Apr 24, 2012

Guest Post

Good Ideas And Bad Destinations
On page 87 of Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins introduces the concept that good ideas are more dangerous than objects. That a good idea is taken by those who disciple it, and it is turned into dogma. That in this way, inspiration creates convictions and becomes deadly serious (and he emphasises that the word ‘deadly’ is literally accurate). Robbins then goes on to examine the process further: that by applying the human failing of Tunnel Vision, a good idea becomes squeezed and manipulated into a fine point of intent which is often quite removed from the original intention. This argument seems very sound.
Moreover, once that ‘truth’ is found, another danger, Group Think (coined in 1972 by Irving Janis), often swings into play to keep it secure. Group Think is a process whereby members of a collective with a single identity (be it a religious organisation, a government cabinet, or corporate board of directors) are so loathed to be the ‘one who does not conform’ that re-examination and use of common sense are made nigh on impossible. Group Think can be found anywhere, from social services meetings to police investigations, and some appalling events have been the result of it: most famously the Bay of Pigs invasion.
A Need for Purpose
Taking both together however - Tunnel Vision and Group Think - it seems to suggest that it is not so much the good idea that causes the danger, but our human need to make meaning out of it. Indeed, we seem incapable of living a single day without an aim, a destination, a goal, a plan – in fact a veritable self-penned instruction manual of self-worth obsessed, egocentric mania. Well, maybe that is overstating it a bit, but certainly we are obsessed with destination and purpose. To illustrate, here is an old Hindu story:
In this story, Maya (illusion), is personified as a demon. Together with many lessor demons, Maya is watching a man performing a walking meditation. They study the man as, with peace and tranquillity, he treads lightly and gently upon the path to enlightenment. Suddenly the man stops and bends to pick something from the ground.
“What is it, Master?” the demons ask.
“A piece of truth,” Maya replies. “He has found a piece of truth.”
“Oh no!” wail the demons. “We will never get him now.”
“On the contrary,” replies Maya, smiling. “Now he is most certainly ours. For shortly, he will make a belief out of it!”
How curious it is that we have this marvellous apparatus for making meaning, and so much evidence that doing so is dangerous. Where on earth(?) did that practise come from? Clearly, the wisdom of learnt experience says ideas should not be fixed down.
The answer though, may come some ten pages later in Still Life… . On page 97 Robbins talks (well, the Woodpecker does) about how there must always be an equality of good and bad luck in the world; the same also with good and evil. This is the philosophy of Duality: the notion that Creation is constructed from balanced opposites. Not just good and bad, but up and down, black and white, happy and sad, and so on. It is a complete argument: if only because we cannot give anything description and definition without at the very least alluding to its opposite.
What makes this curious is what happens when we apply the concept of unavoidable duality to ‘truth’. For although we know that Life allows for such things as lies and falsehoods, it is very curious to consider that perhaps it could not be without them: that Life has to contain that which is untrue. If this is so, that truth MUST be balanced with untruth, then it suggests there can be no single ultimate truth, and our human obsession for the good-idea-made-manifest and an ultimate destination-of-meaning are innately doomed. (It would be interesting to know what Robbins thinks of that, but he probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.)
The Road to Nowhere
Whatever the ‘truth’ of the matter, it does suggest that the path, our path, is not meant to end in a certainty. We are not meant to work ‘it’ out, and that the Buddha on the path is not a roadside attraction to be found. Perhaps, after all, we are only capable of movement, of fluidity. Indeed, healing (especially by such ways as Tai Chi, Shiatsu and Acupuncture) is said to come from moving energy blocks in the body, rather than getting rid of them. It could be a hint. Maybe our real journey is, actually, to accept that we can never get to the true meaning of a good idea - just as we can never get to the end of the mystery of life.
And just maybe, that is because the ‘mystery’ is constantly moving too.

Tina Lane is a freelance writer from England who has written self help guides covering everything from a guide on how to maximise savings with a cash isa to finding happiness through meditation.

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Mar 26, 2012

Guest post.

