“Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.”
Henry David Thoreau
The last two days have been a wild ride indeed. Not so much from an external world view, but from an internal sort. Yesterday, while walking to work, I had my headphones on. At the beginning of my walk I was feeling a bit down because it was my last night and once again I’ve got to venture into the uncertainties of unemployment. In my head I went over the expected paychecks and the rent and I came to the same conclusion over and over again. I was going to be short for rent. Despair settled over me like a cloud. I continued to walk. My mix of music on the mini disk range from Lords of Acid to Yngwie Malmsteen to Talking Heads to Calexico to Iron Maiden to Oingo Boingo. I was observing myself, trying to continue the Zen practice of mindfulness, noticing my thoughts as they cross my field of awareness, letting them go. I remembered a saying about the battles in the inner chambers of the soul… something of the sort. But I understood its meaning and I reminded myself of its meaning. I said to myself that it was one thing to be somebody when things are going well… but this is the time that defines who I am. How I respond to this. Two songs came on the headphones at that time, “Fields of Gold” by Sting and “Promise” by When in Rome. I visualized internal “music videos” of what I want to happen. I imagined a the steam from a tall latte sitting on a high bar table in my apartment, text books lying open, a clean and orderly apartment, and a mustang outside my window. I imagined scenes of myself going to class, staying up late studying, driving through the mountains wiht the top down, sitting under the awning at a street side cafe. All of these and more I put to the tunes as though it were a music video.
I finished up my night of work, having thirty hours in three days. One of the guys said “hopefully we’ll see you Monday” when I was saying goodbye to him at the end of the night. We’ll see. I’ve called the temp agencies and told them that I was available for anything that comes up. Tomorrow I am going to go around all of the bars and restaurants again and make myself seen and hopefully unforgettable.
Today I got up and watched the two football games.I cranked up the word processor and added some more to the battle scene. But looking out of the window at the clear sky and the coming night I had to venture outside. My favorite portion of a sunset is the East direction, particularly on a cloudless day. The band of lavender and purple rising out of the horizon is soothing. I walked a couple blocks with my cup of coffee and enjoyed the moment. I again reflected on Zen teachings and was mindful. I came to the corner of Charnelton and 10th, looking at the new public library. Off in the distance behind the library I could see the dome of the large white church on Oak street (I think) rise up out of the ordinary housetops. Looking to the north I could see Skinner Butte, to the south, Spencer Butte. I just stood there, enjoying the graceful curves of the library. After several minutes, a pair of guys had walked from one direction, past me toward the other direction. One turned to me as he passed and asked “are you an archetecture student?” and I said “No, but I enjoy the building all the same”. While walking back to my apartment I reflected on how content I was. Things were crappy as hell and I had no idea how I was going to make it this month, but I was really content. Another street corner and another couple minutes standing still and enjoying the sky. I thought of many Zen stories that I had read, of finding the true essence of happiness. At that moment I was happy. Regardless of bills and jobs and not seeing my family and much more, I was happy in the moment.
Walking the block back to my apartment I came across a scraggy looking man between 18 and 22 years of age. He wasn’t very clean but he was articulate. He asked me where a street was and I told him that I doubted it was anywere nearby. It sounded as though it was, in my opinion, in South Eugene. I told him that I I lived 1/2 a block of way and that I had several Eugene maps. If he wanted he could come look at one. He came along. I found out that he was from St Louis and had been travelling all over. When asked what brought him here he said that he was here for old growth activism. I popped a couple questions to him while walking up the stairs. On my wall I have a map of Eugene with push pins in it with the timed walking rate on them and a piece of string for marking out distances. I found the street he was looking for and pointed him in the direction.
On the t.v. was the “egg bowl”, the football game between University of Mississippi and Mississippi State. I watched the game with interest because I graduated high school in Mississipp and my sister and my two nephews live less than an hour south of Oxford (Ole Miss) and about an hour northwest of Starkville (Miss State). When I wrote earlier that the last two days had been a wild ride, it has. And I must comment a bit on the existential feature of this, because the bare bones fundamental bedrock of my philosophy is that the universe “is” and that the great elegant simplicity of the universe has within it many feedback loops which have given rise to wondrous complexity, that among them is life and that among life on this planet (I assume there are many more planets with life on it) humans have risen which are on equal par with every other life form, that there is no great plan for humans, and no great directive or meaning to a person’s life. Meaning is, I see it, purely a result of our consciousness (consciousness a result of our evolved brain, the reason for the evolution of the cortex of the homo sapien species is still a mystery), and that without consciousness there was no need for a meaning to life, and that a mindful awareness of self gives a meaningful “I am” and that it is up to the individual to create anything more than this. In this regard, I thought of meaning in my life and of the things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get my degree, I wanted to write stories (all while mingling in questions of various natures), do research on the nature of the mind (perhaps help figure out the answer to the riddle of the evolution of the brain) and more. But I was missing out on my family and that continued to cause a sense of regret. My dad had aged a lot since when I spent a lot of time with him. Since then I’ve gone off to five years of Marines and then Houston and now Oregon.
