Saturday, June 23, 2012

If nothing else, then what?

There is no future. Take a moment. That's all there is. Smile at the starkness of this solitary stillness. Now, end thinking. Simply, look.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Life is based on trust

Prison is mistrust.

We visit mistrust every week with trust.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Quiet on the set!" -- or, "Break a leg!"

Author: Yours, truly
Date: Thursday, June 21, 2012 11:06:39 AM EDT
Subject: "Quiet on the set!" -- or, "Break a leg!"

[Note: While taking a course on teaching online, it came to me a time 45 years ago. I posted this today on Online Course Journal. Now, here.]

~ ~~ ~~~ ~~ ~

In the fantasy I have a doppelgänger who is confident, organized, and sequential.  Then, like rainy mist dissolving in a curtain of cinematic slight-of-hand, the sun comes out, the pavement dries in seconds, and I am alone. I've been talking to this other being about their skills and modus operandi, and now passersby look strangely at me talking to myself in front of bookstore window. 

On public radio's Fresh Air, actor Jeff Daniels is telling Terry Gross about working with Meryl Streep. He says she is so intuitive and trusting of her instincts and the role that she does not plot out her every move, emotion, or response to fellow actor's lines, but merely enters the scene with dedication and dynamism, willing to (as actors say) risk the fall/feel the fail. But because she is the character as she enters the scene, and because she trusts the actors, director, script, and character -- she trusts herself in that situation to give what she can, be what she is, and project the integrity of the moment beyond the proscenium or into the camera.

In my brief survey after week two I checked off the box indicating that I was a little disappointed (in myself, in the assignments) because it is a big change for me to nail down the "scene" before the scene presents itself. That is the big difference for me between face-to-face teaching and on-line teaching. 

Like some adolescent rehearsing a phonecall to the cute girl in chemistry class, or an employee practicing what she wants to say to her manager about working conditions, trying to control the dialogue, leave nothing to chance, I find myself in a black hole of infinite devolution, abdicating and surrendering creative instantiation for a fixed platform  --  but without substance or resolve because it feels like play acting and not acting in a play.

Now it is week four. I will work to tidy up my module, insert the other modules for the syllabus, and soldier on. I usually teach on Wednesday evenings. Preparation for class runs the gauntlet of interesting ideas for the theme, wonderful quotes and textual references vying for inclusion, formatting the structure for the dynamism of student contribution and co-responsive responsibility for the weekly conversation about the subject. I go through a period of 'failure' during which I am almost completely uncertain what we are trying to accomplish. It is a matter of synthesis and inclusion -- students drive the agenda with their writing and reading. And I try to remain faithful to the pedagogical preference that "all knowledge is self-knowledge" and attempt to channel Meryl Streep stepping into the "action" when  I step into the classroom.

I remember studying improvisational theatre with Viola Spolin when, 40+ years ago, I was a lad in my early 20s. It occurs to me that the workshop I took with her in a theatre company has colored my educational philosophy more that I was aware of.  Here's a taste from Wikipedia:
Spolin's Theater Games transform the teaching of acting skills and techniques into exercises that are in game forms. Each Theater Game is structured to give the players a specific focus or technical problem to keep in mind during the game, like keeping your eye on the ball in a ball game. These simple, operational structures teach complicated theater conventions and techniques. By playing the game the players learn the skill, keeping their attention on the focus of the game, rather than falling into self-consciousness or trying to think up good ideas, from an intellectual source.

The intention of giving the actor something on which to focus is to help them to be in the present moment, like a mantra in meditation. In this playful, active state the player gets flashes of intuitive, inspired choices that come spontaneously. The focus of the game keeps the mind busy in the moment of creating or playing, rather than being in the mind pre-planning, comparing or judging their choices in the improvisation. The exercises are, as one critic has written, "structures designed to almost fool spontaneity into being."

Spolin believed that every person can learn to act and express creatively. In the beginning of her book, Improvisation for the Theater she wrote:
"Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become 'stage-worthy.'

We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking and crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations.

If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach. 'Talent' or 'lack of talent' have little to do with it."
I'm glad to remember this. I might not be cut out for online teaching, but I retain the passion for learning, encouraging learning, participating in learning, and "Lernen Lassen" (letting learning happen).

It is not a Kierkegaardian "Either/Or" -- but it is instructive to posit that, for me, education is theater, and the stage is embodiment, living, present, and actual. A movable classroom of the mind/heart/body. This is the telling of story. Our story. 

