“sit with it #5 (sirens singing the truth about…)”
The working title was equanimity/ataraxia and I pulled from a Greek vase painting (probably the one vase painting people will recognize if they recognize any at all) and a quote from Homer’s Odyssey about the Sirens’ song.
“Siren Vase” 470 BCE
What the Sirens sang about dropped out of most of the siren stories after Homer; sirens got sexier and sexier and their song was “seductive” and sailors so depraved and thirsty I guess that they’d drown themselves, and that actually made sense to people… Dr. Emily Wilson discussed this in a wonderful Twitter thread.
It is the sort of thing that is of interest to Zen students who vow to carry all beings across: what would hook Odysseus and his sailors so hard they’d heave themselves overboard and join a mess of broken corpses? (When I found out what the Sirens sang I felt personally accused, as in known.)
Here is Dr. Wilson’s deceptively simple translation.
Now stop your ship and listen to our voices,
All those who pass this way hear honeyed song, poured from our mouths.
The music brings them joy, and they go on their way with greater knowledge,
since we know everything the Greeks and Trojans suffered in Troy, by gods’ will;
and we know whatever happens anywhere on earth.
And Troy is every trauma and tragedy and evil anywhere on earth.
In the vase painting (and in my painting) a Siren passes, plunges into the waves and dies, whenever anyone hears the song and is not overcome by it. I hope to be able to take the bait— to hear a honeyed song and take it all the way in— and still let it go, let it dissolve into the waves. More knowings constellate for further investigation and that’s afaik how this works.
Circe can have the final word. She tells Odysseus how to get past the Sirens:
…your men must fasten you to your ship’s mast
by hand and foot, straight upright, with tight ropes.
So bound, you can enjoy the Sirens’ song.
But if you beg your men to set you free,
they have to tie you down with firmer knots.
I will not give you definite instructions about which route to take
when you have sailed beyond the Sirens. Let your heart decide.
The abduction of protestors that’s happened in Portland OR is now in Columbus OH. I assume it’s possible in Louisville now, or will be soon.
The unidentified Federal staff with the unmarked vans are maybe BORTAC, Customs’ border tactical units under the command of DHS Special Operations Group. There also are Department of Homeland Security “rapid deployment teams” made up of officers from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (who back up the Federal Protective Service).
I have strong feelings about what this means for organizing right now. Trying to hold a particular space – Injustice Square or any particular park or sidewalk – attracts people who are vulnerable, makes people easy to snatch up, and makes it difficult if not impossible to provide jail support for anyone abducted.
Because people come and go from these spaces on barely a first name basis, organizers often don’t have the info they will need to arrange jail support (whatever kinds of jail support will even be possible in this scenario). “They drug that guy off… don’t know who he was.” is not an enviable position from which to try to provide support to someone you’ve just seen abducted.
I also don’t think we can generalize from the stories and outcomes of recent protestor arrests to imagine what will happen in the case of these Federal arrests and detentions, when people are getting snatched up as domestic terrorists. The laws aren’t the same, and the charges and conditions of detention certainly won’t be.
More than the heightened risk to individual activists, holding a space also shifts the conversation from Black lives & the urgent need for justice, to a convo about what is the appropriate reach and role of government vs. overreach… in other words, white people talking about themselves and how they feel about white authority and what they want that white authority to do for them. In this conversation, M4BL activists are placed in the role of troublesome disruptors and why we disrupt drops out entirely; it’s irrelevant to the conversation the Trumpies want us all to stay busy having. (Trumpies are really, really good at hijacking the important moments and conversations about justice.)
As someone in this to improve resources, opportunities and outcomes across the board for Black people particularly in Louisville, I am not interested in the conversation about government power or organizing against it per se. It’s a potent distraction. The actual conversation here is addressed very well by ACLU Kentucky.
Let’s not be all distracted and horrified about what Trump, federal and state authority can and can’t do! Let’s not. Organize to defeat him in the next election. Protest action must stay focused on justice for Black lives.
