Art, Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Blundering Criticisms, Critiques, Free Spirit, Life, Living, Nature, Observation, Outstanding Bloggers, People, Photography, Quality of Life, Robin, Spirituality, The Art of Living Well, Well Being, Writing

Walking With Robin

(About a 2 minute read)

“The morning sunlight, in the spring, bounces off the sconces on the pendulum lights [in my kitchen] and creates a star-like pattern on the ceiling.  It’s a signal that spring has arrived.” — Robin, Breezes at Dawn Blog [Brackets Paul’s].

Anyone wishing to find his or her own true voice — but who is uncertain what that means — would do well to study Robin’s posts on her blog, Breezes at Dawn.

Of course, it is nearly impossible today to express a wholly new idea, especially outside the sciences.  Those who do now and then manage to come up with something even approaching a wholly new idea tend to be keen observers, rather than creative alone.

Robin is quite obviously a keen observer (see above quote), but — offhand — I can’t recall her expressing any more original ideas than the rest of us.  What makes her voice her own are not the ideas she expresses, but the virtually unique and special way in which she expresses them.

In short, her style.

Continue reading “Walking With Robin”

Advice, Aesthetics, Art, Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Communication, Conversation, Human Nature, Ideas, Muses, Parihkit Dutta, Relationships

Good Muse, Bad Muse! The Use and Abuse of Muses

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his opinion on the key importance and function of muses.  Bonus: Five tips on picking a good muse or avoiding a bad one.

◊◊◊◊

THE CRITICS GO NOVA! “Paul Sunstone’s definition of ‘art’ is far too broad to be useful.  It makes any effort at communication an art, including Parikhit Dutta’s habit while a young man of getting drunk on Friday nights at the Tarry-All Tip and Pour Bar, then signing his name in the snow outside in his own pee.  On the few nights up in the Tarry-All Mountains when there wasn’t any snow, Parikhit would simply stand swaying drunk for up to 45 minutes looking as pathetically lonely and lost as that moose that wandered into Downtown Colorado Springs back in the summer of ’01. Paul Sunstone’s ‘Good Muse, Bad Muse’ resembles nothing so much more than Parikhit Dutta’s very worse autographs  on his most drunken Friday nights.”  — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

Continue reading “Good Muse, Bad Muse! The Use and Abuse of Muses”

Beauty, Buddhahood, Consciousness, Enlightenment, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Ideas, Life, Living, Love, Memes, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Religion, Self, Self-Integration, Sense of Relatedness, Spirituality, Transformative Experience, Unconditional Love, Wisdom

The Dance of the Cosmic Dancer

SUMMARY: The image of a cosmic dancer appeals to many people and is open to many interpretations, including the notion presented here that it represents the state of consciousness of a spiritually enlightened person.

(About a 7 minute read)

The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, enjoyed attributing his own thoughts to others.  Thus, he interpreted Nietzsche’s “Cosmic Dancer” to be someone who dances between opinions and points of view, rather than resting heavily on any particular opinion or point of view.

Although Nietzsche himself never quite saw it the same way, Campbell’s image is an attractive one.  Not only is there truth to be found in an ability to see things from many points of view, but in both intellectual and spiritual terms, it is the very opposite of fanaticism.

Images have a way of taking on a life of their own.  What is created to symbolize one thing can soon come to symbolize many things.  Some long time ago, I posted on this blog one possible interpretation of the cosmic dancer image (You can find that post here, if you’re interested).  Since then, the post has gotten at least a few hits a month, mainly — if the search terms are any indication — from people looking for a definitive interpretation of the term “cosmic dancer”.

Continue reading “The Dance of the Cosmic Dancer”

Aesthetics, Alison, Art, Beauty, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Ideas, Life, Memes, People, Philosophy, Ugliness

Is it Really True that “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”?

(About a 7 minute read)

When I was 20 years old, I discovered — for the first time in my life — that I was in love with a woman.  That was surprising enough, but my surprise was compounded when I kept meeting people who knew her.

Nearly everyone, you see, agreed about her so much that almost all of them pointed out first and foremost, “Alison is beautiful, both inside and out”.  They agreed on some other things too.  Highly intelligent.  Compassionate.  But I noted at the time that the first thing nearly everyone said about Alison was that she was “beautiful both inside and out”.

Continue reading “Is it Really True that “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”?”

Beauty, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Life, Love, Meaning, Nature, Poetry, Purpose, Religion, Spirituality, Unconditional Love, Values, Wilderness

“Would You Care for Some Tea?”

I met a woman in the coffee shop today —
She wanted for me what she had.
Something to make sense of it all, she said.
She handed me some newsprint
And told me my life was tragic, meaningless,
And that I stood very near an abyss
With a vital decision to make.
Would I join her for some tea?

This morning before dawn the birds
Sang so beautifully it was like
Being on a parental mission to raise a child:
I had a purpose in life made possible
By nature having none.

