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Category: wicked pack of cards

Futher on difficult meditation.

Note: The post isn’t really about what its opening sentence might suggest, to the sane and normal reader, that it’s about; I didn’t make even the most halfassed attempt to maintain such smallmind-hobgoblin-consistency. It’s all — really all of it; this is how much of a degenerate wordcel I am — it’s all about getting to write and so hear the phrase ‘misery-fuckery’ in the trip-o-let rhythm of ‘jiggery-pokery.’

Thinking this morning about the notion of the ’emotional journey’: spatiotemporal metaphor for a shift in your inner landscape.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book ostensibly or pretextually about the major arcana of the tarot, working through the cards in order — starting and ending with the zeroth trump, the Fool — as if they recorded or allegorized a trip or transformation. I decided over the course of the project that the traditional image of the ‘Fool’s Journey’ was the wrong organizing metaphor, and it was more fertile for me to think of the Fool/querent/seeker/human undertaking errands with the intention of returning each time, if not to where she started, then to the next starting point. The ‘Fool’s Errand’ makes fractal sense to me: coming home changed — and so to a changed home — in order to set out on the next errand in a series, which together make up a deeper project of…y’know, whatever.

This shift — from thinking of the Journey as delivery mechanism for transformative psychic reward, to seeing the Errand as a recurring/ongoing project of engagement with change and uncertainty within and without — played out textually in that book as, if I’m being frank, a maddening fucking inconsistency of tone and viewpoint. Well, it is what it is. But the book was about midlife transition, really, and I’m pleased with the way tone and topic shifted together. Or so I console myself.

A friend who shared a little of what she knows about contemplative pathwork once told me her goal in meditative practice was to ‘realize nonseparateness,’ a phrase and concept which echoes throughout the present work. She was admirably clearheaded about a concept I found intellectually intuitive but at times emotionally forbidding: it was the realization itself, opening and maintaining connection itself, that was of value — not the specific emotional colour/content of the connection or of the thing connected to. ‘Nonseparateness’ was, in the terms of yesterday’s post, a peaceful dynamic of which (inner) conflict is always a part. ‘Peace isn’t quiet’; peace is ongoing resolution and restoration. Conflict can get you there (‘winning the peace’) and in any case conflict is coming.

This seems to me a vital distinction with both obvious and subtle political implications. You ‘realize nonseparateness’ even when what you’re connected to is difficult or painful; there’s a surface analogy to, say, democratic pluralism — which we might call a (possibly doomed) politics of willful nonseparateness, i.e. endless negotiation and compromise — but we should be careful not to stop at the superficial ‘stay connected to people who suck in order to improve/surpass them.’ It seems to me, a disintegrated and basically fucked person, that ‘nonseparateness’ isn’t tolerance. You tolerate someone because it won’t last forever, but I think real connection is undertaken without selfish hope of reprieve: it’s your responsibility to maintain a sense of the Other as fully itself, exactly as real as ‘you,’ even when the Other is a painful imagining or a difficult experience or (say) a dipshit ideologue. Relationship built on outlasting the unwanted will encode a dangerous destructive tension — cold war, so to speak. ‘Uneasy coexistence,’ and incidentally ‘unease’ translates as dukkha

Authentic engagement is both means and end, because — I guess this is one of my foundational assumptions — no one is an island; human minds and bodies being what they are, we realize our full humanity only in ongoing relation with others, and find peace only in peaceful relation (to circumstance, interactor, self, etc.). ‘Not all those who wander are lost’: an invitation not to tolerance but to an affirmative relation to inbetweenness, transit, search, the Errand as its own reason and reward. I have such a hard stupid time recognizing a process or transformation as a reward in itself, and I can hear echoes of this failure in so much misery-fuckery in my own life—

When I can remember that I’m not out to purify my own state or activity, but rather to be more authentic in my participation in ongoing processes at a scale I can’t easily/always perceive, I know I’m happier and closer to peace and ease — irrespective of the difficulty of my work.

It’s certainly possible this is an optical illusion, or One Neat Trick to pull on my easily manipulable consciousness. Any Fool knows that.


All spells are cast on the caster.

Because magic spells fail, magic is widely and incorrectly understood to fail. But all magic spells work on the magician — and on the others in the circle, connected to the working. Parts of (because party to) the transformation.

A magical working is a fiction. (Reader-response!) Is ‘paracosm’ the right word? Ludocosm? Thaumatocosm? Ugh, maybe. It creates a space in which new practice is possible. This is why you wear a mask and practice improvisation: radical listening. Radically intense experience of that private fiction. The privacy it affords makes it possible to explore something deeply, to access impulses and inhabit personae.

The fictionality unthethers the context, the surroundings, from the binding consensus-reality — but also untethers your own actions and their effects. Within the fiction, magic can work. The spell is the fiction.

We keep two sets of books; we can live inside a fiction, many fictions. That’s what fiction is for. It begins with radical acceptance in the reader/listener/magician: agreeing to the premise, the provision, the proffer. Letting yourself be welcomed (answering the Campbellian call to adventure, with the final/ultimate adventure being living toward death). That’s the outset of the Errand, of course — choosing to set out, accepting limitation. Becoming foolish, becoming the Fool. You have to get humble (fuck around!) before you can find out.

All magic spells work on the magician. Which is to say: one way or another, they all work.

Wicked pack of cards: Plague.

Flat 750x 075 f pad 750x1000 f8f8f8 u1

All suspended, permission uncertain, no passage.

No one wants a plague diary from some bourgeois idiot. I am ‘inessential’ and not a ‘worker’ in the valorous sense.

The cards say what the monks say: you are in a moment of transformation. Choice of adverb: really. ‘Changely’ if you like. Here and thus you are, never could it’ve been otherwise. Get to it. Choose, act.

Out the window, though, an invisible cloud.

Airborne toxic event.

Plague of sedentation.

The shrinks say what the posters say: you’re always changing, every day’s a new one, make the healthy choice.

Your job without socializing. Your home without respite. Your friends without touch, city without neighbours, movement without aim, contact without exchange, tension without release.

No bodies to dance inside.

The music says what the bodies say: I love you, I miss you, I want to break free. (Of: me.)

Even music seems to’ve stopped.

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut

Motionless but not still.

Moving but not busy — not frantic.

Still but not quiet. Peaceful but not restful.

Making but not creating.

Hungry but not angry.

Acting but not working.

Needful but not grasping.

Talking but not connecting.

Reaching but not connecting.

Touching but not connecting.

Connecting but not touching.

Listening to the circle.

‘We are all monastics now,’ several said.

For various reasons that doesn’t appeal to me. For various reasons that appeals to me. On balance, I like the option of a bourbon et cetera.

The memory of all that
They can’t take that away from me

Motionless but not still, meaning sitting frantically — sitting but not sitting, war of self against self. What if now weren’t now? Suffering is resenting that here and thus we are: holding the world against the world instead of being (recognizing onself as) part of all of it, all of part of it. The World (XXI) isn’t a place or possession, not even a piece of knowledge; it’s recognition, acceptance, assumption. Taken up into the heaven of a trillion borderless souls.

Every dream arrested. Plague of atomization.

We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening

Well you can go to a monastery to hide, which works for a while, though They tend to find you when They want it badly enough, or when you do. And you can go to pray, sit, tend the garden, work, think, build, look closely. I suppose you might meet someone there who knows. Become someone even.

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper ‘I love you’
Birds singing in the sycamore tree

It’s not just old brick, is the thing. The space has to be impregnated somehow with intention. Stillness, not just motionlessness. Stillness is presence where motion can only be absent. Vee, delta-ess o’er delta-tee. While stillness is a skin that settles over you, brings insides and outsides in. Stillness is how time slows in the vein.

During plague I haven’t moved but haven’t felt still at all.

Having trouble finding now.

The building is made of this or thatever, but it becomes a monastery by the intention of the practitioners within it. The thing they are collectively maintaining, defense against fallenness, against what of the world takes from us, what of the world wants, devours, strips flesh, strips spirit. No souls, no spirits, these are ‘only’ metaphors, but imagine if there were, which is the point of the point: imagining makes the space sacred. Intend, exhaust, imbue.

