I always knew there was something up with trying to figure out what to eat but I had never known what to call it. The dilemma: what to eat in an increasingly industrialized society that purports to tell us (with alarming frequency) what to eat, how to eat it, why it is good for us and how they are making the ordinary foods we used to eat “better”. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma touches a very deep root of the human consciousness, a root which all of us share, regardless of religion or race. That is: the need to eat. We all do it and many of us love it. But where does it come from, this food that we eat? That we source from the grocery store or corner market or (gasp) drive-thru window? And what does it take for it to get there.
As my own knowledge of the human impact on the world around me increases, I have become acutely aware of my own individual footprint upon this planet. That footprint has been, so far, thirty years in the making with only maybe the last six to ten of it containing any sort of consciousness about what I use, where it comes from and where it goes to when I am done with it. But i become more and more aware of the fact of the electricity I use, the gas in the car, the plastic baggie that held the cheese in the refrigerator: do I toss it in the garbage? One more trace of plastic for the landfill or do I reuse it? I reuse it. I recycle it. What do I really need is the question. And what do I have that I can use in new and inventive ways? Likewise, when I look at food: in general I eat a fairly balanced diet, a lot of whole grains, a lot of fresh vegetables. very little sugar (except for the honey in the tea, the occasional cookie and the piece of dark chocolate) and as-consciously-raised-as-i-can-find-it meat. All well and good for certain… but just how conscious is the Whole Foods or the Trader Joe’s? what is industrial agriculture… what is organic industrial? And what is truly sustainable? For one thing: buying organic no matter what does decrease the amount of chemicals sprayed on the ground, thus leaching into the earth, the tap water, your blood, into your food and into you… and that, my friend, is a good thing.
Anyhow, I’m not going to get into the whole gist of the book but if you care about yourself, the food you eat, and the planet you live upon (and care to learn why the average McDonald’s meal contains almost 50% corn) than I would suggest picking it up.
Oh Coffee – bitter nectar of the jungles – fierce stimulator of the nerves – acidic, I make you sweet and creamy – too hot, I sip anyway – O Coffee – How I love thee. Let me count the ways…
Ok then. While he is off doing that, I will take this moment to tell you about my neighborhood. I live in a suburban neighborhood, you see, in San Diego. I have spent so many years either in the middle of nowhere or the middle of everything that it is strange to be back again in the in-between purgatory of Suburbia. It is so strange and seemingly far away from the action- either the community kind of urban action or the out in the woods and mountains natural action. In a sense, it is like the forest- I go outside and I am surrounded by a wilderness. There is a stillness and a strangeness. Yet, in the woods, I feel more akin to the trees than my neighbors. Let me tell you about my neighbors… Who are the people in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood.. in my neigh-bor-hood…
Well to our immediate left is Mrs. Valez. There may be a Mr. Valez, but we are suspicious that there is not because we have never seen such a person though we think our landlord had told us there is one. Most of her extended family lives there with her at varying times of the day. If we keep our front windows open (and they are big windows and let in a lot of fresh air…) their stale old cigarette smoke drifts in. Yuck. At least they talk in Spanish all the time and so we don’t have to actually understand what they are saying when we hear them. If the mind hears English then it is hooked into the conversation because it understands the words. I don’t want to know their dramas.
To my immediate right is a fellow who is married with a little baby. We never see the wife and he works nights. He says he’s thinking bout moving to Dallas, TX. Says he can’t agree with the politics of California. Okay then there goes that dinner invitation.
Two doors down, on the other side of the Valez’ is a woman who is always going through her garage. She’ll empty a bunch of stuff out only to put it all back in at the end of the day. She’s overweight and seems to maybe have an obsessive/compulsive issue with the garage. Every so often she’ll have a tag sale. One day I saw her empty a good deal of stuff out of there- a patio furniture set (Hey! We could use one of those!), a shopping cart, a roll of small picket fencing… it just goes on. And then she puts it all back in.
Down on the corner at the house with all the bushes, they take great pride in Holidays. On Halloween the pale chubby kids and their pale chubby parents made a haunted house – with strobe lights. What’s scarier than strobe lights? Everyone is afraid of seizure induction. On Christmas they went crazy with the cheesewhiz and had lights up the wazoo. But then, so did many others. We had considered going around to all the inflatable snowmen, snowglobes and whatever else which are running 24/7 and sucking away tons of electricity, and shooting them with a BB gun. But then there would just be more plastic for the landfill. Since we couldn’t decide which fate was worse, we left them alone.
There is the dude across the street who I see at 8 am sometimes drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. There is the neighbor whose dogs HOWL starting at 10am. Sucks to be us when we have stayed up super late. There is a cat who walks along the street howling. It just kind of howls this cold grey howl, telling everyone what side of the fence (or sidewalk or road) is his. We let our cat out once to see him. Fi went running up to him and the cat hissed and ran off. Poor Fi, he was bummed. So much for new friends.