Outside in the meaningless night
The moon still shone and spoke to me,
“I matter to you, but not you to me.
I neither care nor do not care
That you are or what you will become.
I am ancient, primeval; only your love
When your heart is very young is older than me.
Would you care for some tea?”

Abortion, Abuse, Aesthetics, Art, Artist, Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Dance, Don, Erotic Dance, Free Spirit, Fun, People, Sex, Sexuality, Sexualization, Wisdom

Elle: Nurse by Day, Stripper by Night

(About a 10 minute read)

The first thing I noticed about Elle was that she seemed mysteriously out of place.  She was sitting alone at a table in Shotgun Willies’, watching a young woman dance on one of the stages, and smoking a cigarette.

Because Elle was fully dressed in street clothes, I wasn’t sure what she was doing there?  Was she an erotic dancer?  Then why the clothes?  But if she wasn’t a dancer, what was she doing in an erotic dance club? I spent no little time wondering about her like that before she rose, crossed over to the other side of the room, and strolled through the dressing room door.

Continue reading “Elle: Nurse by Day, Stripper by Night”

Agape, Altruism, Art, Authenticity, Awe, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Brotherly Love, Children, Community, Creativity, Dance, Education, Emotions, Enlightenment, Erotic Dance, Erotic Love, Ethics, Extended Family, Fairness, Family, Free Spirit, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Friends, Fun, Giving, Happiness, Honesty, Horniness, Human Nature, Humanism, Humanities, Ideas, Love, Lovers, Loyalty, Mature Love, Morality, Mysticism, Nature, New Love, Parental Love, Passion, Peace, People, Philos, Redemption, Romantic Love, Science, Self-determination, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Self-Realization, Sense of Relatedness, Sex, Sexuality, Society, Spirituality, Talents and Skills, Transformative Experience, Unconditional Love, Vacilando, Wisdom

The Importance of Redemption

(About a 5 minute read)

I sometimes get the impression that plenty of us tackle the big ideas in life almost the day we escape our cribs for the first time.

“Gurk! Life is mine to seize! I see it clearly now.  I shall be my own hero. Gerp!” Or, “Poppels! But our capacity to love is what most defines us as moral. Twurks!  What’s this?  Why, it must be what what ma-ma calls, ‘poo’.  And look!  It’s endlessly shape-able!”

Continue reading “The Importance of Redemption”

Adolescent Sexuality, Beauty, Erotic Love, Fun, Horniness, Lovers, Marriage, Passion, Quality of Life, Relationships, Sex, Sexuality, Teresums

What Makes a Woman Great at Sex? Seven Key Traits to Lust for!

(About a 12 minute read)

CAUTION: The following article contains raw, explicit, and potentially nerve damaging views and opinions harbored by Paul Sunstone.  It is highly recommended that you proceed no further without having handy the emergency number of the International Crisis Intervention phone line.  Furthermore, please bear constantly in mind that “it’s only Paul”, and that consequently all opinions expressed here should be taken with a 20kg block of cattle-lick salt.  Have a good day (fat chance of that now)!

I leaped out of bed this morning passionately convinced that at least one of my beloved readers — at least one — was wondering today, “What makes a woman a great lover?” But no sooner had I that thought than it also occurred to me that I have solemnly promised myself never again to rely solely upon my own judgement in such matters, ever since I posted that tragically misguided blog article, “Out of KY Jelly?  Here’s Paul’s Easy Guide to Emergency Vaginal Lubrication Using Common Household Cleaning Products” — which has since been deleted by order of the courts.

In my defense, how was I to know those products would hurt down there?  I mean, do you think I myself have a vagina?  Folks should have known I was only speculating!

Nevertheless, I’m not one to shirk responsibility, so I take full credit for making things good by deleting the article within a mere twenty-four hours of being ordered to do so by the courts.

Continue reading “What Makes a Woman Great at Sex? Seven Key Traits to Lust for!”

Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Creativity, Enlightenment, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Quality of Life, Self, Self-determination, Society, Spirituality, Teresums, Values

The Free Spirit: Myth and Reality

(About a 5 minute read)

Within a few minutes, she had come back from her bedroom, had crossed the kitchen floor, climbed onto the table near me, sat herself down facing me, and drawn her knees up to her chin — all the while freshly nude: Angela, a stranger of no more than a few hours acquaintance, had just unnerved me, a middle-aged man, who had never once in his life conceived of such free spirited familiarity before.

I was about 40 years old,  and Angela was the first free spirit I had ever known.  Or rather let me say she was the first free spirit who I ever allowed myself to know well enough that I recognized her as one.

How often do we instinctively shy away from people almost the moment we meet them — the moment we see them as “not our types”?  Before Angela, that had been me when it came to relatively free spirited people.  Like so many of us still do, I had my skittish reservations about such people.