And I look at those eyes
I look at those lonely eyes

And it comes from me to you

I once asked God for forgiveness (for something) in a cathedral in NYC and what I received was hysterical tears. I felt gratitude for what I took to be a gift, but I’ve just realized that I’d received the gift — the work was accomplished — the second I knelt and meant it.

The cathedral is what it is; as soon as we came into the nave I could feel the action of the place, and by the time we reached The Legend of St Eustace I was ready for something to happen.

Some pompous Fool said ‘The readiness is all.’ You make the magic circle by joining hands with someone who needs help. ‘It is true.’ I was told that amen means ‘it is true,’ which suddenly sounds a lot like Tell me about it, which is a nice thing to say to someone you love, including yourself. Kneeling there, feeling gratitude for tears, ready for someone to happen.

Heaven will prove to’ve been stillness, and it’s here, obscured by motionlessness. ‘A place where nothing ever happens,’ not quite. Where what’s up is really up, is what’s up. The circle turning brings you to wherever you’re going.

I’m going to drink some water, drive my wife to Target, and see what happens.

The heart says what the birds say:

Psychedelic lake painting

Wicked pack of cards: Circle, or Zuihitsu.

‘Circling the fire,’ ‘tiptoeing around the issue,’ ‘going in circles,’ ‘chasing your tail,’ ‘in a spiral,’ ‘back where we started,’ all of them meaning at some point Will you fucking get on with it.

My left eyelid has been twitching for a week. I’ve wondered daily when it will stop; more recently I wonder whether I can stop wondering. I know both that anxious attention is anxious, so worrying isn’t helping — anxiety never ever helps anything, don’t let anxious salesman fool you — but one level deeper I know that ‘helping’ isn’t necessarily necessary. ‘That’s a lot to work with,’ the adept says of some irritant, not only to tolerate or ‘live with’ but to build on. This idiot twitch is really happening, and while I want it to stop, one level deeper I want Someone to acknowledge my wanting and do something about it. I want to be able to reward someone with love for making the problem go away.

Of course, treating love as a reward is a problem in itself.

‘One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.’ I keep coming back to that phrase.

Of course I can’t bring myself to read an entire book of Charles Fort, almost no one can. I didn’t read Being and Time for Professor Rota’s Being and Time seminar either, but it changed my life all the same, which might make me a fool but we’ve learned — as if we didn’t already know — that there are worse things. What makes Fort both welcoming and troubling is that, having made private sense of things, he presents his findings and surmises — presents himself — in a way that admits of possibility and error. He’s all middle (nor was he a thin man).

Even Fort’s straightforward recitations of reported fact, his summaries of eyewitness testimony, feel like modest proposals — beyond his dry (‘telegraphic’) style Fort committed to a rigorous ambivalence, which only sounds like laziness or a cop-out until you try it.

Note: what makes Fort’s disciples so much easier but less interesting reads than their inspiration is that (with rare exceptions like RAW or John Keel) they aren’t, in the end, committed to Fortean epistemological radicalism: they’re interested in the effects that Fortean skepticism can generate, whether for aesthetic pleasure and as intellectual/creative toolkit, but the modern ‘Fortean’ worldview isn’t broken-open in the way Fort’s was. As such, today’s Forteans have boring pragmatic but reassuringly solid ground to push off of, where Fort was always in the middle of radically disconcertingly open intellectual space. It’s not hard to see why; maintaining a mind so open that bugs can get in is…well, hard work. And there are bugs.

I’ve kept bringing up Fort in the context of this tarot series partly because they’re close neighbours in the concept-map of postwar American ‘fringe’ interests, mostly because the playful rigour which Fort brought to his (perhaps mad) collecting and writing is the very definition of antirational systematic — i.e. ‘magical’ — thought and praxis. ‘Underlying oneness!’ is the hook, but ‘sit with nonsense until it starts to make sense’ is the boring, fulfilling work.

Insofar as the Fool’s Errand — by which, here, I’m content to mean ‘the “divinatory” tarot as inspirational tool’ — is about patient engagement (with one’s many selves, circumstances, perceptual frames, possible futures, abandoned pasts, misapprehended alternate presents), sitting/wrestling with the World until you realize you’re in it or just it, Charles Fort perfectly embodies its lessons (no, its arc, or method or just uhh vibe?). ‘The truth will out’ is usually presented as a threat but Kekulé and his ouroboros-vision of the benzene ring manifest the other side of that circle: ‘Visions come to prepared spirits.’

Not that circles have other sides, is the whole point of the whole point.

Professor Rota’s class met 7-10 on Friday nights and we’d spend hours in his genial company banging our heads against Being and Time — though the class was mostly Husserl if I’m being honest — and then adjourn to Deli Haus in Kenmore Square, three or six or more of us, to bang our heads against some sandwiches and the broader difficulties of being 20 at the turn of a broadly difficult millennium. I liked the teriyaki+pineapple on grilled chicken. We’d talk about what it’d mean to be ‘authentic,’ whether/how that was possible, pronouncing the word in Rota’s marvelous Italian accent (with hand gestures in the same accent), taking thinking seriously without taking ourselves that way…

One of the key concepts in the class was the hermeneutic circle, that conceptual movement between whole and part, theory and practice, class and instance, idea and example, form and body, fact and function, proposition and encounter — each ‘pole’ of the oscillation becomes in turn context for the other and vice unsurprisingly versa as a network of (hopefully) ever-clearer, ever-saner associations forms. The world is constructed by this back’n’forth, which isn’t meant as a sexual metaphor though I can’t stop you taking it that way (especially now).

The circle was a tool for imagining (encompassing) an experience of destabilizing incompleteness and contingency. At Deli Haus we’d linger until midnight or more trying to figure out how we were supposed to live, and while in retrospect the answer seems not just obvious but singable — ’round and round and round and round…’ — at the time I certainly wasn’t able to imagine that uncertain in-progress state as itself desirable, any more than I could imagine sexual pleasure in terms other than the orgasmic or conceive of a well-lived life that wasn’t in some material sense rewarded or acknowledged by…Someone.

‘That special someone,’ maybe. Someone qualified to judge, i.e. not me.


The first time I saw a therapist — possibly the very first session — he told me to make a schedule and carve out blocks of free time. ‘Oh, so when I’m working I’m really working,‘ I responded with certainty.

‘No,’ he responded with confidence. ‘So when you’re not working, you’re really not working.’

Years later I announced to him that people cry when they don’t know how to express what they’re really feeling, and he gently corrected me, saying that people cry because it perfectly expresses what they’re really feeling.

During another session he gave me a rubber band to wear on my wrist. ‘When you find yourself biting your nails, gently snap the band…’

‘…to punish myself so I stop doing it?’ I jumped in. Maybe you see a pattern forming here.

‘No.’ Again, confident: ‘There’s no need to hurt yourself. Gently snap the rubber band and focus your attention for a moment. If you still want to bite your nails at that point, you can go ahead. But after you snap the rubber band, the next thing you do, do it intentionally.’

That worked, and so naturally when the rubber band broke I could never find Just The Right Replacement so I demolished my fingernails — which were, at the time, the longest they’d ever been.

I want to say ‘They were never that long again, either’ — please think about the fact that I want to say that — but the deflating truth is, they actually have been. Once. At the outset of plague I managed to go a month or so without pulling or biting them. Didn’t use a rubber band either! Nosiree, I just… Well, I don’t know what I did.

I did something.

Here is what fucking galls me: fundamentally, now is no different from then. But it seems impossible, not just to get back to it, but even to imagine it. If you can’t simply will your desires into being, isn’t it the case that you can never attain them, and so you must be unhappy? Forced to collaborate with the actual universe, which is a losing proposition — it doesn’t wanna help and is full of idiots, many of them carbon based — how can we think of happiness as anything but an accident, how can we believe in a happy ending?

Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.’

Dr Manhattan’s whole thing, after all, is that he’s free to exist outside of linear time, and everyone hates that it doesn’t make him happier (i.e. more willing to lie). ‘Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so,’ said someone equally wise. Dr Manhattan isn’t ‘happy’ because he’s moved on (not simply to say ‘up’) to the synthesis. Now he’s just real, a concept wholly alien to his superhero colleagues, including the mad ‘villain’ Ozymandias — who misunderstands a realness he might actually’ve been open to, if he’d wanted.

