5.31.2017

Notes on Moments: An Accidental Teacher

Whether Castaneda made up Don Juan or not is irrelevant. The teaching remains the same.
(I actually like it better as made up.)

Sometimes, I have an idea that takes on life (what a great, odd expression: to take on life — like one does with clothing, sorta; like a mule does with stuff; like fisticuffs in the thoroughfare). I see something or think something and, as it makes its way through my body, it blossoms. And then I sit and write it, fleshing it out in every sense. These become essays that usually live here; other times, they've been known to become books. (Buy my darn book, already, you lazy louts! I promise it's chock full of goodies!)

But sometimes I have an idea or a comment or take (oh, "take" as a noun is fantastic!) that might not have enough, quantitatively speaking, to become an essay or book. Or maybe it does have enough but that's not what interests me: what interests me is a moment within the flow, an aspect, a whisper, a shiny brooch, a parenthetical, a throwaway. Or I don't even have an idea or comment. I just have a notion or observation. How do I publish that? Sure, tweets are great, an Oulipo project. But what I got is often more than 140 characters. (I tend to be purple. The limitation is probably good for me. 140 characters! Or an essay! And yet: why not something in between? And, again, it's not just a question of length, of quantity, but of quality and form. Need everything I write have a point?)

I always carry a little Rhodia notebook with me to scribble ideas as they come to me. Very few take on more life than that. And so there most of them remain, scrawls in a ratty notebook in a jacket pocket.
There are worse fates.
I love stand up comedy as a form. There is such license to build different flows and logics, different ways of moving through an "act." Like any performer, comedians use the refrain in various ways to stitch it all together. But they always leave room for the non-sequitur. Often, it's lead by a pause..."Anyway.......I almost died last summer" (pace Sarah Silverman who forces her audience to note the form more than any comedian I've ever seen).

Music definitely faces this. Maybe you have a lick but not a song; or a song and you can't find the bridge. Can you, would you, buy an album of licks? (Yes, I know, no one buys albums anymore. Humor me.)

And then there's writing. Sometimes, I just want to share a tidbit, an ornament, an insight, a comment.  It's probably longer than an aphorism but, in any case, less profound, less dense. I'm curious in the expression of notions. (At first, I wrote "the phenomenology of notions and words." But that's cumbersome. So I got rid of "words." But then it wasn't accurate. Then I had "the phenomenology of the expression of notions." But that made me want to punch me in the face.)

Orr Hot Springs. The back room on the left is the steam room. This pool is the cool pool, in every sense. The whole scene is quite decadent.

So here's something. I'm at Orr Hot Springs a few weeks ago with my, uh, special lady friend. It's a clothing optional resort in Mendocino County in Northern California (for the curious, about 3.5 hours north of San Francisco). There's a lot to say about that, which I will, but not at the moment. What I want to tell you now is this.

This clothing optional spa — I'll just say naked spa — has a small steam room right next to the cool pool. We were going back and forth between the intense heat of the steam room and the bracing cold of the pool which, for the record, is simply a great experience that opens the senses, making you ready and eager for life.

So at one point, we're in the steam room. It's a very small room — maybe 8 x 8 (I made that up; I have no idea. Just know it's a small, intimate space). At first, we were alone and just sitting next to each other, shvitzing (no, that's not code for fooling around; it's Yiddish for sweating. Stay with me here). Anyway, a guy walks in and proceeds to lie down on a lower bench at 90 degrees to us.  Remember, we are all naked. Which, in this story, is irrelevant and yet adds necessary color.

So he lies down but as the tile bench he's on is small, he has his legs up against the wall, stretching his hamstrings. And then, through the quiet and steam, he lets loose one of the more extended, rich, robust farts I've ever encountered.

What's startling is not that he farts — everyone farts — but that he farts so loudly and follows absolutely no social protocol whatsoever, spoken or otherwise. He says nothing. No excuse me. No acknowledgement. Nothing. And his energy, for lack of a better word, reveals no shift whatsoever — not a hint of embarrassment, shame, or self-consciousness of any sort. Zero. Zilch. He just continues to lie there, occasionally flexing his legs. My lady and I giggle because, well, we're 13 year old boys at heart.

And then he does it again! And still he offers no sign of social negotiation. He's just lying there in this steam room naked, with two naked strangers, laying down farts of geologic import. (Note that as the springs that feed this place are laden with sulphur, there is a fart miasma pervading the place. Which is to say, his production yields no new discernible odor.)

Eventually, as we're sweating to death, we leave the room to go into the pool. But both of us are absolutely blown away by this man (I wasn't wearing my glasses so I can't tell you his age; I'm guessing mid 40s). He is a master! A teacher of the highest order! Someone so comfortable in their skin, in the way they inhabit the world, they can inflect the social so freely without any acknowledgement whatsoever. He wasn't brazen or punk rock about it. He wasn't hippy-we're-all-just-meat about it. He was absolutely, completely, utterly neutral — not asocial nor social. He was simply being, simply becoming, as this thing in the world. Here was a teacher like none I'd ever met.

Still reeling from this experience, this great teaching — which, by the way, is as profound to me as the story of Abraham and Isaac — we leave the cold pool to go back to the steam room. Our Master Farter is gone. And my lady friend — what word do I use? girlfriend? friend? you tell me — proceeds to lie down on the tile bench much as our brilliant farter had. And then, as she moves to stretch a muscle, the same farting sound suddenly blasts from her body!

Holy shit! None of these sounds were farts. It was simply moisture, flesh, and tile expressing themselves.

And yet this revelation detracted nothing from the teaching! It didn't, and doesn't, matter at all that it didn't actually happen. This man, this would-be farter, taught us more than most books and courses ever taught us — or could possibly teach!

This accident of perception became a figure, what Deleuze and Guattari might call a conceptual persona. It became an epic tale, biblical, perhaps made all the more so for not having actually happened. It became elevated, a teaching from on high, an aspiration. The material reality was irrelevant, concertedly displaced by a much more profound, resonant reality — a truth, a possibility, that forever exceeds some 46 year old gaseous hippy.

This makes me think of Carlos Castaneda. People accuse him of making up Don Juan. Which is insane as an accusation. If it "actually" happened, that's great. If he made it up, all the better! It makes him a genius and a master teacher. In fact, he's a master teacher either way. Just like our steam room farter. Which is all to say, I remain inspired — indeed, haunted — by this man who only exists as a possibility, as a beautiful idea, as freedom vital and embodied.

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