For one thing, I did not see them as so much being authentic to themselves, as I saw them as putting on a false face of all-too-pointed (and pointless) non-conformity.  As it turned out, I had no actual evidence of that — I was just conforming my opinions to the opinions of other people that I had now and then heard.  Go figure!

In truth I believe I have discovered that authenticity — the act of being true to oneself — is more characteristic and key to what makes someone a “free spirit” than any other single thing.

And authenticity can be found in anyone from society’s homeless to society’s most honored individuals.  Yet, to any great degree, authenticity is rare.  Always rarer than conformity.  As Oscar Wilde put it:

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

I think most of us ironically find authenticity more attractive in other people than in ourselves.  To be around a unusually authentic person can be for some us the first time in our lives we really appreciate — really grasp the reality of — “inner human beauty”.

Certainly, it can be the first time inner beauty strikes us with the force of something physical.

Perhaps somehow related to that sense or feeling of beauty is the fact that to be around a unusually authentic person is often to be energized,  perhaps even to feel like a fully charged battery aching to be plugged into something — just aching to make something happen.  And yet — that feeling doesn’t usually carry over past the next sleep.  At least not in my experience, nor in my observations of others.

For some reason, most of us seem to reject being “too” authentic ourselves.  And that might explain why a common regret of people who are near death is that they have not been true enough to themselves.  In fact it was the number one regret of the people who Bonnie Ware nursed in the last weeks of their lives.

Yet perhaps more of us would work to be authentic if we knew how beautiful that could make us seem to many other folks — albeit not to the current president, nor apparently to his sort of people.

Is it possible to be free spirited in an unhealthy way?  Well I think it could be argued that our president sets quite an example of that.  At least he seems pathologically unburdened of most sensible restraints.

Let’s turn now to four myths about free spirited people.

First, the myth that free spirits are simply relatively unrestrained people.  I hope I have already made clear my belief that is not true.  The sin qua non of a free spirit in my opinion is authenticity — being true to themselves — rather than simply being unrestrained.  In fact, I believe — for example — one can see our president as more unrestrained than authentic, as less a free spirit than someone who bounces like a loose cannon off the opinions of other people.

Second, the myth that free spirits are always especially creative. As it happens, some of the most free spirited people are only of average creativity.  I suppose creativity might help, but it seems non-essential.

Next, the notion that free spirits are less rational than the rest of us.  Without attempting any flattery here — but solely for the sake of illustration — I think if you were to study my “About You” page on this blog you would be impressed both by how free spirited and rational are several — maybe most — of the respondents.  At least I fancy the better liars among my readers are such, for what a peculiar thing it would be if someone as deeply twisted as to frequent Café Philos also genuinely possessed a virtue or two?

Last, the notion that free spirits are necessarily enlightened.  Sadly, I do not think that is true, although I am near certain the converse is true — genuinely enlightened people are free spirited people.

So I have now insufferably inflicted upon you, my beloved readers, my admittedly alarming notions about the myths and realities of being free spirited.  But what have I left out? What further realities are there?  And what further myths?  Beyond that, why do you suppose so few of us are free spirited?

Your turn now.  All comments appreciated, even from appalling free spirtis, such as Teresums.

Aesthetics, Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Community, Consciousness, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Evil, Human Nature, Humor, Idealism, Ideologies, Internet, Introspection, Knowledge, Law, Life, Morality, Morals, Observation, Relationships, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Knowledge, Society, Thinking, Tomoko, Ugliness, Wisdom, Yin Yang

Late Night Thoughts: Nipples, Yin and Yang, Self-Knowledge, Yakuza, and More

(An 11 minute read)

Yesterday afternoon was bright and crisp.  The snow from a couple days before had melted, leaving the grasses verdant, albeit destroying the pink crab apple blossoms.  I wondered if their seeds had made it through the cold.

Late in the afternoon, one of my next door neighbors walked past my window, carrying his tiniest child in a car seat.  The little one was kicking joyfully — apparently at the sunlight on his legs, perhaps attempting to dislodge it.

A few moments later, the woman appeared, and then the toddler.  The man and the woman walked purposely towards their car.  The toddler had other ideas, though.  Every three to five feet he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of something interesting!  Green shoots!  Dog poop!  More shoots!

Suddenly, his parents were calling to him, demanding he hurry up.  Green shoots forgotten, he ran towards them, his legs almost a blur trying to keep up with his head, which — in the manner of a toddler — was improbably far in front of his body.

◊◊◊

Some years ago, I was introduced to internet chat rooms by a computer savvy friend.   “Here, I have something to show you, Paul.”  Mike said, turning towards his desktop computer.   A click or two, and suddenly the room was engulfed by the shrieking death throes of the Loch Ness monster.

“Paul?  Paul, you can come out of the closet.”

“Is it gone?”

“It’s only my modem, Paul.  I’m dialing up the internet.”

“You’re dialing up who?”

“Paul, get the hell out of my closet right now!”

Later that same evening…  “Look, Paul!  She’s come online!  It’s Jolene!”