‘One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.’

We all read ‘Story of Your Life’ and watched Arrival and got it, right? Not just ‘noticed how clever Ted Chiang is’ but felt the loss/love story down deep?

The worst thing, I hear, is being stuck in the middle of things. I want to say otherwise but don’t trust my wanting. In the meantime — all time regresses to meantime — we can ask the cards.

Wicked pack of cards: Enlightenment I suppose.

‘It’s all about the journey, not the destination.’

But then of course a journey is defined by its destination, no? Its telic nature is what separates it from ‘going out for a walk.’

Meanwhile an errand is specifically going-and-coming: defined not by travel but by effort and action, the thing you’re traveling for. At the end of the errand you return home, having been changed by whatever you did, even if it was just mailing a check (lightening your load) or picking up groceries (feeding your head).

I’m an American, San Juan born. What we value most about home is that it’s always there for you, never changing. ‘Home is where the heart is’ and the heart shouldn’t have to keep up with the times.

Returning home at the end of an errand you’re supposed feel welcomed and comforted by familiarity (shared root with ‘family,’ duh). But that’s another word for ‘sameness.’ Predictability.

The Fool’s Errand is precisely about change: recurrent transformation.

The happy part is you get to go again, the sad thing is you have to go again, the funny bit is that you might realize along the way that you’ve been home the whole time — by which I mean not ‘you are at home’ but rather home is what you are. One way of understanding the Errand, it seems to me, is the project of recognizing simultaneously your smallness and your vastness: how far out you extend, how ordinary that is, how little of you is you, how much of you is everywhere and vice interpenetratively versa, how long-term irrelevant your current destination (shared root with ‘destiny,’ duh) is.

Plus anyway where you think you’re going is never where you’re going, which (by the way) is why ‘storytelling with dice’ isn’t an oxymoron.

‘By the way’ is an interesting little phrase. Means something like ‘just off the road,’ doesn’t it.

It testifies to, er, something or other that I didn’t understand what I suspect might be the central insight of the ‘wicked pack of cards’ essays — the Fool’s Errand doesn’t get you anywhere — until I was nearly finished with the series. (I’m still nearly finished, may remain so for years.) Indeed for much of these essays’ running time I’ve been under the opposite delusion, that the inquiry/engagement which the Errand symbolizes (is?) is a noisy line pointing toward…well, Enlightenment I suppose. Control, wisdom, mastery, emptiness, fullness, whatever.

I’ve long pronounced that ‘life is all middle’ and am slowly beginning to believe it. But to realize that this — meaning both (1) this project of turning playing cards into an allegorical narrative about psychotropism and nonseparateness and (2) the content of the narrative itself — is itself only middle, an endless sequence of intermediate stages, has been unexpectedly jarring. The fiction of, say, ‘mindfulness’ as a shortcut or even just a direct route to happiness, an end run around the suffering which human minds continually cogenerate, is so attractive — even though (even fleeting) mindful experience directly suggests the opposite! The Errand, which among other things allegorizes1 devotional/meditative practice, has something of a slingshot ending, as the Fool…

…begin[s] to move towards a goal which has been anticipated from the beginning. But they move out of frame, out of the end of the book, and the story closes as though before its proper ending… Though unexpecting readers might feel that the consequent affect is one of frustrating truncation, a discomfort at not being told what should be told for proper closure, a true slingshot ending should persuade them that a choice of conclusions has indeed been indicated –- and that their task (or joy) is to plunge head foremost towards a finish they will be glad to sanction. (Clute, SFE3)

We should name the upsetting structural irony at work here: the Fool’s joyful task, the eagerly anticipated goal, is to undertake a version of the same errand just ‘completed.’ You could read this recurrence as tragic or comic, though we should resist flight to genre-reduction here. Crucially, he’s now a different Fool. You can’t step in the same river twice, etc. The Errand — any errand — is the opportunity for, not the content of, a deep transformation.

Putting some of this another way: it’s an error to think that those two roads diverging in a wood made any more or less difference than the million others you didn’t write a poem about.2

‘I’ve long pronounced…and am slowly beginning to believe it.’ Ugh what a tiresome bore I am. But that too is a potentially useful irony, a chance at productive noticing: the Errand involves coming to understanding, changing your mind to accommodate a changing world, and that process is neither linear nor equal-tempered. When I was an undergrad, Professor Rota (RIP) taught our Heidegger class about the ‘hermeneutic circle,’ a cyclical movement of thought between class and instance, illustration and codification, abstraction and example — a concept neatly illustrated by the encounter/introspection/integration dialectic of the Fool’s Errand. This is healthy inner life per se: meeting the world on its terms, noticing and understanding our response (i.e. meeting ourself on its own terms), and integrating outer and inner circumstances into, if not a coherent idea exactly, then at least a view of things less dependent on inviolable borders between us and else, subject and object, chance and choice.

(Magic and divination can be thought of as embodied theory of the relationship between will and chance, and of our willed blindness toward that relationship. If the uncomfortable central truth of poker is that luck is how you live with chance, we’re free to identify that as a magical — which is maybe partly to say ‘probabilistic’? — insight. The world makes/is chance, but you make luck, and if one is eventual and one perceptual, they’re equally ‘real.’)

One measures a circle, beginning anywhere. And crucially deciding for oneself where to stop.

None of this is sophisticated. You’d have to be ‘educated stupid,’ in the words of Gene Ray, to think that’s an indicator of its value.

‘Don’t get drunk and slam the door, that’s no way to end this…’


  1. (‘can be said to allegorize’ or ‘means, roughly, in this private interpretive-story we’re telling,’ you get the idea I hope) 
  2. yes yes, the poem’s more complicated than its popular representation, don’t worry about it 

Wicked pack of cards: The Errand again, or Divination.

Bazille fortune teller 412px

What’s divination?

Looking inward to see outward.

One precondition for sane conversation is agreement that cartomancy doesn’t work in the following sense: you can’t look in the cards and see external events that will occur in future.

Divination used to be more intimate, indeed for many customers unrepresented in popular discourse I suspect it still is at some level: where an urban modern might visit a ‘fortune teller’ for a lark, or in a bout of post-breakup depression, a rural diviner (or one long ago, in tighter times) would have an ongoing relationship with her visitors, would be bound up more closely in the webs of relationships and chains of events which she’d then interpret partly from within in her reading. The ‘village wise woman’ was, in a sense, a gossip: a hub of local wisdom, i.e. inside knowledge.

Inside what, though?

Divination isn’t prediction, it’s interpretation.

I went to a wedding in Philly more than a decade ago and visited Harry’s Occult Shop. (It felt like going home.) The most striking thing about the other customers was that they all seemed to know the proprietors: there was a constant stream of relaxed conversation about crystals, feng shui, tarot… The term ‘community of seekers’ comes up from time to time in my writing, but like many Americans — not only my fellow ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ — I experience that mostly as a kind of felt relation to distant strangers.1 There in the store I saw the context in which ‘magic’ actually works: a genuine community within which shared knowledge and belief makes possible not only a sort of vivid collective imagination but a pragmatic pooling of ‘wisdom,’ i.e. what’s really up. In those days I imagine you could linger in Harry’s and learn a hell of a lot about a sort of invisible city with in the city…

I get some of that at Seven Stars in Cambridge, where I’ve spent happy hours browsing books and hearing stories and occasionally making pompous pronouncements. (Or just talking, when I’m able.) But there are levels and levels. If I needed to know whether my True Love intended to offer me his grandmother’s ring, what better way to find out than to ask the same old lady he came to for advice? Maybe she doesn’t say directly. Maybe only suggests, drops hints. Maybe it doesn’t matter which cards come up so long as we’re all clear on what we’re here for, what we want…

What’s divination? Looking around to see inward.