Bastardizing Hamlet's words, I suggest: 'The play's the thing to allow imagination to sing.'

Thanks for the opportunity!

P.s. -- there is much I have to learn:
“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded...”
(-- Mary Shelley (1831). Frankenstein, Introduction.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Each green leaf waves goodbye to mother spring gone at 7:09pm to the vast invisible plain of numerical calculation.

The vast and empty place spring had been spreads along memory of verdant sprigs emerging into deeper darker green.

I will tide over until next season.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Long settled dust

Hasta este momento no hay absolutamente cambio alguno. (Up until now, absolutely nothing has changed.)
Steep is the mountain of Yun men, 
Rising straight upward, 
Leaving the white clouds down below! 
Its streams, dashing and eddying about, 
Allow no fish to linger around. 
The moment you step into my door, 
I already know what kind of ideas
You’ve brought with you. 
What's the use of raising again
The dust long settled in an old track? 

- Yun-men
It's a miracle any of us are capable of walking around sane. So much to be depressed about. So much split mind, deep regret, broken character. 
Beggars And Kings

In the evening
all the hours that weren't used
are emptied out
and the beggars are waiting to gather them up
to open them
to find the sun in each one
and teach it its beggar's name
and sing to it It is well
through the night

but each of us
has his own kingdom of pains
and has not yet found them all
and is sailing in search of them day and night
infallible undisputed unresting
filled with a dumb use
and its time
like a finger in a world without hands 

(Poem by William Stanley Merwin)
We work to keep our bodies alive. We must also strive to find enough breath for our spirit to carry through the journey with the body.

Bless me, father, for I am dimming.

I expect to be unseen for a while.

I am spring, gone.

Absolutely, nothing has changed!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Follow; no, one

It is good to be nobody. Just there. A person of no capacity. Without title. Of no importance. No consequence.

As a poet, or mystic, or insignificant mendicant wanderer might be.
In my hermitage a volume
Of Cold Mountain Poems;
It is better than any sutra.
I copy his verses and post
Them all around,
Savoring each one,
Over and over.

- Ryokan (1758-1831)
Still, living in the world. On the streets. In doorways. At the edge of things. One's own, in service, without agenda.
Cold Mountain is a house
Without beams or walls.
The six doors left and right are open
The hall is blue sky.
The rooms all vacant and vague
The east wall beats on the west wall
At the center nothing.
Borrowers don't bother me
In the cold I build a little fire
When I'm hungry I boil up some greens.
I've got no use for the kulak
With his big barn and pasture --
He just sets up a prison for himself.
Once in he can't get out.
Think it over --
You know it might happen to you.

- Han Shan
We often live encapsulated in a web of fear and security. Perhaps there's another way, a way of simple love and insecurity, trust and acceptance.

Preface to the Poems of Han-shan
by Lu Ch'iu-yin, Governor of T'ai Prefecture

No one knows what sort of man Han-shan was. There are old people who knew him: they say he was a poor man, a crazy character. He lived alone seventy Li (23 miles) west of the T'ang-hsing district of T'ien-t'ai at a place called Cold Mountain. He often went down to the Kuo-ch'ing Temple. At the temple lived Shih'te, who ran the dining hall. He sometimes saved leftovers for Han-shan, hiding them in a bamboo tube. Han-shan would come and carry it away; walking the long veranda, calling and shouting happily, talking and laughing to himself. Once the monks followed him, caught him, and made fun of him. He stopped, clapped his hands, and laughed greatly - Ha Ha! - for a spell, then left.

He looked like a tramp. His body and face were old and beat. Yet in every word he breathed was a meaning in line with the subtle principles of things, if only you thought of it deeply. Everything he said had a feeling of Tao in it, profound and arcane secrets. His hat was made of birch bark, his clothes were ragged and worn out, and his shoes were wood. Thus men who have made it hide their tracks: unifying categories and interpenetrating things. On that long veranda calling and singing, in his words of reply Ha Ha! - the three worlds revolve. Sometimes at the villages and farms he laughed and sang with cowherds. Sometimes intractable, sometimes agreeable, his nature was happy of itself. But how could a person without wisdom recognize him?
Each step underfoot is the earth -- waiting and confident of return of each footfall and body's death.

Hide your tracks.

Let no one follow.

Follow no one.