“Jolene?  Do you mean, ‘PussyVentura’?”

“Yes, that’s her username.”

“Username?”

“I’ll explain later. ”

Several minutes later…  “What I need from you right now is a poem.  Write a poem to her, so I can impress her with it, Paul.”

“I don’t know, Mike, the last time you got romantic about some…”.

“A poem, Paul, that’s all I’m asking for.  I’m certainly not asking for a recap of my romantic history!”

“But, Mike, a Russian bride?”

“Poem! Now!”

Five minutes later…  “Where’s my poem, Paul?”

“I’m still working on it, Mike”

“I need it now!  She said she was logging off, so I told her to wait.  Give me what you’ve got!”

“Um…try typing this:  Your beauty cleanses me of sorrow, my Jolene.”

“Your beauty cleanses me of sorrow,  my Jolene.”

“It gives me courage to live for tomorrow, my Jolene.”

“It gives me courage to live for tomorrow, my Jolene.  Oh, Paul, this is going to be good, I can tell.  See?  You can do it!  What’s next?”

“You even make me want to face”

“You even make me want to face”

“With grace”

“With grace…That’s pretty good, Paul, I like that.  What’s next?  Quick!  What’s next?”

“The challenge”

“The challenge”

“Of your morning breath, my Jolene.”

“Of your mornin…  Are you kidding me, Paul?  Are you kidding me!”

“It’s all I got, Mike.”

“Oh, Jesus!”

“Too passionate?”

◊◊◊

I’ve heard that in placental mammals, the number of nipples divided by two strongly correlates with average litter size.  A species, like ours, with two nipples typically has one offspring per litter.   But a species that has six nipples will on average have three offspring per litter.

Of course, it all gets complicated when you realize that some species have no fixed number of nipples.  Pigs, for instance, range from 6 to 32 nipples, depending on the breed.

◊◊◊

My second wife, Tomoko, was educated in an elite Japanese school that required her to learn how to read and write classical Chinese, much as some elite Western schools require Latin of their students.  She also had a large set of books — each one beautifully bound, printed, and separately encased — that contained the works in Chinese of nearly a hundred ancient authors.  Most of them never published in English.

At times, she and I were in the habit of dining out, and I coaxed her into regularly bringing along a volume or two of her set so that she could translate them for me after we’d finished our meals.  One of my favorite authors was Kan Chu (circa 600 – 550 B.C.), who — in Tomoko’s translation — once said this, “Clothes, food, shelter: Satisfy these first, then teach people to be human.  When people have those things, it will be easier to govern them.”

To put that in context, almost all ancient Chinese wisdom literature is nominally addressed to the rulers, and couched in terms of how to govern the people, regardless of whether it has much to do with governing or not.  When you think about it, that made a lot of sense since it was the ruling class for the most part that could read and write.  So Kan Chu was probably not being cynical in urging his audience to make sure the people had “clothes, food, and shelter” in order to more easily govern them.

More likely, I think, he was genuinely concerned with the people’s welfare.  But whatever the case, his advice to take care of necessities before teaching people the finer things in life impresses me as good advice even to this day.  Especially today, when “clothes, food, and shelter” are once again at risk for larger and larger numbers of people.

◊◊◊

 I don’t know about modern Chinese, but classical Chinese had about twenty words for “no”, not one of which meant “absolutely no”.  The closest you could get to an absolute no  — that is, the closest you could get to the Western sense of “no” — was a word that meant, “almost always no”.

This was completely in keeping with the ancient Chinese understanding of yin and yang, the two principles which are the immediate manifestations of the Tao in the world.

Yin and yang are not opposites in the Western sense of “yes and no”, “feminine and masculine”, or “good and evil”.   Yin, sometimes called “the feminine principle”, is an aspect of yang, sometimes called “the masculine principle”.   Yang, in turn, is an aspect of yin.

So far as I’ve been able to find out, there is no truly dichotomous thinking in ancient Chinese wisdom literature.  Instead, even the Chinese equivalent of polar opposites reveal an underlying unity.   The most common Western expression that I know of to the Chinese way of thinking is to speak of apparent opposites as “really being two sides of the same coin”.

   ◊◊◊

One day in the 1960s, when Tomoko was about seven years old, her school was called to an unscheduled assembly.  There, the principal announced that the students were being dismissed for the day, and that they were to immediately go home.  No one should stop to play, loiter, or visit with friends.  Straight home and no detours!  Your parents have been called.  They are expecting you!

Strange as it might sound today, even very young schoolchildren in the 60s typically walked to and from school — if the distance wasn’t far — and even in big cities like Tokyo.  But that’s a digression for the benefit of my younger readers, who might never have heard of such a thing!

When Tomoko reached her home, her grandmother was already watching the television to see what had happened.   Soon, the news reports started coming in.  The police around the country were raiding the Yakuza dens!  They were, the reporters said, “attempting to peacefully arrest the bosses, but unfortunately, often finding themselves engaged in gun battles.  Several bosses are reported killed with no injuries so far on the police side.”