I wrote earlier that the Fool’s Errand allegorizes choice, by which I mean:

1-7 8-14 15-21
travel immersion integration
earthly inner cosmic
circumstance psyche universe
acknowledgment, resolution pursuance psalm
thesis antithesis synthesis
hectic apoplectic dialectic

Kidding about the last one.

You get the idea.

David Milch (citing William James, probably) speaks of finding a working method that reveals to you the true ‘categories of [your] imagination,’ while finding your way out of (citing Coleridge) ‘fanciful’ — purely private — networks of metaphoric association and into ‘imaginative’/universal/outward-going connection. You learn about the world beyond your skull so that you can go deep within yourself to write your way into a connection with something greater — which in turn leads you back to yourself, renewed, made strange but hospitable: authentic imaginative creation liberates you into the World. ‘Although of course you end up becoming yourself,’ as the other guy said…

Immersion in the world as it truly is opens up the possibility of immersion in the self bleached of its ego-attachments and vice versa, each Foolish recurrence bringing you again to the choice between attachment to familiar suffering or freedom into the unknown — which, to be clear, is almost certainly painful though that’s got nothing to do with suffering by necessity, as you can suffer while happy… Deep devotional work, whether creative or ‘magical’ or meditative or putting in the hours in woodshop or caring for a loved one in his extremity or worshipping or serving or praying or — but I keep repeating myself — such work may afford happiness but essentially offers clarity, clarification, which is a realignment of perception and reality (however we’re defining that at the moment). Authenticity is clarity and openness, which makes right action possible.

Boy had to get himself correct. (Lt. Daniels)

Devotional practice ‘slows’ awareness — allows things to register meaningfully by moving us out of fire-and-forget reactivity and into engagement with…well, anything really. ‘Devotion’ is humble agnosticism among other things. The ‘Errand’ presents stages or facets of magical (self-modifying intentional) practice as a kind of exhortation, a method of noticing: noticing ‘what comes up’ in the process of mindful introspection, not least. An experience subjected to this ‘magical’2 attention begins to ramify, to mean, and you either run with that meaning or not, learn from it or not, welcome and intensify the transformation it affords or not.

That clear apprehension of your present (‘present-moment awareness’) alters the way you conceive of — and so imagine, and so create, and so approach, and so experience — your future.

‘Magic’ is antirational social-psychotropic practice.

By this definition, of course, psychotherapy could reasonably be considered ‘magic’ — a sort of slow-motion divination, priest-initiate offering occult insight into the future by integrating the past into a present experienced with great (shitty, painful) clarity.

I’m comfortable with that.

Why bother with any of this?

Because the world is already full of dangerous horseshit presented as a cure for unhappiness when really it’s a ‘cure’ for choice. I’m 41 years old, I’m having a hard time during this plague just like you are, and the possibility of alternating consciousness as a way of reencountering this world-shitshow in sustainable joy is unquestionably, absolutely, worth the mild risk of sounding silly in a personal essay about — of all the inane things — tarot cards.

Really now. Even a 1% increase in the likelihood of soul-health3 is worth looking into.

I don’t read tarot cards, by the way. Are you kidding? I just dream about them in this form.

I wonder whether it works. I wonder how I’d know.

  1. Readers of my 33-1/3 book on Phish’s A Live One — and as a person of taste and enormous physical attractiveness, you should be one such reader if you aren’t already — will note that this has long been exactly my relationship to the Phish fan community, first via tape-trading by mail in the 90s, now through ‘social’ media. I should get out more. 
  2. It’s clear that I’m using the term ‘magical’ for reasons of utility rather than credulity, right? This writing only works on the assumption that magic is ‘cultural technology of survival’ rather than, say, spells that make things happen at a distance — though the latter is a potent metaphor for the former. 
  3. (i.e. the health of whatever ‘soul’ is a metaphor for) 

Wicked pack of cards: Well.

I remember I liked to [read] more than Amy did. I remember Amy liked to draw and play with things, and partially play with the phones. And I would much prefer being by myself with a book. And that Mom and Dad were basically, “Oh cool, look: David and Amy are different.” They were really ’60s parents, and I don’t think — there was if anything a conscious attempt to not give overt direction. Although of course you end up becoming yourself. (DFW)

You come out clearer than before, hopefully. Not ‘better’ though maybe better suited, so to speak. To the world, the World, and its difficulties. Hopefully the dog makes it as well.


I’m allergic to dogs and grew up with two of them, suffering the entire time from cough and watery eyes and runny/stuffed nose, just misery. My memory of childhood is that I was sick all the time though it can’t have been true, can it, because my memory of childhood is also that I was playing in the woods all the time.

When my son had his first asthma exacerbations I would cry hysterically without quite understanding why, and then the first time we took him to Children’s Hospital and he got his albuterol nebulizer I remembered, suddenly, that in addition to the inhaler I took in high school when exercising, as a kid I’d needed that same mask and medicine. Sitting alone in my room during, what, a party? for ten minutes or twenty with a mask over my face and warm mist condensing and dripping down the plastic tubing. Nothing to do but watch the drip and listen to the pump and smell the medicinal steam and think about lung-death.

I’d like to say that in the exam room at the Children’s Hospital ER I understood something about myself as a parent or my son as a kid or, indeed, anything about people at all but I probably didn’t — and even if I did, I’d only like to say it because that’s the sort of thing a Writer likes to Say in a personal Essay.

What I’d like not to say is that I yell at him more than I used to. But I do.


The Fool isn’t innocent before or after.

I had certain false impressions about this project.

I wouldn’t say the goal of the Fool’s Errand is ‘worldliness,’ though that’d be cute wouldn’t it. On account of The World being the literal destination of the procession of major arcana. I’d even settle for ‘otherworldliness,’ on account of I think I’m clever. Here look, I’ll throw in a quote to demonstrate:

‘Clever dick! Clever dick! Makes me sick…’ (DP)

Picture children taunting a child in the woods. Of course he ends up becoming a writer.

There’s no ‘destination’ either, except death, which symbolically is close to the middle. We’re permitted to take this to mean that it’s not such a big deal. Symbolically anyway.

You die from having too little of something, not too much. What. What’s the thing you run out of. This is an easy one. So how do you make more of it. How do you give more. What a blessing it’d be to receive more.

The Fool isn’t trying to return to innocence because he was never there. He’s in the middle of a curve. Walks around, feeds the dog, meets the boss, dies inside, gets a bit of sun. Although of course he ends up right back who he started.

MAL: Wheel never stops turning, Badger.
BADGER: That only matters to the people on the rim.

If the thunder don’t get you then… Mal gets it. Badger too, in his own little world.

One measures a life, starting anywhere.

Clever, huh?


Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Well, yes.


There’s just the one story, or so I am told: what you learn and what you fail to learn.


That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? ‘Learning and failing to learn’ shifts the emphasis from what’s in the sack to the adventure that brought you to it, though on the other hand nobody likes a gerund, am I right?

Every time my son needed a nebulizer I’d despair. The form of that despair was: this will happen again and again, it’ll never end, he’s cursed. We’re on a line and paradoxically we’ll keep coming back here (to suffering, to guilt, to the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital) yet also we’ll never have the chance to do over again. The die is cast, we travel on a straight line. Idiot recurrence (‘foolishness’), powerless.

Meanwhile I didn’t myself need a nebulizer anymore. Hadn’t in years. Holding my son, listening to his laboured breathing clear up slowly, thinking: I change but everything else stays the same. Everything changes but I stay the same.

And I’d simply forgotten — failed to notice, remember, learn — that I’d needed it, so I couldn’t recognize that I was free of it. What I’d learned (internalized, somaticized) was: what’s sick in you will never be well, what’s fallen can never rise. Nothing ever fits.

If you sever the corpus callosum you might make two selves. (Or not, it’s only metaphysics, who gives a shit.)

The saddest part is, they’ll share a body but will never know each other.

Maybe despair is to be sundered from the world, divided against yourself, and its opposite is ‘more life.’


