Bashing Basho
Just walked in from Virginia Festival of the Book. It was hot there and it's hot here. There's a new Wastelander coming this week about the Virginia trip--slight and comic, nothing profound.

My ol' blog-pal Esteban wrote in about the Basho writing meditation I gave you. He feels it's shallow somehow, and does not apply to deeper writing. But here's how I see it (the quote is about a style he seeks that is as clear as a shallow river moving over its bed): Basho said he wanted it to be as clear as a shallow river; he did not say he wanted to be shallow!

I'm not shallow, either. I wish I could be more shallow. I see impressively shallow books at #1 every week.

I know what he means intimately and deeply. (No put intended.) Ever see tropical waters? Or. closer to my heart: Boulder Creek, as the seven fans of my Wandering Time know, was my faithful muse and girlfriend. I walked up the creek over and over again, and truly, the water was a different being every day. Same creek, different personality. The water was clear--so clear I could see the multi-hued rocks in its bed, the fool's gold, the sand. All of it wobbling in curling light. All of it agleam in the sun as if there were lights inside the earth shining OUT instead of sun sinking IN. I would dawdle upon one of the old bridges on my thousand hikes and watch, from above, as trout lazed in the water. Trout, who would ride the current downstream for a few feet, then swim back up and stop and ride the stream again--backwards. Occasionally--and more frequently as fall approached--aspen leaves would drop on the water like yellow coins. And you would feel like you'd fallen into an MC Escher print. 3-D all the way! Bright coinage of leaves on the surface, among chips and fireworks of sunlight. Trout on the middle-depth. Wiggles and writhings of light on the bottom, among the shadows of fish and leaves. And those amazing vibrant round stones that, if you pulled them out of the water, would seem dull and ordinary.

How about stained glass windows?

How about the light in your lover's eye? There's nothing as crystalline or deep as that 1/8 of an inch of clear lens. It may not be thick, but it is not in any way shallow. (All my sweeties know I'm a sucker for eyes.)

Writing is a Martial Art! Writing is a Daily Spiritual Discipline! Writing is a Shamanic Way of Seeing! I wish it could be different, but for me, it cannot. Damn it. I want a big Mercedes, not a Honda! It's hard to get rich practicing Writing-Fu. (You Fishtrappers know all about Lu Chi's Wen-Fu, so you know what I'm talking about.) Clarity!

This, to me, is what Basho is talking about. It is one of the guiding principals of my spiritual/religious beliefs, and of my hard-learned love relationships, and of my long apprenticeship as a writer. A clarity of soul, and openness of vision. One of the other Asian poets wrote that he wanted his words to be like pure ice in a crystal bowl! I'll put the meditation up after the Wastelander. Wouldn't clear ice in a crystal bowl be invisible? Aha! What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is the sound of one hand writing!

It might be Zen.

Even my Boulder Creek had cutbanks and deep swimming holes where the bottom was more mysterious and strange. Dark. I lived in Louisiana for a good long time. That water aint clear, brothers and sisters. You don't see a frigging thing--but whatever's in there SEES YOU. I'm all for the mysterious depths. Those of you who have studied writing with me know my chosen and beloved Mode of Narration is the dreaded Indirect Means of Telling A Story. I can talk more about that one day. Not now. I'm tired. And the kid has a bladder infection. And "The Amazing Race" is on.

I say this: if you're murky, if you're clouded, if you're polluted or so deep everyone including you will drown in your profundity, you can't ever hope to steer us into that strange shadowed depth. No way. Muddled presidents can't lead. Bad military commanders can't lead. Evil gurus give you poisoned Kool-Ade. As I learned from my tracker friends in the Border Patrol, a confused guide can't show you the way through the wilderness.

So what I, and I believe Basho, seek is a clarity of vision. For me, that's physical vision, but also soul-vision. I'm fishin' with my vision. I try to bring 'em back alive. That's what you'll see me wrestling with in every damn word.

As for Basho...ah, well. We'll have to go to the Elysian Fields. He'll be hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Crane. We'll have to ask him. Yo, Bash-dawg--what up wi' dat clear water haiku vision joint you were bustin'?

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