I don’t know when Tomoko learned the full story of that day’s events but here is what she told me many years later.  The Japanese mafia, or Yakuza, had grown out of control.  The bosses no longer knew their proper place.  Consequently, something had to be done.  The schools in major cities across the country were closed in case the situation got out of hand.  Then the police, armed with grenades and assault rifles, raided numerous “dens” and slaughtered without warning at least 100 ranking Yakuza and many times that of lower ranking members.

“Did they get them all”, I asked.

Naturally, Tomoko explained, they didn’t even try to kill all of them.  That would have left a void in society that some other group would then have to fill, upsetting the nation’s harmony.  Instead, the goal was to knock them down to where they were no longer a threat to the social order, and could instead provide their services to the community in peace.

I think it is sometimes hard for Westerners to understand the Eastern concept of opposites.  “Good and Evil” belong to the West, “Yin and Yang” (or “In and Yo”, in Japanese) belong to the East.  Our good and evil is dichotomous, where the one is, the other is not.  But yin and yang are not dichotomous.  Where the one is, the other is also.

Because yin and yang are the way of opposites in the East, so often the goal is not to eliminate or annihilate one (or the other), but rather to insure that they remain in harmony or balance with each other.   When the Yakuza got out of balance, when it was no longer in harmonious relationship with the rest of society, it became necessary — in the Japanese way of seeing things — to put it back in its proper place.  No more, no less.

In the West, no politician could ever get elected promising to conscientiously stop short of annihilating the mafia, the gangs, the cartels.  That would be the equivalent of professing to be soft on evil.

◊◊◊

Every real thought on every real subject knocks the wind out of somebody or other.   — Oliver Wendell Holmes.

◊◊◊

It seems most of us at one time or another confuse the map with the terrain when we believe our thoughts about ourselves are ourselves.

That’s to say, the map is our thoughts about ourselves. The terrain is who we are. Yet, so often we think what we think about ourselves is who we are.

I can think of myself any number of ways that are not likely to be borne out by my experience of myself. I can believe all sorts of things about myself that simple observation will disprove.

It seems to me that if one wishes to know who they are, the best place to start is with the non-judgmental observation of oneself in relationship to other things, very much including people.  It is key that the observation be as dispassionate, as non-judgmental as possible.    This can be exceedingly difficult to do because all your life you have been taught to praise or condemn yourself according to whether or not you measured up to some ideal, some person, some standard.

Yet, without non-judgmental observation, you will not come to know yourself as deeply as possible.  Judgments, although useful in many circumstances, are worse than useless here.  They are worse than neutral.  They actually distort who you really are.  To look at yourself through judgmental eyes is like looking at your image in a fun house mirror.

Moreover, you should look at yourself in relationship to things.  You should not simply introspect because doing so is quite likely to lead you into mistaking the map for the terrain, into mistaking your idea of yourself for yourself.  To really understand yourself you need a reality-check, and observing yourself in relationship can provide that reality-check.

Last, it can help immensely to create a journal in which you write down your observations on a daily basis, then review your journal regularly.  After a few weeks or months, if you do not discover many new and significant things about yourself, you can sue my lawyer.  By the way, I hereby grant all my powers of attorney to Donald Trump.

◊◊◊

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  — Kong Qui (Confucius).  I wonder now what my neighbor, the toddler, thinks of dog poop.  Probably thinks it’s beautiful.  At his age, I believe, most of us do.   Sometimes the only thing that separates a child from a sage is age.

Abuse, Alienation, Alienation From Self, Art, Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Belief, Consciousness, From Around the Net, Invention, Knowledge, Late Night Thoughts, Love, Lovers, Meaning, Memes, New Love, Outstanding Bloggers, Philosophy, Poetry, Romantic Love, Spiritual Alienation, Stolen From The Blogosphere

Late Night Thoughts: Poetry-Readings, Weltanschauung, Love, Abuse, and More

(About a 10 minute read)

Silence

You’ve spent the day into the night alone
When the moon suddenly rings
Like china dropped on a tablecloth,
Startling you.

◊◊◊

Lori decided to organize a poetry reading.  She persuaded the owner of a downtown restaurant to lend her his back patio.  Then she designed some fliers and printed them up.  Meanwhile she was going about lining up people and their poems.  When the night came, she strung up some tiny colored lights, lit the candles she’d bought for all the table tops, and turned out the patio’s main lights: A good flashlight would do to spotlight the poets.

A fair number of people showed up, but not much went well after that.  Several of the poets had weak voices that didn’t carry to the back tables, or even much beyond the front row.  Some of the others had written abominations.  Lengthy, long poems, for the most part, that lectured you on their author’s feelings, but failed to produce any feelings in you.

The most common problem, however, was that so many of the poets had shown up fully prepared to read their poems.