Whenever I wear a mask for a stretch I get a sore throat, raspy voice, a cough. Plaguetime. The mask protects me from one invisible death. My son pulls his mask off, wants to breathe clean air. I lose my temper and forget holding him while medicinal steam opened his lungs and kept him alive under dimmed lights in the exam room at night. I forget that the obstetric nurses had heard me whisper to my newborn son ‘You’re a beauty,’ the first words I spoke to him in quiet, just the two of us for a moment on the way to his first bath, and in a cooing simpering voice one of the nurses said ‘I think someone’s in love’ and anger flared in me and I hated her. Fucking idiot. Fuck you. You stupid piece of shit. Keep your idiocy to yourself. Don’t you understand that this is the blessing. Don’t say inane things when God is here. Of course this is love don’t you understand. It’s bigger than you and your stupid fucking simpering greeting card dipshit voice. I hate you. Why are you here when God is here. Why are you talking in this world we’re trying to make. Do you think your stupid joke matters more than me whispering to my boy. Are you surprised, bored, are you trying to lighten some heavy moment or share a professional moment with your coworker or what is the matter with you. I’m talking to my boy. I’ve heard him breathe and cry and he’s hearing my voice, this is the voice he’s going to hear inside him for the rest of his life at moments of pain or fear or when he abuses himself for unpreventable failures and I need to just talk quietly to him and be here inside a little world that someday I’ll ruin and be unable to make safe for him and I won’t always be here. I just want to tell him he’s a beauty. I want only to whisper and never to vent these feelings or to be ugly for him or to yell and scream or to endanger this perfect feeling in him. I want him to breathe easy. I wanna breathe easy. I shouldn’t ever yell. All of me is trying to be love, let me stay just here.

It was only a second, a fraction of a thought, but I wanted her away.

In the delivery room at midmorning I’d had a vision that every woman who’d ever lived was in the room with me and I felt surrounded and peaceful despite the hour and strain. 10,000 years and more. Billions of souls stretching away into time.

I don’t ‘believe in God’ but there we were. In that room all together past and present and future. Fool.

There’s a plague and he pulls his mask off and I lose my faith and forget, and instead of raising him I raise my voice. The voice he’ll hear forever.


Is this too ugly a thing to say.

Ugly I feel.

Wanting suddenly, sharply, to be other than as I am.

And able.

Maybe I’ll go for a walk. You are standing in a field west of a white house. Look over there, a cliff. Here boy. See what we see and mind your step.

Come back soon, we’ll be waiting. We love you.

I love you.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.

He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.


Wicked pack of cards: The World.


In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the Galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing, which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is.

For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says ‘You are here.’ (DNA)


Understand this:

Not only doesn’t the world revolve around you, nothing revolves around you. (Evil Dave Sim, Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing)

It’s a mistake to say that this or anything else was the ‘point.’ There was no point. That’s the fucking point!

On the other hand, this was obviously the point.

You can see why this has been difficult.


Perceiving that things go in circles, round and beautifully (dutifully) round, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they’re circling around you. The easiest mistake in the world to make, but a mistake nonetheless.

Since I know nothing, very nearly almost exactly nothing at all,1 I’d like to not lecture.


The World is restoration as such. The World is authenticity as such. The World is total copresence, i.e. really meaning it — The World is non-separateness. You fail it and fall into you. The World is a sacred offering. I refuse it. The World is a better world, or version, an unobstructed angle, and we hide from it. Together! In a closet or behind a nearby bench or tree, a very obvious hiding place if we’re being frank. The World is how ‘longing’ becomes ‘belonging.’ We gotta figure it’s impossible.

The World is what the Fool seeks, finds, doesn’t yet know what to do with, turns away from, wonders about, embraces (dislocating her shoulder; it’s big), kicks the tires on, kicks, complains about, loves, finds love in, loves to love love in/with/for, becomes, believes, believes in. The World is communion as such. The World is not a place; on the other hand, it’s a place. I mean: you’re a world.

Did you know — notice — that part of you is five pounds of bacteria that aren’t part of you, and part of you is a layer of mucus that you routinely expel through tubes in your skull because it isn’t part of you either, though you’d die without out and it’s made of you? Did you know your skin is replaced bit by bit like the hardship of Theseus but it’s also somehow a permanent record of who, how, why you’ve been? Oswald Chesterfield Bacterium living in the crook of your elbow won’t be there long but you’re his world, and incidentally he’s God — I should’ve capitalized ‘He’ there, sorry Oswald — if anything is, which nothing is but why not? If you’re a world to Him then we are in unexplored territory here and may as well enjoy ourselves.

You’re as much bacteria as brain. Nothing revolves around you. For one thing: where’s the you things putatively revolve around? Don’t let’s spatialize ‘mind’ here, mine is out in the cosmos and yours is in the gutter.

(‘After all this work, wouldn’t it be nice to just skip to the end?’)

You fail the World and you don’t. You live into it, up to it. Sometimes I do too, and (then) sometimes the other thing, coming down from it or falling down from it or letting it down or letting me or you down. Christ knows I’ve let us down a few times in this writing.

The purpose of life is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide. (Mike Russell)

‘Well that’s not the purpose of my life.’

Huh, if I’m so sure then why did I have to bother with an Errand?


I want more life, fucker. (Roy Batty)

The World is the blessing; the blessing is ‘More life.’ Alively. The World is the Word, and the Word was with God, and the World was God. It’s the Good News, which is ‘more life,’ which is also — not coincidentally, because nothing is a coincidence — the bad news, or in both cases I mean the hard news, the real shit. ‘May it go ’round in circles.’ You measure them beginning anywhere, or so I’m told. We left Fort behind a long time ago but that’s what happens walking on a wheel; people keep popping up.

Imagine if when kids did well at things we gave them not rewards but revisions.

The World is (an) extra life. Do-over and -over and -over.

OK, settling down a bit:

Insofar as the Fool’s Errand allegorizes or enacts the experience of an authentic choice or engagement — really living, ‘going deep,’ real-izing (something or other), coming closer to awareness of and communion with Things As They Are — The World represents nothing more complicated than being wholly present in that experience. I take this to be a meaning of ‘joy,’ as distinct from happiness or pleasure; there’s a lot of trouble in the world, isn’t there. But ‘trouble’ doesn’t constitute that moment/state/experience any more than happiness or goodness does. The ‘reward’ at this end of the Errand is to have inhabited all the possibility, all the action, all the potential, all the consequence, the whole 360° arc of the experience: it is realness. The World is all that is the case, and admitting it — in the sense of ‘inviting in’ rather than ‘conceding to’ — brings the Fool not necessarily to happiness or to peace’n’quiet but to a glimpse of the Real.

The World is Heaven.

In a pedantically literal sense, it’s a state of mind.

Lifting, rising up out of an inner darkness. Lightening, not necessarily to say ‘enlightenment.’ Small steps: we get to do it over, after all.

God biology

This is a page from James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover, a vast poem which contains long stretches of ‘channeled’ Ouija-board communication taken down by Merrill’s longtime partner David Jackson. It’s Sandover‘s climactic moment, when the heavenly bureaucrats escort Merrill, Jackson, and their dead friends (including Merrill’s poetic master Auden, ‘Wystan’) to the outer reaches of the universe to listen in on ‘God Biology,’ an aspect of the deity. The poem’s subjects — nuclear disaster, the yet-unnamed AIDS plague, death slow and sudden, friends far and gone — find ultimate expression in a burst of song: God B alone in inner/utter dark, beaming messages to/through/for the whole universe.


The first time I read it, out of context, it seemed already familiar (was it Hedwig’s ‘midnight radio’?). When I encountered God B again while reading Sandover front to back, after hundreds of pages alternating sometimes-tedious Ouija-transcription and Merrill’s exquisite witty wounded verse, I thought it was the saddest most perfect thing I’d ever read.

A few weeks ago, making early notes for this essay (nearly all of them long since abandoned in this unexpectedly manic piece of something), I realized — decided? discovered? — that God B was The World at the end of this Errand, not single but multiple, nought but all, not lonely but crowded as any world, alone despite constant noise, surrounded by static, uncertain, heroic, mother-father ringed by a border between day and dark (dark recedes from the world to the sound of a dawn chorus). WE SURVIVE. More life. I decided — determined? defeated? decompensated? — that the divine-banal destination of the Errand was a radiophonic signal saying, in hopeful voice, ‘You are here.’

