begin again

I find my relationship to zen to be best expressed in the question: What’s the next thing that I have to learn? At the moment I refer to the 10 ox herding circles, or as I first heard of them, the Ten Bulls. Here’s the Wikipedia site: .

The eighth circle is empty. That implies enlightenment. But what is enlightenment? I figure it’s found in figuring something out that makes you live your life with a little bit more compassion for yourself and for others.

We can get large enlightenments. We can get small enligthenments. When our circle empties we move into the ninth circle, a land of peacefulness, of no suffering. But then there comes the most important tenth circle. That’s where you reenter the real world, the market place, and act out life with your new understanding. Hopefully there will be less suffering. That new interaction with life will make you see new things, and thus you are back at the beginning of the Ten Bulls. Trying to figure out more.

After finding one of those small enlightenments, I decided that I would go after the bull yet again. The bull this time was definitely ‘how to work in the market place without causing suffering for myself or others.’ To explain: I had always relied on official jobs to keep me occupied. Now I don’t need a job. How would I interact with the world now without that hierarchy setting the rules, keeping me in place?

I decided that I would do some community work. Interestingly, I was immediately asked to do some. I did it. Whoa. What a strange thing. To move about in a milieu of people who seemed to care passionately about what to me seemed trivial. People getting angry. People pushing to change agreements so that they controlled things. People pushing in contrary directions from where everyone else wanted to go and getting angry that no one followed. How to keep oneself from being drawn in? How to remain a steady rock of non-attachment and yet still try to get done the things that everyone generally seemed to want done? This required me to do things that were of no interest to me at all, but which I could see were of interest and possible used to the greater community.

But I am not selfless in this. All this activity has been preliminary to what I want. And what I want is to present some of my work, my writing to the public and hope that it might be of use to you, to anyone. The problem I have been working on is in finding out that what I do is essentially empty. Few people really care what I do, except in so far as it it hinders or furthers their desires. So if I present my work, that I care about, what will I feel like if it strikes no cord with any other soul?

I’ll let you know how I get on. So far I have one rejection, form letter. The idea of that just sits there for now.

A Long Absence

I have just started… I have just completed – with a host of others… the first three performances in a four island tour of short plays. The plays were all written by island writers and performed and directed by islanders. The idea started as a way to increase a sense that the Gulf Islands need to be connected socially in order to survive well. You know; make friends on others islands, row/sail/motor across Active Pass, Plumper Pass, Trincomali Channel. Get to know each other, help each other overcome weaknesses in the social fabric, get a sense of the things we have in common. That kind of thing.

In effect we are building a sort of theatrical sanga, or at least that’s my take on it. But of course, like all groups who are trying to build community, I anticipate a certain amount of friction between individuals. But maybe I don’t need to worry. So far everyone has been most hospitable, kind and generous. I wait to see what happens when money is thrown into the mix. But nothing bad (the things misunderstood, the egos and prides, if any show up) will be a problem in the long run. Bumpy stones that find themselves in a river together with other lumpy stones usually round off each others corners or else climb out of the water. So, it’s all good. The only real problem is that it will take me about two days to stop feeling exhausted.

Photo: Toby Snelgrove

You can get the names of the cast from

off to an imaginary land

reno04_biplanes_42_1imaginary land because i’ve never been there before and the place only exists in my imagination. and while i’ve been flying there in fantasy, i have decided its okay to throw the grammar out the plane door and watched it scatter like a bucket of water tossed up into the wind, like a high waterfall spraying into rainbows. spelling might follow like a good friend and will also be lost to sight. nor is consistency required. who knows what i’ll come up with here?

it’s four in the morning, so I’m already acting like a 20 year-old getting up at noon (London time) after spending all night talking and going to bed at 5:30 in the morning (translates to 9:30 my time). Jet lagged already. rain pouring on the roof.

Anyway, this is the first post of I don’t know how many for the next 4 months as I wander and wonder (I expect) my way along the grand tour of europe and then the same in south india. a sort of pilgrimage undertaken on no holy road, but under the assumption that the whole mess out there of things and places people and events constitute illuminating stages along the path – if i pay attention.

For those of you who have asked to receive email descriptions of the pilgrim’s progress while jay and I are on this trek, note that somewhere on this page is a button that you can click to get an email update linking you to my next post — a subscribe button. We leave on september 10. this blog is posted ‘public’.

Biplane Photo credit: Bill Longshaw via

This post is a repeat of a post at omniferous pen, where i will post most of my travel stuff as i tread the way in foreign (to me) climes.

The Finished Book

It’s been about two months since I wrote here. And the book is done. It was done shortly after the last post and it has been sitting in the book press ever since waiting for the person who commissioned it to come back from Europe. He has family matters to attend to and I have no information re: date of his return. No matter. The book is a book for all that. I’ll not be able to get to another one for a while as the summer is the time to work on the house to try to get it finished. Today I did the final coat resurfacing the bathtub.

The zen in all this is just the zen in all this.