You can do a lot when sounding a poem.  You can dramatize it, you can chant it, you can swing it, you can sing it, you can cry it out in pain.  You can even sometimes drone it  when that adds to its meaning — but however you perform it, you shouldn’t just read it.  It’s not the newspaper.

Fortunately, the whole night was saved by a single poet.  A young woman rose up and tore something about love and the abuse of intimacy from her chest that she flung across the patio like sheets of windblown rain.  You almost cried for her, a stranger, even as you stood and pounded your hands together.

◊◊◊

Weltanschauung, or “worldview”, is such a grim, heavy, ponderous term that I am fairly convinced Immanuel Kant invented it around 1790 at approximately three o’clock on some cold morning — typically our weakest hour — while sleeplessly suffering from a near fatal case of indigestion brought on by an all-too-heavy Prussian Winter’s meal of greasy sausages and sauerkraut the evening before.

The concept, in my opinion, is pretentious and incorporates only the thinnest shred of psychological insight — the insight that most of us think we have a more or less coherent view of the world.

Do we really have a single coherent worldview, as Kant thought, or do we, as Whitman suggested, “contain [contradictory] multitudes”?

I’ll go with Whitman.

◊◊◊

My first wife was stunning.  To be sure, she couldn’t drop jaws, not quite.  But she could audibly hush a room just by entering it.   And that’s how I first noticed her.

One day, two weeks after classes had started, Jana walked into the dorm cafeteria for the first time.  She’d transferred into our university a couple weeks late from the University of London, and when she entered the cafeteria that day it was the first time anyone had seen her.

Of course, it wasn’t as if the whole, huge room of a few hundred people went silent.  But the noise level did sink so much that day that you could suddenly pick up clear snatches of conversations from all the way across the room.  And heads turned.

When the group I was eating with — males from my dorm floor — had recovered their voices, the speculations naturally began in earnest.  Who was she?  Had anyone seen her before now?  What floor did she live on?  And, most importantly: Was she the first, second, or third most beautiful woman in the dorm?

Why does our noble species of super-sized spear-chucking apes always rank things?  Isn’t it enough to say, “She’s gorgeous”, without having to say, “She’s the most gorgeous”, “The second most gorgeous”?  Why?

I opted for third most gorgeous.

As it turned out, Jana’s new home was on a women’s floor that we’d scheduled a party with for the following month.  I showed up around eight that night, and started making my way through the women folk.  That is, I start circulating with the objective of systematically saying “Hi” to every woman at the party, one after the other, and regardless of whether we’d met before or not, until I’d said “Hi” (or more than “Hi”) to every woman who was not too preoccupied with an alarmingly glowering boyfriend.

Naturally, my aim at that age was to get laid, and I was perceptive enough to know that could often enough be accomplished simply by “working the numbers” in order to find the women who had also come to the party with an aim of getting laid  — a perception that by the end of the second semester would result in my being voted in a meeting my floor’s “Whore of the Year”, a title of unquestionable distinction and honor.

The alleged distinction and honor, in my case, was marred only by the fact that my competition consisted almost entirely of engineering students. Almost to a man, they were good, decent people.  But surely to a man, they were socially awkward.  As socially awkward as they were smart.  And, as just about the lone male on the floor in possession of at least a single social skill, I would have won that title even had I never picked up a single woman all year — just for being willing to talk with women!

Towards midnight, all I could show for my efforts were some platonic conversations with a few women I was genuine friends with. They were generally long conversations because I’d lost focus on my objective (beer will do that), and I doubt now that I made it through all the women at the party.  It was about then, however, that I noticed Jana sitting off by herself.

After our introduction that night, we started dating.   Yet, for all my alleged worldliness, I felt insecure and intimidated by her beauty.   She was, after all, the most gorgeous woman I’d dated up to that time in my life, and I was quite unsure of the extent or depth of her attraction to me.  Add to that, I was nowhere near her class of physical beauty.

Of course, by thinking of her as a class or two above me in beauty, I was comparing myself to her, ranking her and me, and I didn’t have the wit or insight at that time in my life to grasp that my comparison was one of the roots of my insecurities.  For had I not compared myself to her, ranked us, and then taken that ranking seriously, I would not have thought of myself as inferior to her in looks, and felt insecure because of it.

It all came to a head on one of our dates when Jana and I were sitting in a late night deli that was packed because the bars had just let out.  Jana was wearing a cheerful T-shirt with a cartoon frog on it.  Beneath the frog were the words, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Prince Charming”.

My consciousness kept returning again and again to those words, wondering if they had anything to do with me — which, of course, is routine for consciousness.  That is, it’s always trying to figure out what something has got to do with one’s self.

Finally, my simmering insecurities boiled over, “What’s with the shirt?”

“The shirt? This shirt?  What do you mean, Paul?”

“Umm…I’ve got to know.  Does that shirt have anything to do with me?  Am I one of your frogs?”