Well. And here you are.


I began the morning with frozen waffles and tea, and invited my son to meditate with me for a few minutes. He said no, then said he’d come up to the 3rd floor in a little while. I figured he wouldn’t, but a minute later he did. We sat for five minutes, breathing, noticing. He slouched and rested his head and smiled. Impossibly beautiful. Someone beyond me.

My wife lay in bed downstairs, some fraction of sleeping, trying to float past a lurking migraine without waking it. It falls to us to give and take care, today, tomorrow. To make healing possible.

Then I started (continued) today’s writing work with a


freewrite to start the day, world, return to things, enfolding arms of all of us and all, in everything. vocal vocation, vocative, ululating song, songtrill, universe song, we are restored to the balance of things to become it, there is no balance without all of us, that’s the meaning of it, bringing one another into balance, bringing in to the meaning of things. this is the meaning. meaning made multiply. multiple-ly. 8:08 in the morning, saturday 1 august 2020. tomorrow is our wedding anniversary.

i’m sure neither of us has anything planned.

the song of the universe, only song of god, god song, birdsong,

music is why we have voices
voices are why we make words
words are why we touch from afar

the far come near



noise and music. noise, song, burble, cacophony, clatter, ruckus, riot, dawn chorus. dawn chorus chasing the sun — or waiting for it.

the world is the network of all meanings crosshatched shaded dissolved into all other

the only song

god biology

maybe this is enough to go off of, i’m not really freewriting, or i sort of am, and now i definitely am, not eoing back to delete NO i will try to be strong about it

not quite trivially simple!!

meditating did me good, probably the tea will slowly come in (it doesn’t really ‘kick in’ the way coffee does)

Life itself speaking. Song of the blue whale
Alone in Space? Bravery, vertigo,
Frontier austerities …




The World is oneness.

Customarily one says, ‘oneness with all things’ but that is to undermine oneself: there’s nothing else to be one with, if you grant your own premise. Oneness: wholeness.

The World is wholeness.

(In binary arithmetic the opposite of oneness is holeness.)

I mistrust my intuition but am lazy enough to let it do its thing.

The World is faith.

I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two, and you
Love me ’til my heart stops (DB)

Word known to all men, right? Or one might hope. Someone said Karl Marx said the smallest unit of human wasn’t the individual but the pair. Someone said humans are born months or years too soon so that our brains (inside our skulls and such) fit through Mom’s birth canal, and our gestation is completed via a network of intermind-interbody mechanisms which we call ‘love.’ Someone said they fuck you up, your mum and dad, but someone said you chop wood and carry water anyway, in this World and in the next (time around).

Integration is frightening because it means, or just is, concession: relaxing (expectations) enough to slip into the world in the world left open for you.

I wrote that shit! So I can tell you that even if it’s right (and it is, in a sense, right), it’s wrong:

The World means, not slipping into the world, but the world slipping into you — suggesting an erotic metaphor, yes, but for an inrush not of revelation but of responsibility. Now you are empowered by that connection. That’s what real responsibility is, real connection: empowerment. Becoming-multiple.

And luxuriating in it. Relaxing/reveling in the touch of…everything.

Oh I’d be simply mortified if I thought I’d carelessly collapsed a distinction between the developmental work of love and the imaginative work of… Is that lust? Sensual pleasure? Or just the touch of a hand, another’s reassuring presence, you end out beyond/within where I begin and heavenly vice ecstatic versa…?

Heaven will prove to’ve been no false distinctions. ‘You and I’ is the very first, the Fool and the World.

‘We are men of action. Lies do not become us.


MARLOW: The rain, it falls. The sun, it shines. The wind blows. And that’s what it’s like. You’re buffeted by this, by that, and it is nothing to do with you. Someone you love dies, or leaves. You get ill or you get better. You grow old and you remember, or you forget. And all the time, everywhere, there is this canopy stretching over you —

GIBBON: (Determined to interrupt) What canopy?

Marlow stops. Glares. Seems about to speak, doesn’t. Then does.

MARLOW: Things-as-they-are. (Almost laughs in scorn) Fate. Fate. Impersonal. Irrational. Disinterested. The rain falls. The sun shines. The wind blows. A bus mounts a pavement and kills a child. And –

Then, suddenly, with a savagery which implies the opposite of what he is saying.

— I believe in no systems, no ideologies, no religion, nothing like that. I simply think — Oh, it’s very very boring, this. Very — I just think that from time to time, and at random, you are visited by what you cannot know cannot predict cannot control cannot change cannot understand and cannot cannot cannot escape — Fate. (Little shrug) Why not? ‘S good old word. (DP, The Singing Detective)

The World is faith, which is wisdom, which is trust, which is presence, which is love. Why not? It’s a good old world.

When we’re together I feel closer to Heaven. I feel less alone, and I hope you do too.


  1. (more than you, but still…) 

Wicked pack of cards: Judgment.

No not the ‘Last,’ though it does tend to look that way, doesn’t it, and so to feel that way. What if it were? Be glad it’s not.


A couple of years back my father and I worked together on his memoir — we did a good job, please buy a copy. I can’t recommend that kind of familial collaboration strongly enough, both as a form of reciprocal service and to complicate and deepen your relationship to the imaginative elements of your own past. My dad now makes some sense to me as an ordinary man, rather than a fixed star or firmament or feature of landscape. That sense is of course provisional, personal — secondhand — but Dad and I got to some surprising places in our conversations, and aspects of his personality that never made sense to me when I was a boy (or young man) came into focus as we wrote. It was the most important writing I’ve ever done, both in terms of craft — being totally unable to rely on my own written voice — and for obvious emotional reasons…

The most surprising thing about the writing, for me, was and is Dad’s deep gratitude — over and over throughout our work, even when he was frustrated and rushed and annoyed by my various fuckeries, Dad would express a feeling of contentment and clear-eyed recognition. Telling his stories helped make sense of them for him as well, I think, but more than that, it threw a little light on the way they’ve made him. And Dad likes being Dad; his relationship to his past is as complex as yours — perhaps moreso, as he has more of it than you do — but he’s managed a degree of integration and settlement, partly because he had simple consistent goals in his life and he’s actually attained them.

As you come to the end of a project, it makes sense to want to understand what it’s meant and can mean.

My father has had a life and knows it. Telling his stories has been an opportunity to encounter it as a life, a whole (not always coherent), and to share that encounter and understanding with me and my brother and with whoever else might read the book. I believe he understands this story-process the way he understood fatherhood: giving of his life; giving life.

Dad constantly expresses his gratitude to the whole universe — I’m reminded here of Oscar Ichazo — and seems genuinely to believe it has discharged its responsibility to give him things. He was never an acquisitive man, but now he seems to see himself as a store of feelings to be shared.

One way of living passes, a life passes; you make what you can of it, and do something useful with what you make when the next life — the next world — begins.


Spoiler: ‘Heaven’ in our schema will prove to have been the World all along; we’ll be invited to remain, but not required, and the way will be made difficult.


Who the hell wants to get old? Slower, settled, yes of course — but who looks forward to diminishment? I mean these questions sincerely; it’s always been unimaginable to me, and remains so.

I don’t think Dad thinks of it as any great shakes — and I know he abhors the company of old people who’ve resigned themselves to lifeless dependency — but he’s learned to live with being in his 80s. His world is different because he’s different, and so it’s made sense for him to settle into a different way of being-in-his-world. What he knows that I can’t yet is that you get to that age, if you do, and by then you’ve stopped wondering if you could be other than as you are. (Spoiler: no.)

Actually I could know that now, if I wanted; it’s true at any age after all. If I wanted more than I wanted not to… That is to say, I could correctly understand my place in the world if I didn’t cling so tightly to a more palatably painful incorrect understanding instead. But then, that opportunity to know is one of the things that this life offers you; and addiction to falsehood is one of the things that you can’t take with you to the next world, the next life. Which starts tomorrow maybe.