And so this is why I get so much done- there isn’t anything else to do! Thank god for no distractions! We’ve got a sizable garden we have been creating that I might write about later, I’ve got several paintings I am working on, and a number of other projects. I’m Productive and we have turned our little corner into a perfectly hospitable pad.
I have been exploring other modes of painting creativity. I get very detail and precision oriented- and, right now, am working on a very tight mandala kind of painting which is growing into something very beautiful and softly gorgeous. But then my arm wants more because it can only hover in a kind of holding pattern for so long. My mind wants more. It wants the flying part where the paint is streaming out of me and I am painting on the edge of things. So i have taken to, while I am painting some crazily detailed painting, to work on something else or two as well. And it feels so wonderful.
I am awake now, at eleven am, after painting for many hours last night and then doing yoga in the wee hours before going to bed. I painted one new small painting (10″ x 20″) and then revisited an old painting which was left unfinished. There are a few paintings I have which were left unfinished. This one that I worked on last night, I saw it suddenly; I felt it and saw what I was afraid to do in it when I’d started it a year ago. Saw how to bring it together. So i pulled it out and it opened up and now is such an electrifying kind of swath of color and unfolding.
Besides the kind of beauty in the finely rendered detailed beauty in many of my paintings, I also want my work to be more present and spontaneous. I am inspired by people like Pollock and others from the Modern Art era in their spontaneity. This, i think, is the gift that modern art gave us. The ability to be spontaneous with our lines and colors- to just do what comes up. It had never worked like that before. So I find myself wanting to step out of the character which I become, as a painter. Which, of course, carries over into stepping out of the character I become as a person. I want to be more spontaneous. I want to be more explorative in my own life. I want to find new edges and new ways of expressing myself. I want to find the raw fires that burn rather than simmer. I want to break open dams and embrace boldness in step and motion. This is what the “practice” is. Sometimes, we practice being that thing that we wish to be in our practice so that it can carry over into the rest of our life. Since I have chosen painting as my practice, what better place?
When I awaken the next day, I am pleased with the images, the dashes and quick lines on the canvas. I feel ready to tackle the new day, having broken something open inside of myself. It is so easy to get tied up. Psychologically, metaphysically, even physically with all the stuff we fill our lives with. It is nice to untie myself sometimes.
Sometimes people ask what I listen to when I’m painting. Well, all sorts of things usually… Lately there has been a lot of The Talking Heads, esp. Stop Making Sense and Remain in Light. Great albums. I first heard the Talking Heads (besides fleeting bits in the 80’s when I was a kid and didn’t really understand them anyways) after I heard Phish cover Remain in Light for their Halloween show in the mid-90’s. Their “costume” would be to cover a whole album. (Others they’ve done: Quadrophenia by The Who and The Beatles’ White Album.) Anyhow, great band- Phish – I listen to them still. I still love their music, especially the crazy epicness and the long funky jams and the interspersed weirdness in songs like Harpua. Good for painting to. Now, though, I can choose the tracks from any given show rather than having to listen to a slowly deteriorating soundboard tape. Good place to download Phish shows for free: momadance.org. But anyhow: The Talking Heads: Phish played them well but, going back a decade and listening to the original is way better. Deep, funky, psychedelic…
Other live music I find myself listening to often is Radiohead (esp. The Bends and OK Computer) and Pink Floyd. Then there is the slew other stuff: Jimi Hendrix and a slew of classic rockers but then- The Greyboy All-stars, Spearhead, here (especially sets by andrija and the markus redux one) and here and those are long and deep and hypnotic and, if you find the right ones, have good grooves, and are well produced. Hit an miss tho… can’t count on all of them. Other music tho- Shpongle of course, Banco de Gaia, love the album called “Ahimsa” by my friends Brad and Dela. My friend Brian creates/produces all kinds of funky technoey breaks kinda music. Some good mixes of his stuff here as well as other friends there that you might like. So there’s a bunch of breaks, techno, acid house/techno kind of stuff and then there is the downtempo: Liquid Sound Design has a bunch of albums I love like Mana Medicine, Interior Horizons, Elucidations, and the like. Native State Records has put out some great compilations like Left Coast Liquid, Beneath the Surface and releases by some great artists. Highly recommended. Oh and don’t forget Interchill. They have some great artists they work with and some really sweet compilations including Sky Dancing, 13th Moon. Infiniessence, Floatation, Earth Octave Lounge. Which brings us to the ambient music… Ishq, Adham Shaikh, Solar Fields, Aes Dana, Sun Electric’s live ambient album, I think called 30.7.94., which is brilliant and if you can find yourself a copy…
So I could go on… I didn’t even get to the IDM, the vast amount of Downtempo or anything else… cause it just goes on. But check out some of those recommendations. You’re welcome to put some recommendations here if you like. Pardon the fact that you have to log in to do it – I have had it with the SpamBots posting their junk so now one has to register as a user to post stuff.