I called my sister. I began to ask her a couple of questions on Oxford, Mississippi. She asked why and also when was the last time I was there. We compared notes and it turns out it was 1997, around Thanksgiving. That was now five years ago. My new nephew began to cry and she had to leave our conversation. I watched the football game some more. It was at Ole Miss and after commercials they showed snapshots of areas of Oxford. I cannot remember Oxford very well. My best friend Bob, myself, and Vickie would all play hooky from school and take a quick trip to Oxford. I remember when I was in high school that the klu klux kowards had a rally in Oxford, followed by a rally from an organization like the black panthers (something of the sort). In my sister’s conversation I could pick up on an undertone of seperatism between whites and blacks. My sister is much more enlightened than my parents are, but I could detect the poison of my mother in her. Daily contact with her has had that effect on her and my heart weighed heavy. The hatred and neuroticism of my mother is a corrosive of the soul. This is the greatest fear that I have for my nephews, not drugs, not violence, but the hateful and twisted influence of my mother. But I thought of my dad and my sister and nephews. Referring back to the finite nature of our existence, all we really have is our relationships. I was fastly losing time to go fishing with my dad, to watch my nephews in a soccer game. Thinking of all these things… I could accomplish what I want to do, my degree, my research, my writing… all from Oxford, Mississippi and also be closer to my family. I began to toy with the idea and surfed the web for info on Oxford, Mississippi. It is a small town which is an hour southeast from Memphis and is between two areas of the Holly Springs National Forest, the largest in the state.
Not much on the web for Oxford, Mississippi. Only a handful of LJers, and one group on MSN. I looked through lots of websites and it looked as though there are only three coffee shops in Oxford (one is a bakery) wheras here in Eugene I’ve got access to seven within a 1/2 mile radius. I thought of the country here in Oregon and how I’ve fallen in love with it. I had stopped briefly on my walk to admire a spruce tree. The mountains are awe inspiring and I recall the grandeur of the Columbia Gorge. I looked up the University of Mississippi and their current research in psychology. I didn’t find any specific research, but found several compelling themes. I weighed the two together, Eugene vs Oxford. Eugene wins outright, over and over again across all categories. From the climate to the country to the political atmosphere to the community to the intellectual opportunities to everything. The only thing not here is my family and I miss them. If only Oregon was closer!
There are many things that I do not like about the south, all of the are epitomized in Arkansas and Mississippi. Illiteracy, racism, social absurdities, “the bible belt”… it is sad for me to think that if given two people, a communist or a fundamentalist who believes in handling rattlesnakes to prove her faith in God, that the communist would be branded the “weirdo”. But, as I’ve written off and on since I’ve left the South, perhaps the South needs a rennaisance and perhaps such a thing needs more people like myself.
Back to Zen. Mindful of being. As odd as it sounds, I enjoyed the beauty of a chain link fence running along the construction site of the library. And the dingy edge of the roof top of the medical supply building also held my interest as well. I looked upon everything around me with equal interest, tree, street sign covered in black garbage bag, pavement, the sound of a car passing over falling leaves, the sky, the butte, the library, the curb. I stood on the street corner and watched everything around me, simply being. This was on my walk, before my thoughts about family or Mississippi. I can recall many many times in the past of enjoying the moment, where I was at, in all manner of places, from beautiful waterfalls in the Coastal Range, to a parking lot in Springfield, to stairs at the University of Houston campus. I am sure that I can have mindful experiences in Oregon, Mississippi, Ohio, or wherever. But do I really want to leave my home in Eugene? I love this place. It is entirely suited to me. The thought of being surrounded by a society where guys wear mullets, handlebar mustaches, say “boy” with that thick drawl, chew tobacco, and think that a deep thought is arguing that guns don’t kill people, people kill people is depressing to say the least. And of the women. Oh my. I remember my brief dating experience in Arkansas and how shocked I was at seeing just how far from any notion of feminism the women in the society were. Vagina is not likely to be said aloud anytime soon in polite conversation in those areas.
But I love Eugene, I love Oregon, I love the flavor of the North West. I do indeed have a distinctive Southern flavor to my character and when reading literature from Southern authors, I can relate completely. Yet if I were to move to the South, I have the feeling that I’d feel like a Northwesterner living in the South. It sounds odd, I know, and I jokingly recall an old woman’s words in John Elder’s novel “Reading the Mountains of Home” when she says “just because kittens are born in the oven don’t make them bisbuits”. And that applies to cats that wander into the oven as well. I am not a northwesterner, I am a southerner, but I’ve adopted the northwest. I can easily imagine sitting in the window on a rainy day, pining for the Oregon Country Fair with its stilted people, wandering hippies, and painted breast ladies. You wont find that in Mississippi. Mississippi is much like the opposite of Oregon in many regards and all the reasons that I love Oregon are the reasons why I do not like Mississippi, and why I miss Mississippi… Oregon lacks.
Twin Peaks is on the t.v. It comes on Bravo now from 2-3 a.m. I love this show.