Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mindscapes/mind escapes

Mascot for the year. It's a shiny dark brown (maroon?) figurine of a bald and pot-bellied Buddhist sage. Given to me by a former colleague as a gift for the new year. About 4 to 5 inches tall, and heavy (some kind of stone maybe). He carries a tree branch on the right shoulder, with what seems to be all his life belongings tied in a bundle at one end behind his back. A rustic jug dangles from his left hand, containing perhaps some wine or just plain water. A wide smile on his face as he turns towards his left. A lone traveler no doubt, and a happy one at that. Someone who left everything important behind and yet carries with him a treasure trove of wisdom and experience. A nice image for all the actual and inner journeys that will have to be made this year.

Song for the month. Eric Clapton’s Lonely Stranger is not really a new song to me. I bought a cassette tape of his Unplugged album years back, when CDs and DVDs were still items that could be found only in science fiction. In fact, what I have now is my second copy of the album. A cheap boom box that had a hard time playing 60- and 90-minutes tapes finally gave up on my first copy and ruined it for good. But the blues riffs were so hypnotically good that I simply had to buy that second tape. Clapton won the 1993 Grammy’s Album of the Year and Rock Male Vocal awards for his acoustic performance in Unplugged. Lonely Stranger was one of several songs written by Clapton for his four-and-a-half year old son, Conor, who fell from the 53rd floor of a New York condominium unit in 1991. Of course, Tears in Heaven was the one that subsequently became more popular and got associated with that tragic episode in Clapton’s life. But I’ve come to love Lonely Stranger more (jives well with the martian’s alien mien, like Sting’s Englishman in New York). Especially during these past few days when I got a chance to borrow my partner’s CD of the Unplugged album, rip the tunes into my office PC, and hear Lonely Stranger once more. Ok, I’ll stop here and just let the lyrics take care of the rest:

I must be invisible
No one knows me
I have crawled down dead-end streets
On my hands and knees

I was born with a ragin’ thirst
A hunger to be free
But I’ve learned through the years
Don’t encourage me

‘Cause I’m a lonely stranger here
Well beyond my day
I don’t know what’s goin’ on
I’ll be on my way

When I walk, stay behind
Don’t get close to me
‘Cause it’s sure to end in tears
So just let me be

Some will say that I’m no good
Maybe I agree
Take a look then walk away
That’s alright with me

Thought for the week. “Conversation with death” is an old idea of native American Indians about the dialogue that is supposed to take place between a predator and its prey. A mere eye movement from a deer, according to this thought, could effectively convey calm acceptance of its inevitable fate in the paws of a transfixed lion nearby. In that short span of time before the predator lurches forward, the prey is able to seal a compromise with its hunter: its body and energy in exchange for the predator’s respect for its spirit. David Wicinas devoted some pages of his book, Sagebrush and Cappuccino: Confessions of an L.A. Naturalist, in expounding on this ancient wisdom. His reflections: most religions and philosophies teach people to converse with life, how to live it right and well. Very few instruct women and men to carry on this discussion with death, and thus prepare themselves to face it with more dignity and confidence when the moment comes. Many people spend their lives oblivious of their entropic destiny, or consciously trying to escape thoughts of death.

Word for the day. “Crepuscular” is a biological term used to refer to animals that become active only during dawn or twilight. As an adjective, it is used to describe something that is dim or partially devoid of light or brightness. This is another find from Wicinas’ book. Used to think that I’m a nocturnal animal. Thanks to Wicinas, my pretensions at a vampiric existence are officially over. I now consider myself, more appropriately, a crepuscular creature. Much like Spencer Brydon, Henry James’ character in The Jolly Corner (though no autumn here):

He sometimes came twice in the twenty-four hours; the moments he liked best were those of gathering dusk, of the short autumn twilight; this was the time of which, again and again, he found himself hoping most. Then he could, as seemed to him, most intimately wander and wait, linger and listen, feel his fine attention, ... he preferred the lampless hour and only wish he might have prolonged each day the deep crepuscular spell.

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