There is a mental state which we could call “The Labeling Disease”. It works like this:
Oh, he is Japanese. I knew a Japanese woman once. I know Japanese. I can close the book on this.
Oh it is Buddhist. I know about Buddhism. I read something once. Saw something. Looked at a picture. I know it. I can close the book on it.
Oh, he is Christian, I know Christians. I can close the book on him.
Oh, this is abstract art, contemporary art, cubist art, I know this, that or the other. I read something once, saw a special on the Discovery Channel, read an article in a magazine once, know a friend. I know this. I can close the book on it then.
I can close my mind to it.
I don’t have to understand anything outside of my own boundaries of understanding.
Do you understand where I am going with this? Often we say, ever so subtly sometimes to ourselves, sometimes right out loud, depending on our levels of arrogance, that we know something as soon as we find a category to place it in. Then we compare and contrast it with other things we know in that category. Most often this is done not just out of arrogance but out of laziness. People often don’t like having to look deeper or even want to see something new. People like to say “there is nothing new under the sun” because it makes them feel comfortable. If there is nothing new under the sun then they don’t have to try to understand anything. It’s all old news.
Life itself is newness though. Constantly, every moment of time is recreating itself before our eyes and as it does that so are we doing the same. Our body is constantly recreating itself, every cell, coming together, breaking apart, and then so is what we perceive- waves instantaneously coalesce and are particles every time we stop to look- form happens every time we interact with the world. Every time we open our eyes, move a hand, take a breath. But whatever it is, any moment, any thing, any thought, is something you have never seen done or heard of before, no matter how much your mind tries to tell you it is familiar with it.
A naturalist might tell you that every tree they see has it’s own story, its own feel about it- every sycamore, every oak, every redwood is unique in and of itself. To some- once you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all. An oak is an oak. A birch is a birch. What is the difference between the two? The naturalist is open to it and allows each to tell its story. The naturalist is not blinded by the archetypal tree in his head.
There are two ways of approaching things, in this light. One possibility is via the comparison to every archetype in our heads. If what we see matches, then we define it based on the archetype’s set of parameters. We will never see the singular experience of that one tree. The other way of approaching things is by allowing it to expand the archetype that we know. We approach the tree first and, after much examination, conclude that yes, it is X-type of tree but also- it has shown us whole new ways that trees can be. This is true for anything and everything. The Japanese man you may meet, the artwork upon the wall- examine it, look at it, hold it and feel it and experience it.
Knowing something proves nothing. Knowledge of things is as illusion of experiencing things. The assurance of knowledge blocks us from experiencing wisdom. Wisdom is something we experience. Knowledge is simply an entry of a fact in a ledger of comparisons.
Wisdom comes from openness. If we are open to what life has to teach us then there is the possibility of gaining wisdom. Being open to what life has to teach us is not labeling it as soon as it walks in our door, not closing off to it as soon as it asks something of us, not lying to ourselves that we know it because we have seen something like it before. Some of the saddest people are the ones who say they have seen it all. Nothing new under the sun, they say.
Forget about the label, ok?
We need labels though, you say. Otherwise, how will I know, for instance, what exactly is in the soup can at the store. Chicken soup or split pea? A silver aluminum can is useless! It could be lima beans or pickled quail eggs! So, of course, labels can be quite useful. But once you buy the can, and you open it- and you eat your chicken soup, again, you can take one of two approaches- you taste it as it is, as it is meant to be tasted, enjoying the elements of it. Or you say, “This is chicken soup. It will taste like chicken soup. I am eating chicken soup.” And you don’t taste it at all because you taste only your own beliefs of the thing.
This is a big problem with our consumerist culture today. A lot of the crap you see out there on the grocery shelves, in the fast food restaurants, the vending machines, tells you what it is but if you actually stop to try and taste it you will be disappointed. They lack substance and contain mostly just salts and fats: enough to jog the primal brain that desires only those things.
Sometimes a person will see some painting I have painted and they label it “psychedelic” or “new age” or “spiritual art”, thereby reducing it from something which they would have to take a moment to understand and turning it into something they have already, at some past time when they learned about these things, already understood. People often like to live in the past, on old memories and learned behaviors. What’s the use? How can you ever learn anything?
Children are so open. Everything they see is new. They have no definitions. Somehow we equate “letting go of the desire to learn new things” with “growing up”. Somehow we feel that, when our library of archetypes is filled, we are done learning. We’ve seen all the horses, all the fire trucks, all the moonrises. What’s to get excited about?
Life. Everything is new, different, never quite what you saw before. Every nuance of every person is entirely unique to themselves. Every branch of every tree. Every reflection in every pool of water is not at all the same reflection you saw last.
If you don’t learn anything by experiencing life this way, with a sense of openness and curiosity, then I promise, you can come back to me and tell me how, truly, there is nothing new under the sun.
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