#M4BLorganizing #BLMLouisville #BreonnaTaylor
Meet Talesha Wilson if you don’t know her already. She is a Louisville organizer (and influencer). See and listen to her epitomize wisdom and patience and spell out how NOT to get some basic and important things really, really wrong wrt antiracist organizing. She explains with great skill in a way that is or should be important for Buddhists who have taken (or taken to heart) precepts about right speech, not splitting the sangha, and probably others I haven’t thought of yet. Let’s see if I can clarify.
Talesha took extraordinary care not to minimize or disrespect the work that people do; she wanted to offer up support and suggestions and build movement capacity. It’s no good to be “right” if you run people off and bring us all no closer to liberation. She clearly wasn’t upset at the organizers, just upset and transparently so about what was not handled well or efficiently.
When I saw how the celebrity event she discusses here was taking shape in my beloved mess of a city, and that the local organizers I look to for leadership had not been involved in the planning… I could tell they hadn’t been involved, actually, because they would never sign on for an event planned like this. Anyway, I ground my teeth so hard I thought I might bust a crown.
So she offers some free and important schooling about how not to get things very very wrong if you want to come into a new space and throw an event. Here she discusses out of town people coming in and organizing events… but there is just as much wisdom if you and your people decide you want to go into a new space in your city, and have an event around an issue, and the issue or the space or the people already doing that work are new to you.
The only thing I can think of that she didn’t get to, because it would be a whole nother video and probably require talking out of school, is that if you organize in the ways she critiques? Your event will be co-opted in about 5 seconds. Your event was probably built broke and you didn’t even know it. The opposition and the hijacks are real.
Thank you Talesha for your grace!
#M4BLorganizing #BLMLouisville #BreonnaTaylor
above- the creek did rise 24 x 24″ oil
Some recent COVID developments landed on me heavy; I took to my overstuffed studio/office chair and stared at the five months’ mess I haven’t been able to tackle.
I sat and couldn’t imagine painting, photographing work, organizing my work space, building a box to ship a piece, following up on inquiries… basically there was no part of my job (or my life really) that I could feel it to do, because I had a big old COVID hopeless.
So I sat and felt hopeless. Lacking other options, I settled in.
Whatever amount of time later, it changed. And who knew that could happen? I was witness to a mysterious rally; I didn’t overthink it. No grim bad news became less so. But the things right in front of my face became more important because they were right in front of my face.
So I fished my big 2020 day planner/organizer out of my bag where it has languished since retail shut down earlier this year, and I grabbed a pen. I began a list.
All day I added to the list as I got things done rather than listing anything I wanted to get done. It was a list of the done things, things done with and alongside grim bad news hopelessness. It was a defiant list of done things.
Today I think I will do much the same. I have a 4 item to do list, have crossed one thing off, and I look forward to adding all kinds of done things to it. Defiant done things. There is a grim enthusiasm. Should I lack capacity to do official yay worky things, here are things I may list: made it to bathroom on time! Scratched my nose- well done, me! Cleaned my glasses. Browsed facebook, and email.
Glad for now to be out of that chair, but it is still there if I need it again. I may even put it on my defiant list: sat in hopeless chair.
I flipping adore reading Dogen. He offers practice food of a specific kind, Miracle Gro for whatever plant my mind is, a mind which happens to be happy on Dogen.
This may make me the worst person in the world to attempt list of tips and tricks for Dogening. Most of these things I do without noticing I do them. But some of my sangha is suffering about impending Dogen encounters in an upcoming class and I want Dogen for everyone! I will try to step up. It’s an exercise in studying the self too.
[I’m working this list as a blog post, so I can add to it as I Dogen along and realize that thing I just did that helped me enter the text. I hope I’m writing about Dogening in a way that is more accessible than Dogen, but probably not, but I am trying!]
I’m not worried about spoiling Dogen. It doesn’t work that way. Practice builds capacity. If a barbell with 100 pounds is completely beyond capacity, ffs strip off some plates and find a good working weight.
The basic unit of Dogen is a chunk – a paragraph maybe, but it depends. It’s rarely a sentence and perhaps three. Chunks are made of bits. All these suggestions apply to a chunk of Dogen, not an entire sutra. If you can Dogen a chunk of Dogen I suspect you are good to go with a sutra – it’s lather rinse repeat.