I got up on stage and played bass and sang in front of 200 people a week ago. Conquering an old fear has changed my life. Tonight I have a opening of abstract drawings; no fear.

I am starting to remember people’s names. Something I’ve always been bad at. This is so I can start doing a little community organizing with all the many wonderful artists on the island. Can’t talk to people if you can’t remember their names.

Where did I read this,” “Student: I’m so discouraged. What can I do?
Teacher: Encourage others.”

The End Papers

When one knows nothing about a topic, it is not necessarily a bad idea to jump in head first – as long as one is willing to put up with all the mistakes one is invariably going to make. In my case all the things that I could do wrong I have done wrong. The process of putting this rather large format book together has been a process of screw it up and fix it.

My Iaido teacher, sensei Ken Manecker, always talked about the importance of the beginner’s mind: One can only learn when one is in the embrace of the beginner’s mind. I wonder if, as in zen, the practise is not so much getting to the point that one does things perfectly, but rather one gets faster and faster at figuring out solutions to the problem of the mistake at hand.

The book is now sewn and glued. Next I will finish the spine and make the case.

The picture above is of the end papers, done with acrylic paint, that keep sticking together whenever I put the book into a press. Then I repair the paper. Why can’t I remember to put waxed paper between the pages? The solution: I thought to write a reminder on each press: “Wax Paper”. I wonder if I will pay any attention.

Glueing Up The Spine

If I had bad days any more this would be one of them. But not being a bad day, it is merely one beset with fear and trepidation. Everything is sure to go wrong. What have I gotten myself into? I know nothing about book binding. Reading books on the subject is no substitute for having a good teacher who can direct one away from the most common errors. Me, I decide to go it alone. Figure out what I am doing as I go. So today I suspect that my signatures are too thick. When I press the signatures into my gluing frame, it looks like the glue will run down at least an eight inch between them. Is this good or bad? I have no idea. After procrastinating for hours, I go ahead, and glue everything up. If it doesn’t work, I have enough paper between the spine and the pictures that I can sew through the face of the paper. There is always a solution. Sometimes it just takes remaining calm in the face of habitual panic and self-loathing while waiting for the solution to come. So I procrastinated by going for a walk with my companion, in the sun, on the beach. She said, “Everything is shining.”

It still is.

Haywired Book Press

So I’ve been making things needed to bind my book of drawings. The latest is the book press. Crude and haywired. I used a square screw from an old bench clamp, a bunch of re-purposed 2 x 4s and melamine from old shelving. Today is a holiday or I’d go out and buy some bolts to strengthen up the joints. That’s where patience comes in. Waiting for tomorrow. Knowing tomorrow will come and forgetting about it.

And then I will sew my signatures and assemble the book. Maybe the press will even work.

But what I’ve noticed in this whole process, being completely ignorant in respect to book binding, is how instead of doing things to a fine degree, I do haywiring. Why didn’t I make a cabinet quality press. I don’t worry about it, I just say that I don’t know how many books I will bind so good enough is good enough.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that I’m terrified of making mistakes. I make lots of them. And then I have to figure out how to fix the mistakes – the goal being, after all, a highly skilled work of art. So far, I haven’t destroyed the project, but I’ve spent more than one night unalbe to go to sleep, plagued by various problems that I don’t have any solutions to. Like how to relax the wrinkles in my end papers. I dampened them and stuck them between two boards and left them there for a day to dry. But how do I keep two pages, painted in acrylic, that face each other from sticking to each other? They can’t have glassine between them. What makes acrylic surfaces non-sticky? Anyone have an idea?

Zen and the art of Impatience

I started making books because I was comissioned to do a book of abstract drawings/mixed media. The books that were commmerically available contained paper that was too thin to allow washes, so I opted to research bookbinnding and fell in love. So here is where the zen comes in – as a tool to allow me to continue to make the drawings (60 [+,-] on 9.75″ x 12.75 paper — ideally to sewn into signatures) when I want to fall into my new obsession and spend all my time there. But the commission comes first, and only then do I get to do anymore bookbinding. Ah, the anguish. All my life I’ve had a problem with impulse control. My impusle is to experiment wildly with bookbinding but my need and promise is to make a hand-made art book. I draw and wait for all things to pass. I don’t need to be impatient. In fact, impatience is best served by breathing and focusing on the art. I’ll post one of the draswings as soon as I decide that one is finished.

Phase 2

Second attempt. Still with the handicap of not having appropriate material. I am using 13 oz duck canvas. The coloured bits are 13 oz. painted with acrylic by the age-honoured method of using a scrap piece for a paint brush rag. My first book was signature sewn. This second book is fan glued (attempted a quarter-joint but the book was too thin and the canvas too thick). The glue on the first book was ordinary carpenter’s glue. I did a test on glues and the carpenter’s PVA glue became very brittle in a dried blob, where as the bookbinding PVA stayed flexible. Today I used acrylic medium to cover some paper. The idea is to paint my endpapers before putting them on the next case.