The Waite-Smith Judgment card has a baby with its back turned and a small host of people in the background — the future is unknowable, this is a collective transformation, etc. — but I’ve never been able to care. The dead are rising! So what. Waite sez it

registers the accomplishment of the great work of transformation in answer to the summons of the Supernal–which summons is heard and answered from within

which does sound lovely but it’s good to avoid the edge of self-satisfaction that’s bared: the Errand isn’t final and the accomplishment, the great work, is authentic immersion not attainment or acquisition. Actually living while you can — not how it feels or what it means. It has to be its own reward.

The good news, which Dad has found ways to testify to, is this (his words):

Lately I feel like I live in two worlds: the reality of getting older, little by little — and then, everywhere I look, such beauty.

At times our writing process was tortuous; I let Dad down and avoided the work for a long time, and when I finally applied myself in earnest we would argue, misunderstand each other… My delays and excuses put an unnecessary strain on him, and I regret not taking up the work in all seriousness without the dumb hand-wringing. But while the work concentrated and intensified the difficulties in our relationship, it also brought us past (some of) them. Really seeing him was such a relief. As he became for me the autonomous human being he always has been, as he took on the characteristics of an ordinary man instead of a mountain, I was able to put down some burdens I had been carrying in the name of my own ideas (of him, of us). Understanding the opportunity the work presented was itself an act of — wait for it — adult judgment; reflecting on it now, seeing some of the process for some of the things it was, is a similar sort of act.

After the end of a project, it makes sense to want to understand what it’s meant and can mean. But the past is past, that’s why they call it that. What matters now (I think) is what Dad and I are for one another. Father and son, grandfather and father. And two guys. That wasn’t simply a happy realization, getting there; relief gives pleasure but it isn’t pleasure per se.1 An opportunity, rather. Seeing things at their utmost, all ugliness and beauty. Feeling death’s nearness and listening to a bird. Singing back while there’s time.


One of the project managers at our company sent around something called a ‘five whys’ postmortem: asking five levels of ‘why’ about a given project outcome until you discover a faulty process. It’s jarble, sure, but underneath the usual obfuscatory management-speak (managers must pretend that the ultimate cause of all they do is something other than Money; hence obfuscation) is a useful insight. It’s often that way.

The reason things are fucked, the reason you’re reborn into samsara, the reason you went back to her or missed the appointment or lost the game (even the Great Game), is that you are doing something that you need to stop. ‘But I’m not doing anything.’ Yes, that’s certainly an addictive bad fiction. Not doing is doing, have we learned nothing from Neil Peart in all these years? ‘Not doing’ is a trick of perspective; the alternative to setting out on the Fool’s Errand isn’t inactivity, it’s activity in Error. Complicity and avoidance and hidden cost.

And all increasingly frantic, if my own experience is any guide.

The Fool’s Errand is a cycle; Judgment isn’t final. It’s a ‘why’ but there are more, deeper, out past the past.

This week Dad needed help getting ESPN+ set up on his iPad so he could watch the Premier League. You’re happy ‘unbundling’ your sports programming from your cable TV, a strike ‘against’ (by which I mean for) capitalism, and Dad’s 86 years old and having a hard time getting his head around the multiple devices now required for this favourite daily pastime. Old age means taking fewer things for granted. Again: not solely a benefit. Your mind can only do so much, can only submit so often to the universe’s judgment. Death is near and so forth but it’s also nice to chill out a bit. A break from why.


Heaven will prove to’ve been The World all along: a sane relationship to Things As They Are, which we’ll fall in and out of as things get cyclically unfucked/fucked. The ascent to Heaven, meanwhile, which not at all coincidentally feels a whole lot like the descent/ascent/transformation to Hell, is a Call for Judgment. Painful reckoning. Reconciling knowledge gained in deep nighttime transit (transformation; transubstantiation?) with things seen clearly in boring good-guy daylight.

I’ve been having a hard time writing about the ‘cosmic’ trumps, have you noticed? I certainly have. I initially conceive of these essays as being complicated but coherent, and they end up simple and incoherent and — as in today’s installment — a specific sort of personal that feels misjudged but unavoidable. I’m trying not to think consciously about writing these essays as a kind of Errand, or as a record of such, but it’s difficult to avoid that frame; after all, I wrote the first several installments in 2011, when my son was just a year old (I was a stay-at-home dad in those days) and I’d written two books but not yet one worth sharing.

You remain involved in the process of becoming-yourself. Or ‘selves’ plural, if we take our own implications seriously.

Heaven will prove to be free of — excuse me, freedom from — false distinctions.

Achieving the appropriate simplicity and openness proves challenging, elusive; the Errand will prove to’ve been a helix, maybe, X- and Y-values cycling repeating repeating sinusoidally while we make slow transit of the Z-axis, not spiraling, not simply in a circle, not without Error, but up through whatever’s up there into whatever’s in there.

I’m grateful today and want to share that with you, Reader(s). We keep doing this.


  1. I think for some reason of nitrogen narcosis, ‘the bends.’ Saying ‘relief’ meaning ‘release’ meaning suddenly letting go, losing/loosing the tight grip. Or how ‘decompress’ and ‘decompensate’ have always in my idiot mind seemed, wrongly, to be one terrifying word. 

Wicked pack of cards: The Sun.


Don’t stare at it, no matter how beautiful the flowers seem to think it is.

I’ve been failing to write this one for weeks.

The Sun is sufficient unto itself. As are you, maybe? But the sun is a mass of incandescent gas and it doesn’t (can’t) care (the idea makes no sense) whether the sight of it blinds you. Maybe you shouldn’t be like that. Or should, whatever.

We spoke of madness inside out and maybe now the other way.


The conventional approach, as I understand it, is to speak of The Moon (XVIII) as having a strange distorting or deranging light, as against the plainspoken clarity of The Sun. There’s that lobster, after all, deep cold places taken form, emerging presumably to bite off fingers and provoke weird thoughts — shadow and dream. But the Sun rises and you’re in your right mind again, obviously desirable and better: I mean it’s right there in the name. (‘Left mind’ has a sinister sound.)

But I lived in Texas until I was 10 and I am astonishingly pale-skinned.

The Sun, for me, means burning.

Also commuter traffic, the presence of other people, work obligations, business noise, money noise — Things To Do. Sweat, whether honest or not.

Whereas the Moon means (meant), to me, relief.

The sun is that [form or aspect] of consciousness in the spirit — the direct as the antithesis of the reflected light. The characteristic type of humanity has become a little child therein — a child in the sense of simplicity and innocence in the sense of wisdom. In that simplicity, he bears the seal of Nature and of Art; in that innocence, he signifies the restored world. (Waite, Pictorial Key)

Lately I’m not all that excited about adults displaying childlike innocence; as the father of a boy about to turn 10, I experience the ‘childlike’ as an obligation, a responsibility: I’m called to be an example, a teacher, a World for this fast-changing person to claim and surpass. The ‘Buddha smile’ — a child’s smile — seems nice, but the prerogatives of adulthood are those of full investiture and responsibility, no? Lightly carrying a heavy load, knowing that mass is a fact but weight is how gravity feels and ‘heaviness’ is an opinion, our editorial stance toward the mereness of things. But carrying it.

The light of the sun is blinding, barbaric — hideous. It burns, scars, strips away. Sunlight is age, arriving with bad news about spacetime and our collective no-future. It’s all downhill, thermodynamically speaking, from here.

Aww but the pwetty fwowers!

‘To hell with “childlike.”‘

This is the voice of fallenness, immurement. This is dukkha.

(On the other hand, most everything is dukkha so don’t get your mind-panties in a twist or anything.)


Walking out of The Matrix: Revolutions 17ish years ago, my then-girlfriend turned to one of our companions, audibly rolled her eyes, and said, ‘Great, another fucking messiah story.’

I took offense, which was a tactical mistake revealing a deficiency of character, as any actual messiah (or socialist or deconstructionist-fashionista) could tell you: heighten the contradictions, baby, which is to say, listen for the tensions within any falsehood; let suffering speak for itself and say its own name.

(Blinding, barbaric. Strips away.)