Try reading his sentences in reverse order. The nasty thing about writing is that you mostly have to put words in order; it’s a linear progressive project. Each sentence usually builds on the next.
Dogen was condemned by causes and conditions to write. We have to supply some memory and agility to make up for the lamentable limits of words marched in neat little rows. Dogen is realizing through words because they are what he’s got… and realizing is the least linear thing ever.
Dogen’s thinking is maybe like painting or a 3d artist… they can show you 5 things at once, all co-constituting each other, and they aren’t forced into any particular order or hierarchy either. You can look at different bits and chunks of a painting as they attract you, and move your eye around the canvas, and double back to the bits you really like, and ignore the ugly bit in the corner for now since it’s not your jam. This is not such a bad way to read Dogen.
Maybe Dogen’s also like juggling… to see one bit of Dogen is mostly in order to consider the implications for all the other nearby balls in the air. When you “get” a bit, this means you’ve launched one ball all spinning and shining into the air. Just wait until you get three bits going at once! Four! It might not be possible to see quite what a chunk is about until all his bits are up and moving for you so be patient.
So. If you are reading Dogen, and you don’t get how the thing he is now saying possibly follows from the thing he just said—congratulations! You are probably right. This bit maybe doesn’t flow from that bit at all. It’s a whole new bit. But you will want this new bit and that previous bit and the next bit, to engage with the chunk. And if one bit seems to be crashing into or fighting another, that’s probably on purpose too. Dogen can be like a pool player and set up things to fight each other, for the sake of a liberating creative tension. (Some of my sangha feel maybe he is too good at this,
Meanwhile, if you can get three bits out four, chances of cracking the chunk (liberating yourself to the text and who knows what else) are not bad. Dogening is kind of like algebra; the point of all that X and Y and Z stuff is that we don’t have to know all the numbers.
shantyboat #5 48 x 60″ oil—a totally Dogen-relevant allegory
Hey, maybe Dogen’s like a cookie recipe! There isn’t always a reason that bakers list the 2 cups of flour before the 1.5 t cinnamon, they are all gonna get mixed together, but there is custom and convenience and they have to list the ingredients somehow because words have to march in rows.
When I read a Dogen bit, I glance back at the most recent two bits, and over at the next one, and kind of roll all the bits together, and a whole new thing emerges – the chunk. It’s amazing. Dopamine fires in my brain like payday for a gambler. I roll around on the floor fangirling for Dogen for a little or long while… and when I come down, on to the next chunk.
Try reading Dogen beginning in the middle of a chunk. The first few times through your chunk do it beginning to end and build a base familiarity with the bits. But then try middle end beginning. Try end beginning middle. This is how you will spot and get comfortable with his inversions, how he doubles back to amplify and explode some unskillful concept.
Dogen won’t usually tell you straightforwardly just what he is trying to liberate you from. His words either work for you as mega turning phrases or they don’t; you are helped out of some conceptual jail, or you aren’t. If I give a chunk a good go and no jail door pops open for me, I just move on. No harm no fowl. Who knows, maybe that door will open for me later. Maybe I personally am not in that particular jail, so that chunk wasn’t for me. Maybe I’ll get to know someone who is in that particular jail and then that chunk will come alive.
Dogen gives you many chances to liberate yourself from old habits of reading for “mastery” if you are willing to let those habits go. Most of us learned certain ways of studying that don’t help much with Dogen, because he is opposed to them. Maybe if you have to teach Dogen or are studying for an exam, it’s different. You have to know Dogen and your students and whomever wrote the test and it’s a lot harder. But when the for sake of which of your study is liberation – revel in your fortunate birth and be free. It does not need to matter if you can’t embody the whole of the text. It’s ok to live with mystery and unsolved problems.
Obscure bits are the translator’s problem but sometimes they become your problem too. Dogen riffs on technologies that few contemporary people are likely to know. He riffs on texts that he imagined his imaginary audience totally knew. I’m pretty sure Dogen didn’t imagine us. So make use of whatever notes the translator offers you.
