Table of Contents


Calligraphy. I lived in the slowly warming waters of Harmonizing from 1979 to 1991. Except at the very end I found ways to keep my sanity, to keep a foot on the ground outside The Community, kinda like keeping my fingers crossed behind my back: I'm not really here, I'm just playing along. Two Boulder businesses were especially helpful in this regard: Mataam Fez and Naropa University. At Naropa I studied calligraphy and book arts.

The great hands. Not Tibetan calligraphy, though they did teach that; mainstream Western calligraphy. Over the course of a year I did a cycle of classes that moved through the great European hands in historical order: Roman capitals, Roman rustics, uncials, half uncials, carolingian, gothic blackletter, rotunda, humanist and italic. Barbara Bash was an excellent teacher: clear, encouraging, demanding, and humble. She's also a world-class calligrapher, among her many talents. Classes were hands-on. We learned about calligraphy by practicing letterforms and creating projects.

Apprenticeship. After I finished the yearlong cycle I took on an apprenticeship of sorts: I volunteered to design flyers for all-campus lectures given by Naropa faculty and visiting dignitaries of Buddhist studies. These happened several times a week so I got lots of practice. At the time I was considering calligraphy as a part-time career. I did try that for a while, but soon realized I don't have any talent for graphic design. I had fun at Naropa. I developed an artistic skill at a basic level. I spent a lot of time at Naropa, giving myself the freedom to do something that had nothing to do with TH. It was a godsend.

A waltzing fool. As a volunteer poster boy I had the perk of auditing Naropa classes for free. I was drawn to Bill Douglas's music classes and sat in on many of them. I even learned a couple of his rock etudes. One day Bill played this song for us.

I was transfixed. I fell in love with Chet. His wistful cover of Mel Tormé's Born to be Blue came back to me over a decade later when I was getting Waltz etcetera going. I knew I wanted to dance to that song, to that kind of music. It didn't fit any of the dance rhythms I knew. It has a slow beat, about 70 bpm, but each beat has a triple pulse. There's an underlying 1-2-3. Much later I learned about compound meters like 12/8. In compound meters each beat is divided into three microbeats. In most cases these microbeats are way too fast to waltz to. But the music begs to be danced to. I was determined to figure it out, and I found a way to dance to compound rhythms based on slow quick quick, a rhythm I knew from foxtrot. You have to time shift the quicks a bit, pulling one and pushing the other. We called it blues foxtrot or blues rumba and taught it for years. When I made my way to tango I found a more developed version of the same thing: tango vals, tangoing slowly to fast waltzes, mostly on the ones but with lots of sophisticated musical play on the other microbeats. Waltz (including tango vals), 12/8 blues and 12/8 pop are my home ground in dancing. I am a waltzing fool, in love with triple time.

Content. Calligraphy is an empty art. That's a contradiction in terms, in my understanding of art; it's not noble. So maybe craft's a better word. Calligraphy is decorative, and decoration has no content; the content is whatever gets decorated. The content of calligraphy is the message someone cares enough about to take the extra step of decorating it with calligraphy, whether that someone is the calligrapher or a client. Barbara taught us we should never obscure the content.

Messages. When I was studying calligraphy, I didn't care about the message; I was just interested acquiring the skill. Now I don't care about verbal messages at all, and I'm no longer interested in calligraphy or decoration of any kind. I gave all my calligraphic tools and supplies to the local guild years ago.

Attachment. How can a writer not care about verbal messages? The answer is in the word care. If I care about something, I'm engaged with it, actively involved. I do my best not to care, in that sense, about things, events, or messages. I only care about people, and only a few people at that: the important people in my life. Caring is attachment. If I were a good Buddhist I wouldn't care about people either, in that sense. But I'm not any kind of Buddhist; I'm not religious. I'm just me, and I care about people I'm connected with, close friends and lovers. If there is love or deep friendship between me and someone it forges a connection reaching all the way down to my deepest level. Of course I'm attached to those people. Attachment is a normal healthy part of intimate relationship. When I grow apart from someone, that attachment goes away quite naturally. Being attached to those I'm closest to is not an issue I need to work on, it's a fact of life. And not just for children.

All that is true as far as it goes. It fails to address two things: the potential usefulness of messages, and the right way to treat my fellow humans, the ones I'm attached to and all the others too.

Useful messages. I've found certain messages useful. He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know is attributed to Lao Tzu. That message was very useful to me at at certain point in my journey.

The same is true of Atman is Brahman. That one keeps coming back to haunt and enlighten me.

These were useful because I sought them out during periods of intense inner work, not because someone illuminated them. I don't see a value in the decoration of wisdom. The readiness of the seeker is everything.

Suffering. All my fellow humans are suffering, whatever their outward situation. Donald Trump had everything he wished for yet he was profoundly, visibly miserable. Treating people the right way demands I remember the universality of suffering and act accordingly. It's a tall order, but one worth working at. Remembering and embodying that gives rise to compassion, kindness, friendliness, respect. All these virtues are about the right way to treat all people, including the ones I'm connected with. I would add good manners to that list. I guess that's highbrow, but it's true for me.