What’s the Point?
Did God get diaspora? Is that what happened? Was he/she/it bored and felt the desire to spread out and wander? It’s not a popular theory, least of all amongst those who want to know where their God is, was, and will be. But to some of us, the idea of a bit of God hanging out everywhere has soul comforting merit. It is especially comforting to those of us who tried writing a college paper on soap opera, and ended up telling their TV & Film Media Studies tutor that Life is probably just one big soap opera for God, after he/she/it got a chronic case of diaspora, spilt up into little bits, and ended up watching all the little bits of itself for amnesia-based entertainment purposes - only to have her write on the bottom of the paper, ‘What’s your point?’ Evidence, one feels sure, that she was not the kind of person to have Tom Robbins on her bookshelf?
If she had been the kind of person to have Tom Robbins on her bookshelf, she would understand that this thing called Life is so utterly confusing in its apparent meaningless simplicity, that to ask ‘what’s your point’ to any component part of Life, is to undoubtedly miss it – the point that is. And yet, well, yes, therein lies the rub - as Hamlet would say - for to quote that guy in the socks: an unexamined life is not worth living.
Examinations and Distractions
Of course, one might feel that to focus on the contents of life as presented in the 21st century of the mass entertainment, distraction and anaesthetic, risks more than missing the point – it is downright dangerous. Yet someone, this writer feels sure, with Tom Robbins on their bookshelf (last time that phrase will be used, promise), can be abundantly served with entertainment, distraction, and anaesthetic without having to abandon the examination of life, the point, or anything else that it’s probably worth being here for. For that is the point: that we not only have a view point, we have an existential point too. In fact, there is something about reading a Tom Robbins book that makes the reader feel like both the examiner and the examined. It’s a bit like reading about everyone you know from an internal viewpoint and yourself from an external one. One could get egotistical if one wasn’t already.
There is another bonus to owning a book shelf that has some of the novels of Tom Robbins on it: it is that there is the sense that they may chat to the ones next to them, that they may share insights and play in the ethers. What advice does Alobar and Kudra impart to the boy in The Alchemist for instance? Was any Zen-like motorcycle maintenance carried out inside the packet of camel cigarettes? And what giggles does Sissy Hankshaw share with Lao Tzu? This is not to suggest that the books themselves are talking - that would require chemical support - but that a reader who has taken in various materials may find they become so jumbled up in the head that they create a mix of insight, bemusement and, on good days, wispy gossamers of wisdom - and perhaps most of all, a sense of interconnectedness that is so vital in the new American Empire. For a country built on the foundation of powerful words and ideals, remains vulnerable to the ‘sound’ of powerful words and ideals, and can be easily besieged by media and mediums only able to examine inwards.
Back to our point
So ‘what’s your point’ is really only different from ‘what’s the point’, when seen through eyes that block interconnectedness, and fail to recognise our god-like diaspora; one that cannot see that all viewpoints are ‘our’ viewpoint. That like our species, our point is global. It is shared, and wholly inter-reliant. Therefore, when we have truly wide-view perspective books, such as Mr Robbins’, it is wonderful to celebrate these ones who mix it all up, and play and dance with multiple viewpoints through a lexic humour that’s meaning perhaps only comes out when seen holistically. Maybe all point is not lost, and one day we will reach a time when all visitors will come to our homes, examine our bookshelves, and say in whatever words indicate the unifying awareness that comes from our acknowledged diaspora, ‘Wow, you have Tom Robbins on your bookshelf!’

Tina Lane is a freelance writer from England who has written self help guides covering everything from a guide on how to help an alcoholic spouse to finding happiness through meditation.

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Jan 10, 2012

A Light Touch

Last week, I discussed the editing (or not) of Another Roadside Attraction.  I shared that with Tom, inviting him to chime in if he'd like. And chime he did. Quite passionately.  

 The Doubleday editor who handled Another Roadside Attraction was a young woman named Dorothy Pittman. Originally, a woman named Claudia something or other had been assigned to ARA, but she soon left to open a toy store in New Jersey with her husband.

In any case, only female hands touched my manuscript -- and they touched it lightly, indeed: so lightly, in fact, that it might be accurate to say that the book was virtually unedited. A few misspelled words, a couple of lapses in grammar, that was it. 

Any man who claims to have edited the book is a fraud and a liar, and I'd tell him so to his face.  
Tom Robbins
An apt beginning.

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Jan 1, 2012

Tales of the Wiley Peyote

In an interview back in the 70's, the editor of Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, seemed to claim that he had convinced the young author to remove scads of wordplay and gobs of writing pyrotechnics that didn't "work" in the novel. The thought was intriguing and disturbing.

Later Tom informed me that wasn't true. Nothing was removed and the novel retained his vision of it.

I felt ambivalent about it. First, it was good that he hadn't been forced to change his work. On the other hand, the idea of a lost stash of Robbins wordplay was an enticing thought. 

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Mar 21, 2010

Book Review: Anarcho Grow by T.A.Sedlack

Strange doings in Costa Rica. The novel opens with an American man named Ben who isn't who he says he is, doing something he's not supposed to be doing but we don't know what exactly. That is a mystery that is slowly revealed.

It's not a traditional mystery although its main character acts mysteriously for most of the novel. It's not a whodunit, so much as a what the heck are they doing or why are they doing it? Ben's motives are idealistic and he is a combination of innocence and guile. Like Plucky Purcell, he's not a criminal, he's an outlaw. For a good cause. Drugs are involved but not in the way you might think. This novel has a new take on pot smuggling.

I've been to Costa Rica and Sedlak's descriptions of people and place ring true and vivid. He circles the meaning of "Pura Vida" throughout the book, but I couldn't define it for you even now. Maybe that's the point.

I found I became a little unstuck in time because some chapters were from 2001 and some from 2006 and I had trouble following the shifts. The 2001 chapters were about when it all started-- the plan and the romance-- and the 2006 sections were "now".

The tension of the events is wound tight by the gradual closing in of CIA agents on the protagonist. It's a story of a man who came back one too many times to the scene of the "crime". Sedlak's novel has a heartbreakingly hopeful ending.

I enjoyed this very original story.

Leslie W. LePere designed the vibrant cover of Anarcho Grow. Aftrlifers will know him from the Tom Robbins novels he has illustrated.

Anarcho Grow by T. A. Sedlak, published by This Press Kills Fascists Publshing, 2010.

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