents which I felt, for some reason, impelled to give to him—three months before Christmas. He appreciated the thought but wore only one, a slate gray tie with Keltic crosses on it, before his death. The others were a bit too colorful. None of them had stripes. In the October sky, a few insects blinked around us, and the stars seemed to be waiting for a new one to ascend.

(Illustration: Max Ernst, Pieta, or Revolution by Night)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Descent to the Merkavah/ Part 2 (Revision)

By Brian George

“The Just Man sat upright on his solid hips. A ray of light gilded his shoulder. Sweat came over me: 'Do you want to see the meteors glowing red? And, standing, hear humming the influence of the milky stars, and swarms of asteroids?

“In night farces your brow is spied on, O just man! You must find a roof. Say your prayer, with your mouth in your sheet, after a mild expiation; and if some lost soul knocks against your bones, say: ‘Brother, continue on your way, I am crippled!’

“...And the Just Man remained standing, in the bluish terror of lawns after the sun had died.”—From “The Just Man,” Arthur Rimbaud, tr. Wallace Fowlie

In Kabbalah, if we desire to cross consciously from one world to another, and, as things fall apart, to be actors and not just observers of the electromagnetic shift, the first stage of the process is referred to as “going down to the chariot” or “descent to the Merkavah.” A modern phrase similar in structure—if not in exact meaning—might be “descent to the unconscious,” as this was used by Freud and Jung.

If the goal—as in psychotherapy—is to heal, it is not to heal ourselves, but rather to repair the rip in the structure of the cosmos, which makes it difficult for us to perform our predetermined role. Some would argue that this rip is virtual, but it is nonetheless problematic. It would be best, perhaps, to view it as the time-lapse movement of a lightning bolt, which had previously shattered the upper vessels of creation, and has just struck the iron tip of a tornado, within which we have built our homes.

Blinding as—or what—it illuminates, this flash gives birth to the world that we perceive. What we think we see is the afterimage—now haunted and mechanically preserved—of a stage-set that was long ago destroyed. It is possible that each thing has happened a great many times before. For what reason, then, are we experiencing them now? A sense of vertigo takes over. It is enough, almost, to make us faint, and makes us hold on to those objects close at hand.

We must wrestle with a paradox: that the one sphere turns both clockwise and counterclockwise, up as well as down, in as well as out, and the energy that separates is the energy that connects.

Let us say that the world is a habit of projection. It does move, but it seems to do so only in a horizontal circle, which causes us to feel trapped. We are not free, because upon it we have fixed our eyes. Quite strangely, we do not know what our faces actually look like, nor can we, until such time as we have exited from the world. Until then, they are as featureless as the dark side of the sun. We must depart from what we know in order to discover what we are. It is by going down that we gain access to source energy—atomic, but of a relatively non-destructive sort—which comes complete with its own built-in interdimensional vehicle. Thus we will go from here, where we are not, to there, where there is nothing to obstruct us.

And so: why are we directed to go down instead of up? Perhaps because ascent implies a strenuous effort at improvement, a clutching at what is out of reach, a desire to become bigger when we should, instead, become smaller. Perhaps it is because the preexistent beings, the Elohim, descended towards the chaos of the primordial waters, to speak the words that began the world and program the march of evolution. Conversely, some might see this as the march of devolution, because all species have descended out of Adam’s DNA, which had not yet been unzipped from the DNA of Eve.

Perhaps it is because descent implies disintegration, a requirement for new growth. However turgid were the organs of the Elohim, and whatever their attraction to our bodies, which were, in some ways, far more beautiful than their own, it was not especially pleasurable to be buried in the Earth. It could induce claustrophobia to be tucked inside of its womb, between potsherds and the bones of dinosaurs, between out-of-date toys and kitchen sinks, in the rubble of exploded cities. Perhaps because biogenesis is just a prep-course for cosmogenesis, for a delivery to occur at the end of a great war.