Jana burst out laughing.  It was the biggest laugh I’d gotten from her yet.  Fortunately, she wasn’t laughing at me.  She was laughing at the idea I might be a frog to her.  “No”, she said at last, “I wasn’t thinking of that at all when I put it on tonight.  I just grabbed the first thing in my closet.”  After a thoughtful pause, she added, “Besides, I’ve been thinking recently that you might be my Prince.”

◊◊◊

Have you ever had a friend who contacts you only when he or she is down and troubled?  A friend who perhaps never seems to want your advice so much as they want someone to dump their feelings on?  I think most of us have had such a friend at one time or another in our lives.

Here’s another question:  Have you ever read a poem — an excellent poem — about such a friend?  It seems to be a rare topic in poetry, doesn’t it?  Yet it’s such a common experience in life.

Davy D’s recent work, An Hour With Jake, is a masterful treatment of the topic.  The craftsmanship alone is excellent: I couldn’t find a word that I thought needed to be removed, nor a word that I thought needed to be added.   And the words are true, on occasion almost clinical in their accuracy.  But there is nothing brutal, nothing ugly in Davy’s poem. There are even touches of humor.

Davy not only looks at his friend Jake’s behavior, but at his own responses to Jake.  The result is greater richness and depth.  Here’s an excerpt:

scripts roll.

his, a tale of how
his wife,
his dog,
his work colleague,
don’t understand him.

mine, a crafted questionnaire
designed for glibness,
adding to the
self-help deception.

Poets ought to be experimental, in my opinion, willing to take a risk, and never expecting themselves to produce one masterpiece after the next.  That makes it all the more rewarding when one composes an excellent capture, as Davy appears to have done here.  An Hour With Jake.

◊◊◊

In my experience, there are at least four kinds of love.  More, if you subdivide the four.  But one thing they all have in common is that they are affirmations of something.

Sometimes they affirm something as narrow as sex, and sometimes something as broad as life itself.  But each way of loving is a way of affirming, and each way of affirming has the potential to — to one extent or another  — renew us.  I would suggest, if you are weary, seeking some kind of rebirth, great or small, then find something or someone to love.

◊◊◊

Do all forms of abuse have any one thing in common?  I think if they do, it may very well be this:  They are all behaviors that risk unnecessarily alienating us from ourselves.  That is, they tend to derail us from being true to ourselves, from being authentic.

◊◊◊

The most often way I write a poem is to sound it out loud, again and again again, as I go through the process of composing it.  I think a lot of poets must do that.  It has its advantages too.

When you’re stuck, blocked, and can’t think of how to get the creativity going again, it sometimes is sufficient to simply start sounding words and phrases in new voices.  That is, pick a persona — perhaps the way a friend talks — then sound out whatever words come to mind in her tone and rhythm of voice.

I once met a woman who was traveling the country.  For reasons I’ll never know, I imagined she was some kind of hero wandering ancient lands who’d brought tales from afar to my pathetically small village of thatched huts.  She had a way of speaking, that woman, and I tried to capture her voice in a poem.

Who Comes by Far

The horizon from the highest hill is the useless
Edge Of The World when you don’t travel.

You meet people who come by far,
So they must be heroes; so I believe you’re a Rider
Passing to the Sun’s Door…though you tell me,
You once knew so cold a land the clouds froze
And fell from the sky, and the People
Wore heavy skins.

Still, I look at your hands
Warm and dark with the candle,
And can barely imagine
What I’d think their color by Dragon’s Fire,
Leave alone the morning sun.

Then you turn in our shadows as if to say,
You’ve begun your liking of me,
So tonight you’ll stay.

Aesthetics, Art, Beauty, Memes, Nudes, People, Photography, Twinka Thiebaud, Visual Arts, Writing

Book Review: “What Doncha Know? About Henry Miller” by Twinka Thiebaud

(About a 6 minute read)

Note to Readers from Paul Sunstone:  This is a re-post from a now defunct blog of mine that will soon be deleted.  It was originally posted in December of 2011.  I think it still might be of general interest to people, so I’m re-posting it here to save it.

Henry Miller was seventy-one years old when the teenage Twinka Thiebaud met him.  Of course, Miller had not only long been famous as one of the Century’s greatest novelists: He had also long been famous as one of the Century’s greatest pornographers and dirty old men.

The labels of “pornographer” and “dirty old man” came courtesy of the American press, which had (inevitably) discovered itself scandalized by the raw sex scenes in Miller’s novels (Naturally, we Americans are not actually happy about raw sex scenes unless we feel scandalized by them — and the more scandalized, the happier).

Miller’s novels had been at first banned in the US, which caused them to be smuggled into the country as contraband.  The bans were eventually overturned in an historic 1964 Supreme Court decision.  Yet, though the Court ruled Miller’s books “literature”, that did not stop the press from casting Miller as a lecherous old man. And Thiebaud was quite aware of Miller’s nasty reputation the day she met him.