I used to tell people, with odious self-satisfaction, that I’d rather see a bad movie than a good one. The ‘reasoning’ went this way: if the movie’s good, then my enjoyment depends on how good it is; if it’s bad, then my enjoyment can go on as long as I can keep criticizing — the locus of pleasure is located within me. Idiotic. This too was dukkha, you get it? Adam and Eve in the Garden falling into category and presuming the right to cut the world to coloured ribbons, red for sin, blue for sorrow, yellow means wait even if you’re late… I tried (‘ironically’) to make a virtue of my failure to be where I was, and now here I am complaining about the same ‘childlike’ behaviour I’ve spent countless thousands of words defending and praising, using my own son to justify my fallenness…

This is immurement. And the Sun looks, from here, it — well, just look at it. Not too long.


The sunstruck person sees everything, each person, each animal, all the plants and rocks, even the very air, alive and holy, united through the light that fills all existence. And yet, the Sun is not the World. With trump 19 we perceive the universe as unified and alive. 21 embodies those feelings. (my emphasis –wa.)

Pride and confidence are linked in popular speech (‘take pride in your achievements, show/have some confidence’) but I would like to maintain the conceptual distance between them. No one says ‘confidence goeth before the fall’ because it’s not about ego but rather clarity: of purpose, of seeing, of being. The Sun is what it is, which to jealous people is hateful, because in our minds we mustn’t be what we are. That’s pride: ‘If they really knew me…’ and ‘There’s more to me than this fucking job…’ and ‘He meant nothing to me…’ and me, me, me, falling always backward into fixed identity and treating achievements however fleeting as verification of our ideas of ourselves — the Sun shows us for what we are.

Get too close to it and die — vibrate so fast that you never ever were. The Sun has no memory. It doesn’t want people around, the way the Moon does.

I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them. (Calvino)

Pain can be addictive, and maybe you misname suffering as — what, romance? Or worse, ‘dignity’ or nobility or…

Anything to block the light.

Time is change, life is time. Transitive property. Better get used to it.

The Fool’s Errand allegorizes choice: acknowledgement, resolution, pursuance, psalm. (Coltrane specifically invokes the context of spiritual seeking — ‘THANK YOU GOD’ — but any choice authentically undertaken will do.) You only get to make the final choice once, kinda sorta by definition, so all save one of these Errand-tales lands you in front of the next one, free (freer!!) to move or not to/through what opens up before you. In that moment your place and emplacement are radically different from what came before, how and who(m) you were. Is that clear? The choice defines you, in a sense; you are always becoming you-at-this-juncture, the moment wholly itself, its terms its own… This language is ridiculous, certainly as (over)heard from outside, yet it’s meant to frame not a metaphysics but an ethics, an approach to choice, starting with authentic (not to say unmediated) grasp of the Real. The light of day, indifferent — which certainly feels harsh, but what the hell do you want instead? Darkness? There’s plenty of that to come as the end draws near, never mind the nothing, all that ever isn’t, out beyond the zero…

Day’s unfeeling light intrudes on the shadowy hiding-places where most human activity takes place, where the work of imaginatively constituting an innerworld goes on unbothered by mere fact. (No wonder buddhas don’t write novels. What with all the child-smiling, there’s hardly any time to sit down and assemble the unpleasant novelistic equipment of withholding and deferral.) And it’s work, of course; ordinariness is a hell of a lot of work, nearly 100% of it wasted — from the Sun’s perspective, anyway. (Metaphysical equivalent of the banal ‘It takes more muscles to frown than to smile’ motivational poster, tl;dr: SMILE, BITCH.)


If this essay is even more than usually confused and unfocused, perhaps it’s because I’m moving around rather than through the door I pointed to previously:

…the state of being that I take [The Sun] to evoke or align with, I can’t imagine right this instant. Testifying to the joyful connectedness of things, a blinding clarity of vision? Fuck off with that.

Clarity gets exhausting, and in my (vast tiny) mind right now the concept is absolutely sodden with resentment anyway, so I’ve been dreading trying to write through this one; that dread manifests as lots of parentheses, swearing, ambiguity, repetition, belaboring, vagueness, indirection. Misdirection maybe. And I couldn’t even bothered to make the ‘list “repetition” twice’ joke! Which, to be clear, I’ve repeated multiple times in print, in case you were wondering about my commitment to Sparkle Motion.

So much nicer to have a place to hide from ramification, never mind sunburn. I mean ‘sun.’


The flip side of all this is that ‘childlike wonder’ is absolutely one of the core states of the ‘eliptonic’ enterprise, and rejecting it because you fear something associated with it — ‘sunburn,’ embarrassment, timewaste, loss of status or dignity or control — has its consequences: ‘So: life gets faster and worse. And the other world, which was only ever within you, a metaphor of unspeakable power, gets smaller and emptier and harder to find.’ The big problem with kids is their irresponsibility, right? That’s what I’m always idiotically yelling about, anyway. But as my 9-year-old son says when I ask him what chores he’s been working on, ‘I’ve been staying alive.’ That’s hard work too — and managing a bit of happiness meanwhile is notoriously even harder. But worth it.

The Fool’s promise: regardless of outcome, a life of courageous effortful nowness is better, more beautiful, more joyful, than the alternative.1 Emphasis on effortful. That agnosticism, a decent Foolish epistemological humility, is the hard intellectual cognate of the goofy buddha smile, I suspect: the side of ‘mindfulness’ or ‘spirituality’ — or indeed ‘joy’ — that’s a harder sell in fallen times (e.g. these, fucking obviously).

You have to undertake the work of self-refashioning in faith. Faith is enormously difficult work, because it is a state and practice which constantly subjects you to challenge in the form of the world itself — as you experience it, i.e. as you misperceive it.

(Maybe that’s why ‘Karen’ seems so oblivious but is, I wonder if maybe, not: she’s now horribly screaming at the innocent manager of the TGIFriday’s because her stupid artery-clogging dinner is the first time all week she’s let her guard down, unclenched every single fucking muscle on 167-hour weekly guard against a pitiless Sun that hates everything about her, that burns everything away — I mean just look at this life — and now she has to deal with this (whatever benign nothing ‘this’ always is)? This bullshit, seriously? On my goddamn night off from being, unforgivably, what I am?!)

Most people are one bad day away from being Karen, is why we hate her so much.

This Aeon has for its purpose the complete emancipation of the human race. (Crowley, Thoth)

Purpose ≠ outcome. The freedom you experience in seeking is the prize, if anything is — the joy of realness — and so here you are, beaming at those you love and wondering why they turn their eyes away. You only leapt from the Tower, kept a Star, slept and wept beneath the musical Moon, now you’re burning. ‘No, I’m just warm.’

The poor Sun, working so hard to accept that being the source of all earthly life means causing such pain.


Cheat coda

I’m going to share my notes for this piece, which are in a different colour from the thing itself:

restoration to daylight world
surviving the weird night
confidence but not pride — childlike innocent joy

‘i’m sufficient unto myself’

a thought that begins to generate new patterns — living in a new way — moving from inside out, thoughts making manifest

a person recognizing the way they’ve been transformed by the experience of the Errand — ‘buddha smile’ — they make it more possible for people around them to relax into a joyful/childlike state themselves

General Theory of Love

limbic resonance / regulation / revision

though don’t get sucked into ‘triune brain’ shit, that’s only used as a metaphor now but is not a sound evolutionary account

not yet fully embodied though — they are in a perpetual state of recognition. they are in a new world — but they are not yet themselves a new world

the path to ‘enlightenment’ (‘becoming light’? LOL) is longer than we want to think — but ‘thinking’ is (part of) the problem — or rather, part of the precondition, the condition-before. you’re trying to get to a point where you’re thinking/feeling/acting/being in the new context, when you become that new context — when the New World is within you, it’s what you generate, what you participate in

devotional acts: devotion recreates you

that’s what it’s for. it doesn’t ‘purify’ you and leave a better version of you, it turns you into a new world within which new action is not only possible but inevitable

(Neo becomes the Matrix, at the end, or vice versa)

campbell’s Hero brings back some power from the magical world and — is this the difference between mythic and fairytale/child-story heroes? — gives it away

(reread that section in Hero w/1K Faces)



  1. As a moody bald man I’m hypersensitive w/r/t ethical claims that it’s better to get sunburned than to stay dark.