Perhaps because Death is the most attentive nurse, the magician beloved by manikins. Perhaps because we assume that the “Higher Self” Is good. Perhaps because we are terrified of the Shadow that protects us. Perhaps because the end of all descent has been geometrically encoded in its origin. Many aliens look just like you or me. It is hard to tell if the lost race has gone anywhere at all. Perhaps because, appearances to the contrary, our catalytic agents are not actually out to harm us, and are doing no more and no less than instructed. “It is what it is,” as the contemporary saying goes. Perhaps because it is important to relax.

When we go down we return as to a vehicle buried, but the whole time present in the ground beneath our feet—a vehicle faster than the speed of light. If there is no space, it takes no time to move from one end of it to the other. Or perhaps—as I had earlier hinted—the Merkavah could be better understood as a tornado, ripping cities from their roots, churning crops and migrant workers and their alien overseers up, setting in motion the dead body of creation, tilting back and forth from the vertical to the almost horizontal, as it funnels the most distant of places through its center.

Time then becomes plastic. Magnetic fields congregate around a properly placed request. Often help arrives, as an accident or intuitive breakthrough, before the person becomes aware of the need for any help. Events run backwards—returning to the future world. The self, without moving from one spot, finds that little is left undone.

Upon his exit from non-local space, however, few will realize that the traveler has just stood the world on its ear. To the traveler, the world looks altogether different, like a web of luminous glyphs, with which he can interact. It looks like a body, and not a corpse. He notes that all of the clocks’ hands have gone missing. At noon it is midnight, and at 10:00 AM it is 4:00, the hour of long shadows. To others, the holographic stage-set does not seem to have blinked. Antigravity has not yet won their hearts, nor do they realize that they are standing upside down.

Thus it was necessary to postpone my transvaluation of all values. The revolution that I had launched did not even seem to exist. Truly, it was arcane in its goals. By the most psychotically complex of geometries, we had hidden our intentions even from ourselves. Our powers were great, but our vehicles were small, and we used them to hug the line on the horizon, as, bit by bit, we descended towards the Zero, then beyond.

Each day, we went to work, where we dragged our feet and pretended to be bored. Each night, we sped off to take part in god knows what. In our hands, a variety of archaic scalar weapons, which made them sting, and which we did not especially want to remember how to use; on our lips, an ecstatic chant, from a planet that the Death Star had exploded. Thus flew beneath the radar of the Lords of Industry and Commerce. My army was made up of straw dogs—very lazy!—who did not want to get burnt.

With our capacity to be both everywhere and nowhere, we would reassemble the once perfect world.

We would bridge the dimensions between sleep and waking, which may, in the end, be no more than a construct. We would redraw the maps that our ancient teachers hid. We would split the atom—but in a good way!—for at its center they had buried the bones of the First Man. Interplanetary in our scope, we would throw wide the doors to the Akashic Hall Records. Row upon row, we would wander among the statues that we left, whose anatomy is translucent. But why do their faces look like ours, with their wide eyes that have never ceased to stare? And if, in fact, they actually do breathe, then why is this breathing almost imperceptibly slow?

Would the amnesiac communicate with his other self, long since relegated to the edge of space? He would, but on a schedule that had yet to be determined.

It was clear now that my path led down, not up, and not only down, but outward.

I have heard the roaring and the droning of the Ur-text when the Powers That Be sing simultaneously the syllables of each line. To some ears, it might sound like chaos. From the center to the circumference, and from the future back, in 12 directions, to the present, in order that we have space to act the one sphere must be emptied. For it is in the nature of high energy to descend, as it is in the nature of free energy to flow. From the fog of souls, the tides of all potential versions of events, my own explorations seemed to reenact the descent of the lost race—who had not, as it turns out, ever really agreed to put aside their magic. Each thing has a certain “tendency to exist.” It was my job to coagulate the ocean.

(Illustration: Brian George, Tornado, 2001)