Thiebaud describes herself on that day as an “seventeen year-old virgin” swamped by “intense anxiety” at the prospect of meeting the “salacious beast” Henry Miller. The very last thing she expected to find was a charming old grandfatherly man who showed no signs of wanting to seduce her, and who instead took simple delight in her company. But that is exactly what she found.

A few years after their first meeting Thiebaud moved into Miller’s home as his cook and housekeeper.  She describes her rapport with Miller (pp. 17):

Henry was one of the most open people I have ever known.  I knew what was going on in his head as well as his heart nearly all the time.  He did not keep many secrets and, like me, his emotions were written all over his face.

I get the impression that when Thiebaud walks into a room, the first things she notices are the people.  After that, she notices the art on the wall, then the furnishings, and then the diamond sparking on the table.

Moreover, I could be wrong about this, but I get the impression her interest in people often dominates and restrains her natural human inclination to judge people. That is, she simply takes folks as they are without trying to change them because she is so gawd awful interested in them.

If any of that is true, then it seems significant to me because Thiebaud has written a book.  A book that demands and requires its author to be a keen observer of people.  And namely, a keen observer of Henry Miller.  As well as of herself.

Miller had a gift of gab and loved to entertain his household and his guests over supper.  At some point, Thiebaud took to keeping a journal in which she would write down her recollection of the evening’s conversation before bed.  What Doncha Know ? About Henry Miller  is the product of that effort.

The book mostly focuses on Miller’s recollections of, and reflections on, the people and events in his life. But it does touch a little bit on Twinka herself.  An especially revealing passage about Twinka concerns her relationship with Warren Beatty — whom she met through Miller.

Imogen and Twinka (1974)
Imogen and Twinka (1974)

Warren courted Twinka in 1975, after seeing the famous photograph of her with Imogen Cunningham. He won her over, and the affair lasted until Twinka tired of Warren’s sleeping with women too numerous.

Of course, when such things occur — when a woman discovers there is a long line of other women beyond the door to her lover’s bedroom — the moment is a delicate one.  Anything can happen.  It is common enough for the woman to denounce her lover as a jerk.

Twinka reveals herself to possess thoughts and feelings that are just as graceful as her pose in the photo with Imogen. She broke off her sexual relationship with Beatty, but did not discard her appreciation for him as a superb lover (pp.34):

He was always graceful, mannered, relaxed and confident, never mussed or awkward and never out of line. Even though I was one of many, when we were together, Warren knew exactly how to make me feel absolutely extraordinary.  Now that’s a great gift!

For that and many other reasons, the passages in this book that deal with Twinka herself are just as engaging as the passages that deal with Henry Miller.

Apparently, Miller himself was not a great lover of women in Warren Beatty’s sense.  For one thing, most of Miller’s loves were never consummated.  And it seems he did not always leave his lovers much better off for having known him. But Miller knew several great truths about love, and he practiced them.

For one thing, Miller knew sex was not a necessary ingredient in great loves — the kind of loves that inspire, affirm, and renew us.   To love and to be loved in that way is to be reborn.  And I suspect that such loves are especially valuable to artists and other creatives, for they seem to be associated with great bursts of creativity.

That was one kind of love Miller had experience and insight into.  Another, and perhaps for Miller, a more important kind of love, was the one-sided affair — the love that longs, yearns for an impossible to obtain lover.

Unrequited love is also associated with great bursts of creativity.  But it is a darker creativity, born more from the suffering and angst associated with thwarted desire than from the love itself.

  • Miller (pp. 169): “Love is the most important theme in my life because it has provided me with almost all my creative fuel.  I could’ve written volumes on the subject of unrequited love.”
  • Miller again (pp.170):  “I was in love with many women, but I haven’t really written about love with a capital L.  I wrote about sex!”
  • And later on (ibid): “I’ll sacrifice everything, anything — money, jobs, wives, children — all for love! And always for the love of an unattainable woman, an elusive woman.”

From those and various other things said in Twinka’s book, I get the impression Miller was more at home with a one-sided love than with a mutual love, although he experienced both in his life.  But regardless of what kind of love he was at home with, Twinka’s book makes it clear love was, in Miller’s eyes, a — or even the — motivating factor behind his writing.

As I was reading her book, I hoped for more details of her relationship with Miller. There wasn’t quite the dept of description I wanted, and too few anecdotes, so I was a bit disappointed. But that’s probably just me.

Twinka’s book is fun.  In it, Miller tells a charming/sad/funny/revealing story about the revolutionary, Emma Goldman, that I thought taken alone was probably worth a third of the book’s $15 price.  There are several other precious little stories like that one, too.  Overall, the book is a quick, easy read, and you will probably not drink yourself to death out of regret if you read it.

By the way, I have emailed Twinka a few questions, and I will be posting her answers soon.


Readers interested in the famous Imogen and Twinka photo by Judy Dater can find a post on it here.  The comments section contains a response to the post by Twinka.