Sometimes a bit is obscure yet the translator doesn’t say anything about it. Maybe the bit is not particularly obscure… but the translator didn’t know what to do with it, so they took their best shot and moved on. I notice translators tend NOT to leave us notes saying “yeah I was clueless about what Dogen was going on about here, so I did this thing, hope you like it :)” When translators are stumped, they mostly bury it, quietly or stylishly. (I appreciate translators who admit it when they’ve not got a clue, and a few do.)
For yourself, if the translator notes fail you, you can do the same— make your best guess and go on your way. You can consult multiple translations and see if anyone else has a compelling angle that opens up the bit; you can google and do your own primary research. You can bracket the mysterious bit as a mystery, and experience yourself being bothered or unbothered by that. There are lots of good ways to practice.
I love my internet deep dives. We don’t have a lot of unglazed kiln fired clay tiles around now to polish into mirrors, nor do we make ALL THE THINGS out of bamboo. I have enjoyed thinking about how I’d think, living in a world where everyone knew bamboo and clay and rice, but not plastic and cell phones and grocery stores.
Another way of putting this is that I studied the self and found the self knew nothing about bamboo, and so I studied bamboo just a bit. And on deep dives I do sometimes find commonplaces to Dogen’s times that inform little sticky bits. But it takes time to do this research, panning for Dogen gold, and I have a couple of day jobs. So sometimes I have to bracket a bit [“obscure technology?”] and continue on.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
― Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
The painting above is about Occupy Ice/Camp Compasion of 2018 Louisville. I painted the camp on a coal barge, wishing it could just keep moving in advance of the city tearing it down. My thinking somehow shifted from resistance in the form of occupation of a place to resistance in (mobile) existence.
As part of this summer’s intense racial justice offerings pushed out so many ways, I tuned into a talk about climate justice. It made the point that climate change is not screwing people equally but is an urgent issue for the Movement for Black Lives; spaces, properties, neighborhoods are profoundly racialized for reasons beyond the accomplishment of segregation per se… reasons like rising water levels. And people are organizing around this in some coastal cities… but here in Louisville we have this big old river. Should we be organizing too?
So I took a look at the 1937 flood map of Louisville, and the redlining map. Another “hundred year flood” like 1937 is, I don’t know, potentially happening this very summer? Because of climate change.
Here is the heat island map… heat island impacts are experienced already right now, though not so severe as what we can expect with climate change.
So I asked someone who knows about floodwater and they said Louisville direly needs the Army Corps of Engineers to come assess our flood basin and find out just how ready we are/n’t for this 1937 level of flood (or worse) that could be here who knows but this summer or next.
I’m thinking about what it will cost to update those flood protections, and the scale of reparations that may be needed to resettle Black people in Louisville to safer ground.
I had a more developed narrative in mind, I wanted to paint about what I was sitting with. But I posted a progress shot of this one on fb and a couple people including my mother pretty much told me to leave it as is. Which I did.
I mean, I painted the underpainting so there would be a more stable + durable paint layer, but added no more content.
It’s unusual that people ask me to stop on a piece and it also makes perfect sense; we are all sitting with different things in our lives. The painting above makes room for what’s before you and what’s before me too, and is also more about sitting than what one might be sitting with.
There is another taller underpainted canvas sitting and waiting for me that better suits that more explicit narrative anyway, it’s red-orange so a more high-keyed starting place. And that explicit narrative is still nagging at me so I imagine it will indeed get painted next. I bought some canvases right before local art supply stores had to shut down for COVID.
The tree is a water oak, with some resurrection ferns. It looks like it got beat up pretty hard during one of our power outage wind and hailstorms, but it rallied.
The chair is a classic “Kentucky chair”— my mother collects them and they show up in her paintings, though she paints all kinds of chairs and does not play favorites.
I love looking at them, both the chairs and her paintings. In use, Kentucky chairs tend to creak like an old tree or an wood house in the wind, which can alarm folks not familiar with the chair type. In general people don’t want their chairs to squeak and flex underneath them.
Here is one of my mother’s paintings with Kentucky chairs, called “pinky swear” – it is 4 x 5′